Tina Fey. Eddie Murphy. Will Ferrell. Amy Poehler. These are just a few of the comedians who became household names through their tenure on “Saturday Night Live.” “SNL” has been a catalyst for many comedy careers with actors taking their skills from the live skit show to television, movies and Broadway. But behind the famous faces are the writers backstage, crafting the jokes that create stars. Too often, they are unacknowledged and doomed to a nameless career in comedy. John Mulaney is here to change that.
Described by colleagues like late-night host Seth Meyers as a “comedian’s comedian,” Mulaney has experienced success in the field just under the radar of the public. He worked for “SNL” from 2008 to 2014, where he created beloved characters like the over-the-top cultural consultant Stefon, played by Bill Hader. Despite his award-winning work, Mulaney is probably best known for his stand-up specials: “The Top Part,” “New in Town” and “The Comeback Kid.” His latest special, “Kid Gorgeous,” was recorded at Radio City this February following a summer 2017 tour that hit upwards of 30 cities.
For those who aren’t familiar with him, Mulaney’s comedy is grounded in self-deprecating jokes and humorous personalized anecdotes executed with dramatic movements and an array of impressions. This routine remains consistent in “Kid Gorgeous,” yet, unsurprisingly, Mulaney has succeeded in outdoing himself once again.
He opens with a familiar topic: His relationship with his staunchly Catholic, lawyer parents. Mulaney recalls asking his mother if she’s ever seen a ghost (“Because that’s where we’re at conversation-wise in our relationship as a mother and son!”) and his father abruptly stopping the conversation. This, of course, leads to a funny bit about his father being a murderer, which he ends by casually saying, “Ah well, none of us really know our fathers. Anyway … ”
Pretty much the entire hour-long special induces belly-aching laughter and tears in the eyes. From saying that “college is a $120,000 hooker and you’re the idiot that fell in love with her” to lamenting on his Jewish wife’s belief that the last supper was celebrating Thanksgiving, Mulaney delivers witty, memorable jokes that coax laughs without insulting or attacking anybody.
He does, at one point, delve into politics. At this point in society, the topic is pretty much unavoidable, especially with the role comedy and Mulaney’s almamater, SNL, have been playing in it. Toward the end of the special, as he strolls across the stage fiddling with his microphone wire, he says, “I never really cared about politics,” before pausing to shout, “And then, last November, the strangest thing happened!”
Beyond this divergence, Mulaney stays true to his apolitical routine, one of the things which make him such an excellent comedian. He is able to take the everyday, mundane bizarreness of life and turn it into exemplary comedy over and over and over again. In an age in which the dark reality of our formerly iconic comedians like Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. has been exposed, Mulaney continues to stand tall as a loveable, lanky man with an adorable bulldog named Petunia and an endless bank of stories to tell. He shows the world that you don’t need to be cruel or edgy to be funny. Sometimes all it takes is a well-fitted wool suit, some self-awareness and an observant eye to earn yourself a rightful place in comedic history.