Though he'd already performed one sold-out show at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night, Moontower Comedy Festival headliner John Mulaney shot out of the gate for his second show – also sold out – being friendly and funny in equal measure. “Hi! How are you?! Thanks for coming to this! Good to be back here!” he said following a boisterous reception.
Some admirers, of course, still don’t realize (or worse, don’t care) that most comedy shows aren’t a two-way street for discourse. But harmless enough, a man in the front row donned the crown of crowd ambassador and replied, “Thank you for being here.”
“You’re welcome,” Mulaney said. “What boldness that was. Not even a heckle, just a gentlemanly, (in a measured paternal timbre) ‘Thank you for being here… My best to your parents.’ That’s a Texas heckle.”
Then, further breaking the invisible fourth wall that was shattered without his consent, the still-young Mulaney (32) informed the man rather matter-of-factly, “You can be heard onstage… (Though) it’s so nice to meet you in person. I’m sorry you chose front row, it’s difficult. I bet it looks good online: ‘Oh, front row, I’ll click that square,’ but you got some responsibilities when you’re up here. I do that. I buy front row, then I get to the show, ‘Oh I don’t like this at all.’ Like that moment right after I swallow drugs. ‘Aw, maybe I shouldn’t have.’”
Mulaney, remember, was recently a presence on the small screen until his self-titled Fox comedy series, Mulaney, was canceled in March. No big deal. Great comedians receive pilots and programs, then unceremoniously get them yanked overnight all the time. “George Burns was right,” Bart Simpson once bemoaned in an episode of The Simpsons, “Show business is a hideous bitch-goddess.” But if there’s a place in the entire industry where one can exercise full autonomy, it’s on a comedy stage – where, for instance, Mulaney and his peers can be their rawest and most authentic selves.
By the time Mulaney scooted his dapper self onstage for round tow of his back-to-back Moontower shows, the crowd was nice and lubricated for laughs thanks to warm-up act Simon Amstell. The 35-year-old British comic – an exceptionally articulate and engaging presence in the spotlight – went about charming and disarming like it was nothing. Net result: brainfood with an onslaught of hilarious chasers. But enough about him, terrific as he was sharing his British perspective on the motherland, Americana, and more.
Following the initial pleasantries that sparked the show on Saturday, Chicago native and observational specialist Mulaney turned his rollicking 75-minute set into a pastiche of riffs and vingettes about apostasy, being newly wed, his fear of confrontation, his parents being college classmates of Bill Clinton, and so much more.
With that, the 2015 Moontower effectively went out with a bang. And what a run it was. With so many great comics to name and lavish with praise, it’d practically be unjust to highlight one batch over another. But with Mulaney on the brain in the here-and-now, let’s just say he was the ideal performer giving the ideal performance to bring it all home.
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