With six seasons of writing for “Saturday Night Live,” one comedy album, two Netflix specials, a Broadway show and a spot as a voice actor on Netflix’s new animated series “Big Mouth” (2017–) all under his belt, stand-up comedian John Mulaney performed a total of seven shows of his “Kid Gorgeous” tour between Nov. 14 and 17 at both Symphony Hall and the Wilbur in Boston.
From the outset, Mulaney hooked his audience with his awkwardly charming style of humor. He briefly joked about his fondness for the city, in spite of strange experiences he’s had with Bostonians, before delving into an act filled with his usual light-hearted, self-deprecating anecdotes, largely about his Catholic upbringing in the 1980s suburbs of Chicago.
Mulaney found his rhythm in quipping about his relationships with his family, explaining how he does not have much to talk about with his mom, as she’s a traditional Catholic woman and he’s a “married 35-year-old without kids, and my mom doesn’t really understand my career.” He later went on to talk about his wife of three years, mentioning how she often critiques his “desperate need to be liked by everyone,” even salesmen at Best Buy (a worker there asked him if he was a Best Buy rewards member, and his polite, quizzical response was “No, I wish”), portraying one of many examples of Mulaney making humor out of his self-awareness.
Besides humorous familial storytelling, Mulaney is most well known for his ability to interact and connect with his audience authentically, and his performance in “Kid Gorgeous” further proved this strength. When he mentioned that he was an English major in college, a person in the front row clapped, and he asked them how they could “dare to applaud the worst decision [he’d] ever made.” This small moment of dialogue between him and an audience member in and of itself perfectly demonstrates Mulaney’s comedic style: simultaneously self-critical and lighthearted, straightforward and understated.
While largely sticking to his usual narratives about family, childhood and adult life, Mulaney surprised the audience with an entire bit about the current presidential administration. While many other comedians frequently use political events as material, Mulaney has largely avoided this method so far in his career. He’s rarely joked about or given his opinion on political issues; the most political he’s gotten before was describing meeting Bill Clinton as a child in his stand-up special “The Comeback Kid” (2015).
Nonetheless, Mulaney strayed from his typical avoidance of politics and joked about the oddity of being a stand-up comic in today’s political climate and, despite never actually uttering Trump’s name, likened his presidency to having an untamed horse running loose in a hospital, joking that “I think everything’s going to be okay, but this has never happened before. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, and none of you know either.”
While the horse in a hospital anecdote was a bit muddled at times, Mulaney largely managed to employ his creative wit to explain the unprecedented political climate Americans have found themselves in. Most pervasive in this act, though, was his insistence on optimism: that even if the horse fires the horse-catcher and fights with a North Korean hippopotamus with a nuclear bomb, we’ll somehow, someday, manage to get him out of the hospital.
Mulaney’s whimsical attempt at political humor served as a reminder of the impermanence of not only our political climate, but small occurrences of our everyday lives as well, whether it be trips to Best Buy, awkward conversations with your parents or mistakes made in adolescence. We can’t help but be affected by the political chaos going on in our world right now, but Mulaney’s lighthearted comedy reminds us that we can choose how we let it affect us. His uncomplicated wit teaches us to find humor in the simple things or, at the very least, to make light of tough situations as best we can. Maybe that’s the lesson we need most right now.