Follow TV Tropes


Creator / John Mulaney

Go To

"I wanna tell you one more story before I get out of here..."
––from The Comeback Kid

John Edmund Mulaney (born August 26, 1982) is a stand-up comedian, actor, comedy writer, Irish Catholic, and oh yeah, The Salt And Pepper Diner guy. Born in Chicago, Mulaney became a huge comedy fan at an early age, and he and his best friend would act out skits in junior high for his class. He is a graduate of Georgetown University in English Literature, and shortly after he moved to New York for a career in comedy.

After serving as an office assistant at Comedy Central, he became a writer for Saturday Night Live, where he remained for six seasons (and came back to host four times, the most an SNL writer who never crossed over to being a cast member has done and only one of three SNL writers who were never picked to be cast members to come back and host, joining Conan O'Brien and Larry David). He occasionally cameoed on Weekend Update, and you can also thank him and Bill Hader for the character of Stefon gracing your screen. Mulaney is a Primetime Emmy Award winner for his SNL work. Unfortunately, his FOX sitcom Mulaney, which debuted in 2014 and co-starred fellow SNL alumni Nasim Pedrad and Martin Short, didn't fare well in the ratings and barely managed a single season.


Most of you reading this, however, probably recognize John Mulaney more for his stand-up comedy, which is characterized by a theatrical, energetic delivery and a real knack for storytelling. He has four specials thus far: The Top Part in 2009, New in Town in 2012, The Comeback Kid in 2015, and Kid Gorgeous in 2018, the latter of which earned him another Primetime Emmy for writing. Famous bits include, of course, "The Salt & Pepper Diner," his love of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and his bits on his past as a blackout drunk.

John was married to make-up artist Annamarie Tendler from 2014 to 2021, and he wasted no time joking about married life in The Comeback Kid.

In 2018, he broke into films by voicing Spider-Ham in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and in 2019 he starred in John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch.


Not to be confused with Grant Gustin, with whom he shares a resemblance.

Tropes associated with John Mulaney's career and his comedy numbers include:

