In his latest Netflix stand-up special, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, John Mulaney capitalizes on notable anecdotes from his upbringing, college experience and star-studded career as a writer for Saturday Night Live to crack jokes at the expense of himself — and everyone watching.
The grandiose music hall makes Mulaney look small and insignificant in the opening moments of his special. His lanky body explores the vast stage, decorated with elegant, colorful curtains, as he responds to cheers and screams from the audience. He immediately acknowledges the contrast between the formality of the venue and inherent silliness of his performance.
“I love to play venues where if the guy who built the venue could see me on stage, he would be a little bit bummed about it,” Mulaney says, opening his incredible set with self-deprecating humor. “Look at this —” he says, gesturing toward the opulent stage “— this is so much nicer than what I’m about to do, it’s really — it’s really tragic.”
Of course, many of his quips — about his history with hard partying and the amount of money (roughly $120,000, which he acknowledges about a million times) he spent to obtain an English degree — aren’t as sophisticated as a classical symphony or the Rockettes. Yet he fills Radio City with laughter and a well-crafted show.
The many voices of Mulaney are one of the best aspects of this special. His tone and delivery are incrementally different when quoting his mom, his dad, former friends, his wife — and even his past self. Mulaney caricatures Mick Jagger as he tells the tale of the joke-writing process for the rock singer’s SNL hosting gig — his exaggerated British accent and heavily pursed lips simply add to the hilarity of his experience.
Mulaney uses more than just deliberate vocal changes to tell his stories: He is a master of facial expression and never tells a joke standing still. In Kid Gorgeous, he runs along the front of the stage, ensuring no section of the crowd goes without attention, as the camera follows from a front-row perspective.
Not all of Kid Gorgeous is fresh and unfamiliar. Some of his bits were featured in his opening monologue from the April 14 episode of SNL, or his brief feature in Seth Rogen’s recent Netflix special, Hilarity for Charity. This felt a bit cheap, especially for the diehard Mulaney fans who have been looking forward to some fresh content. Granted, one person can only have so many bits committed to memory at once.
While his typical style is situational comedy, Mulaney slightly deviates in Kid Gorgeous by including political commentary, absent from his previous two Netflix specials. He seems hesitant entering the political bit, whipping his microphone chord in a distracted manner (which surprisingly draws some laughs) as he sets up his punchlines.
He says he’s never cared much about politics, “but then last November, the strangest thing happened,” he adds knowingly, alluding to President Trump’s historic rise to the Oval Office. After this moment, his flamboyantly confident demeanor returns.
Mulaney strategically avoids a direct mention of the president’s name. Instead, he compares Trump’s presidency to “a horse loose in the hospital” and simply refers to Trump as “the horse” for the remainder of the bit.
His careful comedic ear, perfect timing and memorable inflection make Kid Gorgeous one of Mulaney’s best works yet. He proves he can navigate tough topics without forcefully inserting his own beliefs and agenda, and without being rude.
Mulaney pulls humor from the situations we normally find too embarrassing to recount, and perfectly balances self-deprecation with hatred for common annoyances. He is the breath of fresh, positive air that comedy needs right now.