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Mulaney has quietly and unproblematically become a comedic superstar. (Image via Comedy Central)

Looks can be deceiving.

If a comedian is only as good as the stories they tell, then John Mulaney is king. For those who don’t know, Mulaney has several Netflix comedy specials, including “Kid Gorgeous,” “The Comeback Kid” and “New in Town.” He collaborates with Nick Kroll for the show “Big Mouth,” and the duo also recently made a Broadway show about two geriatrics in New York City recounting their various failures and triumphs, in “Oh, Hello On Broadway.”

Mulaney’s clean, 1950s television-host appearance juxtaposes the ridiculous stories he tells, like the time he had to avoid the cops during a house party bust. He has recounted numerous great stories during his stand-up routines, sometimes metaphorical and sometimes real, but here are the six best.

1. Bill Clinton

Having your parents drag you to meet their college friends doesn’t sound like a great time, but luckily for him, Mulaney’s parents went to school with former President Bill Clinton. He starts out the conversation by saying that Clinton “is a smooth and fantastic hillbilly that should be declared emperor of the United States of America,” especially back in the early ’90s.

When his parents got the invitation to attend one of the campaign events, Mulaney adopts the voice of his mom, saying, “We have to go! We have to go see Bill!” His dad is less enthused, saying that he wouldn’t even remember her anyway. This fun is in the dichotomy that Mulaney sets up with his parents as he recounts the time when he met The Comeback Kid.


Ah yes, the good ol’ days of elementary school, where teachers would pull kids out of class to hold an assembly. “There was always like, assembly, and then there was like, that second assembly to yell at you for how you behaved at the first assembly,” Mulaney says.

The real star of Mulaney’s assembly story, however, is Detective J.J. Bittenbinder, who conducted their “Stranger Danger” assemblies once a year, giving them advice on “STREET SMARTS.” He worked in the Chicago Police Department and was a child homicide expert — the best person to scare a group of 8-year-olds.

Except that Mulaney describes someone mildly ridiculous (read the detective’s name again), including how “two years in a row he wore a cowboy hat.” Recently, a Chicago newspaper tracked down Bittenbinder to ask what he thought about Mulaney’s bit. His only complaint? He claims he never wore the cowboy hat to schools. But terrified little kids? Oh, yeah, that was real.

3. The Salt and Pepper Diner

One of Mulaney’s earliest hits, the Salt and Pepper Diner, is supposedly the greatest meal he’s ever had. But the real story lies in his recounting of one of the best few ways to drive people absolutely bonkers when you’re out in public, which Mulaney and his friend realized could be done by manipulating the jukebox. Arguably, it worked too well.

Mulaney’s strength is in describing the degeneration of the human mind as Tom Jones’ “What’s New, Pussycat?” plays repeatedly, going through a step-by-step analysis of how one reacts to it being played. After it repeated the first time, Mulaney says, “Hey, ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ is a lot longer than I first thought.” After the fifth time the song repeated, one father screamed “GOD—-” and slammed down his mug. Of course, to the audience this is hysterical, but no one in the diner that night much enjoyed it.

4. Horse in a Hospital

Mulaney does get a little political, most recently by using a dragged-out metaphor to convey his concerns about the current administration. “It’s like there’s a horse loose in a hospital. I think eventually everything’s going to be okay, but I have no idea what’s going to happen next,” Mulaney said.

His analogy works really well for relaying the absurdity of the whole situation. He notes that not even the horse knows what he’s going to do next. “He’s as confused as you are,” Mulaney jokes. That story is as political as he gets with his stand-up, and it’s on par with his sense of humor that audiences love.

5. McDonald’s and Mulaney’s Father

The McDonald’s story is short and as bitter as the single black coffee that Mulaney’s father ordered on a trip through Wisconsin. It is one of a few stories that Mulaney tells about his dad’s stone-cold countenance. A vanload full of children, rolling through a drive thru, Mulaney’s father ordered the “one thing that no kid could enjoy.” As an adult, he has a wildly different view on his dad’s sense of humor: “And you know, as mad as that made me as a little kid, in retrospect, that is the funniest thing I have ever seen in my entire life.”

Sometimes the best inspiration comes from his family members, whether they’re delivering lines as savage as, “You have the moral backbone of a chocolate éclair” (said to Mulaney by his father) or when they’re being embarrassed by Cirque du Soleil, “a group of French assholes that are slowly taking over America by humiliating audience members one by one.” Mulaney clearly loves his family a great deal, but that’s what makes them perfect for his stand-up.

6. Blacking Out and Ruining Parties

Mulaney often pokes fun at his appearance when telling some of these stories, saying, “I used to drink, but then I drank too much, and I had to stop. That surprises a lot of audiences because I don’t look like someone who used to do anything.” But from his drinking days come a host of stories that may or may not be true about him — he’s not sure, he blacked out. Most of the information was secondhand.

He dives into a story that he heard about himself in high school when one of his despised teachers decided to leave town. “Which,” Mulaney says, “you should never do if you’re an asshole.” The teacher’s son, of course, throws a party where most of the high schoolers decided to trash the place and drink like the apocalypse was nigh. And then the cops showed up and Mulaney made his drunken escape.

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Allison Kestler

Augustana College

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