Chad White, Honest with himself, Who am I kidding?
When John Mulaney left Saturday Night Live, he knew he’d be going to bigger and better things. Getting to SNL was no small task in itself but Mulaney knows a comic has to move on at some point. Everyone leaves that first job to go to something more coveted. David Letterman started out as a weatherman. He then transitioned through several jobs such as becoming a regular guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson – a show which he eventually took over. Jerry Seinfeld went from college comedian to open mic star to an NBC show of his own. Even Chris Rock, who took the stage in New York City’s Catch a Rising Star, gained critical success early at a young age. The thing these guys have in common is their relationship to TV, or rather their own TV shows. Collectively, these guys have 111 years of comedic experience; it’s no wonder they got their own shows. Now newer comedians are getting their chance to shine on the silver screen.
Mulaney’s self-titled show premiered in the fall of 2014 on NBC. From that day forward, it was critically panned. People hated it. It has a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 38% on Metacritic. It’s easy to dismiss these numbers as pure internet fluff (it’s commonly said not to trust aggregate review scores) but there must be a twinge of truth within the percentages. How else would dozens upon dozens of critics happen to agree with one another?
Yes, Mulaney is a bad show. But it has all of the necessary building blocks needed in order to succeed. Cast? They got Nasim Pedrad, Elliot Gould and Martin Short. The latter two have been lauded in the business for the past four decades and the former worked with Mulaney during a second renaissance of SNL. Producers can’t be a problem because Lorne Michaels was behind the project. Say what you will about him and his innate ability to help make some real stinkers, the man who reportedly doesn’t like to laugh knows what’s funny. What about writing? Mulaney, Dan Mintz (Tina from Bob’s Burgers) and Justin Spitz (who wrote a lot of U.S. Office episodes) shared writing duties with a few others.
So what went wrong?
Perhaps it was the sheer weight of the star studded behind the scenes crew or maybe it was the pressure to make a good sitcom (that is filmed in front of a live studio audience) or chalk it up to plain old bad luck. The fact of the matter is Mulaney took his failure in stride. Being compared to NBC’s other comedian based sitcom Seinfeld –albeit a more successful one— helped in the fall of Mulaney. The shows opened in fairly the same way with the titular comedians taking the stage in front of an audience (Seinfeld at a comedy club and Mulaney in the studio) then transitioned to the main setting (said comedian’s apartment). Both had a group of friends that imposed upon everything they did. And both were comedians by trade.
But Mulaney does have its differences. The three main characters live together instead of a constant barrage of coming and going. The fact that Mulaney breaks the fourth wall during his monologue/stand up is refreshing. Elliot Gould and Martin Short were regulars. Oh and then there’s Ice T who narrates the opening of the show. Maybe Mulaney did get some inspiration from Seinfeld but it’s changed to fit today’s modern landscape. However, it wasn’t enough to make a good show.
Listening to Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, one can understand the plight Mulaney went through during the time the show was on the air. He knows the show isn’t what he wanted it to be. But he also knows that he put more heart into that project than anything else he’s ever done in his life. He’s not ashamed of what he’s done. In fact he jokes about it:
Watch Mulaney joke about the show’s ratings on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Mulaney hears what the critics are saying and will evolve accordingly. Other people in the entertainment industry can learn from the comedian. Some sites have even taken a stance to stand up for the show. You have to take positive and negative feedback in order to mature into something better. Sure, it may be tough to recover from a defeat in Hollywood, but Mulaney is a NBC baby. He’ll get another job soon.