Reminder: John Mulaney’s Show Was A Lousy 'Seinfeld' Clone
With his gossip-friendly private life and stand-up stardom, lots of people talk about John Mulaney. But something people rarely talk about?
“The premise of (Mulaney) is kind of a non-premise,” the comic said when he was promoting his 2014-2015 sitcom. Oh, so sort of … a show about nothing?
One of the only out-and-out misfires of Mulaney’s career, the short-lived show failed because it tried a little too hard to clone the most successful sitcom of the 1990s, Seinfeld. Instead, Mulaney was a bad Xerox copy -- hard to make out, a little smudgy, and it smelled weird.
For those of you who weren’t paying attention, here’s a reminder of the similarities between the two shows:
Mulaney was a show whose title was also the last name of its star …
About a stand-up comedian living in New York City …
Who happens to share the same name as the real-life comedian.
Each show opened with the comedian delivering a monologue in a comedy club.
The comedian lives in an apartment with a connected living room/kitchen …
Often frequented by an attractive single girl who’s a friend BUT NOT A GIRLFRIEND …
And an oddball pal who shows up at the door uninvited, full of wacky schemes. We’ll call him
There’s also an older Jewish man (Elliott Gould) dispensing weird wisdom, who for some reason is not named Frank Costanza.
See what we mean? Before the show even launched, Time was writing articles like "8 Ways the Trailer for Mulaney Resembles Seinfeld." The trailer!
There were differences of course. Instead of George, Mulaney’s best pal is a Black stand-up comic named Motif. He’s offbeat, like comedians are, but not a complete mess like George.
The show also starred Martin Short as Lou Cannon, an eccentric, old-timey comedy legend/game show host for whom Mulaney gets a writing job. While the other characters play the jokes with Seinfeld-ian understatement, Short seems like he’s on another show entirely. That show is Saturday Night Live, with Short’s broad caricature playing to the folks in the imaginary balconies.
While John Mulaney The Real Guy has generally been beloved by critics, Mulaney the Sitcom was not. Entertainment Weekly laid down the smack: “It’s like Seinfeld … but not funny.”
But the thing is -- Mulaney should have been funny! The cast was killer (Short is great when someone reins him in 12%; see Only Murders in the Building) and the timing seemed right. John had proven everything there was to prove on SNL, as had Pedrad. It was time to funnel those talents into a great show, like Tina Fey (30 Rock), Amy Poehler (Parks and Rec) and Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) had done.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
After the show’s cancelation (it didn’t last a full season), Mulaney briefly returned to his roots to work on SNL’s 40th-anniversary show. It was there he got assigned to write a bit for … you guessed it … Jerry Seinfeld. Gulp.
“He had some very encouraging, very kind things to say,” remembers Mulaney. “It was so exciting and kind of — in my own small world — poignant.”
Seinfeld commiserated with Mulaney about the grind of running a TV show. “To be able to talk to him, with both of us going, “It’s the worst,” was very cathartic,” Mulaney says. “He was like, ‘You starred in and wrote and produced your own network show. Well, it’s me and you and only a few other people who have done that.’”
Comedy life got better for Mulaney after 2015, but he has no regrets about the misfire. “Obviously, it wasn’t fun to get bad reviews, but I don’t have any feeling that it’s an injustice,” he says.
“I have a real respect for when the audience goes, ‘Nope.’”
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Top image: Broadway Video