What Gives John Mulaney Comedic Inspiration (And Which Comedian Is His Biggest Influence)?

In a world where comedians dip into political humor like a bowl of overflowing cheese dip at a cocktail party, John Mulaney steers his jokes more about the inane or even most pedestrian joys in life.

As a student of life, Mulaney finds humor in experiences like working for a quirky old “knickerbocker” during a stint as a temp or taking audiences on a journey to how he met President Bill Clinton. But politics? Meh.

John Mulaney
John Mulaney |Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for FOX

He did wade into the political pool in his Emmy Award-winning standup, Kid Gorgeous. Where he likened President Donald Trump to a horse running amuck inside a hospital. He cleverly never mentioned Trump by name and told Esquire, comedians are not here to make a political statement. “I have a problem with ‘Comedians are really brave and we need them now more than ever,’ ” he tells me. “It’s like, we’re not congressmen. We’re court jesters.” So if it’s not politics what is his biggest influence and which comedian does he draw from for inspiration?

Marching to the beat of his own drum

In contrast to today’s shock comedy, Mulaney bathes in the details of aspects that usually don’t even pop into most people’s minds. “I’ve never been relevant,” Mulaney said to Esquire, “So I’m not worried about feeling irrelevant.”

Instead, he does a deep dive into the one-off, the joke about nothing that becomes a gut buster in his routine. He peels away descriptive layers of the smallest entity to the point where the audience can’t believe they have never noticed those details in the first place. “It’s not ‘I was so tired that blah blah blah,’ ” he says. “You want ‘I collapsed.’ 

His comedy has a bit of Larry Davidesque flavor to it. He told Esquire he becomes “exasperated about things you shouldn’t get that upset about.”  He also ruminates on the mundane too. For instance, he referenced a poster of a woman holding a gyro to the Esquire reporter. “I can think about that poster for so much longer than I can think about sex and politics,” he remarked.

This comedian is one of his biggest influences (shocker)

One of Mulaney’s biggest comedic influences is Jerry Seinfeld, according to Esquire. That’s not a huge stretch since his comedy has often been compared to Seinfeld through the years.

Mulaney and Seinfeld share both comedic and even physical qualities. The New Yorker pointed out, “Mulaney is often compared to Jerry Seinfeld, another perpetually fresh-looking and seemingly untroubled performer.” He also is “thin, tidy, prim, and has joked about how his manner has sometimes been mistaken as gay. “

Both Seinfeld and Mulaney had sitcoms bearing their last name. But only one of the two experienced success in that arena. But the observational, steering clear of the shock factor comedy is a mainstay for both comedians. The two shot an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee where the coupling fell surprisingly flat. The person who was a big hit was Mulaney’s wife, who appeared only briefly toward the end of the episode.