Day 23: John Mulaney

Day 23. Every day this month I’m sharing a stand up set that I like. Today’s is a 2013 Conan set from a comedian who has since gone on to sell out Radio City Music Hall multiple times. Here’s John Mulaney and some of the reasons I’m into this set:

• UNEXPECTED DESCRIPTIONS. Mulaney tells us he doesn’t understand why a couple would loop in their parents. He creates a scene of a relationship going well, asking, “Do you know what would make it perfect?” Since he’s already given the setup, I expect him to say, “My parents.” He instead chooses an unexpected description: “Charles and Ellen Mulaney.” He does this again later (“I think it’s time we bring in…two older catholic people.”) These are richer, unexpected descriptions that make the punchlines pop even more.

• POP CULTURE ANALYSIS. Like most people, I’ve watched Law and Order many times, but passively. So when Mulaney deconstructs aspects of the show, treating this fictional world as if it’s real, I’m laughing at the absurd facets that have always been in front of me and I’ve never noticed. I think these types of pop culture jokes are great because of their universal appeal, but also because they reemerge. Now, every time SVU is on TV, this bit pops into my head.

• DEEP DIVE. Roughly two minutes into this set, Mulaney brings up Law and Order. The final three minutes are all dedicated to the show. He’s able to turn this topic into 60% of the set by examining it from different angles (what can be said on the show, how the rapper Ice-T is a detective, how Ice-T’s character is incredulous, and when that character struggled to understand sex addiction). In this way, he’s able to mine the show for multiple jokes, and since the general premise is already established, he can get to the punchlines quickly. So while this deep dive takes up more than half of the set, it feels like it moves very fast.

For more John Mulaney stand up, check out his numerous specials on Netflix or follow on IG: @johnmulaney