The standup of comedian John Mulaney always seems to appeal to a millennial sense of humor — sometimes dry, sometimes witty, almost always mocking his own anxieties and awkwardness. His new Netflix special, “Kid Gorgeous” is no exception.
The part of the set that really got college-going viewers’ attention, though, was Mulaney’s six-and-a-half minute bit on college — from tuition, student life and his degree. Here’s what he got so right that left audiences cheering.
1. “Give us some money!”
The best way to start a conversation with an American college student is to get them complaining about how much they have to pay in tuition. Mulaney, being 35, isn’t in college anymore, but he definitely knows the plight, especially now as an alumnus. He opens the bit on colleges with a letter he got from his alma mater soliciting a donation. Or, as Mulaney puts it, “We want a gift, but only if it’s money!”
Mulaney, appealing to any current or former college student whose tuition will give them debt to last a lifetime, breaks down his own tuition to the delight of his audience. In what becomes a mini math lesson, Mulaney says he paid, “in 1999 dollars,” about $15,000 a semester, which was $30,000 a year, which was $120,000 for four years.
Crossing the stage, he repeats the number about three times, and concludes the rant criticizing his college, which is met by lots of cheering from the audience, because most of them probably know Mulaney’s pain of paying so much and not being so pleased with what you get in return.
2. You get very little for your tuition.
After yelling how much he paid for college a few times, Mulaney goes on to explore what college even gave him. There’s the cinder-block dorm room, heartbreak and “probably HPV. Probably.”
College also gave Mulaney some unhealthy lifestyle choices. He jokes (I hope) that he didn’t drink water for all four years and that he survived off a lovely combination of “cigarettes and alcohol and Adderall.”
Hopefully that’s not how you go about your college days, but Mulaney’s exaggeration does have a point. The freedom of college also means you’re free to make all the unhealthy decisions you want, like not eating a vegetable for a whole semester, hardly ever cleaning your dorm or getting about three hours of sleep a night.
3. Your lack of sleep will lead to a heady anxiety.
If you do only sleep a handful of hours a night, you might get that paranoia that comes with sleep deprivation. Mulaney sums that college experience up as a game show called “Do My Friends Hate Me or Do I Just Need to Go to Sleep?”
If you’re a generally anxious person, like Mulaney himself, every aspect of college is overwhelming. You’re doing homework all the time, maybe you’re balancing a job on the side and you have your social life to maintain. Mulaney doesn’t go into what he means by college being this game show, but I imagine becoming friends with people you’ve just met — as college students often do — can sometimes build the foundation for a shaky friendship.
Couple that with some anxiety which gets bumped up to paranoia when you hardly ever sleep, and you begin to wonder not only if the cinder-block walls are closing in, but also if that person you sit next to in your literature class actually despises you. But that’s all part of the experience you signed up for, right?
4. You make a major decision at a young age.
Picking your college in high school was a big deal, but isn’t it kind of crazy that most of the time, high schoolers aren’t even legal adults when they make this life decision? Mulaney says he was 17 when he gave his college that $120,000, and he feels like they tricked him.
Mulaney jokes about how there was no attorney present when he agreed to go to college (ironic since both of his parents are lawyers). Still an interesting point, though, given how much money you’re handing over in the transaction, and as a 17 or 18-year-old, no less.
Hopefully you don’t regret your college education, but if you do, maybe it’s a comfort that you made that decision when you just became old enough to see an R-rated movie. It may also be a comfort that Mulaney finds some regret in his college choices, too.
5. Being an English major might have been a mistake.
Okay, this part of the bit broke me, mainly because of how relatable it was. Mulaney reveals that he paid this inordinate amount of money to be an English major. That admission is met with applause, which Mulaney soon corrects, because majoring in English was apparently Mulaney’s greatest financial mistake.
If you’re an English major, you may get those jokes all the time — about never getting a job, having to couch surf at your STEM-major friends’ houses, wasting your money — but Mulaney was an English major himself, so he can make these jokes.
One of the most painfully accurate parts of this bit is Mulaney’s description of being an English major, that, “I paid $120,000 for someone to tell me to go read Jane Austen, and then I didn’t.”
Let’s be honest, though. When you’re in multiple literature classes at a time, and each professor wants you to read a lengthy novel in a week, that’s just too much. An even greater irony, though, is the name of the major itself, considering English majors typically already speak English, as Mulaney points out.
Mulaney’s new special touches on other popular, current issues, such as the political climate and male comedians always complaining about their wives, but the portion dedicated to college is so spot on that it deserved its own breakdown.
Mulaney’s metaphors, hyperboles and occasional shouting all make his standup extremely relatable and deserving of applause. If through the humor, though, you had an existential crisis about how you’re spending your college years, don’t worry. Because as Mulaney puts it later in the special, “Fourteen years ago I smoked cocaine the night before my college graduation. Now I’m afraid to get a flu shot. People change.”