Are John Mulaney and Pete Davidson in a Body-Switch Comedy?

The touring comics are bringing out the best in each other
Are John Mulaney and Pete Davidson in a Body-Switch Comedy?

Thought experiment: You bring an alien spaceship to last night’s Pete Davidson/John Mulaney double bill near Mulaney’s hometown of Chicago. You tell the alien, “One of these comics is a professional smartass who dates the most beautiful women in show business. The other is an SNL icon who just finished one of the most public rehab stints in recent memory. Now take a good look at these two guys. Which one is which?” Unless the alien is a psychic, we bet it pegs the dapper Mulaney as the womanizer and the sunken-eyed Davidson as the mope trying to get clean. (To be fair, either qualifies for the latter.)

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Both comics were near top form last night, but something weird has been happening to their stand-up styles over the last two years. Davidson has become the vulnerable, affable storyteller, spinning relatable yarns about childhood fears and uncomfortable relationships. That sounds a lot like John back in his “New Kid In Town” era but he’s now embraced Dark Mulaney, intent on convincing us he’s not a good guy and going to all the dark places. Does that remind anyone else of Davidson’s early stand-up? It’s like the two received magic fortune cookies that flipped their comic personas

Davidson was up first, revving up the crowd with a story about watching the incestuous Game of Thrones with his sister. He called this bit his “dirty Seinfeld,” and yep, it’s the kind of observational humor that Seinfeld made famous (and that Mulaney tried to emulate in his failed sitcom). Davidson mined family humor for more laughs with a story about his 10-year-old self being obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio. Was he gay? Davidson’s mom had a pretty graphic way of talking him out of that conclusion. 

The showcase piece of Davidson’s set was a surprisingly empathetic retelling of his experience with a stalker. While the woman scared the hell out of Davidson, the comic goes deep figuring out what it all meant — his surprising half-appreciation of the attention, the strange self-hatred that came with it, his inability to argue that the woman should be put in jail. After repeated run-ins and an arrest, Davidson opted to recommend rehab in a mental institution, even though it was the place where he was most likely to run into her again.

Next up was Mulaney, who somehow has morphed into movie-star handsome with his Harry Connick Jr. flop of hair and impeccably tailored suits. The jacket and tie have been a mainstay for Mulaney, but when he was younger and ganglier, he looked like a nervous kid trying to impress on a job interview. He’s grown into the look, and his post-cocaine weight gain works for him — his earlier, self-deprecating jokes about being an overgrown lad in a man’s suit won’t work anymore. 

Mulaney shares more stories from his famous rehab stint, including group therapy where he talked to men who’d been physically beaten by their fathers. Now that those a-hole abusers are elderly, Mulaney did his Shark Tank pitch for a new revenge business — if your father hit you as a kid, you could hire Mulaney to find the now-elderly man and punch him in the face. For an extra fee, Mulaney will call the abuser 45 seconds ahead of time so they can feel the panic and fear before the physical beatdown. It’s a pretty dark bit and Mulaney knows it, delighting in the hilariously horrified reaction to this series of jokes. Call this his No Effs Left to Give Era.

Neither Davidson nor Mulaney has completely abandoned what got them here. Davidson can be devilishly dirty, and Mulaney practically melts telling stories about his infant son. (The kid said his first words in protest of having to listen to Steely Dan.) But their work together has seemingly benefited both comics — Davidson’s storytelling has developed sophisticated layers while Mulaney is actively seeking out the sharper corners of his bits to see which draw blood. 

Let’s hope they keep touring together — it’s a comedy marriage that’s bringing out the best in both of them.

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