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What You Might Not Know About John Mulaney

"You wouldn't know me," comedian John Mulaney has said in the past, "but if you have a niece or a son who's bad at sports, they might." 

This self-deprecating, old-school comedy is representative of the stylings of writer/actor/stand-up comic Mulaney. The Chicago native and Emmy winner has arguably navigated the most substantial rise of any comedian in the last decade, going from "Saturday Night Live" to a failed 2014 sitcom to a household name providing voices for films like "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" and "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers," even filling in on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" when the host contracted COVID-19.

Mulaney is a high-profile comedian today, headlining his own tours in arenas and a member of the rare Five-Timers Club of "SNL," where Mulaney-fueled sketches like "Diner Lobster" have gone viral. Still, Mulaney is still something of a rising star, meaning a lot of people aren't yet familiar with his work — particularly if they're someone's niece or son who's bad at sports. For the sake of such folks, here are some tidbits you might not know.

He wanted to audition for Home Alone as a child

Mulaney was born in 1982, making him the target audience for 1990's "Home Alone." If Mulaney had things his way, he would have been more than just a viewer. 

The young would-be comedian grew up in the same area where they filmed the Chicago-set Chris Columbus film, and the production held local auditions for the lead role of Kevin McCallister, which famously would go to Macauley Culkin, briefly making him one of the most in-demand stars in Hollywood.

Mulaney wanted to audition for the part (Culkin was 10 when he played Kevin, but says in the film he is 8); his mom, however, wouldn't let him. 

"I was mad," Mulaney would say in 2018. "I always had grand anger as a kid about how status and stardom were out of my grasp, like most seven-year-olds." 

Ultimately, Mulaney looks back now realizing it's best that he didn't try to stand in the way of the inevitable. "I do think about how great Macaulay Culkin was in that role," he explains. "And how it would've been a crime if I had gotten it." 

He auditioned for SNL as Law & Order characters

John Mulaney auditioned for "Saturday Night Live" in 2008. "I remember thinking, 'I'm not going to get it, but I'll go and I'll do my favorite four minutes of stand-up,'" he shared on SNL's YouTube channel in 2020.

Other now-famous comedians who auditioned at the same time as Mulaney were Donald Glover, Nick Kroll, Ellie Kemper, T.J. Miller, and Bobby Moynihan. (Kroll knew Mulaney personally, even back then, and would work closely on various projects with him in the future.)

During his audition, Mulaney performed a bit depicting his favorite people that appear on "Law & Order," including witnesses who had seen a victim prior to their murder. While he was told auditions never garner any laughs, he heard some chuckles from the people assessing him, which he took as a good sign.

As it would turn out, Moynihan was the only one of the bunch to be hired as an SNL cast member that day — but Mulaney was offered the opportunity to join the show as a writer. He wrote for the show for five seasons, eventually becoming a writer supervisor for two of them.

He missed his cue in his first SNL sketch

While Mulaney was never a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," much like Conan O'Brien a couple decades prior, his job as a writer occasionally provided opportunities to appear on-air. The first time he appeared on camera during "SNL" was as a fictional production crew member in 2009. The sketch was a fake commercial for Activia yogurt, and Mulaney's role was to enter the frame with a clapboard to mark the take about to be filmed.

As he recounted years later on "The Tonight Show," the sketch didn't exactly go according to plan. Mulaney appeared twice within the sketch, doing the same thing both times. After the first such instance, he celebrated off-camera with "SNL" cast member Bobby Moynihan, but in doing so became distracted and missed his cue to enter the frame for the second appearance. Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, and Abby Elliott waited awkwardly for Mulaney to enter and say his line. 

Thankfully, this mistake didn't hold any long-term consequences. While still a writer, Mulaney would even come to appear as himself during the "Weekend Update" segment of "SNL," where he provided commentary on such topics as the bizarre business model of Girl Scout cookies and how animal actors don't know they're in movies.

As a writer, he frequently tried to make Bill Hader break character

While writing for "Saturday Night Live," Mulaney co-created one of Bill Hader's signature characters, Stefon. Appearing frequently in the "Weekend Update" segment of the show opposite "news anchor" Seth Meyers, Stefon shared his wild recommendations for tourists visiting New York City.

"It was so weird that I assumed it would be cut," Mulaney shared on the "SNL" YouTube channel in 2018. "I said, 'When you cut this, can we try it again?' because we thought it was just not gonna be liked by anyone." 

While Stefon came to be known for his "Weekend Update" appearances, few recall that he first debuted as a character within a traditional sketch — one in which Hader cracked up and broke character.

When the funnyman apologized for laughing mid-sketch, Mulaney realized that it made the character even better, so the idea was hatched to put him on "Weekend Update," which would necessitate Hader reading off cue cards and/or a Teleprompter. Mulaney came up with the idea of adding last-minute jokes, which Hader wouldn't see beforehand. 

