Street-Smart Facts About John Mulaney, The Comeback Kid

August 21, 2023 | Christine Tran

Street-Smart Facts About John Mulaney, The Comeback Kid

John Mulaney is the millennial darling of stand-up comedy. His Netflix comedy specials from The Comeback Kid to Kid Gorgeous capitalize upon his awkward but sweet stage presence. They have also made him the face of countless reaction gif memes for a young generation of comedy lovers. All in all, Mulaney has come a long way from attending Detective Bittenbider's "Street Smarts" assemblies in suburban Chicago. Get ready to laugh with these 42 sincere facts about the Comeback Kid.

1. Legally Funny

Born on August 26, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois, John Mulaney comes from a family of law and order. His father Chip was a partner at the international law firm of Skadden Arps; his mother Ellen was a law professor at Northwestern University. Likewise, on his mother’s side, his grandfather was mayor of Salem, Massachusetts and a state congressman.

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2. Better Than The Real Thing

Mulaney cites Ricky Ricardo’s lifestyle on I Love Lucy as the inspiration for his show business dreams. Mind you, that’s the Desi Arnaz character on the show, not his actor. Nevertheless, the fictional musician’s life was dream fodder enough for the five-year-old Mulaney.

John Mulaney FactsWikimedia Commons

3. Back in the Good Old Days

Maybe his suits give it away, but John Mulaney is a big fan of classic TV comedy. As a youth, he would frequent the Museum of Broadcast Communications and watch archived episodes of The Johnny Carson Show and I Love Lucy.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

4. Drama Kids Get Extra Credit

As a kid, Mulaney would get out of doing reports at school by instead handing in “skits” with his best friend, John O’Brien. They would impart what they learned in the form of these sketches, which is good practice for the stage, but I’m not sure what his teachers thought…

John Mulaney FactsShutterstock

5. Get Lit (or Don’t)

In 2000, John Mulaney attended Georgetown University, which is where own his parents met. Mulaney did not achieve the same academic heights of his folks, but he did major in English Literature and Religion. To quote his description of the experience in Kid Gorgeous: “I paid $120,000 for someone to tell me to read Jane Austen and then I didn’t.”

John Mulaney Facts

6. The School of Hard Knock-Knock Jokes

While attending Georgetown, Mulaney joined the same improv group as his future Hollywood colleagues Nick Kroll and Mike Birbiglia. He followed the latter on a stand-up tour, which was invaluable to sharpening his stage presence.

Pete Davidson FactsShutterstock

7. Throwback Thursday

One of Mulaney’s first jobs out of college was as an office assistant for Comedy Central in 2004. Alongside fellow comedian and Georgetown University friend Nick Kroll, he pitched an eight-episode long parody of the I Love the ‘80s titled I Love the ‘30s.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

8. You Have to Hear It to Believe It

Mulaney is heavily influenced by early stand-up comedy albums. An avid collector, he counts Chris Rock's Bring the Pain (1996) and Bigger & Blacker (1999), Woody Allen's Comedian (1965), and Albert Brooks' Comedy Minus One (1973) among his favorites.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

9. Comedy Lovechild

Mulaney worked as a writer on Saturday Night Live for six years. Most notably, he is the co-creator (alongside SNL cast member Bill Hader) of the iconic “Weekend Update” character Stefon.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

10. The Prodigal Son Returns

Having hosted Saturday Night Live twice—in 2018 and 2019—Mulaney is only the fourth SNL writer to return to host the show himself. He follows the acts of former SNL writers Conan O’Brien, Louis CK, and Larry David.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

11. They Grow Up So Fast

Raised Catholic, Mulaney is a former altar boy. To quote his act: “When did that become a scandalous thing, being an altar boy? I remember when that was just a boring thing I used to have to do on weekends, but now it’s like saying, ‘I was a French maid for a period of time.’”

John Mulaney FactsShutterstock

12. Rising to the Top

Mulaney's first comedy album, The Top Part, was released in 2009, while he was working at SNL. Featuring his now iconic Law & Order routine, the album put the up-and-coming stand up on the map.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

13. Streaming Never You

Mulaney followed up The Top Part with another special, New In Town, which aired on Comedy Central in 2012. Eventually, the special started to gain traction on Netflix, and the follow-up, 2015's The Comeback Kid, really rocketed the comedian to another level. On Netflix, The Comeback Kid reached a wide audience and also garnered widespread critical acclaim (and meme stardom) for the 33-year-old comic.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

14. The Future Looks Funny

David Letterman called John Mulaney “the future of comedy” while accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2017. Mulaney was invited to present the award to him alongside other comedy juggernauts like Steve Martin and Norm MacDonald. He was, as he put it, the night's "stand up comedian that no one recognized."