  • Accidental Pervert:
    • His "Chase Through the Subway" had him accidentally come across like he was trying to grab a woman in the New York subway. He initially thought the woman was running because she heard a train, only to realize "she's running from me because adults sometimes rape each other".
    • In The Comeback Kid, the toddler daughter of his friend says "Uncle John has a penis". While it was From the Mouths of Babes, John talked about how there was really no good way to play that off.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • From "The One Thing You Can't Replace."
      John: So a Chicago police officer walked down the stairs, and got to the bottom in the basement, and looked out over a sea of drunk teenagers, yelling "Fuck da police", in his face. [beat] And he was almost impressed! He was like, "Wow."
    • John had the same reaction to his father pulling into a McDonald's drive-thru with four kids in the back of the car, all begging to go to McDonald's... then ordering one small black coffee for himself, and nothing else.
    • He claims that the best heckling he ever got was actually when he was in the audience for another comedian's act. The comedian, getting sick of John's highly recognizable Annoying Laugh, called out to the audience, "all right, John? You don't hear me laughing at your shows!"
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: He quit drinking because he would often get blackout drunk and proceed to ruin parties (or so he was told). He says one of the biggest downsides of quitting drinking is no longer being able to use it as an excuse for your bad behavior.
    John: If you quit drinking, you're about to lose the best excuse you've ever had in your life, which is, "I'm really sorry about last night, I was just so drunk." That is a "Get out of Jail Free" Card that you don't even realize you have until you lose it. I can't say that anymore. I can never be like, "I'm really sorry about last night, I was just so drunk." Now I have to be like, "I'm really sorry about last night, it's just that I'm mean and loud... It probably will happen again."
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Self-described as such in New In Town. Specifically, when he was younger, he says that he was the spirit of an old gay man in the body of a nine-year-old.
    • A concern of John's father, who once took him aside and explained that Leonard Bernstein wrote some of his finest material when repressing his homosexuality; John admits he's not sure if his father was more concerned about him being gay, or if he wanted him to be a composer.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • A lot of people were surprised to find out that not only are JJ Bittenbinder and his classes on "STREET SMARTS!" real, but John was not exaggerating Bittenbinder's cartoonish mannerisms. The actual Bittenbinder is apparently not a fan of his depiction in John's routine, either.
    • The part of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where Ice-T's character learns about sex addiction happened exactly like John described it during his New in Town bit. Even the specific phrasing of "bets the house on the ponies" is intact.
  • Annoying Laugh: By his own admission, he inhales when he laughs, creating a weird choking noise.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The titular bit from New In Town where someone comes up to him on the streets and says he's homeless, gay, has AIDS, and is new in town. Lampshaded by Mulaney.
    John: You're gonna close with "new in town"? That is not the most dramatic thing that you just said.
  • Art Evolution/Vocal Evolution: He's refined his stand-up style in every special since "The Top Part", specifically his impressions, pacing, and even his normal speaking voice, which are all much more energetic and show more variety in tone and pitch.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The conclusion of his "Buying the Cow" routine from The Comeback Kid, almost word-for-word, where he pokes fun at the phrase "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"
    John: Let's be real: why buy the cow? Because you love her. You really do.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: John describes most of detective Bittenbinder's self-defense tips as such. Like throwing money clips full of cash as a distraction to get away from muggers. Or trying to fend off assailants by lying on your back and kicking them with your feet.
    John: Bittenbinder, he didn't want us to not get kidnapped. He wanted us to almost get kidnapped, and then fight the guy off using weird, psych out, backroom Chicago violence.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: A favorite of John's.
    John: [I don't care for] these new Nazis. "Oh, Jews are the worst, and Jews ruin everything, and Jews try to take over your life". Well, you know what, motherfucker? My wife is Jewish. I know all that, how do you know all that?
  • Break Them by Talking: John says that he's terrified of 13-year-olds because they're mean in an accurate way, finding the thing you hate most about yourself and using that against you.
    John: They don't even need to look at you for long, they'll just be like "Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha! Look at that high-waisted man, he's got feminine hips!" and I'm like "NO, THAT'S THE THING I'M SENSITIVE ABOUT!"
  • Brick Joke: He uses this one a lot. In New In Town, "The One Thing You Can't Replace" makes a reference to John's earlier joke about leaving a horse to pet-sit your dog.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Subverted. John's parents went to college with Bill Clinton but he's a bit older than them. Since it was in downtown Washington DC, the school liked for the guys to walk the girls home at night. Bill Clinton walked his mom home a couple of times. His dad didn't think Clinton would remember her. As it turned out, he did.
