On giant hamster testicles: A conversation with John Mulaney and Max Silvestri
Former “SNL” writer and stand up comedian John Mulaney performed for a full house in Graham Chapel Wednesday night, recalling ridiculous stories about his marriage, his dog Petunia, and childhood memories. Before the show, Student Life caught up with both Mulaney and his opening act Max Silvestri to talk about their starts in comedy, awkward high school experiences and more.
Student Life: How do you like St. Louis? Have you been here before?
John Mulaney: Oh yeah, I’m from Chicago, so I’ve been here a lot. And then I’ve done The Pageant before and I’m actually doing it later this week, so I’ve been here a bunch. I don’t know if I’ve been to WashU before. A lot of my friends went here from my high school in Chicago, so it was a school that a lot of people I knew were going to.
SL: What are you doing for the rest of the week before The Pageant?
JM: We’re going to Kansas City tomorrow, Minneapolis Friday, and then I’m coming back to Saint Louis Saturday.
SL: So you went to Georgetown.
JM: I did, yeah.
SL: Is that where you got your comedy start?
JM: I mean I did comedy stuff in high school, but not…yes, I sort of focused on it a lot more once I got to college. I was doing improv comedy, sketch comedy, then I started doing stand-up when I was 20 over the summer, in between my junior and senior year.
SL: What was that like there, what was the comedy scene like at Georgetown?
JM: We were the only comedy scene, which was great. What was it like at Brown?
Max Silvestri: It was very similar. There was one improv group, but no…there was no competition, so if you wanted to see comedy, you had to pay $1.
JM: We were the only game in town. And I remember someone from the Film Society made a funny movie and we were like…nah, we didn’t make one, but we feel like we’re to judge.
SL: Was it good?
JM: It was funny, yeah. No, there are some comedy people that come out of Georgetown, more people than you would think since everyone is there for like International Relations and stuff like that.
SL: Do you have any advice for college comedians who are aspiring to go out into the world and make comedy into a livelihood?
JM: Well the thing I’d like to have known that I sort of learned later in college is that you can go anytime and do it. There’s no…there’s things to sign up for at comedy clubs and there’s things to do that are available. I don’t know why I thought, like other jobs, you had to wait until you were a little older. Like I wish I’d known in high school I could do it. When I hear about people who went to a comedy club when they were 16 and they were asked to get up onstage, I’m like, oh, I would have loved to have done that. I wish I’d thought of that. I just thought it was something I’ll do later. And then improv groups should go and visit like New York or Los Angeles and see like Upright Citizens Brigade shows and just, you know, I was glad we did improv festivals and I was glad we would travel to New York and see other troupes. It’s fun, first off, and second, it’s a way to do other shows out of the regular schedule. Our schedule as an improv group was like we had one every month or one every couple of months. We tried to start a weekly, but it was hard. It was kind of more fun if it was an event once every month and a half.
SL: We know you’re Catholic, so did you give anything up for Lent?
JM: I wasn’t going to but then I gave up pork because my wife was telling me that pigs are smarter than dogs and I really like pigs and that made it complicated. I really, really like pigs. I’m having a complicated relationship with pork these days.
SL: How’s it going?
JM: Good, I held fasts all day. There was a salad with bacon in it and I was like, shit, I want that and I didn’t get it.
MS: Did lent just start? I’m Catholic, but I don’t…
SL: It’s almost over.
JM: I started late. And there’s some story about a group of dogs and there’s one pig with them and the pig was the smartest of all and Anna sent it to me and was like you, come on, and I was like alright I’ll stop.
SL: You performed at Carnegie Hall recently. How was that?
JM: On Saturday, it was great.
SL: What was it like?
JM: It was so exciting. It was really cool. Max was there.
MS: It was amazing, he was very, very good at it.
JM: Fred Armisen opened the show and it was like both extremely exciting and a really fun show. Sometimes the big venue or setting in the show is just fine and it’s still a great memory, but it felt like a great show and, if I may brag, I felt like I did a great job.
SL: How does it feel to have a Twitter handle that’s just your last name?
JM: I didn’t realize that’s rare and I wasn’t like fast to Twitter, so I’m surprised I got it.
MS: I accidentally typed your full John Mulaney the other day and the guy’s banned from Twitter, like a suspended account. I don’t know if he was pretending to be you or…
JM: I bet he was up to no good.
MS: Yeah he was up to no good, but it just says his account is suspended. There’s another John Mulaney out there.
JM: I have John Mulaney Instagram, so I bet, no it’s probably someone took it.
MS: Not having that continuity between the two is probably messing with career socially, John.
SL: What was the craziest thing that you saw happen at the SNL 40 cast party? I heard it was a good time.
JM: It was great. I’m trying to think.
SL: Did you see Miley?
