When I heard that John Mulaney was coming to Penn State, I immediately called dibs on writing the review. As a self-entitled comedy groupie, I was ecstatic. I had seen the debut of his Comedy Central special, New In Town, (now available on iTunes — seriously, buy it, it’s worth the few bucks it costs), and I was sold on what is definitely going to be a huge mainstream success.
Of course Mulaney has been around for a while, teaming up with college buddy and fellow comedian Nick Kroll, of The League fame (and an upcoming Comedy Central show The Nick Show Kroll, which also stars John Mulaney), and performing a couple of sets on Conan’s shows. Oh, and did I mention he writes for Saturday Night Live, most notably the unanimously beloved bits on Weekend Update involving Stefon? Yeah, you can imagine my excitement.
And with a set up like that, right about here is where I would tell you how much I was disappointed, and how he’s a horrible live comedian and how fame is getting to his head. But if I were to say that, I would be a giant liar.
Not only did he meet my high expectations, he turned out to be a genuinely nice guy, who, against the insistence of the SPA contingent who were trying to shovel people out the door, (seriously guys, lay off the power trip, it’s not like you’re protecting the president from some lunatics, you just want to get to the group photo and then leave) had a really nice chat with the groups of people that wanted to take photos, express their love for Stefon, or just tell him he’s a cool dude (and trust me, he’s a really cool dude).
Joe Mande, also a very nice and down-to-earth guy (also chatting with the crowd after the show), who was here last year as well opening for Mike Birbiglia, opened for Mulaney with a solid set touching on everything from TSA to threesomes and got the crowd warmed up, even if his style is a bit more laid back and relaxed than what you would expect from an opener (his style works great with Twitter, where he has a cult following). Mulaney then came on stage in his signature stand-up outfit, a suit, and performed a combination of older jokes (some even from his special or Conan appearences), expanding on jokes he posted on twitter, (seriously, this guy is funny in 140 characters, too, give him a follow, @mulaney) new material, and audience conversation. What really works great for John Mulaney is the natural way in which he shares personal stories — which are, in fact, true — and then intersperses them with hypotheticals and observational comedy.
His past alcohol problems, with constant blackouts (or what some Penn State students like to call ‘the weekend’), his life growing up in Chicago, his unusual appearance, his parents’ connection to Bill Clinton, his dating life; everything factored into over an hour of fantastic stories and jokes.
The most interesting parts were his spontaneous interactions with the audience, where his improv background and self-irony proved invaluable as the answers he got from the crowd ranged from boring to pointless (and I’m allowed to say that because I was one of the people he interacted with, and boy did that feel awesome). For somebody that likes to watch a lot of comedy, it was obvious that at several points in his improvised responses to what was going on in the audience, he realized that he had stumbled upon a character or a joke that could be worked into his next set.
What was even funnier was how hard it was for him to play to the insult comic type when bantering with the audience, as you could see that it wasn’t his style and even chastised himself, repeatedly, for trying to make fun of the audience. With probably one joke not getting as intense of a laugh as the rest, the set never had any dull moments and played particularly well to a crowd of people that was obviously there to soak up the funny. Here’s hoping he comes back soon.
David Morar is a First Year PhD student in the College of Communications, Social Media Manager for Onward State and future president of the John Mulaney Appreciation Society. He can be reached telepathically or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org