The New Kid
Up-and-coming comedy writer and stand-up John Mulaney arrives with fully formed material in special
By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief
The signature piece by stand-up comic and experienced, but still young, comedy writer John Mulaney, is about a time when he and some buddies acted obnoxious in a diner by repeatedly playing Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat?” through the little table jukeboxes, entering it 10, 20 or more times in a row.
There isn’t a landmark piece quite like that in Mulaney’s new special, “New In Town,” airing on Comedy Central on January 28 and debuting in CD and DVD versions on January 31, but there’s a lot of amusing observational humor that the SNL and “Human Giant” writer and performer has to offer.
Like that diner vignette, Mulaney successfully expands and expounds on an encounter with a beggar who introduces himself with the odd collection of traits, “I’m gay, I’m homeless, I have AIDS and … I’m new in town (hence the special’s title).” Mulaney carries the audience along on that one, getting across his amusement at the particular pieces of information and the order the guy chose to say them.
Mulaney employs some of the laconic manner of Wyatt Cenac, perhaps unknowingly, but that delivery adds an effective dry and understated tone to his material. He’s got a genial way of underplaying his stories for effect, as when explaining what a terrible driver he is, he says, “I hear you honking, and I don’t like what I’m doing either,” he says. “They’re expecting to see a 100-year-old lady behind the wheel and are shocked to find a healthy 28 year old man trying his best.”
That geniality also stretches for Mulaney in another piece, where he talks about running afoul of standards & practices when writing a joke that used the word “midget,” for an awards show. When told he can’t put the word “midget” on the air, Mulaney says, “But I sure would like to.” Continuing the story, Mulaney said he was told “midget” is as bad as the “n-word.” “No, it’s not,” he states. “It can’t be as bad if you won’t even say what that other word is.” And in the third beat of the story, again keeping that genialty as he says something snarky, Mulaney is told doing this might bring on a protest of midgets. “You promise?” Mulaney wonders, looking like a child who would love to see such a parade.
The DVD version of “New In Town” takes Mulaney’s often bone-dry delivery even further, with a commentary on the stand-up special presented here, where Mulaney is joined by fellow stand-ups Anthony Jeselnik and Dan Mintz, who mainly mock him and his material, in a box in one small corner of the screen. Mintz interviews Mulaney in another DVD extra, in a manner mostly designed to mock Mulaney again and position himself as a better writer and performer.
John Mulaney may be “New In Town,” but he already has a distinctive style of performing his observational material, written and delivered with a keen eye for absurdities.
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