John Mulaney sports an everyman facade, but his voice is one of the sharpest in stand-up.
“To me, [stand-up] is the primary thing forever,” he says. Big words from a guy who’s held dream jobs like writing for “SNL” and starring in his own (albeit ill-fated) sitcom, “Mulaney.”
“At every phase, even ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I really missed being able to go out and tour,” he says. “I think I started the week after [“Mulaney”] got shut down.”
And it’s been satisfying, in cities large and small. “I’m always struck by how much bigger places are than I thought,” he notes. Fans in Clearwater, Florida, Mulaney says, sound a lot like the ones in Austin or New York. Those New York fans were just treated to his set at the iconic Carnegie Hall. That show was “really, legitimately fun while it was happening,” the comic says. “Most of my life, I sort of later realize things were fun.”
Last time in Philly…
“I love the Merriam,” Mulaney says of his Saturday show. “It’s a beautiful place.”
But he also enjoyed his last stop here, at the more intimate Trocadero. “You’re right in front of the front row, and I like that,” he recalls. “But I’m so terrified of falling off the stage anytime I’m there.”
On top of a good venue, a friend who works at Federal Donuts helped sweeten his visit.
“I had a lot of chicken and donuts,” he says. “It both weighs you down, and you have a sugar rush. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what it’s like to do stand-up on drugs.’”
Mulaney’s known for stand-up bits about “Law and Order.” So when a writer for his sitcom suggested gangsta-rapper-turned-“SVU”-actor Ice-T for a voiceover in the theme song, he acted fast.
“Normally, I’m so passive,” Mulaney recalls. “But that was one of those times when I got on the phone and was like, ‘You will call Ice-T right now. And we will book him.’”
He had Ice-T recite the cast’s names and many variations of “‘Mulaney’ is filmed in front of a live studio audience.”
“We had a lot of, ‘“Mulaney” is filmed in front of a live motherf—ing audience.’ And at one point, someone was like, ‘Why do you keep doing takes of that? You know you can’t use it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ll keep them for my own purposes.’”
‘I might as well be hung over’
Notwithstanding his choir-boy demeanor, Mulaney has a history of alcoholism, which he discussed in early material.
Now 32 and married, he rarely thinks about it anymore. “People aren’t offering me drinks at home, because it’s just my wife and a puppy.”
If one thing reminds him of those days, it’s aging.
“I’m starting to just be more tired as a human,” he says. ‘There was such an immediate feeling of being sober, how rested and how much better I felt. . . . Now there are days where I’m like, ‘I might as well be hung over —I didn’t sleep at all, and I ate so much yesterday. Like, I might as well have gone on a bender.’”
Mulaney got his start at Georgetown University, alongside Nick Kroll and Mike Birbiglia —both of whom make a living in comedy today. And more of his comedy pals are finding success.
“There’s lots of good work coming out of good friends. . . . Like, Chelsea Peretti was always the funniest person in the world, and now a lot of people know it,” he says.“It’s motivating. You feel like, ‘Oh, God – someone I know made a movie? We can do that?’”
And Mulaney sees peers finding not just success, but fulfillment, in movies, stand-up and television. “[Lately] people seem to be able to do their own thing more, which is great,” he says. “The only bummer of it is that you never get to all be in the same room with each other.”
John Mulaney is at the Merriam Theater Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are at www.kimmelcenter.org.