Ex-“Saturday Night Live” writer and stand-up comedian John Mulaney has been 20 feet from stardom for years. And for the time being — despite rising to the forefront of the comedy world — he’ll stay there.
And that is perfectly fine with the successful Chicago-bred comic, whose prime-time sitcom, “Mulaney,” was canceled by Fox in January after just 13 episodes. Over the phone ahead of his performance Friday at the State Theatre, though, he sounded content, even pleased.
“I am right in the zone where I want to be,” said Mulaney, 32. “Which means days where I do nothing but talk to my dog and read a magazine. And then go do a show for an hour. It’s been years since I’ve been able to just tour this much, so it’s all I’ve been dreaming about.”
Mulaney, an Emmy-award-winning TV writer, is celebrated for his two playful comedy specials — 2009’s “The Top Part” and 2012’s “New in Town” — and for co-creating (with Bill Hader) the beloved “Weekend Update” character Stefan.
So when legendary talent scout and “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels backed Mulaney to make his own semi-autobiographical sitcom, all signs pointed to his big break. “Mulaney” starred John as himself alongside Elliott Gould, Martin Short and fellow “SNL” alum Nasim Pedrad. It premiered last fall on Fox (a pilot was made for NBC, which passed on the project), but the show was hampered from the onset by sour reviews and low ratings.
“We came out of the gate on a big network with big billboards going like — ‘MULANEY!’ — and people were like, ‘What?’ ” Mulaney noted. “When you try to open that big, you can get slapped down hard.”
Naturally, he’s been able to make light of the ill-fated situation.
“I think it’s kind of like girls in high school,” he said, referring to the show’s critical reception. “They either like you right away or they do not like you. When I would show up in high school the girls would be like, ‘Ew!’ and that was the end of it.”
Mulaney’s comedy-scene cachet and eagerness to entertain should translate to future TV opportunities, but it’s clear his heart is in stand-up.
“Things like ‘SNL’ or my show on Fox were so insanely busy that it felt completely different from the life of a comedian,” he lamented. “To the point where sometimes at ‘SNL’ I would be like, ‘What do I do again? Are we like, building missiles or something? We’re working so intensely!’ And then I’d be like, ‘All right, I’m just writing a sketch where Fred [Armisen] plays a rude little boy.’”
Mulaney’s tight with a slew of comedy stars — such as Nick Kroll, Chelsea Peretti and Pete Holmes — who help keep his interest in the art stoked. He recalled waking up on Sundays exhausted from the previous night’s “SNL,” then later going to see Hannibal Buress’ weekly show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The hilarious results would reaffirm his faith in stand-up comedy.
So while his stint with network television is provisionally over, Mulaney is happy to return to doing what he does best, even if he hasn’t dropped a new special in three years. “People are still seeing [‘New in Town’] for the first time. It’s as if I put it out every day,” he said.
One month after the final episode of his show aired, a newlywed Mulaney is OK with where he stands.
“Honestly, I’m not a household name,” he said. “People who seem to like comedy know who I am. That is the best-case scenario.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.
Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $29.50. 612-339-7007 or www.hennepintheatretrust.org.