    John: We land at Bill Clinton's feet. Bill Clinton turns, looks at my mom, and says, "Hey, Ellen." 'Cause he never forgets a bitch, ever.
  • Camp Straight: John believes he is this, moreso when he was a child. He also imagines that when God was making him, he meant for him to be gay but forgot the last step before sending him to Earth.
  • Corpsing: You can hear John fighting to control his laughter during New In Town when he describes how Ice-T handles New York's "most sensitive cases" in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
  • Could Say It, But...: In his bit concerning "garbage airlines", John decides against naming an actual airline and chooses to make up a name. The name he chooses is "Delta Airlines".
  • Culture Clash: Referenced in Kid Gorgeous; John's wife, being raised in a secular Jewish household, thinks that The Last Supper portrays the disciples eating Thanksgiving, with Jesus sitting in front of a turkey.
  • The Danza: On Mulaney.
  • A Deadly Affair: Discussed in The Comeback Kid:
    John: I would always think to could a human being kill another human being? And then I got cheated on and I was like, "Oh, okay. I'm not gonna do it, but I totally get it." And I don't mean in that way of, like, no one else can have you. It's just creepy to have an ex out there after things have ended badly. They have a lot of information. Anyone who's seen my dick and met my parents needs to die. I can't have them running around.
  • Deadpan Snarker: He wouldn't be John Mulaney without it.
  • Dedication: Sitting through the credits will show that The Comeback Kid is dedicated to his wife Anna.
  • Disconnected by Death: Discussed when talking about technology in Kid Gorgeous:
    John: People walk around on the phone now, “Hello? You still there? Lost him.” And that’s it. No follow-through with that guy. Fifty years ago, if you were on the telephone with your friend and suddenly the line just went dead, that meant your friend was murdered!
  • Drives Like Crazy: Despite his best efforts.
    John: I just want you all to know that if you're ever on the highway behind me, I hear you honking, and I also don't want me to be doing what I'm doing. I don't like that I'm in that lane either, and I sure would like to get out of it.
    • Apparently, he's so bad that he once reversed onto a highway off-ramp.
  • Executive Meddling: Why his sitcom didn’t work. Mulaney grew up absolutely loving sitcoms and it was his big dream, but he did not want to be known as difficult to work with or a diva, so he let them change the song he wanted for the theme and lots of other stuff.
  • Exact Words:
    • When John's dad wanted his kids to calm down during a long road trip, they said they wanted to go to McDonald's. John's dad agreed, pulled into a McDonald's drive-thru, then ordered a small black coffee for himself and nothing else. After all, he didn't say he'd be buying them anything.
    • How he argued with his attorney father as a child when asked if he brushed his teeth before bed. He answers yes, and his father counters by showing him his "bone-dry" toothbrush. John counters that he never specified when he brushed his teeth and that the record will show that he did not perjure himself.
    • In Kid Gorgeous, John mentions that his wife Anna said that John could make jokes about her, as long as he didn't say that she's a bitch and that he hates her. After the initial shock ("The bar is so much lower than I ever imagined!"), he declares on stage "my wife is a bitch, and I like her so much!"
  • Extreme Doormat: To his dog and Delta Airlines.
    John: You could pour soup in my lap and I’d probably apologize to you!
  • Feeling Their Age: Discussed in Kid Gorgeous — where John states that he's at the stage before "old" — he's "gross", and says he feels a lot damper than he used to.
  • For the Evulz: The end of his "The One Thing You Can't Replace" routine. His friend would go to parties at other people's houses and steal family photos because they couldn't be replaced.
  • Godwin's Law: Deconstructed during a routine wherein he talks about a friend saying (apparently apropos of nothing), "So you wouldn't kill Hitler if you saw him walking down the street?" John points out that realistically, a situation where he saw Hitler walking down the street would mean that "Hitler" would either be an actor in costume or an extremely old man... and John doesn't really want to kill either of those people (especially since he doesn't know what Extremely Old Hitler would even look like and he doesn't want to kill the wrong extremely old man).
  • Happily Married: He never misses a chance to dote on his wife in his stand-up, even while making fun of her.
  • He Knows Too Much: Parodied when he discusses his exes, saying that he wouldn't kill one to keep her from falling for someone else, but because they "have a lot of information".
    John: Anyone who's seen my dick and met my parents has to die. I can't have them running around.
  • Hope Spot: How do you make 21 consecutive plays of "What's New, Pussycat?" even more torturous to the listeners than it already is? Replace #8 — and only #8 — with "It's Not Unusual", giving them that small hope that the ordeal is over, only for it to start right back up again in a couple of minutes.
