John Mulaney had me at “College is just a $120,000 hooker that you’re in love with, but she’s not going to do anything for you.” Known for his stand-up comedy Netflix specials, “New in Town” and “The Comeback Kid,” his writing on “Saturday Night Live” (most notably, the beloved “Stefon” sketch) and Emory’s 2015 Dooley’s Week lineup, the comic veteran took to the stage for a sold-out Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Sept. 30 for his North American tour, aptly entitled “Kid Gorgeous.”
Mulaney’s ability to keep a permanent smile etched on my face throughout the night was uncanny. He weaved smoothly in and out of topics ranging from elementary school assemblies to the Catholic Church to the trials of working with Mick Jagger. Part of Mulaney’s charm and likeability was his honest appeal to a wide range of ages. One minute he described contemporary issues, such as the difficulties of meditation in the modern age, and the next he delivered jokes about The Beatles and the absurdity of telephone rooms in the 1940s, which had the older couple in front of me hooting with laughter.
Mulaney’s knowledge of humor that resonates with the older crowd doesn’t surprise me, as he is actually an old man in the body of a debonair 6-foot 12-year-old who claims to be 35. Even Mulaney enjoys poking fun at his youthful appearance, admitting in “New in Town” that he looks like he was “just sitting in a room, in a chair eating saltines for like 28 years and then [he] walked right out here.” His innocence, however, only adds to his persona; people don’t expect the shocking outcomes that his hilarious anecdotes often produce.
Other ingredients in Mulaney’s recipe for comedic success included his totally preposterous yet accurate-to-a-T descriptions. My favorite bit explored the dark, underlying messages of the popular children’s film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” All I can tell you without spoiling the segment is that, at one point, he deemed Charlie’s grandparents “the Mount Rushmore of bedsores” and then furiously mimed beating up Grandpa Joe with a laundry spoon. He ended the segment sweaty and winded.
Despite his self-declared allergy to political jokes, Mulaney dipped his toe into current national events by expanding on a bit he’d previously performed on “The Comeback Kid,” during which he compared President Donald J. Trump to “a horse loose in the hospital.” Having already seen the Netflix special, I groaned inwardly at the recyclage of old jokes but was pleasantly surprised when he added appropriately to the metaphor, adjusting it to fit with current events. For instance, he introduced a new part of the metaphor in which the horse is having a stand-off with a hippo over a nuclear bomb.
Mulaney then moved on to more personal subjects, making quips about living with an outspoken Jewish wife, parenting dogs versus children and growing up a member of the Catholic Church. On denoting differences between his and his wife’s interactions with others, he expressed his need to be liked by everyone in the room while his wife cares absolutely nothing about what others think of her, which resulted in a hilarious episode involving a Best Buy rewards card. Yet what garnered the most “aw”s from the crowd that night was the mention of his four-year-old daughter: a French bulldog, Petunia. Eventually, he began to err on the side of sexual dog jokes — much like Dooley’s Week 2017 stand-up comedian Nikki Glaser had done in her routine. Perhaps this is the new trend in stand-up comedy.
As soon as he’d reached the final punchline and milked the audience of all its laughter, Mulaney took a bow, to which the crowd responded with a standing ovation. Later, I learned that my UberPool car mates had driven roughly 150 miles from Birmingham, Ala., just to see John Mulaney. I speak for myself and others sitting around me when I say that his performance — filled with good-quality, old-fashioned, smart humor for everyone — offered a nice distraction from the hardships of day-to-day life. Mulaney is a must-see — if not in person, at least catch him on Netflix.