Friday, January 27, 2012

John Mulaney's "New In Town"

I like John Mulaney. He's funny without all of the shiny distractions and showy mis-directions that other comics sometimes employ. Mulaney doesn't have an arsenal of impressions, silly faces, or over-the-top shock material and the honest truth is, he doesn't need it. He's nothing less than hilarious all on his own. Where others might come off as loud, showy, and over-the-top, Mulaney slips in under the radar with New In Town , a project just as good -- or even better -- than his big-budget counterparts. Not that there's anything wrong with frenetic in-your-face-ness...that's just not Mulaney's style.

Mulaney is to comedy what Reservoir Dogs or Cemetery Junction is to movies. You don't need Michael Bay or transforming robots or hi-def explosions in 3-D accompanied by THX crystal-clear surround sound to entertain the masses when you've got story and characters that people connect with on a much deeper level. In the same way Tarantino or Gervais didn't need billions of dollars to tell their stories, Mulaney keeps us entertained by simply -- gasp! -- being funny.

Bear in mind, when I say "funny" I don't mean smirking, chuckle-to-yourself, "That's amusing" funny but full-on belly laughs and laugh-out-loud "Holy crap, that's hilarious" funny.

Mulaney is a storyteller who, much like comedians Mike Birbiglia and Patton Oswalt, shows us a window into his life that upon first glance may seem mundane and everyday but upon further inspection you find that it's in the ordinary-ness where the humor really jumps into being. As displayed in the very first track where Mulaney notes that quicksand hasn't played nearly as big a hazard in his life that childhood cartoons led him to believe it would, his humor comes in the absurd truthfulness of confession. And also in the fact that some small part of Mulaney seems genuinely disappointed that falling into quicksand is a peril he's never had to navigate.

It's in those truthful confessions where Mulaney finds some of his strongest material, often times mining his own childhood for stories that never paint him in the best light. He is more than willing to eat a little crow if there is genuine funny to be found. That's exactly what happens when he shares with us how he was bullied as a kid for being Asian-American (although he's not), how his grade-school self could best be described as "an old gay man," or when he reveals the anti-climactic contents of the "treasure" hidden under his bed.

Of course, just being an adult doesn't mean Mulaney no longer finds himself in one unsettling circumstance after another. While most of us would choose to never speak of such situations ever again, he chooses to share them with the world. A trip to the doctor with the sole intent of scoring a Xanax prescription takes a turn (actually it takes multiple turns) for the worse, and Mulaney's conceding thought is fitting: "This might as well happen."

When he' not revealing his most vulnerable, less-than-dignifying missteps through life, Mulaney excels at picking up on -- and exposing -- the little ripples in the matrix around us. Whether it's the fact that Ice-T may be the slowest learner in the history of the Special Victims Unit, the New York Post's predictable hierarchy rankings, or being faced with seeing Hitler on the street (and being forced to admit whether or not he would shoot him), Mulaney approaches it all with the same you-guys-can-see-this-is-crazy-too-right? point of view.

In past reviews I've been critical of comedians with material whose expiration date has more than passed, but when Mulaney tackles Home Alone 2's absurd premise of being "Lost in New York" (the streets are set up in a grid system!), he cuts me off at the pass by simply stating, "I know it's kind of stupid to complain about a movie that came out 17 years ago but I wasn't a comedian then." It's a brilliant tactic (as is his Def Jam take on it) and it had me in stitches.

New In Town  is one of those projects that doesn't lose any of its humor upon repeat listenings. I've heard it four times in the last few days and I could easily go for another few rounds. There aren't many albums (comedy or music) that I listen to in its entirety without skipping a track or two but this project is a rare exception. Mulaney presents one solid laugh-filled track after another and I can't recommend this album highly enough.

I didn't like this CD, i freakin' loved it. Here's the link to buy it and, just in case it still isn't clear that you really need to add this to your collection, here it is again.

And again.

***

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