‘Baby J’ Review: John Mulaney Punctures His Persona

His description of his intervention is a comic highlight, with act-outs of Nick Kroll and Fred Armisen. He’s hilariously flattered by the intervention’s star-studded attendance, “a ‘We Are the World’ of alternative comedians over the age of 40.” And when the woman running it says that she heard he was nice, he corrects her: “Don’t trust the persona.”

The funniest part of the special, which at over an hour and 20 minutes is longer than most released by Netflix these days, is an elaborate description of a text he got in rehab from Pete Davidson that a nurse woke him up to read. “Some people suggested we did drugs together because he has tattoos and I am plain,” Mulaney says, a gentle poke at the shallowness of the media and public.

This story takes off when we learn that Mulaney had put Davidson’s number in his phone under the name Al Pacino, which gives Mulaney a chance to perform the scene a second time from the nurse’s perspective, including an amazing impersonation of late-era Pacino. I can’t do this justice, except to say that the phrase “daddy khaki pants” made me laugh out loud.

Silliness has long been central to Mulaney’s humor, and part of it comes from the incongruity of his seeming either younger than his age or much older (he favors archaic words like “nay” instead of “no”). The titles of his specials tell a Benjamin Button story: “New in Town,” followed by “The Comeback Kid” and “Kid Gorgeous,” followed by “Baby J.” The way it’s going, “Fetal Position” could be next.

This is a highly anticipated special, and the modern stand-up event tends to be about something more messy than jokes. When Jerrod Carmichael came out of the closet, he ended his special abruptly, with loose ends; Chris Rock flashed raw emotion in his vengeful response to being slapped by Will Smith. Mulaney remains a tightly controlled performer. His special mostly avoids his divorce and new child, focusing instead on his drug addiction.

That story has a happy ending, with him going to rehab and emerging not only sober, but also no longer needing the approval of others. It’s a dramatic, abrupt evolution. “What is someone going to do to me that’s worse than what I would do to myself?” he asks, hinting at his own self-destructive tendencies. “What, are you going to cancel John Mulaney? I’ll kill him.”

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