John Mulaney Wasn’t Allowed to Perform in His High School’s Musicals

-Hello. -Our most frequent guest —
John Mulaney. -Did I beat —
Was it Martha Stewart? -Yeah, I think you just tipped
ahead of Martha Stewart again. Back and forth. Back and forth.
[ Cheers and applause ] -The ballet continues. That’s wonderful.
That’s wonderful. -Also wonderful is this episode
of “Documentary Now” that you wrote that is
based on theater. It’s based on
a Stephen Sondheim musical. You were involved in the theater
at a very young age, or you loved it
at a very young age. -Yeah, I was not allowed
to be involved, but I loved it very, very much. I remember seeing
“Les Miserables,” which means “the miserables.” -Right.
[ Laughter ] -And it’s all in France. I was 7,
and there’s a 7-year-old actor suddenly on stage
in “Les Miserables.” This kid Gavroche comes out,
and he has a song. He goes… ♪ Good evening, dear Inspector ♪ ♪ Lovely evening, my dear ♪ And I was like,
“What — How come he gets to –” I was apoplectic. Later, my friends and I were
playing baseball in Jonquil Park in Chicago. And this kid comes up,
and you know, we don’t know him. So we’re mean to him.
[ Laughter ] And we’re talking to him. He said,
“I’m the understudy right now for the Chicago production of
‘Les Miserables.'” So I think I take this guy out and then I’m one away
from the main event. [ Laughter ]
-Yeah. -And I go, “Hey, I heard you
need an understudy.” -Did it you think that’s how
understudies work? That if you take one out,
you’re the understudy? -Look.
It would have been much cleaner. [ Laughter ] If it was just a kid playing
Gavroche with no understudy and then he was like,
“Hey, want to play baseball?” And I’m bat in hand,
but that didn’t happen. And it’s wrong to hit people,
and so I didn’t get it. But I still do Gavroche
for my wife, and she hates it, and she hates
my rendition of it. And she really doesn’t like it. And it’s — and I know
it’s not good and I know that it was funny
when we started dating and I know that
it’s not funny anymore. ‘Cause I’ll go like… ♪ Good evening, dear inspector ♪ ♪ Lovely evening, my dear,
da-na-na ♪ ♪ I know this man, my friend,
his name is Inspector Javert ♪ And Anna once went,
“Wait a minute. You just tipped
two different hats.” [ Laughter ] -That’s an interesting —
-Because one came off. -Yeah.
[ Laughter ] That play takes place at a time
where it’s not great in France. But a lot of people
had two hats. -It was miserable there.
[ Laughter ] It stunk, frankly. -They didn’t have a ton of food,
but they all had deux chapeau. -Yeah.
[ Laughter ] I bet that’s his only chapeau. Ah, Gavroche! -You were an — Did you work in
high school theater? -No, they didn’t let me.
-Really? -So, I’d come out and I’d do
my singing and they’d say no. [ Laughter ] I was like, remember that movie
“Florence Foster Jenkins” — and we hold for applause.
[ Laughter ] I was the Florence Foster
Jenkins of my high school. I thought I could sing like
Meryl Streep in the movie, and I couldn’t sing,
so I never got in anything, but I did lighting for musicals
in high school. Like, “My Fair Lady.” I’d be up in the booth. And the lighting booth
had a little attic. And you could go up there and, you know, do drugs
or whatever you want to do. [ Laughter ] It was very fun because
in “My Fair Lady,” there’s a scene where they’re
announcing everyone at a fancy ball. Do you know the show?
-Yeah. -Do you know theater?
[ Laughter ] Do you know theater?
[ Laughter ] So there’s a scene —
there’s a scene and I should have refreshed
my memory on this scene. [ Laughter ]
But it’s a fancy thing. Imagine, right?
-Yeah. -And so there’s announcements. It’s like, Lord and Lady Ashton,
then the people come out, and this wonderful actress
and classmate of mine named Roxy Leigh every night would read the names
of the people, and I was in the booth, and I would switch out the cards
every night that she had. And so one night it was, like,
“Sir Lord and Lady Ashton. Ladies and gentlemen,
Tim Allen.” [ Laughter ] So I derailed the theater. [ Laughter ] But then I kept hanging around. -This episode, again,
there are — you wrote a ton of
Sondheim-esque songs. -Yes, as did you. -I helped out a very little bit
with this episode, but I enjoyed it a great deal.
-Yes. Your additions
were instrumental. No pun intended.
Instruments. Instruments. Music. [ Laughter ] -But one of the fun things was
both of us had to do this — Neither of us can sing a lick. -Not a bit.
-Yeah. -And we had the incredible
composer for this, Eli, we would sing into our iPhones
and then send him us singing. -Yes. And what I would do
is I would take a melody that already existed
and was copywritten and then I would
add my own words, and I’d go, “How about this?” And Eli would say,
“Well, that’s already a song.” And he had to listen to me sing. So I have all these voice memos. -We actually have a voice memo
just to give people a sense of exactly how dire,
how dire this was for — Let’s take a listen.
-I’m legit embarrassed. Hello, Eli. It’s Mulaney. I’m losing my voice on tour,
so I was picturing it like this. ♪ You don’t own any land,
just a box in the sky ♪ ♪ Your neighbor’s cooking kasha
and your other neighbor died ♪ ♪ When you moved in, you felt
lucky but that time is forgot ♪ ♪ But you never give up
your spot at the co-op ♪ [ Laughter ] Wow, that is bad,
but I did get it all out. I’m proud of myself. [ Laughter ] -Great.
[ Cheers and applause ] -Fading out at the end. ♪ The co-op ♪ I can tell I’m going into,
like, a funny voice for my own defenses
at the end, like… ♪ At the co-op ♪ -Even just —
I was singing into a phone for only two other people
to listen to, you being one. -Yeah. -And I would, like,
have flop sweat. I would be in the corner
of my room, hoping other people
couldn’t hear me. -Yeah.
-I whisper singing songs. -On that one, I’m like, “I’m
sorry. I’ve been on tour.” You know, I had a week off.
[ Laughter ] But there are
constant disclaimers. There’s a lot of planes,
so it sounds like I can’t sing. What it is, is airplanes.
[ Laughter ]


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