Back in February, in the midst of movie award season, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll co-hosted the Film Independent Spirit Awards in a tent on a California beach.
The most memorable aspect of the IFC-aired show was arguably the monologue, where Mulaney and Kroll hilariously skewered Steve Bannon, Hollywood, the male gaze and pretentiousness generally.
"It was genuinely really fun to do," Mulaney tells Exclaim! from his home in Los Angeles. When asked about a brief dramatic flourish, a key instant of their opening remarks, Mulaney admits it was somewhat improvised.
"I was trying to make fun of my relationship towards acting, which is a posturing, just-playing-pretend thing, even though I desperately want to do it well. We weren't planning on doing that moment where Nick says, 'You're a very good actor.' We had done it in rehearsal but I said, 'Maybe we shouldn't do it because, in the moment, I'll be too nervous to display fake acting at the level I want to.'"
"I was nervous," he adds. "It was live and it was two in the afternoon and there's something about that that's disconcerting. I just looked at Nick and said, 'I'm very afraid,' and then we walked out and did it."
Mulaney is one of the most gifted comedic voices of his generation. A brilliant standup, he wrote for Saturday Night Live between 2008 and 2014, co-creating memorable characters like Bill Hader's Stefon. Recently he and Kroll played a pair of elder, opinionated New Yorkers in a stage show called Oh, Hello, which they took to Broadway and filmed for a new Netflix special.
"Doing Oh, Hello with Nick Kroll is the best experience of my career and close to the best experience of my life," Mulaney says sincerely. "I play a character named George St. Geegland and Nick plays Gil Faizon. They're two men in their 70s who are New York leeches who live in a rent-controlled apartment and are self-proclaimed experts in the fields of acting, writing, art, film, culture, politics and the entire world."
Mulaney mentions that it was immensely fun just conceiving of these characters, who are inspired by real New Yorkers. "We saw two guys specifically at the Strand Book Store, a used bookstore in Manhattan whose slogan is '12 Miles of Books' and, as we used to say, '…and eight miles of loneliness.' They were each buying Alan Alda's autobiography, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. They were turtleneck-and-blazer guys. Something about a turtleneck and blazer always makes me laugh. It's a really wack look. Unless you're James Bond, don't do it.
"So, we were interested in them, but there were tidbits of many, many people we'd both met in the past, including ourselves."
Oh, Hello premieres on Netflix on June 13 and Mulaney says it captures a Broadway show filmed on inauguration day.
"It was a different guest every night and a good 20-to-30 minutes was improvised every night. In retrospect it was really fun, but at times, it was a little daunting.
"We would do a segment of the show where we'd have a guest come on our characters' fake, local, public access prank show called Too Much Tuna, where they give someone an enormous tuna sandwich. That interview sometimes ran 20, 25 minutes and then we'd have a post-op, where we'd talk about the interview, throwing in other stuff to make each other laugh. Some things would get honed, but we were always flying pretty loose."
Mulaney is also very excited to be working on Kroll's new animated show, Big Mouth, which he says will also debut on Netflix.
"Yes, I do a voice on it. We're currently recording season two and the first season will be out in the fall. I play a character named Andrew, who is Nick's character's best friend growing up. The show was created by Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, who were best friends growing up.
"I will say I am Nick's best friend and if he disputes it, I'll be heartbroken," Mulaney adds. "It's such a funny group of writers and it's a jaw-dropping look at puberty, but also very warm and funny. It's geared to how emotional and filthy you are when you were 13."
Mulaney's own 2015 standup special for Netflix, The Comeback Kid, is just now coming to vinyl courtesy of Drag City, which is based in Mulaney's Chicago hometown. Beyond that connection, Mulaney made a pointed effort to work with the respected imprint.
"I really like the work they put out," he explains. "I like the people there and the way they treat and care about the artists on their label. Look, music is going to be digitized; that's not up for debate. But [Drag City is conscious of] protecting artists from the types of streaming services that aren't really looking out for them at all and, in many cases, exploiting them. And then also embracing places that do it correctly for the artists and songwriters.
"They also put out great stuff — it's not solely their principles."
A busy man, Mulaney has been travelling a lot lately, performing standup dates on his Kid Gorgeous tour.
"Yeah, I'm touring now and will be recording a new special within the next 12 months I believe," he says. "It's more adventures from the same idiot. I can't really give you a hallmark from it yet. Some more yelling is about all I can really tease."
The trek has brought him to a few Canadian cities already with more to come this summer, which, lover of Canada that he is, suits Mulaney just fine.
"I had never done Halifax — the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium — and then the National Arts Centre in Ottawa was beautiful. I always enjoy going to the Juste Pour Rire Festival in Montreal and love playing Toronto as well." (He's appearing at both the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal in July and the JFL42 festival in Toronto in September.)
Not many Americans might invoke French but that's just John Mulaney. "Please. It's the least I can do."
You can find Mulaney tour dates here.
Listen to the full interview with John Mulaney on the Kreative Kontrol podcast: