Finding Hilarity in the Ordinary With John Mulaney

On a snowy New York evening, John Mulaney prepares himself to take center stage in the elaborate and glitzy entertainment venue of Radio City. The grand red curtain begins to slowly rise, making visible the multi-tiered drapes and arched light bulbs. Although Mulaney looks dwarfed by the grand room, he confidently strides on stage to perform in front of the enthusiastic audience of the packed house.

Mulaney is best known for his writing on “Saturday Night Live,” and his newest feature on Netflix solidifies his skills as a comedian. Stand-up comedians expose the absurdities in life, and Mulaney does this with a certain  grace and skill, scrutinizing ordinary scenes by picking out distinct details, and crafting a series of hilarious and amusing bits. He uses impressions and actions to narrate normal everyday moments, such as attending a school assembly in grade school or the absurdity of paying for college even after college through alumni fundraisers. When imitating a 7-year-old, he increases the pitch of his voice and holds the microphone right by his mouth to maintain the impression. Mulaney takes a unique approach and adds flair to his shows by expressing the truth, while bringing about a catharsis like no other comedian. His comedy sketch incorporates a wide  range of topics such as religion, politics, music, education, aging and family. Mulaney recounts a story about Detective J.J. Bittenbinder, a strange man from the police department who specialized in child homicide. He uses ornamental and literary language that works in perfect harmony  with the rest of the script. Mulaney states, “He was a man most acquainted with misery.”

He goes on to precisely describe the college lifestyle with just a few simple statements: “I didn’t drink water the entire time” and “College was like a four-year game show called ‘Do My Friends Hate Me or Do I Just Need To Go To Sleep?’” Even though Mulaney is not classified as a political stand-up comedian, he acknowledges the current political state of America and does an excellent job of depicting the chaos we have encountered since the most recent presidential election: “It’s like there’s a horse loose in a hospital … no one knows what the horse is going to do next, least of all the horse.” He does not mention the President by name, but he demonstrates his opposition and resistance to “this guy being the president” as he attempts to decipher what bizarre action the horse has in mind. Mulaney stays relevant and modern in his extremely accurate and consistent metaphors. His impressions–Mick Jagger, an 8-year-old schoolboy, or horse hoof noises amplify the scene and add an extra dose of wit and hysteria.

With the flexibility and convenience of Netflix, any night can become the opening night of the show. The show premieres to a new Netflix subscriber every day while live shows gain more momentum by debuting release dates and posters and trailers that lead up to the premiere, a single night that everyone looks forward to and can only experience once. Watching a comedy show from home rather than in person guarantees a front row seat and behind-the-scenes clips. However, a live show allows one to sense the direction, atmosphere, and mood of the performer and fellow viewers and can directly participate. Mulaney takes advantage of the feedback from his audience, from their laughter, murmurs, and applause, and the energy and sparkle continues further. He also takes control of the stage and captivates his audience with his orotund voice, poised posture, and genuine recollections, which all contribute to his strength as a performer in a highly subjective profession.

The end credits — namely Jon Brion’s rendition of  “Lithium” being played on the organ seen in the opening scene — concludes the show and offers some insight and context to Mulaney’s performance. All of the people in his stories and the references he made are connected in some way and have a purpose, even if we do not understand them or make the realization as an audience member. John Mulaney is a hilarious storyteller and takes a fresh and optimistic approach to  comedy.

“John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City” is now available to watch on Netflix.