Standup guy: comedian John Mulaney at Varsity

RAGHAV MEHTA | Updated 3/20/2013

It’s a good time to be nice-guy comic John Mulaney.

John Mulaney
Photo by Hal Horowitz

Although he’s still relatively unknown to mainstream audiences, comedian John Mulaney has released two highly acclaimed comedy albums, worked as a producer/writer for “Saturday Night Live” and earned the praise of Louis C.K. He’s also preparing a pilot with NBC studio mogul Lorne Michaels.

Oh, and he’s only 30 years old.

Considering his comedy-immersed upbringing, it’s not all that surprising that the Chicago-bred wunderkind got an early start in show business.

“When I was a kid I would act out scenes from Mel Brooks movies for my grandparents, like ‘History of the World’ and ‘Spaceballs,’ ” Mulaney said ahead of his shows Saturday at the Varsity. “I had a very good memory and I was interested in parroting everything I heard.”

He attended Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where he met fellow comedians Nick Kroll and Mike Birbiglia. He remains friends with both of them and makes occasional appearances on Kroll’s newly launched series, “The Kroll Show.”

“I thought [Kroll] was Hispanic the first time I met him,” Mulaney laughed.

On both of his standup albums — last year’s “New in Town” and the equally brilliant “The Top Part” (2009) — Mulaney showcases the same sort of boyish wonderment and innocence that defined his childhood. But beyond his pop-culture nerd-dom, it’s his breezy storytelling that distinguishes him from his peers.

Throughout both albums, Mulaney constructs characters that are at once fresh yet subtly familiar. His obsessions with film and television are also prominent themes in his standup. Each record has lengthy riffs on his favorite TV series: the ubiquitous and characteristically absurd “Law and Order.”

There’s a less innocent side to Mulaney, too. Despite his affable demeanor, he makes no secret of his troubled past as a young alcoholic.

“Very early on I had jokes about getting drunk and blacking out. Some people said, ‘Oh, that’s weird,’ ” said Mulaney, who quit drinking at 23. “Some people might not want to hear that because you look like a nice boy, and they don’t want you in danger. But I always thought it was very funny because when you’re onstage it’s like saying, ‘Here I am. I’m fine.’ ”

After wrapping up his standup tour in the coming weeks, Mulaney will begin shooting his Michaels-produced pilot for NBC. While it’s not clear whether the show will actually come to fruition, Mulaney said it’s intended to be loosely based on his own life, but couldn’t reveal much else. The title is still up in the air.

“I think ‘The John Mulaney Show’ would be good. That way if there are bad reviews, it’ll say ‘Mulaney Disappoints’ and ‘Mulaney Canceled Due to Lack of Interest,’ ” he quipped. “You definitely want your family name wrapped up in the negativity.”

John Mulaney

When: 7:30 (sold out) & 10:30 p.m. Sat.

Where: Varsity Theater, 1308 SE. 4th St., Mpls.

Tickets: $20.