John Mulaney has given Saturday Night Live viewers more than his fair share of great moments over the years. In his first four hosting stints and during his time as a staff writer on the series, the comedian and performer has had a hand in some of the show's most absurdly comic bits of the past decade.
With Mulaney hosting SNL for the fifth time this weekend, we thought we'd look back and spotlight some of his best work on the show. Just one note before we dive in: for clerical reasons, we've only included sketches that Mulaney either wrote or appeared in; this list doesn't include his excellent monologues or Weekend Update appearances.
Now, to the list...
Written by Mulaney, Marika Sawyer, and Simon Rich, Family Flix: Rocket Dog is a zany and increasingly outrageous skit about an interview gone very, very wrong. The sketch benefits greatly from Tracy Morgan’s pitch-perfect line delivery as a crazed film director, and from Kristen Wiig’s horrified reactions to each of Morgan's new admissions. The writing is unpredictable, and the choice to use “Life is a Highway” for each of the “In Memoriam” bits helps to elevate Rocket Dog into truly memorable territory.
Essentially a sequel to the Rocket Dog sketch, Sitcom Reboot takes the standard interview format and sets it on fire. Cecily Strong is the interviewer this time, while Mulaney himself is the subject, a TV creator named Jay Paultodd (a name that is hilarious in all the right ways), who is capitalizing on Hollywood’s current reboot trend by bringing back his doomed “family” show, Switcheroo. The setup seems simple enough, and then the sketch reveals the plot of Paultodd’s show, and things just get stranger and funnier from there. It may not have hilarious music cues like Rocket Dog, but the performances in Sitcom Reboot are pure gold, and so is the writing.
Created by Mulaney and fellow SNL writers Simon Rich and Marika Sawyer, What’s That Name? fits nicely among the pantheon of SNL’s fake game shows. Each installment of this recurring sketch involves Bill Hader as the show’s devious host, Vince Blight, who asks his guests to give him the names of specific people. Every sketch starts the same, with Blight offering a tiny amount of money for the guests to name some celebrity, which they do pretty easily, but then the sketch takes a hilarious turn, as Blight begins offering more money to the guests if they can give the names of actual people from their lives… which they inevitably can’t. It’s a hilarious idea, and just as he does with all of his characters, Hader takes Blight to the comedic extreme. The latest edition of the game show actually featured Mulaney as one of the contestants, and it’s probably the best What’s That Name? sketch yet.
This fake movie trailer is one of the many gems from Mulaney’s time as an SNL writer. What clearly begins as a simple observation about the difficult-to-understand accents of certain British crime films quickly evolves into a devilishly funny parody, as the dialogue in the trailer (all of which is performed brilliantly by Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Nasim Pedrad, and Russell Brand) begins deteriorating into increasingly ridiculous gibberish. It may have a simple premise, but Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro is a quick and efficient bit of comedy.
This cranky old newsman remains one of the best characters created by Mulaney and Bill Hader. Based partly on a real-life person, Herb Welch appeared in a handful of sketches throughout Hader’s run on the show, and all of them are dynamite. Obviously, Welch’s tendency to hit his interviewees with his microphone is a reliably funny character quirk, as is his general disinterest in on-the-ground reporting, but it’s the insults he throws back at the anchormen instructing him from the news studio (played by Jason Sudeikis and Taran Killam, respectively) that are the real highlights of the Herb Welch sketches. Herb’s insults have Mulaney’s signature wit written all over them, and they’re key in making him one of Hader’s most memorable characters.
This sketch, which was the best of its season (and has spawned a series of spinoff sketches), is undoubtedly one of Mulaney’s crowning achievements. Originally written by Mulaney and Colin Jost in 2010, the sketch was meant to be used during a Zach Galifianakis-hosted episode, but was turned down by the show’s then head writer, Seth Meyers. Mulaney resurrected the sketch eight years later during his first SNL hosting gig, and the result is a downright hilarious sketch, one which combines an odd order at an American diner with the music of Les Miserables in a way that only Mulaney could have pulled off. We laugh every single time that giant fish tank is rolled out and the Les Mis music begins.
This is a bit of a cheat on our part, since this isn’t one single sketch, but it would be a crime not to include Stefon, the SNL character that Mulaney co-created with Bill Hader. Every element of the Stefon character — from Hader’s performance to the Ed Hardy shirt and the extremely dated hairstyle — feels like an inspired decision, and the jokes that Mulaney wrote for the character are some of the best SNL has produced this century (Sydney Applebaum, anybody?). The whole bit just becomes that much more funny when you find out that Mulaney used to change some of the jokes on the cue cards right before Hader went out, all in the hopes of making him break character (a feat that Mulaney achieved on more than one occasion).
John Mulaney hosts Saturday Night Live this Saturday at 11:30 PM ET/8:30 PM PT on NBC
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Alex Welch has written about television and film for TV by the Numbers, IGN, The Berrics, Paste Magazine, Screen Rant and GeekNation. Follow him on Twitter @alexrwelch.