Former Saturday Night Live head writer John Mulaney’s uproariously funny 2012 special New In Town is on the short list of the best hours of comedy captured on tape in recent memory. The intensely quotable—”OHH! I’M SORRY!”—catapult to mainstream comedic consciousness eventually landed Mulaney the lead role in his own eponymous Fox sitcom, which put acted-out versions of bits culled from the aforementioned special on display before an even larger audience…at least ideally. Mulaney‘s short, regrettable, laugh track-laden run had the miraculous ability to absolutely alienate the comedian’s existing fan base, while simultaneously evading acceptance from a new audience. As the show bearing the stand-up’s surname was formally laid to rest beside Greg The Bunny and Wanda At Large in the Fox Broadcasting Company’s mausoleum of failed sitcoms just weeks earlier, Mulaney was faced with an interesting challenge during Friday night’s Pabst Theater doubleheader. He not only needed to cleanse the public’s palate after it recently sampled his half-baked show that averaged more time slots than review stars, he also needed to show he could echo the hilarity employed in his star-making special three years ago. In the first of two Milwaukee shows on Friday, Mulaney utterly redeemed himself with 70 minutes of elegantly-crafted material and a few enjoyable asides in his long-awaited return to the stage.
After opener Max Silvestri successfully calibrated the Pabst’s collective funny bone with a rambling story about his tooth that became increasingly more absurd as it progressed, John Mulaney emerged in his seemingly mandated formal attire of a suit jacket and slacks, and proceeded to instantly remark on the two empty chairs in the front row of the sold out theater. Following his identifiable opening bit about overestimating the amount of writing space on birthday banners, Mulaney quipped a disingenuous request for more heat and humidity to be pumped into the balmy room. “If you all take naps, I won’t hold it against you,” he added. It became clear that the comic left some wiggle room in his set to see where he could take things.
Still, the constant professional came with prepared material about his recent marriage—complete with a quasi-Seinfeldian dissection of the “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” adage—and his unabashed love for his French bulldog, which he described as “a baby that is also a grandma.” Between predetermined bulletpoints, the Chicago-born comic made sure to sprinkle in some Midwestern flavor, including the admission that he’d purchased a belt at Grand Avenue Mall just hours prior. “What’s the mall that’s not supposed to be abandoned but it’s abandoned?” Mulaney asked before returning to the regularly-scheduled material about babies not liking him. One particularly rewarding set departure came when, following another complaint about the humidity, he asked a woman who was walking into the lobby to get him a can of soda. When she left, Mulaney unplugged the microphone and asked the audience to play a practical joke on her by answering his end-of-show “It’s like they say in Milwaukee…” line with “Gimme some pancakes.” Minutes later, the eventual victim (Nicole) returned with a soft drink, much to the guest of honor’s delight. “When I’m in a haunted, hot theater, I reach for a cold Coca-Cola, brought to me by Nicole,” said in his most laconic voiceover impersonation.
From there, Mulaney reminisced about being an office temp with two examples of intensely funny conversations he’d overheard, and another recollection of a woman saying “Eat ass, suck dick, and sell drugs” to him apropos of nothing. After utterly confusing Nicole by prompting 1,300 people to knowingly yell “Gimme some pancakes!” at his request (“Boom time. Got you, Nicole!”), Mulaney concluded with a winding, rewarding tale of meeting Bill Clinton when he was 10. From start to finish, John Mulaney showed Milwaukee his misguided foray into sitcom stardom didn’t dull his razor-sharp stand-up skills, it only intensified how great is was to see him back where he does his best work.