Opening on sweeping, high-definition shots of the Windy City, with poignant, vibrantly colored framings of the Chicago Theatre’s most interesting architecture, the beginning of John Mulaney’s latest special, “The Comeback Kid,” may seem more like an art film than Netflix’s hottest new comedy special.
But wade through these luxurious opening shots, and you’ll be rewarded in spades.
When, just two minutes into the special, Mulaney’s French bulldog, Petunia, crushes his hopes of pre-show support with a string of cynical French, the viewer is immediately charmed.
Putting the finishing touches on his outfit before his performance, Mulaney’s timid request for support is met with a reaction that is delightfully overwrought. Delivered from the wrinkled face of a young pup, the accented, staccato French still manages to be melancholic in a way that transports the viewer to a Parisian dive bar, foggy with thick cigar smoke and stereotypical French contempt for the pedestrian.
From there, the laughs remain consistent, well-paced and topical.
Although Mulaney touches on topics familiar to the stand-up circuit — exes, marriage, politics and school — his fresh perspective and charismatic delivery set him up for success. The audience is laughing with near belly-bruising frequency from the outset, and it isn’t until the special concludes with a standing ovation that they bother to stop.
And when, with a disarming smile, just six minutes into his routine, Mulaney comments in a delightfully sociopathic manner that, “Anyone who’s seen my d— and met my parents needs to die,” the viewer knows this isn’t your mom and pop’s stand-up comedian.
He’s something far better.
Also a high point is Mulaney’s running bit with his experience as an altar boy, touching on the tensions of the church with humor and poise.
Setting the scene for his wedding experiences as a young Catholic in service of the church, Mulaney comments on one of his favorite — taped — experiences as a 14-year-old altar boy.
Standing beside the bride and groom, he recalls his cohort declaring, “Aw, she’s ugly!” when the bride’s veil is removed, after minutes fraught with anticipation about how the blushing betrothed would look.
The audience is in stitches.
Wrapping up with an anecdote about his experience as a young boy, with former President Bill Clinton and his besotted mother at a Chicago rally, Mulaney commits his first, and only, fatal error of the evening.
He ends the show.
In a genre saturated by biweekly Netflix commissioned specials, it can be difficult to stand out in stand-up. In the shadow of his first, overwhelmingly successful special, “New Kid in Town,” and following the crushing failure of his TV sitcom on Fox, this is one comeback John Mulaney needed.
Thankfully, Mulaney — much like his jokes — delivered.