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John Mulaney on the Unpredictable Alchemy of ‘Everybody’s in LA’

John Mulaney on the Unpredictable Alchemy of ‘Everybody’s in LA’

John Mulaney on the Unpredictable Alchemy of ‘Everybody’s in LA’

To break through an algorithmically generated streaming landscape, John Mulaney decided to do something different. And people noticed. It was a six-part talk show for Netflix, premiering May 3 and ending May 10. called John Mulaney Presents: Everybody’s in LA. The live format and unrehearsed, off-beat interactions produced something TV hadn’t seen in a while — something bracingly alive with chaotic (and comedic) possibility. It harkened the earliest days of Late Night with David Letterman, just with a food delivery droid called Saymo in place of Larry “Bud” Melman. Mulaney, 41, checked in with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about the show’s inspirations, how it came together and his plans for future hosting gigs.

Hi, John. Are you in LA today?

I’m in New York, actually.

Is New York still home for you?

It’s not, no. California is.

So you’re just summering in the Hamptons or something like that?

I was about to say, “I wish,” but I don’t think I actually wish for that. Just [my partner] Olivia [Munn]’s working on a show in this area for Apple right now.

And I hear you’re working on something top secret.

Oh, always.

Well, I’m glad you’re doing things. We love everything you do.

That’s really nice of you to say.

So let’s talk about what you did do, which I really enjoyed. It was called John Mulaney Presents: Everybody’s in LA. I think it took everyone by surprise. It was really kind of messy but in a great way, whereas everything these days is overproduced and over-algorithmed. And it spoke right to my heart because I live in LA.

How long have you lived there?

I moved here June 1st, 2001, from New York City. So basically I got here and then three months later I watched the Twin Towers go down on a little TV in my roommates’ bedroom. A weird time to move to LA for sure, and I’ve had my ups and downs with it, but finally the roots took hold and now I really like it here.

Doing this show made me really appreciate LA and look at LA in a different way and care about it more. I did not do the show so that I would feel more at home in the city, but it certainly worked out that way.

During the pandemic, were you here in LA?


You were in New York?

A little bit. Barely. I was all over the place in the pandemic.

And you hint on the show that you struggled with addiction during the pandemic, which a lot of people did.

Sure. I’ve struggled with it in various times in life, and it definitely got bad around the time of the pandemic. It was getting very bad. You were in LA for the pandemic, I take it?

Yeah. It was not the worst place in the world to be actually, because you had nature and you had space. But it pretty much sucked everywhere. But did you find LA was harder or easier on you in terms of addiction?

Do you mean in a recovery sense or just mental state?

Some people come to LA and it’s a hard place if you have addictive leanings — that it does sort of make it worse for them.

I did not experience that. I made it worse wherever I went. As much as it is a cliche that drugs and standup comedy and Hollywood go together, my drug use was always so separate. It was compartmentalized from so many things, but it was not ever intertwined with work or the social glamorous side of entertainment or anything like that.

So it wasn’t about partying after the show.

No. It was about no one at the show knowing that I’ve been up for two days.

Right. Well, I think we’re all very grateful that you’ve fought it successfully.

I’m extremely grateful and sometimes just amazed that after that dark tornado I get to have such a wonderful life.

Back to the show. I was curious about the hypnotist you brought on. That was a really interesting guest.

Kerry Gaynor. Dude. He’s the greatest and I do hope that I was able to even scratch the surface of how interesting he is, especially his work at the UCLA parapsychology lab. But I have to say as a hypnotherapist, getting me to quit smoking through hypnosis was such a profound experience. I’m a huge fan of his in multiple arenas. I thought he was so fun on television, too.

He was. I could not take my eyes off him. I wanted more.

He just so profoundly doesn’t give a fuck. It was very captivating to me to talk to him.

Does he work with drug addiction at all?

I don’t mean to speak for him. I haven’t gone to him for that, but I believe he does.

And he successfully cured your smoking addiction?

I haven’t used or wanted since my session with him. Yeah, that’s what I walked away with. I used to smoke. I don’t smoke.

How did Everybody’s in LA come about?