JM: Yeah, but I’d been a writer there twice when she hosted, so I know Miley. There were so many crazy things, it’s not for lack of…I mean Eddie Murphy, when he showed up earlier in the day, that was kind of the most exciting. I would say the coolest thing was that everyone was so famous that no one was famous. No one acted special because Eddie Murphy and Jack Nicholson were there. It was very hard for anyone to be like, excuse me, I’m so and so person that I won’t name. But everyone was in such good behavior. And an actor named Frank Langela thought I was an usher and if your readers don’t know who he is, just Google him, he plays the old man on The Americans right now. He thinks he just plays a man, but he plays an old man. He thought I was an usher, which I thought was funny. It was really exciting. I got to work with Seinfeld and it was also just very fun for all of us because it was just like going back to high school for a week, even though high school was terrible.
SL: What’s your worst high school experience?
JM: Oh. I wasn’t picked on, I just remember walking around being like, I just want to like just die. I was so exhausted. And in retrospect I was on like antibiotics and accutane and all this stuff for acne for like four years. And like going through puberty and never eating lunch and so medicated. It’s crazy.
MS: I bet your bones all grew the incorrect way.
JM: Yeah, I’m going to have terrible problems because I would be like skip lunch, drink a Mountain Dew and take like antibiotics and then like smoke cigarettes and drink on the weekends. What a terrible…I had no appetite the whole time. I was never ever hungry. I was so nervous.
SL: Were you really skinny?
JM: Yeah, I was also growing some. I was growing some…What a good turn. “Were you skinny?” He stares off for a moment. I was growing…I was growing so much.
MS: I hope this whole interview is not in the newspaper, just online on the newspaper’s website, just unedited. Just brackets, laughs, nervous pauses.
JM: When you repeat, they reset and then read it twice. So that day…So that day…
MS: I did a 35 minute phone interview with someone once and they were like, “It’s up,” and it was the full.
JM: Like, “Hello.” You’re not a journalist..
SL: A copier.
MS: A transcriber?
JM: There’s actually a program that can transcribe audio…
SL: Can you send us that because we want that.
MS: Rev. It’s a website. It’s not free, it’s like a dollar, maybe two, but it’s worth your time.
SL: I have two days worth of audio from interviews, so…
MS: I’m sure you can apply for a grant or something, there’s grants for everything.
SL: What’s the main differences between writing sketch comedy and writing for a TV show and doing stand-up?
JM: Stand-up and the Fox TV show were similar ish because it was like “personal story” or “personal problem” or you know opinion, can we stretch that into an episode? Saturday Night Live I found very different. I just thought of it in terms of like a lot of like premises that I found purely funny versus…like most things in stand-up, like there are obviously a million stupid topics, but like most things I sort of care about a little or at least they’re important to me even though they’re stupid, but I didn’t have the same…like I’d have just premises based purely on I need to write a sketch tonight, so it felt different kind of. I definitely had ideas where I was like, oh that’s for stand-up, like that’s not a sketch. And then it’d be something I’d use later. Also something about being hired there, I was like “generate sketches” and I didn’t think as much like, “is this stand-up or is this sketch.” I was so scared to write sketches for them.
SL: Where does the inspiration for your stand-up come from?
JM: I really don’t know. I’m not saying it’s a magical process. I don’t have a real, yeah, there’s plenty of things that will be just interesting that happen and people will be like, oh you should talk about that onstage and I’m like no, I don’t know.
SL: Do people come up to you with things they want you to talk about?
JM: No, my relatives used to, but that stopped because of my reception. I’ll jot down notes about ideas or stories or things that happen. Now I’m on tour tour, it used to be that I’d have a bunch of shows coming up so I’d sit down and be like, OK, I need new stuff. I’ll go through these scraps and write down bits from that. I don’t sit at a typewriter everyday and write jokes out, I mean there are people that do, I’m just not like that. I’m lazy.
SL: So what’s next for you?
JM: Kansas City.
SL: Well after Kansas City.
JM: I mean I’ll be on tour through July and I’m working on a thing with Nick Kroll right now…
SL: Too Much Tuna.
JM: Yeah, we’re doing something in that realm.
SL: Is Too Much Tuna going to continue?
JM: I’m going to be…you have not seen the last of them. They’re not done with their work.
SL: What’s your favorite nickname for your dog?
JM: Right now Bucket.
JM: Oh you know, little Bucket.
SL: What should I name the hamster that I just got that I can’t have on campus? It’s illegal.
JM: Real like Shawshank situation. Boy or girl?
SL: Boy. It has giant testicles. It’s like half its body.
JM: Jinxie? Or the Jinx.
MS: The Jinx. I went to high school with a guy named Travis who had gigantic testicles. He played hockey, he was a really scumbag, but he…
SL: He had giant testicles. Was it noticeable or…?
MS: He had to wear like giant pants. First guy to do drop-crotch sweatpants, but they were orthopedic. No, you know, you finish sports up and you just get in the shower and stare at each others’ testicles.
JM: Never took a shower in front of anybody in high school.
MS: You missed out on finding out how different everyone is. We truly are.
JM: The health club my dad would go to. It would just be like old, old Chicago businessmen. And they had the most interesting types of bodies by the way. To be that fat with penises that small was just a fascinating thing to see. You’d just be like, oh, there’s all different types of small penises. All ways to be.