John Mulaney’s “Baby J”: problematic but entertaining


Claire Schuppel

Opinion Editor Brian Keim writes about his opinion on John Mulaney’s “Baby J.”

Brian Keim, Opinion Editor

After drug addiction, divorce, controversy and even becoming a part of the Shrek Cinematic Universe, comedian John Mulaney, once again, hops onto the stage to deliver “Baby J,” his first stand-up special since 2018. Due to the controversies surrounding Mulaney in recent years, many people were hesitant to support this most recent endeavor, believing it would be problematic. As it turns out, “Baby J” would reveal itself to be not only incredibly problematic, but also wildly entertaining.

Gone are Mulaney’s stories of school assemblies, dog trainers and Best Buy rewards cards. Instead, this most recent special centers almost exclusively on Mulaney’s experiences with drug addiction and rehab – you know, the most fun subjects for a comedy show. Almost all anecdotes relate either to his experiences with drugs or his time in recovery. Despite the serious subject matter, Mulaney still manages to bring his signature comedic style to all of his bits. The only difference is that, instead of talking about stupid things he said to his friends, he talks about stupid things he’s said while trying to get his hands on illegal drugs. 

The stark contrast between his lighthearted tone and the serious subject matter is slightly jarring at first, but Mulaney has a way of making it all feel natural. The only time the comedy threatens to go a bit too far over the line, in my opinion, is one extended joke in the beginning. He goes on about how as a child, he would pray for one of his grandparents to die so he would get attention at school. But at least that joke is a microcosm of the entire special. Even when it’s morally questionable, it’s a very fun watch.

Whether he’s joking about dead grandparents, griping about his intervention or giving oddly specific instructions on how to get drugs illegally, Mulaney manages to harvest a great amount of humor out of the worst of circumstances and the worst of his own decisions. In a way, watching this special felt like watching a movie following an antihero – you’re watching somebody do some bad stuff, but in a way that’s made to be very entertaining. Hearing Mulaney talk about trading a Rolex watch for cocaine money felt just like watching the musical “Chicago” and listening to Velma Kelly sing about why she killed her husband. In yet another example of separating the art from the artist, it’s easy to disregard the ethics of whether or not Mulaney should be giving so many specific details on the drug-acquiring process. Whether you like it or not, that’s what he did in this special. And it’s very fun to watch unfold.

Despite the questionable character of the man on display, “Baby J” is a thoroughly entertaining watch. In truth, nobody watches a comedy special for a gripping story, a moral takeaway or an ethical debate. They watch comedy because they want something to laugh about; “Baby J” delivers that in spades.