"I started changing the lines ... just a little," Mulaney explained, "not all the lines, but just like a little bit. Like I'd throw in, 'three screaming babies in Mozart wigs' as a detail and he wouldn't have seen that until he went out there." It worked, as Hader's reactions became a key part of the fun; Stefon became arguably the most popular recurring "SNL" character of that period.

He thinks he won his first Emmy mistakenly

John Mulaney won his first Emmy in 2011 in the category of Outstanding Music and Lyrics for the song Justin Timberlake performed when hosting "Saturday Night Live." Mulaney shared writing credit on the song with Timberlake, Seth Meyers, and Katreese Barnes. Mulaney suspects Emmy voters thought they were selecting something else.

The "SNL" episode in question wasn't Timberlake's first time on the show. In years prior, Timberlake had performed alongside Andy Samberg on viral hits like "D*** In A Box" and "Motherlover," both of which received Emmy nominations themselves (the former even winning).

Mulaney thinks that in 2011, Emmy voters' memories might have been a bit hazy in seeing a Justin Timberlake song from "SNL" come across their ballots. "Seth Meyers called the song that we wrote for Justin Timberlake's monologue 'Justin Timberlake Song' just as a shorthand," Mulaney told WIRED in 2018. "When the Emmy voters were voting for it, they thought that it was 'D*** In A Box' or 'Motherlover,' so we actually got their votes, and we were fine with it. We took the award."

Mulaney later won an additional Emmy in 2018, in the category of Outstanding Writing For A Variety Special for his stand-up program "John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous At Radio City."

He starred in a sitcom that lasted one season

Mulaney headlined a sitcom in 2014 inspired by his own life called "Mulaney," which aired on Fox but was canceled after just one season due to low ratings. The series borrowed its structure from "Seinfeld," with episodes featuring moments of stand-up comedy from John's character, alongside traditional sitcom scenes.

Described as "a multi-camera ensemble comedy series about a rising stand-up comic trying to take his career to the next level and the friends and mentors who lift him up, hold him back, and push him around," the series co-starred multiple folks in the Lorne Michaels/"SNL" orbit including Nasim Pedrad, Seaton Smith, Zack Pearlman, Elliott Gould, and Martin Short.

Though the series lasted only 13 episodes, and seemed at the time to represent a significant speedbump in the upward trajectory of Mulaney's career, its star and creator learned a lot from the experience. 

"It was my baby," Mulaney told the New York Times in 2018. "I thought it was a very funny show, but I didn't wrap the package and tie the bow in a way that people enjoyed it at all."

In an ironic twist of fate, Fox aired the final episode of "Mulaney" in February 2015, opposite NBC's high-profile broadcast of the "Saturday Night Live" 40th anniversary special. "I was at the 'SNL' 40th, not watching my own show," the star shared on the "SNL" YouTube channel in 2020. Mulaney was part of the special by writing a Q&A segment of the festivities, a bit hosted by, believe it or not, Jerry Seinfeld.

Mulaney wrote SNL's famous Diner Lobster sketch eight years before it aired

In hosting "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in 2018, Mulaney resurrected a sketch called "Diner Lobster" that had been abandoned when he was a writer on the show in 2010. Written with cast member/writer Colin Jost, the sketch explored the absurdity of small diners offering random foods on their menus — and the even greater absurdity of someone ordering it. Naturally, the proceedings were envisioned as a parody of "Les Misérables."

Reflecting in 2019 on when he and Jost pitched the concept back in 2010, Mulaney said, "It wasn't one of those things that didn't do well, and later people were like, 'I liked that.'" It was received poorly, period. The concept was redeemed when it was given another shot eight years later and "crescendoed in the biggest applause I'd ever experienced in the studio," Mulaney shared. "It was a thrill ... It felt both like a TV studio and a concert hall."

Since that first time up to bat, Mulaney has hosted "SNL" an additional four times, and every appearance has included a musical sketch in the style of "Diner Lobster," each more hyperbolic than the last. Just as the first sketch made an astute commentary on an outlandish concept, so too have its successors pondered equally troubling questions, like "Why would someone go to the bathroom in a bodega?" or "Why would someone purchase sushi at an airport?"

His morning alarm is a symphonic classic

Ever wonder what some of your favorite celebrities use as their morning alarm? Mulaney begins his mornings with "The Four Seasons," an orchestral arrangement by Daniel Hope of a classic Vivaldi piece (or at least, this was the case when Mulaney divulged the information in 2020). Upbeat and chipper, the track evokes the feeling of taking a walk on a beautiful, sunny day.

Mulaney told the New York Times in 2020 that he thought the song "would make every morning really nice. But now that it's the thing I wake up to, I can't stand it." Perhaps an example of Pavlovian conditioning, associating the pleasant song with the sometimes unpleasant experience of waking up rendered the tune unenjoyable. So, you might want to think twice before making your favorite song your alarm, unless you want to end up like Mulaney.

His role as Spider-Ham was kept a secret... from himself

Marvel films are shrouded in secrecy, even when they're not produced by Marvel Studios proper (and therefore not part of the fabled Marvel Cinematic Universe). This was certainly the case for the Oscar-winning, industry game-changing "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse," which debuted in 2018 from Sony Pictures Animation.

