‘Baby J’ review: Confessions of a controversial comedian


Marcus Russel Price/Netflix

John Mulaney returns to the stage after four years in his Netflix special “Baby J.”

Suffering from a distressing lack of attention? Comedian John Mulaney shares his tips and tricks on how to fix that pesky problem in his newest Netflix special, “Baby J.” He starts off strong by suggesting you kill one of your “unimportant” grandparents for attention during the school year. While his suggestions may be questionable at best, Mulaney once again crafts expert storytelling and humorous cynicism all in one hilarious comedy special sure to ruin his reputation further while still delighting fans.

Mulaney’s name graced headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past two years. The comedian took the stage in his special, released April 25, to explain himself after his drug relapse and public divorce. For the 1 hour and 20-minute runtime, Mulaney puts the spotlight on his recent history with comedic excellence and no discernible vulnerability.   

While he slowly chips away at his traditional public persona of bubbly sarcasm, Mulaney reveals a new style that is slower yet somehow more aggressive. He is no longer doing bits about horses loose in hospitals or Bill Clinton’s presidency, and instead airing out his dirty laundry and unzipping his inside coat pockets. Here, his wide-ranging conversation covers everything from star-studded interventions to how to correctly sell a $12,000 Rolex watch. The jokes in “Baby J” delve into more personal stories, making it clear that change suits Mulaney and that he is healthier for it.  

Based on the small remarks made throughout the comedy special, Mulaney is acutely aware of how close he is to being “canceled” despite being one of the internet’s favorite comedians. The past two years means he can also acknowledge Bo Burnham might be taking the lead as the “less problematic” choice. “Baby J” gives Mulaney a chance to aggressively explain to his audience: “What? Are you going to cancel John Mulaney? I’ll kill him.” The new special is aggressive in its remarks without being accusatory toward anyone but himself.

Besides, it is hard to cancel Mulaney when he openly shares his fall from grace. His newest special relies heavily on self-deprecation. It becomes difficult to imagine that any internet threat toward him is as bad as what he has already put himself through. Mulaney’s ability to brazenly critique himself in the face of this is what sets this special apart from his others. Rather than fully hiding behind his jokes, he uses them to confess his hardships. Yes, he is still the butt of his many jokes, but he is also selling out tours nationwide and getting deals with Netflix. The audience may be the ones cracking up, but he gets the last laugh.

One thing about Mulaney is that he always knows how to set the tone. For such heavy content, he performs it in an intimate way. During the entire set, he lowers his voice for only the audience to hear, leans off the stage to tell them more privately, and explicitly says not to repeat this next part. Despite being filmed in front of thousands of audience members at the Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, he maintains a strong facade of disclosure. Perhaps his subject material might be more scrutinized if his delivery were not so deliberately performed and if the laughter did not follow right on cue.

“Baby J” is a stark contrast to previous Mulaney comedy specials while still maintaining the comedic styles he is known and loved for. Although slower in tone, the jokes still land and the subject matter is still biting enough to be relevant years after the news of his rehab journey broke. His new special is another win for Mulaney and another guaranteed laugh for viewers wrapped up in one hilarious confessional.