Appearances can be deceiving with John Mulaney.
He looks more like an altar boy than a 30-year-old comedian and veteran comedy writer on "Saturday Night Live," "Important Things with Demetri Martin" and elsewhere.
He seems even less like a former "blackout drunk," as he describes himself in his standup routine.
However Mulaney appears, there's a good chance audiences will be looking at him a lot more.
He's making a pilot for NBC, produced by SNL's Lorne Michaels, that is based on Mulaney's life as a writer and comedian. And with a New York Times review of his standup act earlier this month and multiple mentions at Entertainment Weekly online and other sites, it's clear some think that Mulaney has a chance to succeed the same way another standup comedian turned his life into a NBC sitcom 23 years ago. That would be Jerry Seinfeld.
"It's an old-fashioned, multi-camera studio-audience pilot, only it won't be old-timey," Mulaney said during a telephone interview (and, in keeping with that altar boy look, he apologized at least twice for being about 15 minutes late for the interview). "I play a nicer version of myself. I'm very excited to do it."
When You Go
WHO: John Mulaney
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Ohio Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1511 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
HOW MUCH: $23.
As casting and other work on the pilot is completed before it tapes in April, Mulaney is mixing in standup comedy dates and will make his first Cleveland appearance on Friday at PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre.
Mulaney released a comedy DVD and CD, "New in Town," just last year, but he said the audience will hear a new hour of material on Friday.
Well, kind of new.
"It's always the same topic, me and what TV I'm currently watching and my lovely girlfriend," Mulaney said.
Those topics are prominent on "New in Town." Fans of "Law and Order: SVU" will love his dissection of the show (particularly Ice-T's reaction to the crimes he investigates, even after a decade on the job). And he explores his why he prefers his Jewish girlfriend, who always lets him know exactly how she feels.
That non-threatening, polite on-stage persona makes it easier for him to get away with some prickly material - white performers doing black street dialects or venturing into ethnic humor can be a potential minefield. Mulaney works his way through them unscathed.
While Mulaney made the occasional appearance on camera on "SNL" - type his name and Girl Scout cookies into a search engine to see his hilarious monologue on the treat's questionable marketing strategy - most of his contributions were in the writers' room. With cast member Bill Hader, he created "Weekend Update" favorite Stefon.
Being there while it's happening is a very different experience from watching the show on television, he said, which sometimes makes it hard to tell how well-received any sketch is outside of Studio 8H.
"You see the sets get picked up and carried away and the clock ticking," Mulaney said. "Sometimes you can still see a wall wobbling on television. You hope it translates later to the people at home. Whenever my friends come to the show, they always say, 'That was a really, really good one'."
The Girl Scout cookie commentary on "Weekend Update" was his first on-camera bit of any consequence. Michaels, who started the show 38 years ago, gave him a bit of advice just before he went on camera.
"Lorne said, 'Relax, talk into the camera and have fun,"' he said. "Otherwise, it was very fast. I was trying to enjoy it. And when it was over, the writers I worked with all congratulated me. It was a really unique experience."
And Michaels continues to give him advice as he develops the sitcom.
"Working with him definitely raises your game."