John Mulaney’s career feels like it’s been going on several tracks simultaneously for years now. His stand-up, his increasingly prolific work as a voice actor, and his rich history of guest-starring roles have all contributed to his status as one of today’s leading comedy voices. While his stand-up is a singular aspect of that, it’s also exciting to look at just how deep a resume he has as a performer, whether playing an animated super-pig, a cantankerous old man, or a literary icon.
For the purposes of this list, assembled in celebration of his birthday (August 26th), we did not consider his individual stand-up specials or his iconic work co-hosting the Independent Spirit Awards with Nick Kroll (though they’re all remarkable feats that you should check out). Instead, we focused on the times when he’s made some effort to step outside himself… though Mulaney’s comedy has always thrived in the space between what we know is real and what we might perceive, meaning that even the times he’s played “John Mulaney,” we’re never quite sure what we’re seeing. All that’s certain is that we’re laughing.
You also can catch Mulaney playing himself — that is, doing stand-up — this September when he heads on a short tour with Jon Stewart and Pete Davidson. Get tickets here.
— Liz Shannon Miller
Senior Entertainment Editor
George St. Geegland — Oh, Hello on Broadway (2016)
When watching John Mulaney as the geriatric George St. Geegland in Oh, Hello, not only is his comedic prowess on display, but you get the sense that this character is someone who lives inside of him. In many of Mulaney’s characters, there’s an urge to slip into someone this ridiculous, and George St. Geegland gives him full freedom to be as bizarre — and psychotic — as possible. Mulaney, of course, is accompanied by a similarly chaotic Nick Kroll in Oh, Hello, and their partnership results in New York-centric, occasionally explosive comedy.
Though Mulaney had first developed the character in the early 2000s, a few appearances as St. Geegland on Kroll Show helped cement his power, leading to multiple reprisals throughout the 2010s, all culminating in the run of Oh, Hello on Broadway (pronounced “brud-way“). There, the little details of George St. Geegland — his barking speaking voice, his old guy-dirtbag anecdotes, and the pinpoint specificity of his jokes (a typical Mulaney trope) — solidified him as an unforgettable character. — Paolo Ragusa
Cecil Jellford — Difficult People (2016)
One of the curious qualities of Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner’s weird and wonderful Hulu comedy series Difficult People is how many straight men ended up playing love interests for Eichner’s character, including John Cho, Seth Meyers, and Joel McHale (okay, he was a cannibal, but there was still some tension there). Mulaney also made a memorable appearance in the Season 2 premiere, “Unplugged,” as a random gym hook-up that Billy tries to date properly — only to discover that Cecil is an “old-timey” obsessed with anachronistic culture. It’s a silly bit, but when Mulaney commits to a character, he commits hard, and every beat of Cecil and Billy’s romance sings because of his fearlessness. — L.S. Miller
Andrew Glouberman — Big Mouth (2017-present)
The long-running animated series Big Mouth, set to end with its upcoming eighth season, features another team-up between Kroll and Mulaney, as the two of them play best friends Nick and Andrew, perennial 13-year-olds “going through changes.” While Kroll is playing a character based in part on his own friendship with co-creator Andrew Goldberg, Mulaney gets to bring a lot of himself to the role of Andrew. His signature suave droll gets a lot of use during Andrew’s most awkward moments, a hilarious comedic juxtaposition that’s essential to the show’s off-kilter approach to adolescence. — L.S. Miller
Host — Saturday Night Live (2018-2022)
Mulaney got his initial start in comedy as a writer for Saturday Night Live, but after finally getting mainstream recognition for his comedy work, he returned home to become an incredibly swift inductee into the Five Timers Club (he hosted for the first time in 2018, and got his jacket on February 26th, 2022). It’s not hard to understand why he became a go-to host for the long-running sketch comedy series, as his episodes always ended up feeling special, with perhaps his most demented ongoing bit being the series of musical sketches that began with “Diner Lobster” in 2018 and culminated with “Airport Sushi” in 2020. — L.S. Miller
Spider-Ham — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Mulaney’s voice during his stand-up has always been kind of cartoonish, exaggerating those high notes to really hammer home the humor. So if you’re going to make him a superhero, it makes sense it’d be one who hammers the bad guys with an oversized mallet that fits in your pocket. There’s something just downright perfect about his casting as the voice of Peter Porker, Spider-Ham in the Spider-Verse franchise, where he can deliver just about every line like it’s the punchline of a bit because the character essentially is a bit. The fact that’s he’s able to find some pathos in the goofy little porker just shows how precise his exaggeration really is. — Ben Kaye