PaleyFest: John Mulaney Loosened Up His Pilot After Meeting With Fox’s Reilly

Beverly Hills, Calif. — John Mulaney originally made the pilot of his sitcom Mulaney in May of 2013. After NBC passed, he had what he called the best meeting he’s ever had, with Kevin Reilly, then the chief at Fox, which eventually picked up the show.

“He said, ‘I just want you to loosen this up, I just want a funny show about a comedian and these people,’” Mulaney recounted Monday on stage at the Paley Center for Media during Fox’s portion of PaleyFest Fall TV Previews.

The Emmy-winning scribe from Saturday Night Live took Reilly’s advice; even though he said he kept 90% of the initial pilot, Mulaney instituted changes to make the show less “pilot-y” and did not include an unnecessary catalyst or premise “like I can talk to sharks, we solve crimes together,” he joked.

Mulaney, who said he was inspired by The Cosby Show, plays a fictional version of himself and performs stand-up in the show. As to how similar his character is to the real John Mulaney, he said that it is “emotionally and psychologically autobiographical.” He remembered how “surreal and jarring” it was to be young, living in New York and writing for other comedians. “My character has a lot of the naivety I had and then some.”

Seaton Smith, who plays Mulaney’s roommate Motif, is similarly a comic playing someone like himself. He said it was not that weird to have someone else writing jokes for him. “Oddly, Mulaney is really good with black people,” he said. “He's very reverential when he talks about anyone in his act.”

In the pilot, Mulaney is hired as a writer for legendary comedian and gameshow host Lou Cannon, played by Martin Short. “That’s the most fun kind of guy,” Short said. “The self-absorbed narcissist that has no idea anyone else exists or should.”

Mulaney premieres Sunday, Oct. 5. at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.

Other highlights from the panel included:

— Moderator Darren Franich, a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, noted that, in addition to writing and producing, Mulaney was doing “actual acting” on the show. “Can I quote you on that?” Mulaney quipped.

— Fellow SNL alum Nasim Pedrad plays Jane, Mulaney’s other roommate. “She’s not in comedy,” Pedrad said. “She’s a personal trainer, so she’s got it all figured out.” Asked whether Jane and his character will become the inevitable “will they, won’t they” sitcom pairing, Mulaney responded, “they went to college together, so they probably did twice.”

— Rounding out the main cast are Zack Pearlman and Elliott Gould. Pearlman plays the gang’s friend Andre, whom Pearlman said doesn’t fit in, comparing his character to watching “a square peg fit into a round hole.” Gould plays Mulaney’s neighbor Oscar. “I’m thrilled I’m keeping up” with the younger cast members, said the veteran actor.