John Mulaney’s ‘Baby J’ is a critical reminder of celebrity

In a heartfelt, poignant and hilarious new Netflix special, the comic expresses regret and gratitude for those tumultuous years.

In John Mulaney’s own words, likability is a prison.

The comedian’s latest special, Baby J, directed by Alex Timbers and executive produced by Timbers and Mulaney, spends more than an hour regaling viewers with Mulaney’s usual humor and rhythm, but struggles to deal with his massive fame and publicity. . the turbulence in his personal life since the epidemic.

Mulaney isn’t the first celebrity to fall off the pedestal, and he won’t be the last. The internet age allows for microscopic scrutiny of public figures, from politicians to comedians to influencers. In just a few years, as the opener notes in his singsong style, Mulaney has divorced, gone to rehab, and become a father. As these events came to light, her loyal online fanbase became increasingly aware of something that has always been true: we don’t really know celebrities.

Watching someone go through so many major life changes in such a short period of time can be upsetting to an outsider and confusing if that person is actually a stranger. Mulaney has been described as an “internet guy”: an untroubled, charming male figure whose work or appearance creates the illusion that his audience knows him. With Mulaney, it’s exponentially easier because his work is often autobiographical, but “Baby J” is a definitive wake-up call for anyone who hasn’t made the leap to imagine him as complex — “Don’t believe the person,” he warns during the special. .

The “Baby J” Netflix special offers no new revelations — Mulaney has been touring the show for more than a year. publicly admitted to addiction on television – but reminds you of the dangers involved in putting someone in such an inherently difficult situation. Public figures can act as they see fit, but there is always the risk of widespread perception and judgment. Some celebrities keep their relationships quiet to protect their privacy and their partners. Some people stay off social media, either because they want to avoid trolls or because they don’t want old posts to resurface without warning.

Wide shot of comedian John Mulaney in burgundy suit and tie standing in front of stage backdrop covered in rectangles;  still from his special "Baby J"

“John Mulaney: Baby J”


But as the revelations about a celebrity’s private life become more insidious, their worship becomes more dangerous. Mulaney’s appeal was that he was a adoring husband, talking about his wife and dog on stage. Fans felt betrayed when that was no longer the case, and not only did Mulaney’s status change, but so did the jokes and stories that endeared him in the first place. His comedic material and suit-wearing stage persona gave the impression of a squeaky-clean former dork who believed in ghosts; despite being open about his past with drugs and alcohol, news of rehab has shaken his fan base, which perhaps says more about the audience than the man in front of them. The constant news about Jonathan Majors shows how quickly and badly a relationship with an internet boyfriend can go bad, and why they shouldn’t buy them either. Idolizing a celebrity is irresistible, but implicitly insecure.

All in all, Mulaney’s journey — while challenging, and he makes that clear — feels like a victory. He bares his struggles as much as possible, repeatedly noting what it means to him to share anything (an inference that what he keeps to himself is only darkness, without humor). He laughs at himself and the situations his addiction has put him in, from turning an innocent man into a drug dealer, trying to sell a brand new watch, and missing five calls from “Al Pacino” (one of Pete Davidson’s many aliases).

I first caught most of this material at one of Mulaney’s sold-out Madison Square Garden shows in the spring of 2022, where I had two key thoughts: that I would be sore from laughing in the morning, and that this man had passed. that. “Baby J” is 80 minutes of gut-wrenching catharsis that never diminishes how serious these events were—underscoring Mulaney’s gratitude, not just to be on stage performing his best material yet, but to be alive at all.

The new Mulaney keeps himself different. He lists some influential and expected celebrity names when talking about his friends (Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen, Nick Kroll), but doesn’t reveal (or reveal) the rest. His son is mentioned once and his partner Olivia Munn is never mentioned, which can be a hard lesson to learn after fans mourn his marriage on the outside. But the “old” Mulaney shows up where it counts: in the performance. He still roams the stage belting out old tunes, but with focused energy and measured composure. He still knows the value of being the butt of a joke, and that superpower, along with his timing, is as sharp as ever. “Baby J” charms fans new and old—while never losing sight of the flawed, fallible human being at its core.

“John Mulaney: Baby J” is now streaming on Netflix.

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