(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Specials: New in Town, The Comeback Kid, and Kid Gorgeous (in that order)
Where You Can Stream Them: Netflix
The Pitch: John Mulaney is a former writer at Saturday Night Live, co-creator of Bill Hader’s beloved recurring character Stefon, consulting producer and co-star of Big Mouth, and executive producer, writer, and occasional star of Documentary Now! on IFC. Those are all great works of comedy, but when John Mulaney is at his absolute best, it’s on stage by himself with a microphone in his hand doing some of the best stand-up comedy you’ve ever heard.
Why They’re Essential Viewing: John Mulaney’s view on life is one that is full of quirks in the best way possible, but not in such a way that he feels like a walking Portland coffee shop or some kind of alternative comedian really trying to mess with the formula of stand-up comedy. Like the best stand-up comedians from over the years, it’s his unique perspective on life and relationships, observations on pop culture and society at large, and reflections on his childhood that make him stand out.
With New in Town, Mulaney is at his most random. The set doesn’t feel quite as polished or seamless as the two specials that follow, but it’s full of great small bits that are instantly quotable and raucously hilarious. Mulaney’s topics range from his desire to experience the height of luxury that was having pizza in a limousine in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, dealing with Delta Airlines, being babysat by the equivalent of a horse, getting called a lady while trying to get a copy of Addams Family Values, and much more. And when you hear where the title of the special comes from, you’ll never forget it.
Moving onto The Comeback Kid, Mulaney does much more storytelling than his first stand-up effort. He digs more into his personal life with his wife, his younger years, and ends with a great closing anecdote about meeting Bill Clinton. He still takes some gutbusting detours talking about Back to the Future and a random turn into The Fugitive, but this special feels less like a collection of jokes, and more like Mulaney candidly talking about his life in the most funny fashion.
Finally, in Kid Gorgeous, Mulaney takes the best of both worlds from his previous two stand-up specials and does an eclectic mix of personal stories from his life. Easily the most memorable segment is his recollection of school assemblies with an unforgettable Chicago detective named J.J. Bittenbinder, who would scare the hell out of kids with “Stranger Danger” warnings and self-defense tactics that he likes to call “Street Smarts!” But Mulaney also delves into his tenure at Saturday Night Live while trying to write sketches for Mick Jagger, as well as talking about his Instagram-famous dog Petunia. There’s even an incredible bit about the presidency of Donald Trump, which he pulls off without ever mentioning him by name. It’s some of the most brilliant comedy ever done about the orange-in-chief.
John Mulaney is one of the finest comedians working today, bringing an old soul kind of approach to comedy with modern comedic timing and sensibilities. He’s never afraid to get a little too weird for general audiences, and he’s clearly doing things that make him laugh the most instead of pandering to a crowd like some blockbuster-level comedians are known to do. Mulaney is unflinchingly himself, and that makes for the best kind of stand-up.
Once you’re done with those, you may want to give John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch and Oh, Hello! a shot, both on Netflix too but those are much different from the stand-up stylings of John Mulaney, even if they have some of his signature oddball comedy throughout.
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