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John Mulaney on PC Culture, Louis C.K, and Becoming a Better Comedian
In recent years, the world of comedy has entered a transition period, where stand-ups have been forced to think harder about what they say, why they say it, and what they’re equipped to joke about. In Esquire’s latest cover story, John Mulaney admits that this as entered his mind while writing jokes these days.
“It would be totally dishonest to say it hasn’t,” he tells Esquire. “I’m a privileged white man who has not had to deal with anything a marginal group deals with. So me saying, ‘No, that word works better’ is, I don’t know. . . .”
Mulaney continues: “If the world were 1,000 percent different and no one had ever been marginalized? In a vacuum, yes, it was a good word. It’s a detail. A description of something. I tried it on many audiences, and I will trust the audience.”
As the story notes, Mulaney has shown some growth of his own. Some of his past stand-up sets have been dotted with jokes about drag queens and little people, which upon further reflection, Mulaney says could use some work. “As a comedian, you constantly step on your ego to go, ‘I’d like to be a better comedian,’” he says.
Part of that adaptation isn’t just how he addresses his own comedy, but how he addresses others in the business. As he explained, that progress is “less in what you see onstage and more in what you don’t.” Mulaney parted ways with Dave Becky, the manager he shared with Louis C.K. after believing Becky to have not been honest about his involvement in the scandal reported on by The New York Times.
In our cover story, the balance between humor and offense is one the comedian methodically weighs, settling on an unclear answer about when a joke is too much and when a prickly word like “gay” might be just what the joke calls for. Either way, it’s a process for the comedian. “We’re not a good breed, the white man,” he said, laughing. “We can be trained well, but…”
The end of that sentence never quite comes to fruition, but based on his personal record, his work with Nick Kroll, and the kind of guy he seems to be—he’ll probably be just fine.
John Mulaney covers the October 2019 issue of Esquire.Subscribe
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.