Laughter is truly the best medicine, especially right now. Lately my streaming diet consists of generous helpings of comedy, not only films and TV shows, but also specials featuring stand up comedians. One of the best and funniest is John Mulaney. You may not know who he is since for four years he worked behind the scenes as a writer for Saturday Night Live. But in the last few years, he’s hosted SNL and appeared in some of the show’s funniest skits that he also wrote. His opening monologues can be found on YouTube, one two years ago, another a year ago, and a third just this past March. They are hilarious and will serve as a good introduction to his brand of comedy. (Just go to YouTube and type in John Mulaney SNL.)
In one of his monologues, Mulaney jokes that he’s like Louis Farrakhan – “I mean a lot to a small group of people.” Actually, that’s not true based on the crowds that come to see his stand up comedy shows. Four of his comedy specials were filmed before sold out crowds in large venues: The Top Part, at the Punch Line Comedy Club in San Francisco; New in Town, at the Skirball Center in New York City; The Comeback Kid, in the Chicago Theatre; and Kid Gorgeous, where he had seven performances in Radio City Music Hall.
Mulaney was born in Chicago. His mother and father are both attorneys, graduating from Georgetown and Yale Law School, in the same class as Bill and Hillary Clinton. From an early age, John knew he wouldn’t follow his parents into law, but would pursue a career in entertainment. After graduating from Georgetown in 2004, he moved to New York City and soon landed an entry level job at Comedy Central. By 2008, he was writing for SNL.
Always a lover of standup comedy, Mulaney spent hours listening to comedians who influenced his work, including Bob Newhart, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock. But his standup routines are his alone, pulling from his observations about growing up Catholic in Chicago. His jokes work because, while personal to him, they also are familiar to what so many in his audiences have experienced.
Rail thin and six feet tall, Mulaney is in constant motion during his routines, often twisting his body into impossible positions. He’s adept at mimicking voices for a wide range of characters, whether one of his teachers, an ex-cop who once taught his grade school class how to avoid a kidnapping, or one of his parents, particularly his father. He also talks about his wife and their French bulldog, Petunia, who has trouble breathing so is transported around New York City in a baby stroller.
Although he doesn’t sing in his stand up shows, he’s had plenty of opportunities to display his vocal talents and his knowledge of Broadway shows on SNL. In “Airport Sushi,” set in a bizarre (or maybe not so bizarre) LaGuardia Airport, he and SNL cast members join in on revised versions of songs from The Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Annie, and Wicked. “Diner Lobster” features music from Les Miserables (again, with new lyrics), and “Bodega Bathroom,” with music and new lyrics from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of zero sanitation.”) They are all very funny and can be found on YouTube.
But for a longer opportunity to relax and laugh – and I mean laugh until you are crying and, like Petunia, have trouble breathing – watch one of his standup specials. All of John Mulaney’s comedy shows can be streamed on Amazon Prime or Netflix. You need this now.
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