The thing about John Mulaney is that, even after six seasons as a writer on "Saturday Night Live," three comedy specials, a FOX sitcom and a Broadway show, he still sounds like your friend at a party that pulls you aside to talk about how everything about that party is kind of absurd.
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That skill has been put to good use before, in 2015’s "The Comeback Kid" and 2012’s "New In Town," but it was on full display Thursday night in Austin at UT’s Bass Concert Hall, where Mulaney kicked off a series of three Austin shows on his "Kid Gorgeous" tour.
Starting with some back-and-forth banter with the crowd about Austin ("I’ve always thought that all the major cities in Texas were like sons of Father Texas, and when they all gather at the dinner table and talk about what their day was like, Father Texas asks Austin, ‘So, what did you do today?’ and Austin’s just like ‘I just sat in my room and drew pictures...’") Mulaney moved into an almost 90-minute set about everything from the fear of child abduction to if ghosts are real to the danger of asking to get a Best Buy rewards card.
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Mulaney’s fans will notice his exactitude within each story, practiced to perfection so often that it looks effortless to tell the kinds of multi-layered, callback riddled jokes that pepper his set. His time on "SNL" honing a sketch to its important storytelling beats seves his comedy routines well.
Just as in 2015’s "The Comeback Kid" and 2012’s "New In Town," there are no "ums" or "ahhhs" or awkward transitional phrases to Mulaney’s speech, as is the case with many stand-up comics. His suit-and-tie and "Aw shucks, me?" demeanor belie a whip-smart storyteller and orator who delivers his punchlines with the confidence of someone twice his age.
Mulaney’s physical comedy chops were also on full display, as he imitated his mother, his wife, a child ghost, his dog and a Chicago police detective. Whereas "New In Town" saw him standing with a mic, his energy on this tour is much more loose, yet focused at the same time.
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Most of his jokes focused on the little absurdities of everyday life, such as the irony in elementary schools making students listen to "stranger danger" speeches from...strangers. College was also part of a big set piece, as Mulaney encouraged the numerous UT students in the audience to never donate money to their alma mater: "I paid $120,000 in 1999 money to my school, and they sent me a letter for MORE money?" he howled at one point. "Let’s face it, if you’ve graduated from college and you’re still giving money to your alma mater, you’re like a john that’s fallen in love with his prostitute."
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But the biggest laugh Mulaney got was a political joke that compared President Donald Trump running the country to a horse set loose in a hospital, without ever mentioning Trump by name. Mulaney normally doesn’t do political jokes (aside from a brilliant setup about Bill Clinton in "Comeback"), but this one was a presidential observation that could have only come from Mulaney: an absurd, sarcastic, multilayered story.
Mulaney will perform at Austin City Limits Live tonight at 7:00. Doors open at 5:30. Tickets are sold out.