There’s simply nothing funny about child murder. John Mulaney knows this—which is why he instead chooses to tell you about J.J. Bittenbinder, the Chicago detective assigned each year to teach Mulaney’s school about “stranger danger.” In this, and his overall bit about school assemblies, Mulaney excels. It’s so oddly specific that you’re thrown back into that exact moment when you were a kid and a former crack user is telling you drugs are bad. Unfortunately, the rest of Mulaney’s newest standup, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, ventures into territory outside his wheelhouse, resulting in an effort that just isn’t as funny as his past specials.
It’s almost immediate when watching Kid Gorgeous that this Mulaney is far more confident and comfortable onstage than in New in Town or The Comeback Kid. Perhaps this is because he’s become more mainstream and experimental with the comedy he’s produced lately—his animated series Big Mouth and Broadway show Oh, Hello!, both with Nick Kroll, reflect risks that undoubtedly paid off. It’s nice to see him move around the stage and get into characters more boldly than before, but it can also take away from his act. He’s built up a lot of his brand about how he’s awkward—his lanky body and voice meant to be made fun of, not to be telling the jokes.
A large portion of his past standups were so funny because Mulaney told them like stories. They’re easy to memorize as narratives—even now most fans could probably conjure up most of his bit on the Salt and Pepper Diner from 2009. But in Kid Gorgeous, there may still be extended jokes, but they’re not really connected to stories. In one bit, Mulaney talks about how college wasn’t worth going to. In another, he tackles Donald Trump, whom he describes as “a horse in a hospital.” They’re both fast-paced, one joke after the other, but the lack of a story to ground either of them makes it feel like any other comedian’s work, not something that’s signature “Mulaney.”
Another disappointment in his work is that this came out on May 1, but he told many of the same jokes in his Saturday Night Live monologue weeks ago. It’s tough to come up with jokes, I get that, but for someone who wrote for Saturday Night Live, it seemed weird that he was giving away most of his set before the special came out. It felt like you could skip most of the back half of Kid Gorgeous because you’d already heard it before.
Kid Gorgeous returns to Mulaney’s usual style at the end, detailing his experience at church as a kid and his wife’s confusion over the reason for the meal in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It unlocks a memory you buried deep in the back of your mind of stale carpets and dusty old people who sang psalms at Mass. It’s hysterical—Mulaney at his peak. Hopefully in the future, he’ll get back to more of the stuff, like this, that made him so funny to begin with.
Featured Image by Netflix