In 10 Words or Less
Geeky SNL writer talks about his life
Loves: Stand up comedy, Stefon
Dislikes: John Mulaney's Weekend Update spots
Hates: Being mistaken for being Asian
Sometimes a comedian's demeanor is their biggest weakness, one that overwhelms even the best material. I'd like to think that a slightly different persona would have made the awkward Jake Johannsen one of the biggest comics in America. John Mulaney falls directly into this category, with an on-stage presence that verges on obnoxious with the feel of a modern-day dandy. When he's not slipping into an "urban" voice to imitate a Def Jam comic, he comes off like a slightly more energetic Mike Birbiglia. It's his vanilla delivery that's turned me off to his guest spots on Weekend Update, and which has left me shocked to find out he writes the hilarious Stefon bits with Bill Hader.
If Mulaney in small doses didn't float my boat (and it's not just his SNL work, because his spots on Jimmy Fallon's show haven't been appealing either), then this hour, filmed at the Skirball Center in New York City, wasn't likely to impress much ore. For the most part, that was true. After a cute sitcom-inspired opening, I barely cracked a smile as he talked about his younger years, including his issues with bullying and his lawyer parents. While the visual of him being an adult-sized child is amusing, and little jokes about babysitters and being a nervous child are a bit funny, the set just didn't come together through the first 30 minutes.
As he left behind his childhood and moved into his adult adventures, the level of the show rose quickly, to the point where I was genuinely laughing. The bit that gave the show its name, about his run-in with a homeless gentleman who has issues with prioritizing his introductions, part of a run on life in New York, has the right mix of absurdity and disconnectedness to let it earn some real laughs, as are his thoughts about killing Hitler. The highlight of the show (aside from a dead-on gag about the unlikelihood of an all-female heist) is a lengthy bit about his experiences as a blackout drunk and the sober life that's followed. Though the payoff doesn't live up to the build-up, the journey is humorous enough to make it worth taking.
Some of his act, unfortunately, is a bit old hat, covering the usual comedian topics like driving, Law and Order, the news, doctors, flying and relationships. Though he does raise the bar in some of these areas, like his awful experience flying on his own or his breakdown of the types of people according to the New York Post, a lot of it treads on familiar territory and he doesn't do enough with it to make it his own. Even the final segment, where he talks about trying to get Xanax to help with his anxiety and the repercussions of the pursuit, is a standard doctor's visit bit, with a bit of his weirdness on top of it. But it takes up the final 10 minutes of the special (which makes it a sixth of the show) and the ending just peters out.
A one-disc release packed in a standard keepcase with an insert featuring credits and thank yous, this DVD has an static, anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, though subtitles are available in English SDH.
The anamorphic widescreen presentation is fine for a stand-up special, keeping the color palette appropriate and the level of fine detail high for DVD, and unlike many stand-up specials, all the camera angles are equally sharp. There are no issues with digital artifacts either, making for a quality viewing experience.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation is your standard stand-up delivery, balancing the two channels, and keeping Mulaney's voice clear and cleanly separaied from the audience. There's not a whole lot to it, but there never is in stand-up, unless you're going to go for a 5.1 track that puts you in the middle of the room.
The extras start with a video commentary with comedians Anthony Jeselnik and Dan Mintz, who are watching the special with Mulaney. If you're hoping for any insight into the art of stand-up, you won't find it here, as the duo spend the time making fun of Mulaney and he takes the abuse happily. It's funny at first, but they aren't roast-level harsh toward their buddy and it gets repetitive. That said, a lot of what they say as jokes is actually solid criticism. If anything, this is a disappointment simply because Jeselnik is a very funny comic and this is well below his talent level.
The other extra is a 7:39 interview of Mulaney, conducted by Mintz, that has the framework of a legitimate sit-down, but is coated with a thick layer of awkwardness, as Mintz focuses mainly on the negative and unusual. It's not cringe-worthy enough to be really funny, but it is somewhat amusing.
The Bottom Line
Perhaps my view of this special was a bit clouded by my previous exposure to Mulaney, but if a comic doesn't make me laugh, that's just the way it is, and for half this show, that's the case. Fortunately, he turns it around and things get better, but the overall results are uneven. The disc looks and sounds fine, but the extras are better in theory than in practice. If you've liked him on SNL, this should be right up your alley, but otherwise proceed with caution.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.