The Sitdown: John Mulaney talks new sitcom, ‘Seinfeld’ and Stefon

SHARE The Sitdown: John Mulaney talks new sitcom, ‘Seinfeld’ and Stefon

John Mulaney, 32, stars in a new sitcom — filmed in front of a studio audience — about a stand-up comic living in a New York City apartment, surrounded by a gaggle of quirky friends.

Sounds like something that falls under the header “John and Jerry.”

Inevitable “Seinfeld” comparisons aside, “Mulaney” is a semi-autobiographical series about the Lincoln Park native’s early career years, before he landed a writing gig in 2008 on “Saturday Night Live.” His five-year legacy at NBC’s late-night sketch show includes co-creating the inimitable Stefon character with Bill Hader. Mulaney’s younger sister, Claire, now represents the Irish Catholic clan in the “SNL” writers’ room.

Passed over by NBC before finding a home at Fox, “Mulaney” also stars Nasim Pedrad, Elliott Gould, Martin Short, Seaton Smith and Zack Pearlman.

Unfortunately, early episodes aren’t nearly as funny as their creator and namesake, a graduate of Saint Clement School and Saint Ignatius College Prep.

RELATED: Nasim Pedrad on ‘SNL’ cast departures, new role on ‘Mulaney’

“Mulaney” debuts at 8:30 p.m. Sunday on WFLD-Channel 32.

I chatted with the former Chicagoan at the TV critics’ summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California, where he had this to say:

I loved it at “SNL” but I wanted to make a move to do something else. I just remember thinking to myself the type of show I want to do is the type of show I grew up on, which was a live-audience sitcom that was very character-based. Those were the shows I loved as a kid, and it would be really cool to try to do one with my sense of humor. Two years later, we’re here.

I would have been shocked if people didn’t say it [is like “Seinfeld”]. But it’s a very different show to me. I chose to play a stand-up comedian so that I would get to do stand-up on the show. I knew people would roll their eyes at that but that’s OK. People don’t seem to be saying, “This seems like ‘Seinfeld’ therefore I won’t watch it.”

This comes from a time in my life when I was living with two roommates and I was trying to do stand-up comedy. I was freelance writing for different people, would write for comedians to do things like award shows and talk shows. It was such an interesting time because like the character, I kind of came into it with a certain old-fashioned idea of what show business was. And then suddenly, living in Brooklyn, trying to do stand-up spots … it was just a funny surprise to see what a grind it was.

I remember doing the Comedians of Comedy at the Vic [in 2007]. Patton Oswalt was on that tour and Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford. That was early, early for me doing stand-up. It was just a huge deal being able to perform at the Vic with them. I’ve had some awesome weekends at Zanies since then. I haven’t been back to Chicago in a while and it’s bugging me.

Stefon came about in a sketch that we did at about, you know, 4 in the morning one night when Ben Affleck was hosting [“SNL”]. It was a sketch where Stefon, the character that we eventually did on “Weekend Update,” was trying to pitch a movie with his brother, and they are very different. Ben Affleck is playing this straight-laced screenwriter and Stefon is his brother, interrupting the pitch. It was similar to the character you saw, but it was in a totally different sketch setting. Once we brought Stefon to be a commentator on “Update,” it took on this new energy.

My stand-up is probably a little cynical but hopeful as well. Who I am both as a person, unfortunately, and as a comedian is someone with high hopes and high aspirations who can be disappointed by the world. I think that’s carried through in the show.

My character is from Chicago. I’m not inventive enough to change that, nor would I want to. It’s a particular type of person who’s used to a big city but maybe has a warmer sensibility than the East Coast.

I just got married in the Catskills outside New York. My wife [makeup artist Annamarie Tendler] is from Connecticut so we’re kind of identified as East Coast people. After we got engaged we moved out here [Los Angeles] to work on the show.

I have one Emmy. I’m allowed to keep it out if my wife can put stuff on top of it. So we have it in our apartment in New York with a shirt and a stuffed animal on it.

The fact that [NBC] would pass on a show called “Mulaney” with a comic that not everyone knows — it’s not that crazy. In bringing it to Fox, I got the blessing to do what I probably secretly wanted to do, which was just to make it a lot looser.

I was sitting in my apartmentwriting the pilot and it was one of those things where I’m imagining this large, show business personality that I’m working for. I’m imagining this great New York veteran who is kind of my neighbor and my mentor and I put down “a Martin Short type or an Elliott Gould type.” To actually get the actors themselves was incredible. Just talking to these gentlemen for the first time on the phone was some of the most excited and nervous I’ve been in this whole process.

<b><i>John Mulaney comforts his boss Lou (Martin Short) in “Mulaney.” | Fox photo</i></b>

John Mulaney comforts his boss Lou (Martin Short) in “Mulaney.” | Fox photo

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