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

15. Better Luck Next Time

Mulaney’s work in The Comeback Kid earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special. Most honorably, he lost the award to Patton Oswalt's Talking for Clapping.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

16. From the Stage to the Small Screen

Well before his Comeback Kid fame, John Mulaney produced his own sitcom pilot for NBC—which the network passed over in May 2013. More fortunately, the pilot was picked up by FOX and titled Mulaney. Less fortunately…

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

17. Not Fun While It Lasted

They can’t all be hits: Mulaney—the eponymous sitcom that he wrote, produced, and starred in—was canceled after just 13 episodes. During its short run, the show was plagued both by low ratings and arguably worse reviews. Mulaney styled the multicamera show after the sitcoms he liked growing up, but the effect was more trite than nostalgic. One critic asked, “Why would a cool comic pick such an uncool format?"

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

18. Dry Humor

Mulaney is a reformed alcoholic. After years where he would, in his words, "blackout and ruin parties," the comic turned his life around and went sober. To this day, he abstains from drinking.

Susan B. Anthony factsShutterstock

19. Three’s Company

Since 2014, Mulaney has been married to make-up artist (and artisan lampshade designer) Annamarie Tendler. They live in New York City with their French bulldog, Petunia.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

20. His Time to Win

In 2018, Mulaney finally won his Emmy for Writing. In his second nomination ever in the category, he won the Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series award for John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

21. Hog-Wild Language

John Mulaney originally added a lot more cursing to his performance as Spider-Ham in the (supposedly) child-friendly Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. He was told to “have fun” with the role—and only later learned the rating was PG, and that he had to do the lines over.

Samuel L. Jackson factsGetty Images

22. Hamming Up the Silver Screen

Believe it or not, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was John Mulaney’s first-ever theatrical role.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

23. The More Me’s the Merrier

John Mulaney himself actually exists in the alternate universe portrayed in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. In the background of Times Square, a billboard of the comic can be seen advertising a show called "Hi, Hello"—which is clearly an alternate universe take on Oh, Hello, the Broadway show he created with Nick Kroll.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

24. These Are Their Stories…

In Mulaney’s short-lived sitcom, Mulaney, rapper and actor Ice-T does the narration after the opening credits. This is a wink to Mulaney’s famous bit about Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in his special, New In Town. In fact, many of the jokes throughout the sitcom were lifted from Mulaney’s stand-up.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

25. Party of Five

Mulaney grew up in a large family alongside two sisters and two brothers. The younger of his brothers tragically passed on when Mulaney was young.

John Mulaney FactsShutterstock

26. Canine Close-Up

Mulaney’s dog Petunia has her own Instagram account. At 118K+ followers and counting, she is leaving her mark on the Internet like her owner.

John Mulaney FactsShutterstock

27. Survivor’s Guilt

Jerry Seinfeld comforted Mulaney after the cancellation of his much-fraught show. According to Mulaney, the veteran comic told the young man, “You starred in and wrote and produced your own network show. Well, it’s me and you and only a few other people who have done that.”

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

28. We’ll Meet Again

Mulaney shares family history with his SNL colleague Seth Meyers. Years ago, Mulaney’s grandmother, Carolyn Stanton, was co-stars with Hilary Meyers, Seth Meyers' mother, in Pills A Poppin’, a hospital benefit show.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

29. Laughing from 9 to 5

Mulaney paid his comedy dues via administrative work. While interning at Comedy Central, he would be “copying tapes and delivering envelopes” by day and doing stand-up while also sleeping on Nick Kroll’s couch by night.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

30. Putting that English Degree to Good Use

When asked about his status as a reaction meme resource, Mulaney is comedically ambivalent. Sometimes, his wife and friends will send the comic gifs of himself to respond to his texts. When he saw a “John Mulaney as Shakespeare plays…” meme collection, he felt a bit “undereducated” and didn’t get all of them…

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

31. Stick to the Chorus Line

Mulaney has had a (not-so-secret) desire to write a Broadway musical for years. However, he is self-conscious about his creative range: “I realize that so far my musical repertoire is very, very limited to small issues in Manhattan, from Co-op [in an episode of Documentary Now!] to ‘Lobster’ to ‘Bodega’ [both SNL sketches], so I cannot promise that I can expand my palate. I simply cannot promise that.”

