5 Things We Learned From John Mulaney's 'From Scratch' Tour
John Mulaney made a triumphant return to his sweet home Chicago last week, getting a raucous ovation from the United Center crowd as he congratulated everyone in the venue for having their own podcasts.
The massive tour began in mid-March and was supposed to end in his hometown, but he’s added dozens of shows that will take him into the new year. The whole thing feels audacious, from the tour’s length to the size of its venues (the United Center holds up to 23,500 for concerts) to its subject matter. Oh yeah, did you hear Mulaney went through serious drug rehab, divorced his popular wife, then had a kid with Olivia Munn? Anyone buying a ticket isn’t just going for the comedy--how much self-confession do we get for our $100.50? And did they really need to tack on the 50 cents? We got those answers--and more--at Mulaney's Chicago stop.
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
As part of his open, Mulaney made up a little ditty set to Sinatra’s “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”. In just a verse or two, he let us know what we were in for a night of tales about rehab (a lot!) and divorce (not so much), with admissions that (a) he’s been supplanted by Bo Burnham as Young Comedian Du Jour, and (b) being nice is a sort of prison.
“Nice” and “polite” have always been part of Mulaney’s comedy persona, though darkness always lurked beneath that particular disguise. It’s not like he never told us about his earlier tangles with drugs and alcohol but those troubles seemed in the past.
Now, with the past year’s scandals smeared all over social media, Mulaney reveals a new caustic smirk, a gleam in his eye that seems to say “you caught me, I’m really kind of an a-hole.” His “From Scratch” set seemed freer for the admission, as if he’s given himself permission to drop the courteous persona and just let ‘er rip.
He devotes a lot of his new act to detailing the debauchery, painting himself as the entitled antagonist of his own story. It’s not the strategy of a comic who’s desperate to be liked -- ironically, the candor makes him all the more appealing.
His intervention had an all-star cast.
If you want a sampler platter of Mulaney’s intervention story, you can reference his conversation with Seth Meyers or his February SNL monologue.
But that’s only the tip of the intervention/rehab iceberg, uncomfortable accounts that made up about two-thirds of his show. We won’t spoil the jokes, but we couldn’t help but be gobsmacked by the all-star cast that convinced Mulaney to get straight. Bill Hader! Seth Meyers! Fred Armisen! Nick Kroll! Even Mulaney, angry as hell about being confronted, had to admit it was a hell of a crew. Unfortunately, all of the comics agreed not to crack jokes so the brutal truth wasn’t as hilarious as it could have been.
It was finally Natasha Lyonne’s plea that sealed the deal, a detail we’re thankful for if only because we got to hear Mulaney do his Natasha Lyonne imitation. Spot on, John, spot on.
He was bombed when he did that GQ interview.
Mulaney shared highlights from a rambling, Reddit-famous phone interview with GQ mere days before the intervention. If you want a taste of what someone sounds like when they’re flying on Adderall and cocaine, this might be a good place to start. The interview begins with John describing a haunted vacuum cleaner store, then pinballs its way through several topics, including the only thing he’d change about his ill-fated sitcom: The audience.
Check out the interview for highlights like:
GQ: How has your creative process been impacted by this year?
MULANEY: If you heard that spoon, it's because I'm eating a bowl of Fruit Loops.
Sports arenas aren’t necessarily conducive to comedy.
Hoo boy. The United Center is a great place to catch professional basketball, but it isn’t exactly an intimate venue. Audio distortion plagued the opening set by comic Seaton Smith, though the sound crew seemed to get its act together by the time Mulaney found the stage.
Then there’s the issue of the seats themselves, understandably positioned to face the basketball court/hockey rink -- not the stage set up at the far end of the arena. The experience was like watching a movie in a theater where the seats face the wall, not the screen.
And finally, there’s Mulaney himself, projected onto two big screens that definitely enhanced the experience. But when someone is pouring their heart out and you’re watching a screen instead of focusing on the confessor? Something felt … off. We appreciate comics who can command this large an audience, but the comedy experience is definitely better in a theater or club.
You can take the kid out of Chicago but you can’t take the Chicago out of the kid.
It’s clear Mulaney still considers Chicago home. And his tales of attending St. Clement in Lincoln Park clearly vibed with the Chicagoland crowd, who recognized every local reference and landmark. Sure, comedians throw in the name of (your town here) in most cities they play, but both his references and affection smacked authentic.
That’s why, despite claiming he never does encores, Mulaney ran back out to end his Chicago show with a classic bit: the Salt and Pepper Diner. The Salt and Pepper was a Lincoln Park dive that Mulaney frequented as a trouble-causing teen, one just like a hundred other greasy spoons on the streets of Chicagoland. Even for local audience members who hadn’t exactly been there … they’d been there.
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Top image: johnmulaney.com