The original concept was Netflix saying, “Would you like to do six live nights of a show?” It was that open. So the original concept was time and place, which is the best way to start anything. I love assignments. I love nothing more than writing jokes for someone hosting the Tonys or the Emmys. I love assignments! I think it’s why I did well at a show like Saturday Night Live. There’s this thing of, “Hey, we need a James Carville [sketch] in an hour.” And you go, “All right, I’m going to fucking figure this out.” So I love the idea of, I’ve got six nights live from Los Angeles during the [Netflix is a Joke] festival, everyone’s in town, and from there figuring out, well, what do I even care about? What would I want to fill the hour with?

Were you scared at all?

No, because it was going to be done by May 10. And because you can always do this thing as a comedian of like, “Oh boy — what was that crazy thing I did?” So no.

At what point did you think, “Hey, this is working?”

I felt really good that all of my guests were like, “This was really fun.” Then I started to see that the feedback in general was really good. I was really, really excited that people picked up on a lot of the layers of the show. They’re buying it the way you sold it. It’s like I sold an action figure that’s being used as it says in the directions.

What were those layers?

Well, I was really inspired by this movie Blue in The Face by Wayne Wang. He did these two movies set in Brooklyn: Smoke [in 1995] and then Blue in the Face [in 1996]. Blue in the Face has all these straight-to-camera interviews with people around Brooklyn talking about Brooklyn, maybe a little bit about how they fit into Brooklyn, but talking about Brooklyn, even giving stats about Brooklyn. And then it cuts right back to this narrative film with Harvey Keitel, who runs a smoke shop in Brooklyn. It’s a fun, really interesting movie. But I loved the use of straight-to-camera interviews dispersed with just a narrative comedy. I was really happy people responded to all that stuff.

Brook Linder, the director that I had, interviewed people in Los Angeles to make these short bumpers in between live acts of the show. I wanted to show LA not the way it’s normally shown. I wanted to show LA in as many sprawling visuals as the city has, and I was really happy people responded to that. I was really happy that my guests had a good time and I think that came across and that guests enjoyed that. We were maybe talking about something you don’t normally talk about on a late-night talk show. I was thrilled with the music we had on.

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Oh yeah, you had some great local acts: Los Lobos, Weezer, Warren G.

Yeah, great bands just shot so well by Joe DeMaio, our director, and people really responded to our production design.

What was the concept behind that set?

Google “Johnny Carson’s house in Malibu.” I was just looking at things online and I thought, “It should be like the west side home of an older man.” And then we saw Johnny’s house in Malibu.

And who chose To Live and Die in L.A. as the theme song?

I did.

Good choice.

Thank you. I watched To Live and Die in L.A. because I’d been watching a lot of William Friedkin movies and read his autobiography during the making of the show. And as soon as I heard the song, I thought, “Oh my God, we have to get that.”

It’s so good. Wang Chung.

A whole great soundtrack.

I know you very boldly announced the Emmy submission episode at the beginning of the episode. Are you happy with your choice?

Yeah, that’s a good one. I liked them all a lot and I thought it would be funny to be stuck with a not good one and have to submit it and hold myself to it. It turned out to be a great one, but there’s so much fun in all of them. I will say, there’s a moment in that episode, I looked over and [comedian] Luenell [Campbell] and [David] Letterman were under a blanket together and Pete Davidson’s holding a bunch of M-80s [explosives], and I thought, “This is exactly what I was hoping for. I never pictured this, but this is exactly the kind of moment I was hoping for.”

There was also a moment in that episode of Bill Hader and Pete Davidson laughing their heads off that kind of went viral.

Oh, when Luenell said to Dr. Lucy Jones, “And you fell in love with earthquakes.” I think that was the moment.

A lot of people were saying you were such a natural at this, that this is going to lead to a full-time talk show on Netflix. Is that true? Or will it lead maybe to the Oscars?

I used to make big multi-year plans when I was younger, and I really for years have not planned more than three months in advance. So I like to do a lot of things, but I have no definite plans for anything that you just asked about.

But you wouldn’t say no necessarily.

No, I wouldn’t necessarily say no.

One of my favorite things you’ve ever done was on Difficult People. You played an “old-timey” who rode a penny farthing bicycle.

Oh, thank you. I loved that show.

More recently you also did a fun cameo on The Bear. Are you going to act more?

Yeah. I have things coming up and enjoy acting. I haven’t always had a lot of time to do it when I’m on tour or working on other things, but I’ve been very lucky to be in a few great things with great teams of people. I mean, [Bear creator] Chris Storer runs not only the best show out there, but the best set and the best group of people to collaborate with.

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