John Mulaney FactsShutterstock

32. Under New Management

Mulaney used to be represented by Louis CK’s former manager, Dave Becky. After CK’s disgrace from inappropriate misconduct came in 2017, it also emerged that Becky might have intimidated his client’s accusers and prevented them from pursuing careers in comedy. Mulaney was one of several comedians to dump Becky that year, though he didn't mention it publicly until 2019, in the interest of not "taking up oxygen" in the conversation.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

33. Corduroy Dreams

Alongside Nick Kroll, Mulaney donned old man make-up to embody one half of the elderly duo in Oh, Hello. In their act, a pair of old men, Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (Mulaney), go on various adventures with their outdated ideas and manners.  The characters were inspired by the time Kroll and Mulaney saw two old men in turtlenecks buy separate but identical copies of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned by Alan Alda.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

32. A Sweet Send-Off?

In 2018, Mulaney and Kroll revived George and Gil in a Portlandia sketch. Their characters are invited to an assisted death party by Toni and Candace, the owners of a feminist bookstore. Never a dull moment with those two!

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

 33. Gotta Love Himself

John Mulaney provides various voices for the animated series Big Mouth. With the utmost dignity, he voices Andrew Glouberman, a character who is, among other things, obsessed with self-pleasuring.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

34. White House Blues

Mulaney’s parents were Yale Law School classmates with US President Bill Clinton. A young Mulaney even met the then-campaigning president in 1992, when the boy learned to play Clinton’s campaign song, “Don’t Stop” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Mulaney reminds us that this is “an album written by and for people cheating on each other. He let us know who he was right away.”

Oprah Winfrey factsPixabay

35. Not Coming to a Theatre Near You

Before he left Saturday Night Live, Mulaney had begun to write a feature film about his and Bill Hader’s Weekend Update character, Stefon. It was to be a mockumentary that followed Stefon to the outlandish clubs he often described on the show. Unfortunately, Stefon’s adventures never left the page.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

36. Dressed to Distress

The character of Stefon was partially inspired by an email that Mulaney once received that recommended various elaborate New York parties. It was also Mulaney’s idea that Stefon wear an Ed Hardy shirt because it had a latex-like appearance and paid homage to the film Party Monster.

John Mulaney FactsSaturday Night Live, NBC

37. Watch Your Mouth

In one of his few on-screen appearances during his tenure at SNL, Mulaney played Stefon’s lawyer—named Shy—who reminded the clubber to use politically correct language when describing his eccentric parties.

John Mulaney FactsSaturday Night Live, NBC

38. A Most Royal Murder?

In one of his most famous bits, a young Mulaney is grilled by his mother as if he caused Princess Diana’s death himself. His primary defenses were (1) he was in Wisconsin and (2) he was 12. Of course, fans did research and found that (1) Mulaney grew up in Chicago and (2) he was actually 15 at the time of Princess Diana’s death. So, what's the truth, John? In a video, Mulaney cleared up his alibi: when writing the joke, he didn’t think about his age that deeply and Wisconsin is actually not that far from Chicago. OK, that checks out…for now.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

39. I Am Not a Crook

After the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mulaney expressed interest in doing a Spider-Ham spin-off. The plot, he suggested, would be a “Watergate-like story” that would make use of Spider-Ham’s journalism background.

John Mulaney FactsShutterstock

40. Charmed I'm Sure

From late 2016 to early 2017, Mulaney and Nick Kroll brought their Oh, Hello characters to Broadway. The show featured a guest cameo from a different celebrity each night, including names such as Steve Martin, Alan Alda, and OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark. Did all those schmucks know they were to be prahnked with too much tuna? Not a chance.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

41. Too Young to be Home Alone

A seven-year-old Mulaney had the chance to go out for the role of Kevin McAllister in Home Alone. Unfortunately, Mulaney’s parents wouldn't let him audition, thereby putting his career on hold for a few more decades.

Home Alone factsHome Alone, 20th Century Fox

42. He’s Not a Belieber

During his SNL years, Mulaney was almost karate chopped by a young Justin Bieber. Back in 2010, Mulaney was walking down the halls of 30 Rock at night, with papers in hand, when the young singer leaped in front of him and performed karate moves in his face—causing Mulaney to drop all the documents. According to the comic, Bieber and his pals simply laughed in Mulaney's face before rushing into an elevator. Not exactly a pleasant experience, but to be fair, Mulaney has insisted that people should cut the troubled Bieber some “slack” for his youth.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

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