John Mulaney has never been a particularly self-deprecating comedian. For most of his career, he portrayed himself as the largely attractive comeback type of showman who was smarter, funnier and better looking than everyone in the room and wanted you to know it. That was before it all fell apart.
Baby Jwhich arrives on Netflix today, is Mulaney’s first stand-up special since revealing to the world that a relapse on cocaine (and various other pharmaceutical drugs) fueled a tumultuous 2020 that culminated in a intervention by her famous friends and an extended stay in rehab.
The 80-minute special contains some of its darkest and most compelling elements to date. The laughs may be a bit fewer and more spaced out than in his previous work, but Mulaney’s willingness to lift the curtain on his inner turmoil in a way he’s never done before adds a new depth that, to the end, only makes it funnier special. No wonder he doesn’t know how he can follow him.
This darker tone for Mulaney starts before he even addresses the elephant in the room. Before we see him on stage at Boston’s Symphony Hall in an impeccably tailored red suit, we hear him tell the audience that he’s “done a lot of work” on himself over the past two years. “And I realized that everything will be fine as long as I get constant attention,” he jokes.
This line leads into an introduction to how he spent his early childhood secretly wishing that one of his “unimportant grandparents” died so he could get special treatment at school. He soon explains that he started off on such a “dark note” because he didn’t want things to feel “too optimistic,” lightly poking fun at the overly energetic showbiz style that has infused previous specials like Gorgeous kid in Radio City.
The subtitle of Baby J is “a high-profile conversation” – revealed in Mulaney’s hilarious rapprochement as a reference to a QG interview that he has no memory of having given a few days before his intervention. And the comedian spends most of the special delving into the very real struggles he was still trying to hide in plain sight at this point.
Mulaney has spoken publicly about the December 2020 intervention before, but never in such excruciating detail. And he manages to maintain his confident personality while joking that given his cool haircut and cocaine habit, he was easily the prettiest person in the comedians’ room who had been sitting on their couches since. nine months during the COVID lockdown.
He goes on to express how disturbing it was to be in a room full of the funniest people on the planet, none of whom were making tunes. “Fred Armisen was serious,” says Mulaney. “Do you know how off-putting that is?”
Like Armisen, Mulaney isn’t known for his sincerity, but he takes a moment to acknowledge that his friends’ actions “totally saved” his life. Seconds later, however, he cuts off the applause by joking that he’s still “pissed” at them for putting him in their eternal debt.
Over the next hour or so, Mulaney delivers some brilliantly constructed sets of his time in rehab, including the several missed calls he received from Pete Davidson, who was recorded in his phone as “Al Pacino,” and an even more disturbing breakdown of his efforts to get money to buy drugs after he asked his business manager to cut him off. This segment in particular, which involves trying to buy and then pawn an extremely expensive watch, is so vivid it feels like watching the opening scene of a heist movie.
“Don’t believe the character,” he says, almost as an aside at one point, in response to the incident chief who “heard he was nice.” In many ways, it resembles the project of Baby J exposes the chasm between the Mulaney folks they thought they knew before his time in rehab and the man who lurked beneath the surface all the time and only emerged in brief flashes, like the time he ranted about inconsistently in a trench coat and sunglasses on Seth Meyers couch.
Mulaney may look as slick and put together as ever in this new special, but through the stories and details he shares about his lowest moments, he exposes a deeper truth about himself that fans never have. view with such clarity.
“Before, I cared so much about what everyone thought of me. That was all I cared about,” Mulaney admits towards the end of the special. “And I don’t anymore.”
This thought stems from the realization that no one could do anything worse to him than what he tried to do to himself through his addiction. And that leads to perhaps the best joke ever about the futility of “cancel culture” in a medium where comedians love to complain about its potency.
“What, are you going to cancel John Mulaney?” he asks. “I will kill him. I almost did.
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