Mulaney filters the world and our human exchanges into a playful performance revealing how absurd we all really are. “I think we’ve all had interactions with people where the subject was so serious and sad,” he says, “but the interaction was so weird we just had to laugh.” Exuding a pleasant and innocent charm, his onstage persona is wonderfully weird as he moves from praising the joys of doing nothing to his childhood fears of quicksand. Often besuited and always clean-cut, his delivery is measured, but this cultivated boy-next-door exterior allows him to delve into precarious topics.
“I haven’t been able to be on the road steadily since 2008 … I used to be on the road all the time. I’m so relieved. I’ve been wanting to do this for years.”
Mulaney, who headlines a 90-minute set at The Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St., Santa Fe) on Thursday, April 23, started stand-up in 2003. “At that time, all I thought about was what the audience wanted—and please God don’t bomb,” he says. “But I think with age, anyone gets a little more confident in what they want to talk about and in their own voice.” It’s been seven years since Mulaney has been able to solely focus on stand-up for an extended period of time.
Mulaney says that working for a sketch show like SNL consists mostly of translating jokes in the writer’s head to a logistical reality on the stage. “I learned a lot by having to constantly change for different guest hosts. If a joke didn’t work for the person who was saying it over and over again, then the joke had to change,” he explains. “In stand-up you just describe everything so people can imagine what they want, but with TV you have to take visual things into consideration.”
Much of the past two years has been spent writing and performing on his FOX sitcom, “Mulaney,” a very self-aware homage to multi-camera sitcoms of the ’90s. Initially hailed as the next “Seinfeld,” the show wasn’t renewed by FOX for a second season amid concerns about viewership. It’s the gratification from immediate laughter that has brought Mulaney back to live stand-up. “I haven’t been able to be on the road steadily since 2008,” he says. “I used to be on the road all the time. I’m so relieved. I’ve been wanting to do this for years.”
That’s where the innocent charm lays itself bare. Mulaney collects these fears and displays them on stage like a glass menagerie, showing great care for detail and the delicacy of the topics, while always supplying a delightfully unexpected performance.