Throughout most of his career, John Mulaney had a reputation for being a personable and noncontroversial comedian. With his crisp suits, megawatt smile and a fun wife that he seemed to love, Mulaney had admiration from millions of fans around the world. While he talked openly in the past about his days of being a drug addict, he was sober and happy. “Was” is the key word here. In December 2020, it was reported that Mulaney was in rehab after a cocaine relapse. This was a shock to many people, as he seemed so put together. Not to mention that his drug and alcohol days were a long time ago, long before his fame. Fans everywhere had one question on their mind. What happened? In his newest stand-up special, Mulaney is prepared to answer that question, along with many others that people did not realize they had. “Baby J” came out on April 25 on Netflix. This is Mulaney’s fourth stand-up special that he has made for Netflix. However, in the other three, he is sober, married for years and confident. In the newest special, he is fresh off a relapse, a new father with a woman that he started dating not long after his separation and a little shook up. This is the new John Mulaney. This is Baby J.
This special was filmed at the Boston Symphony Hall in Boston this past February. The material from this special was used in most of his post-rehab “From Scratch” tour. Like most of his other standup specials, “Baby J” was Mulaney walking around a large stage in a suit. However, there was something about his appearance, maybe in his hair, that made him look a little more haggard than usual. For an hour and twenty minutes, Mulaney recounted his experiences with drugs. He told stories of his crazy days in his relapse, like the “doctor” he always visited and his “Saturday Night Live” haircut. There were stories of him in rehab, which include him wishing more people recognized him and phone calls from Pete Davidson. He also told some stories about what it was like for him to be a drug and alcohol addict as a small child. The theme of this comedy special appeared to be “drug addiction”. Overall, most of the humorous stories that he told occurred in the past year, with a sprinkling of some that occurred decades ago. There was nothing in between. He brought energy with him in this special that immediately hooked the audience in. After practically every line he uttered, the crowd would be laughing. While he may not have been high on drugs anymore, Mulaney was clearly high on audience buzz.
Considering Mulaney’s long success as a comedian, it should not be surprising by this point that there were some quality jokes. Some of these jokes were used in his most recent “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig in February of 2022. This meant that not all jokes were surprises, but there was still a decent amount of material for the people who had not seen him on tour. It was an interesting choice to go head-on with the drug addict angle and fully stick to that theme. While his other specials also recounted zany experiences, they were a little more all over the place. This special had a perspective and Mulaney stuck to it. Mulaney got his start writing for “Saturday Night Live” and his comedy has only flourished since then. Even though every story boiled down to just another day where he was coked out of his mind, he was able to make each story interesting and unique. At some points it got repetitive, but the special was mostly fresh. Every story had a lot of twists and turns and a punch line for every twist. While that could be exhausting for other people’s sets, Mulaney makes it work. This is not his first forte in comedy, so he knows by this point what the audience wants.
This special did not feature Mulaney shying away from his drug-fueled past. He did not try to make excuses. Mulaney was fully admitting that he got himself into this situation and that he put himself on a dangerous road. This special was all about his own choices, which made the comedy feel more raw and unfiltered. Even though this is a stand-up comedy special, there were some rough points mentioned. While everyone was laughing the whole time and Mulaney was smiling throughout the special, his situation was certainly difficult. If someone were to remove the humor and laughs from his stories, they would be almost painful. Not everyone can bounce back from these sort of breakdowns, but Mulaney succeeded. No matter what you may think of his comedy or his life choices, there is something admirable about him being able to stand tall and laugh it all. While he is certainly not the first comedian to talk about being a drug addict, not many have their drug addictions seen in real-time. Mulaney is one of the biggest stand-up comedians of the modern era and it was huge news when he went to rehab. Everyone saw the headlines, but this went deeper than that.
It can be hard to stand out as a comedy special on Netflix these days. It seems like a new one is coming out every other day. If it’s not Mulaney, then it is the consistent specials of comedians like Ali Wong, Taylor Tomlinson or Nate Bergatze. However, despite all of those people, Mulaney has perfected the craft of standing out and making a name for himself in stand up comedy. As he puts it, he’s become really popular with girls and boys who are not good at sports. How is he able to do that, even considering everything that happened? This is mostly due to his commanding stage presence. Even though he went through these experiences, he did not seem to miss a beat in terms of his performance. It has been said before that the difference between improv comedy and stand-up comedy is improv comedy is making jokes up on the spot but having the jokes look planned and stand-up comedy is planning jokes but making the jokes look like they were made up on the spot. Mulaney has perfected that concept. He wants the audience to feel like he is just having a very lively conversation with them. His success has come from his jovial presence. While his reputation has shifted due to everything that has happened, he will always remain a comedian at heart. The packed house for this special shows that his energy grabbed a lot of attention and he probably has a lot more energy where that came from.
Will Mulaney ever get back to the reputation he once had? Probably not. He is not the guy that audiences used to know. He still has some demons that people may not forgive so easily or look past. However, there are still more than enough fans that will stick with him through the end. This stand-up special showed a new future for Mulaney. It is a new post-rehab era and this could lead to a new reputation. While he can’t milk his drug stories forever, he has now gotten a little rough around the edges. While some jokes got old after a bit, Mulaney was able to bring the energetic comedy that has brought him so many fans, while also hitting audiences with thought-provoking lines like “When I’m alone, I’m with the person that tried to kill me.” So if you are a comedy lover or you want to learn the close-up details of a celebrity breakdown, watch “Baby J” today.