Last night was a big night for John Mulaney and I. Mulaney, former head writer of Saturday Night Live (best known for his co-creation of Bill Hader’s iconic Stefon), saw his sitcom Mulaney debut on Fox. I saw it too- that’s what made it a big night for me 🙂
Mulaney’s background is largely in writing, and has emerged as a talented stand-up comedian; his pedigree resembles that of another stand-up comedian who made it big on TV, Jerry Seinfeld. And Mulaney’s newness to the medium showed in the pilot- laughs fell at interesting times, and timing is clearly still being felt out. Some are calling for him to cut his losses and move forward. But I plan to stick with it, and think Mulaney should too. Here’s why.
Take a look at the first dialogue from Seinfeld (below). It’s nothing special- not terribly polished, or even particularly engaging. But as we know, the show tightened up as additional characters were introduced and story arcs developed. It’s too early to tell when these elements will come together, but time will tell us if it has the potential to become the multi-season hit that other Fox shows have (The Mindy Project is an amazing example of this- post for another day). But there’s another thing to consider, too.
Before I watched Mulaney this evening, I followed the keynote of a friend and collaborator, Courtney O’Connell. She presented on the role of innovative educators at a conference in New York, a great topic that she’s tremendously passionate about. The part of her talk that is relevant here, is the need to take chances and try to take existing knowledge to new venues. This, in effect, is what John Mulaney is doing.
— dhatkins (@dhatkins) October 6, 2014
Yes, he’s worked in TV before, but 3-5 minute sketches differ sharply from 23 minute multi-camera situation comedies. And he’s having to, in effect, remix the craft that he’s worked so hard to previously transform from stand-up comedy to sketch.
This was also the challenge of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, of Flight of the Conchords. Their challenge as musical comedians was to incorporate their music into a half-hour show. But they found ways to make it work hilariously in the first season of their HBO outing:
For the first season, they took songs they had been performing previously and created conceits for the television show to fit around. Their challenge in the second season was writing their music as normal, and then finding show scenarios to fit their songs. They admitted to struggling with this task, and the struggle showed at times in the program.
What am I getting at in sharing all of this? It’s hard to get good at a craft. It takes years of practice, research, application of learned knowledge, and feedback from those around us to truly get good at what we do. However, once you elect to take those talents, and apply them to a new domain, it gets hard again. It’s awkward at times. It challenges us in ways that it wouldn’t if we defaulted to what we were used to doing. And we may fail at it now and again, as is evidenced by the cancellation of Flight of the Conchords after its second season. But if we push through those awkward moments and accept that our hard-earned knowledge needs time to flourish under new conditions, we can be great once again. John Mulaney’s new show has that potential, and I truly hope that FOX gives him the time to push through his moment of adjustment to bring that greatness to a new venue.
First, take a moment to consider: What in your daily life or work are you really good at? What are you confident that you excel in? Now, consider this: Where is there a gap that could benefit from what you’re good at?
And lastly, ask the hard question: are you willing to put in the patience and time in that uncomfortable space to become great somewhere new?
I definitely know where I could apply this in my own life- what about you?
If the spirit moves you, check out some John Mulaney live performances or Flight of the Conchords shows as you think. It’ll make you think, and also make you giggle 🙂