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John Mulaney Slows It Down and Soaks in the Laughs Coming off of Baby J'


John Mulaney had only been working in comedy for five years when he landed a role as a writer at Saturday Night Live in 2008. Hilariously, I felt seasoned when I got to SNL, he told For the Record. And he may well have been-after four hysterical years, John left the show and went on to create his own stand-up tours, TV series (Big Mouth), and the Broadway show Oh, Hello. He's renowned for his wit and one-liners, which are what make his most recent special, Baby J, so peculiar and compelling.

Baby J is a wide-ranging conversation on John's life over the past three-plus years following a drug intervention 20 comedian friends held for him. Full of winding stories and recollections, it's a fast-paced, full-throttle hour full of laughter with a fair bit of cringe. The show is available for streaming on Netflix and the album is available on Spotify.

John's an avid lover of audio and is conscientious about the medium as it relates to comedy. He's also a podcast aficionado, which is how he discovers some of his favorite New York haunted places stories, and a music fan. He recently created a Spotify mixtape featuring the early Sun Ra song Dreaming, Television's Days, and Bo Diddley's Say Man that John wants to claim as the first diss track ever.

For the Record had the opportunity to sit down with the comedian for another wide-ranging conversation.

You spent more than four years working on Saturday Night Live. What are a few of the lessons you learned while writing for the show? The biggest thing I learned is that sometimes you have to burn the furniture, which means that if you have a really good idea and you're saving it for a couple of weeks from now and you're faced with a show that looks a little light or a host that you're having trouble coming up with ideas for, sometimes you have to use your best idea right then and there and not save it for the future.

You have to make decisions. When you write a sketch at Saturday Night Live, you're the producer of it. You're in charge of the sets, the costumes, the look of it, any pre-tapes, any special effects. And you have a couple hours, max, to make most of the decisions on a sketch, because then you have to get into the actual doing of it.

This has played out in other career aspects. Just make decisions-you might make the wrong one. What seems to unnerve other people and what seems to shake the confidence of something is when you can't make decisions. If someone asks you, This one or that one? just say, That one! You might be wrong, but you have to move forward. A lot of things die on the vine of indecision.

Who are some of your biggest comedic influences and inspirations? Comedian Taylor Negron. He passed away close to 10 years ago, but he had a monologue he did for The Moth, and it's about how he had a pet monkey as a kid. It's really slow. There's a real presence he has, and a real pace that I love. He even steps back from the microphone during laughs in a way that I've always liked. But I'm trying not to rush through things as much, which is what I did for the first 20 or so years.

But I think about Taylor a lot onstage. His pace has a real warmth to it. I think much less about drawing inspiration from people's material or their point of view. Just stage presence stuff. That's always been a little more interesting to me.

That seems to be apparent in your latest work. In your earlier stand-up specials, your bits are often no longer than two minutes. Meanwhile, your Baby J stories consistently clock in over five minutes. Was this an intentional style shift? The New in Town special I did for Comedy Central a handful of years ago had a mix of one-minute jokes and then one pretty long story at the end. I followed a model of having these very concise tracks-a way to talk fast if you're listening while driving and it comes up on shuffle-and then less snappy, big chunks.

And then with Baby J, I found I wanted to string together as many moments as I could per track, because I've found that people have a memory for what joke went into what joke. People say, Wait I remember he went into something else from that! So if they're on shuffle, the moments feel cut off. So I tried to keep as much stuff married to each other as possible, to keep all the jokes that were the same orbit as each other together.

It's interesting to hear you talk about the way you've thought about your work in audio versus filmed. Why do you find it beneficial to have your shows on multiple types of streaming platforms? There were two things that really marked when I was lucky enough for my career to take off. One was when the New in Town special went to Netflix. The other was when I started to become the second-most-played Pandora station when people would search, say, Jim Gaffigan. And it happened with a few other very big comics at the time. And I just found that a lot of people were listening to the first couple albums that I had because of that. And they were hearing them on shuffle. And I thought, Oh, any of these tracks could be the absolute first introduction someone has to me. Each of these has to talk fast.

There's a tendency on comedy albums to shorten laughs after tracks. But to me, I was like, no, I need that person who's hearing me for the first time to go, Oh that joke killed. What was that again?

Baby J is a departure from some of your previous work when it comes to subject matter. What's the role of comedy in tackling difficult topics? I don't think about it. All I thought in this one was, I'm looking to make the funniest special possible, and these are the topics. And these are the parts of my life I'm going to share. I did not want to lean on the pregnant pause of Isn't this serious? That bored
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