    John: And the sigh of relief that swept through the diner! People were ecstatic! It was like the liberation of France! You know, for years, scientists have wondered: can you make grown men and women weep tears of joy by playing Tom Jones’s "It’s Not Unusual"? And the answer is: yes, you can, as long as it is preceded by seven "What’s New Pussycat?"s. [beat] And on the other hand...when we went back...holy shit...
  • I Ate WHAT?!: One of John's many (supposed) acts of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy while blackout drunk involves this.
    John: Here's a story I once heard about me: I guess I was 20, and I was at a party at someone's house, and I blacked out drinking, and someone came out of one of the rooms at this party holding, like, an old, antique bottle with some liquid in it, and they said, "Hey, is this whiskey or perfume?" And apparently, I grabbed it, drank all of it, and said, "It's perfume!" And it was.
  • Iconic Outfit: All three of his specials (except "The Top Part") were performed in a suit and tie. Their widespread availability cemented the look as part of Mulaney's brand.
  • Irishman and a Jew: When he and Nick Kroll perform together, he's the Irishman to Kroll's Jew. And, of course, his wife is Jewish as well.
  • Judgment of Solomon: invokedDiscussed when he talks about just how much Fridge Logic is required to make that story work.
    John: ...What kind of awful bitch has just stolen a baby —she stole a baby— and the first time she's asked about it, she's like "Look, I'll take what I can get!"?
  • Keet: Effeminate to the point of Ambiguously Gay, and so energetic he practically runs across the stage in Kid Gorgeous.
  • Manchild: Self-described as such.
  • Matzo Fever: In his act, he states that he likes to date Jewish women because they say exactly what's on their mind and encourage him to stand up for himself. True enough, he married a Jewish woman in the Catskills Mountains.
  • Meaningful Name: The Comeback kid special is titled that as a moniker for Bill Clinton and John Mulaney himself returning from the very public failure of his sitcom.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: John notes that the media loves to play up the attractiveness of female murder victims to enhance the sensationalism. He then notes that sometimes the hype doesn't live up to the reality. "'Beauty Slain'. about 'Body Found'?"
  • Mistaken for Gay: Due to his Camp Straight mannerisms, he says as much in The Comeback Kid.
    John: And.. a lot of people think [I] like bulls.
    Audience: laughs
    John: They assume it!
  • Mistaken Nationality: One routine from New In Town describes his childhood being bullied for being Asian-American.
    John: And the biggest problem with that I'm not Asian-American.
  • Not So Different: How he describes his relationship with his father. His father believes he has no morals because he’s a Democrat and compared him to a Nazi when he was only seven years old, but he always respected him when he could get away with watching TV when not allowed.
    “We are not so different, you and I. You have your law practice and I have all these fuckin' markers.”
  • Not What It Looks Like: His bit about being mistaken for a rapist in a subway. He started running after a woman in the subway, thinking it was because she heard a train coming, only to realize that she was running from him because she was afraid of him and that she now thought he was chasing her.
  • Older Than They Look: Very much so. He himself takes note of this.
    John: I was hoping I would look older. But it didn't happen. I just look worse. I don't think people are looking at me on the street and going, "Hey, look at that man!" I think they're saying, "Wow! That tall child looks terrible!"
  • Once per Episode: All three of his stand-up specials include bits about pop culture (such as Back to the Future in The Comeback Kid), dissections of others' words (New in Town's titular routine), and all three of his finales are storytelling routines starring himself ("The Salt and Pepper Diner" in The Top Part). Kid Gorgeous, however, seems to avoid all three.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted in "The Salt and Pepper Diner" and "The One Thing You Can't Replace", in which his best friend John plays major and minor roles, respectively.
    John: Now, I go into this place one day, when I'm eleven, with my best friend John. I should say that his name is also John. I'm not calling myself my own best friend. It's a separate human being.
  • Raised Catholic: He's no Stephen Colbert, but he's still practicing in a classic Christmas-and-Easter sense. In The Comeback Kid he even jokes that contrary to not being particularly churchgoing, he had all the words and steps to the service memorized and was "batting .400" till they changed the response to the priest saying "Peace be with you". In Kid Gorgeous, he says that while not religious himself (and even joking about it), he gets defensive when people make fun of religious people because his mother still is.
  • Random Passerby Advice: A woman John passed when he was walking down the street told him to "Eat ass, suck a dick, and sell drugs" completely unprompted with no explanation.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Lampshaded in "The One Thing You Can't Replace". The image of a bunch of white, drunk teenagers chanting "FUCK DA POLICE!" in a Chicago police officer's face with complete and total confidence is so impudent, that the officer is, in John's words, almost impressed. And then you learn that John went to a Catholic school.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: referenced in New In Town, when he encounters an old gay man in a public bathroom:
    John: He went, "I'm either having a drink or I have to pee. You're living the golden years, kid, not me." He spoke in rhymes, it was crazy!
