Q+A With Comedian Joey Mulinaro

Joey Mulinaro

What has been your “holy shit” moment through all of this?

The most incredible thing I’ve gotten to do is form relationships with my favorite sports teams, like the Steelers and Pacers. The Steelers reached out to me to do content with them at Heinz Field (now Acrisure Stadium), and it was just me and their social team in the 70,000-seat stadium. I remember looking around and being in complete awe of the place. To make it even better, when the video was released, it was compiled with a bunch of different folks from Steelers Nation. The person I just so happened to follow was Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu, a guy I grew up idolizing. It was insane! 

Your first viral impersonation of Nick Saban in late 2019 explained his favorite Thanksgiving dishes. Many comedians in this space hit it big but keep doing the same thing over and over. Was it important to immediately diversify your content so you didn’t end up being just the Nick Saban guy?

This is something that I always wanted to do, versus people who sort of stumble into it by going viral then feel pressure to keep doing that one thing and catch lightning in a bottle. When I was playing youth baseball, my dad told me you have to have something else besides the fastball. Scott Uecker, one of my professors at UIndy, also hammered home the importance of being versatile. I took all of that personally and transferred it into comedy. Sure, I can do impressions, but can I write a sketch? Can I interview people? Can I host? When people see my stuff, I want them to say, “Wow, it’s not just that, he does this, too.”

How have you kept your material fresh after three-plus years?

It’s just how my brain has operated ever since I got out of college. I’ve always looked at my content as my own version of Saturday Night Live. They have recurring characters that people love, but they keep it topical. People are used to seeing [NFL commentator] Cris Collinsworth talk football, but I thought, why don’t we have Cris Collinsworth talk about being at a pumpkin patch or in a Chick-fil-A drive thru? So I did Collinsworth impressions doing random, everyday things.

Your content has included riffing on topical stuff to mid-2000s The Office type humor and back to the 1990s Seinfeld/Larry David style of observational humor. Is that why you’ve connected with so many people across different age groups?

I’m constantly thinking about what I can turn into a sketch or what I can try to make funny and relatable to people, because so much of what people laugh at are the things they can relate to. You can send [one of my videos] to your buddy and say, “Remember that neighbor that we had? This is him!” or “Man, I had a teacher like that!” I want to tap into the random person that so many of us have had in their lives.

I wonder how many people watch those videos and have thought, “I’m that wedding guy. That’s me right there!”

That’s the best compliment to get. I’ll have people respond with, “I feel personally attacked!” and feel like I’ve done a good job.

You went viral with the Saban Thanksgiving impersonation and a couple of other sketches in early 2020 and had already built a six-figure following on Twitter and Instagram. How long did it take you to monetize that success?

When those early viral videos got noticed, Barstool Sports offered me a two-year deal. They swept in so quickly that I was never able to see where I could go on my own. That was scary. But now I get to just be Joey. I’m trying to continue to build my following so companies can say, “We’re a fan of this guy. We’d love to do a deal with product placement and a call-to-action for ‘blank’ amount of money.” When those opportunities come along, I’m picky because I don’t just want to be a walking commercial. A lot of the bits I do are straight Joey comedy, with no ads or pulling anything over on anyone. And then, once in a while, you’re going to see a video with “go get some Crumbl cookies” or whatever, which you should, because they’re good! That’s the model right now.

How much trial and error is involved in what you do?

I never wanted to have the fear of putting something out that flops. People are afraid of the guy that says, “This sucks!” and it’s just some schmo with 40 followers. They let their fear overtake the possibility of putting something great out there. The original Saban video taught me an early lesson that if I feel good about something and I’m proud of it, put it out there. If it doesn’t do well, come back tomorrow and try another idea. It’s like baseball. Look at Aaron Judge—yeah, he hit 60-whatever home runs, but how many times is he popping out? People don’t remember those. They remember the home runs. If someone doesn’t like something, I come back next time with something that they will like.

Will your future involve sports, or is it going to be something entirely different?

The goal is to make a full shift into straight comedy and acting. My passion lies with bringing joy to people. I often can’t wait to get up in the morning because I have this idea or I want to write a sketch. That’s what gets me really fired up.

Sort of like your Heinz Field moment, do you ever catch yourself driving around or walking by yourself and thinking, “Man, this is crazy!” about how things have played out for your career?

I try to remind myself as often as I can. The 22-year-old me—hell, even 8-year-old me—would die if he knew what my life is now. It helps keep me grounded, but it also pushes me to think about how far I can go if I keep working at it.