The movie is a visual tour de force, with varied, vibrant artistic styles colliding as different versions of Spider-Man from various universes all come together. Some of these Spider-Man variations aren't even human. Enter Peter Porker, also known as Spider-Ham, voiced by Mulaney.

"Into The Spider-Verse" was so secret that the comedian didn't know what role he was being asked to perform until he absolutely had to know. Mulaney told Jimmy Fallon that he received a call from "a big company" asking if he wanted to be part of the movie, but was told, "We can't tell you anything about it and we can't send you a script." It wasn't until Mulaney expressed interest in learning more and met with studio representatives in person that they divulged specifics about the film and his character, Spider-Ham.

Mulaney is proud to have been included. Speaking to GQ in 2020 he said, "They made such an incredible film that I definitely felt a part of it. It felt like watching a perfect meal being served and I knew I chopped the garlic. I felt in awe of it."

He hosted a short-lived podcast with Nick Kroll

John Mulaney attended Georgetown University with fellow comic Nick Kroll, and the two of them have frequently collaborated over the years. The pair originated two characters, George St. Geeland (Mulaney) and Gil Faizon (Kroll), cranky elder gentlemen, long ago and adapted them for a sketch called "Oh, Hello" on Comedy Central's "Kroll Show" in 2013. They later took the act onstage, performing on Broadway as the geezerly friends — you can catch a recording on Netflix — and, eventually, adapted the characters for a podcast.

Debuting in the quarantine era of spring 2020, "Oh, Hello: the P'dcast" is hosted in character by Mulaney and Kroll as St. Geeland and Faizon. The series' eight episodes chronicle, for reasons unknown to even the "producers" of the show as they appear within the narrative, the life and death of Princess Diana. As George and Gil always like to say, "Women come and go, but best friends are the only thing you can count on and they should share social security numbers." It's this strange dynamic that makes George and Gil terrible for hosting a crime podcast — and equally makes Mulaney and Kroll perfect for playing George and Gil being terrible at hosting a crime podcast.

The "P'dcast" includes guest appearances from the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Pete Davidson, and others. It was peak quarantine entertainment, and is still worth a listen for anyone who missed it at the time of release.

He's been open about his struggle with drugs

Mulaney is a joke teller, but he has also used his platform to openly discuss an ongoing struggle with drugs and recovery. Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen, and a number of other longtime friends of the star — who he amiably described as "a 'We Are The World' of alternative comedians over the age of 40" — even held an intervention for Mulaney toward the end of 2020, leading to Mulaney going into rehab.

"At that moment in time, I wanted to continue doing drugs," Mulaney told Meyers in a revealing interview on "Late Night" in September 2021. "Sitting here tonight, I'm so grateful to you and to everyone there for saving my life." Meyers likewise reflected, "It was awful, mostly because you do those things because you're really worried about your friend, so it starts from there."

Mulaney has publicly discussed the steps he's taking to eliminate drugs from his lifestyle — poking fun at himself by including some of his rehab experiences, such as deleting his drug dealer's contact from his phone — into his stand-up routines. While he might be making light of the situation, he seems to be taking it seriously.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Mulaney was the third-fastest person to join SNL's Five-Timers Club

From 2018 to 2022, John Mulaney hosted "Saturday Night Live" five times in as many seasons. As Yahoo! notes, that makes him the third-fastest person in the show's 47-year history to achieve entry into the prestigious Five-Timers Club. (By contrast, Paul Rudd also joined the Five-Timers Club the same season as Mulaney, but it took him 13 years to do so.)

The distinction is depicted as an actual, physical club in a recurring sketch typically performed when someone new gets inducted, awarding them their exclusive Five-Timers robe. For Mulaney's turn, he was welcomed by the likes of Steve Martin, Candice Bergen, Elliott Gould, and Tina Fey. Also making an appearance was Conan O'Brien, who noted that while he may not have hosted "SNL" five times, he, like Mulaney, is an example of someone who started as a writer and whose path to the spotlight was an unpredictable trajectory.

He's similar to his Rescue Rangers persona

Mulaney voiced Chip in the 2022 movie "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers," and considers himself to have similar personality traits — both good and bad — to his chipmunk likeness. Opposite Dale's gung-ho, adventurous personality, Chip prefers to have a plan and stick to it. 

"I do really see myself in Chip," Mulaney said in the movie's press materials. "I think Chip is a little wound tight, which I can be as well. He doesn't always embrace having fun. I can totally relate to that. Chip gets very frustrated with people, which I can see in myself, but I am working on in my later years."

"Rescue Rangers" is hardly Mulaney's first experience with voice acting. In addition to Spider-Ham, he voices a main character in the ongoing Netflix animated series "Big Mouth." Mulaney told GQ that he enjoys the process of voice acting and how it so fully engages him as a performer.

"You're throwing the action into it," he said, making note of the way a voice actor has to emulate the physicality of an action sequence without actually filming any action. "I find it really fun."