Five things we learned at John Mulaney's New York Comedy Festival show
During a sold-out gig at Town Hall, stand-up and writer Mulaney talked about bombing in Tennessee, his impending marriage and Bill Clinton
Mon Nov 11 2013
Photograph: Mindy Tucker
Stand-up John Mulaney sold out his headlining show at Town Hall on Saturday, November 9. If that's not proof of his forward momentum, how about his forthcoming Fox sitcom, Mulaney? (Or, hey, the cover of the Time Out New York comedy issue?) Here a few things we figured out at the show:
Sometimes, dreams come true. Before the comics came on, a voiceover announced that one lucky pair of people would have their seats upgraded to the front row and get the chance to meet Mulaney; when the winners were announced, there was a loud squeal. Two girls in their late teens/early twenties leapt up, hopped around, waved to their friends on the balcony and continued squealing all the way to the front of the auditorium. Occasionally, the right people win the prize.
Living in Europe sounds nice…and disturbing. Opener Nick Kroll—who came on to a hooting crowd, happily surprised by his presence—closed his set with a take on European lifestyles. Blithely, in a generalized accent, he described his day. This involved smoking a lot of cigarettes; working "one half hour, two half hour"; drinking wine; eating chocolate; taking a government-mandated nap; and at one point, slurping down a bowl of heavy cream.
It's hard to forget that Mulaney is a writer's stand-up. Even after hearing bits we've heard several times, it's easy get caught up in the comic's well-drawn imagery, which has been polished and streamlined after who knows how many refinements. After receiving a really articulate and poetic insult from an audience member at a gig in Murfreesboro, Tennessee ("We would prefer silence to the sound of your voice"), Mulaney says, "If that were the last line to a Maya Angelou poem, you would close the book and stare out the window." (His description of the dying Confederate general he imagines having named Murfreesboro is equally well drawn.)
The comic is particular about his terminology. Mulaney is getting married, and is excited to use the word wife so he can say things like, "Get your hands off my wife!" and "I didn't kill my wife!" In the meantime, because he doesn't like the word fiancée, he's happy to use the term ex-girlfriend.
Judicious cursing really does increase its potency. Mulaney doesn't swear all that much in his act, but when he does, you feel it. In a great story about the time he and his mother went to meet Bill Clinton, the crux comes when the boy and his mom make their way across a ballroom and stand before the future president. (Mulaney's father had bitterly told his mother that the smooth-talking former classmate would not remember her.) Clinton immediately calls Mulaney's mom by name because "Bill Clinton never, ever forgets a bitch." The bitch gives this observation a bit more kick, and encapsulates Clinton's ethos perfectly.
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