  • Saved for the Sequel: Of a sort. During his time as a writer for SNL, John wrote a sketch parody of Les Misérables about two guys ordering lobster in a diner. The sketch was never used until he came back to host many years later, which allowed him to play the role of the waiter.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Wears a suit and tie in New In Town, The Comeback Kid, and Kid Gorgeous.
  • Skewed Priorities: One of the jokes he makes about Law and Order is how some witnesses will continue working, despite being questioned by detectives.
    John: Some of my personal favorites? There's guy-who-while-being-questioned-by-homicide-detectives-will-not-stop-unloading-crates. Doesn't matter to this guy! Double rape and murder? Naaaaaah. He's gotta unload that van!
  • Sophisticated as Hell: He often wears suits when performing stand-up and is mostly clean with the subject matter of his routines, which make the times when he swears that much more memorable.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Chip Mulaney (hypothetically), when asked about the ghost of a little girl living in their house:
    Chip: I didn't kill her! Whoever did kill her only did it to protect her from this world!"
  • Take That!:
    • John's "made-up" "garbage airline" is Delta Airlines.
    • The "horse in a hospital" routine is an unsubtle parody of both the Trump administration and the media circus surrounding it.
  • The Teetotaler: Now that he's a Recovered Addict, John tries avoiding alcohol.
  • Those Two Guys:
    • With his best friend since childhood, John O'Brien,
    • With Bill Hader during his time on SNL,
    • With Nick Kroll when they appear together to either promote or portray their Oh, Hello characters Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland.
  • Troll:
    • The "Salt and Pepper Diner" routine.
    • Changing Bill Hader's lines on the Saturday Night Live teleprompter at the last minute to get him to break character and laugh.
  • The Tyson Zone: Discussed in "New In Town" with regards to his former habit of getting blackout drunk and having to hear about his drunken antics second-hand.
    John: When you black-out drinking and you do crazy things, you kind of become like Michael Jackson. Like, any story anyone says about you might be true, and even you don't know by the end. I saw an interview with Michael Jackson before he died and they were like, "Is it true you bought The Elephant Man's bones?" and he was like "I don't know," you know, 'cause how could he keep track of that?
  • Unfazed Everyman: He describes the waitstaff in "The Salt and Pepper Diner" as this.
    John: And we're surrounded by this seemingly indifferent staff, you know? (mimes cleaning) Just like, "Yep, same shit as always."
  • Very Special Episode: Referenced (and mocked) in "The Comeback Kid", in his brief segment on marijuana.
    John: We'd be watching Saved By The Bell, we'd be having a great old time. And then suddenly, a character we had not seen before would show up with some weed, and the episode would stop cold in its tracks! And they'd always hold the joint, the bad guy would hold the joint in, like, a villainous way. They'd always offer the joint in a way that no-one ever holds a joint, like it's a skull in a Shakespeare play.
  • Wild Teen Party: One of his routines involves him recounting when he once went to one hosted by a high school student who was the son of a Sadist Teacher that every student in the school utterly loathed. So naturally, the party guests took great pleasure in destroying the house and everything in it. One kid elbow-dropped the pool table and split it in half, while another defecated on the teacher's computer.
  • What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?:
    • Invoked. He has a lengthy routine in Kid Gorgeous about Detective JJ Bittenbinder, who would come to John's school and describe what might happen to them if (or rather, the detective seemed pretty convinced, when) they were kidnapped or murdered. When noticing that the audience became uncomfortable, John says of it:
      John: Very sorry, Radio City, did that make you uncomfortable? Well, guess what? You're adults, and he's not even here. So try being seven-years-old and you're sitting five feet away from him!
    • Mentioned on the Tonight Show that when he was recording lines for Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, he was told to "have fun with it". This being John Mulaney, he cursed up a storm before asking what, exactly, the film was rated. In his defense, he was told to have fun with it.note 
      John: ...and then I pause, I went "What is this movie rated?" And they said, "PG". And I said, "Oh, so uhhhh... nothing I just said is usable."
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: John's reaction upon receiving a letter from his college asking for alumnus donations, after already having given them $120,000 in his tuition.
    John: And you have the AUDACITY to ask me for more money?! What kind of cokehead relative is my college? You spent it already? I gave you more money than the Civil War cost, and you fucking spent it already?!


Video Example(s):


John Mualaney on Mick Jagger. NSFW

Mulaney in his 2018 stand-up special "Kid Gorgeous" describes working with Jagger to write a song for his "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig. According to Mulaney since Jagger is a billionaire who's played to sold out crowds of adoring fans for 50 years, the normal rules of how to behave in life don't apply to him.

How well does it match the trope?

4.54 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / ScrewTheRulesImFamous

Media sources:

Main / ScrewTheRulesImFamous