The self-deprecating, polite John Mulaney wears a suit to perform stand-up comedy. He tells stories with a soft, witty edge, influenced by his Chicago upbringing as an altar boy who happened to watch a lot of “Def Comedy Jam.”
Mulaney, 35, might not brag about his résumé, but we will: He was a “Saturday Night Live” writer for six seasons and co-created Bill Hader’s Stefon character. He’s released one stand-up album and two specials. And he’s toured the country and performed on Broadway with college pal Nick Kroll in “Oh, Hello,” a comedy about two grizzled, old Jewish men.
He voices the character of Andrew in a new grown-up Netflix cartoon, “Big Mouth,” which explores puberty and the horrors therein.
Mulaney’s “Kid Gorgeous” tour stops in St. Louis for two shows on Thursday. He talked to us about his Jesuit high school education, advice he got from “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels and his early love of Frank Sinatra.
Q • St. Louisans are obsessed with high schools, especially the Catholic crowd. You went to St. Ignatius in Chicago, which also graduated comedian Bob Newhart and St. Louis University’s former longtime president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, so the school must turn out some characters. Is there anything you learned there that you bring to your work today?
A • Biondi. Is he related to Dick Biondi? Have you ever heard of Dick Biondi, the DJ? He was the host of the oldies, I don’t know in how many markets. Or are they the same person?
I went to a Jesuit high school. There’s a little more like a swashbuckling adventure to those guys. Most of your teachers, if you go to a Jesuit schools, have built schools in South America and traveled around the world and done missionary work, and they were really inspiring and interesting to me.
In terms of jobs where I’ve had a powerful, intimidating boss ... there were mind games at my high school. There were so many ways to get jugged. That was what they called detention: Justice Under God. God doesn’t want you to smoke in the parking lot, even though all the priests smoked. It was a sense of “be a good person, be women and men for others.” But you can have some wine and travel and swear.
Q • Did you listen to a lot of comedy albums as a kid?
A • I collected comedy albums, and really liked old comedy albums as well as what’s coming out then. Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain,” Dave Chappelle’s comedy special as well as “Def Comedy Jam.” And Bob and Ray, Woody Allen, Bob Newhart ... it’s very 1940s and “Def Comedy Jam” all at once. Now that I say that out loud, I think that’s what my style is.
Q • You have quite a diverse Netflix presence now. You’ve got a couple of your stand-up shows on there, and then “Oh, Hello” and now “Big Mouth.” But are these shows really so different? They all seem to be about growing up and remembering.
A • I’d say the memory is a big thing for myself and many comedians. And “Oh, Hello” is nostalgic for a period of New York which I never lived in but I really covet. I am so lucky to be part of “Big Mouth,” which is Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s creation. I am in real awe of what they created. I got to be a part of it without doing much of it.
Q • While writing, were you just reminiscing about different things you did at that age, when you were an awkward teen?
A • That was a huge part of the writers’ room. It was funny to see the shared experiences. The funniest thing is when you put yourself out there and say, “You know when you’re 13 and you do that thing,” and everyone goes, “Man, that’s insane. I know we were horny, but ... you did what?”
Q • What’s the name “Kid Gorgeous” from?
A • I needed a title for my tour. I was listening to a lot of Steely Dan. They have this song called “Midnight Cruiser.” A lyric of it is “I am another gentleman loser.” I thought, “Gentleman Loser” would be good. I liked their song “Kid Charlemagne,” and that name is really funny but too abstract. There’s also this boxing poster that was on “The Simpsons” once, and it showed Moe as a kid, and his boxing name was Kid Gorgeous.
Q • The name and your tour photo have the feel of a young Frank Sinatra.
A • Or someone who thinks he’s young Frank Sinatra. For my 11th birthday I went to see Frank Sinatra. That’s what I asked for. It surprised almost nobody.
Q • You like to tell stories about yourself and build jokes around that. When weird things happen to you, do you think, “This will be a great bit for my act”?
A • If I ever have done that, it doesn’t work. It will be like if I was talking to you. I just realized the JUG thing is really weird. I thought, “Why have I never mentioned that?” Most of the stories I’ve told, the events are fairly ordinary, but they are either traumatic or affected me a great deal, and it’s kind of about making that into a whole thing.
I always say that every detail is true in that that’s how I remember it and how I felt. People are larger, are louder and tower over you in a way that doesn’t feel like exaggerating. I remember reading “The Bell Jar,” when she’s really going crazy, she remembers seeing people so tall that they’re, like, arching over her. I don’t think I have severe mental illness, but that’s how I remember things.
Q • You don’t seem to get very political or talk much about current events in your act. Is that by design?
A • I’d say I’d always aim for timeless over any other consideration. I remember as a kid, listening to a Dick Gregory album, and one routine was called “Spiro Agnew” and one was called “Kent State,” and I thought, “Oh, that’s short-sighted. That doesn’t sound fun in 1995.” That doesn’t mean I don’t mention things going on. I kind of do think I’d like the album to make some sense in 30 years. I do address the game-show host in charge right now.
Q • What do you want to do in the future — like two or three years from now?
A • You shouldn’t plan that far in advance. Lorne Michaels always said, “Never plan more than six months in advance.” I like that. I know I’m on tour until February, and we’re expanding the tour and adding more cities, and who knows? I am an energetically unambitious person. But I love doing stand-up, and I’d say it’s about the best time I’ve ever had.