John Mulaney Turned Down the Hosting Gig on ‘The Daily Show’ Because His Sitcom Sucked So Bad
Imagine making a multi-cam sitcom featuring the hottest stand-up comedian in the country, only for the show to be so bad that your star would end up turning down his next big break for fear of a second bust. Lorne Michaels doesn’t have to imagine it — he lived it.
John Mulaney is back in the stand-up game after years of personal and tabloid turmoil, and his latest special Baby J proved to be both an evolution and a return to form for every twenty-something white woman’s all-time favorite comedian besides Bo Burnham. After his recent rehab stint and divorce that threatened to derail the star’s appeal amongst the young-millennial-to-old-zoomer demographic, Mulaney once again proved himself to be the Comeback Kid, reminding us that this definitely isn’t the first time he’s had to reconstruct his brand. Back in 2015, the failure of his Fox sitcom Mulaney was the cause of another soul-search, one that caused him to turn down an opportunity to succeed Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
As Mulaney revealed to former Viacom executive Doug Herzog on the most recent episode of the podcast Basic!, Comedy Central attempted to wine-and-dine Mulaney when Stewart first announced his resignation from one of the most formidable desks in late-night, but Mulaney was so “gun-shy” following the failure of the sitcom that shared his name that he couldn’t accept the responsibility and the pressure of the offer. Instead, we got Trevor Noah, who didn’t accept those things either but still sat in the chair for seven years.
When Mulaney was taken off the air by Fox, executive producer Michaels and his production company Broadway Video had only managed to make 13 unlucky episodes of the ill-conceived sitcom that dared to ask the question, “What if we remade Seinfeld without any of the charm?” The show was supposed to feature Mulaney as an up-and-coming comic with a wacky cast of neighbors and roommates to bounce quips off of, but the multi-cam, laugh track set-up lent an almost soap opera-like quality to the production, and the general lack of chemistry between Mulaney, Martin Short and Dean Cain (who perplexingly played himself) led to bad reviews and worse ratings before the network pulled the plug.
Shortly after the series was canned, Mulaney was invited to a dinner with Comedy Central then-president Kent Alterman who had hoped to “float (Mulaney’s) interest” in the Daily Show gig. Mulaney recalled, “I was extremely flattered that y’all were asking me about it. I sensed they would be big shoes to fill.” However, he wouldn’t entertain the idea of filling them.
“I was gun-shy from putting myself out there at that moment after the Fox run, and I sensed all eyes would be on whoever came after Mr. Stewart,” Mulaney explained, “It wasn’t the right thing at the moment. I remember saying to Kent, ‘I wish it was five years from now.’ He went, ‘Yeah, but it’s not.’” Comedy Central didn’t have the time for Mulaney’s mourning period, and he understood that, saying, “Kent had a great tone of, ‘I hear you. I’ll hear out anything you have to say, but it’s now and we’re asking you about it. We can’t talk hypothetically for that long at this dinner, John.’”
Today, Mulaney is back at the top of the stand-up racket, and The Daily Show is once again searching for a new host. Perhaps its time for Mulaney and Comedy Central to pick up where they left off — Broadway Video be damned, but Dean Cain has to be part of it.