By ALEXA DOOSEMAN
Let me start by saying that this show was hyped up. When my husband and I arrived at Punch Line, we were told immediately that it was sold out. And even though Punch Line is an intimate venue, it was obvious that seats are usually available on a Wednesday night. For instance, our waiter excitedly opened with, “This show is going to be so funny. You know it’s sold out, right?”
So we had heard. More importantly, he was right: the evening was stomach-hurting hilarious.
The two comedians who opened the show had refreshingly opposite styles. Emily Heller, a 25-year old comedian who has been making the rounds in the Bay Area, spoke slowly, building up to and pausing for her jokes (which ranged in subject from being a feminist to her recent trip to Israel to weight gain). Her face, which is framed in bright red hair, was amazingly expressive, changing as she imitated various people. Heller was followed by Joe Mande, a visiting comedian from Brooklyn. Mande was a fast-talker, focusing on humor that was self-deprecating. His set was largely made up of stories about being raised Jewish and the 14-year old girl who hits on him at his local market. He also had incisive bits about foodies and veganism, jokes that the San Francisco audience particularly appreciated.
When these two comedians passed the stage over to John Mulaney, the audience was already laughing. Not only had Heller and Mande amped everyone up, but most people had already enjoyed a drink or two (there is a two drink minimum at Punch Line). However, even with all the good-will in the room, I’m pretty sure that Mulaney could have made a room full of bored zombies laugh. For those who are unfamiliar with Mulaney, you might have seen him on Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, or Weekend Update on SNL, the latter of which he is a writer for (most famously, co-creating the Stefon character with Bill Hader). Simply put, he is a real talent who is very quickly becoming a big name in comedy.
From the moment he took the stage, Mulaney’s presence was commanding. For starters, he is very tall and has an easy smile that seems to say to the audience that we’re all in on this joke together. His voice is large and has unusual inflections; and he uses it to tell hilarious stories that often have surprising punchlines. In his hour-long set, he transitioned from talking about being a drunk teenager to his poor driving skills to his attempts at getting anti-anxiety medication to – something that he has become famous for – Law and Order: SVU.
While every story had me laughing (at moments, to the point of tears), what I liked the most about Mulaney’s set was that it was positive. Yes, there was a sharp edge, but barely any jokes were at someone’s expense (besides his own). He even engaged people in the front row, not to heckle them, but just to see what was up. He asked them what he should do in San Francisco. When at one moment, a woman yelled out that he should drink soda (because he doesn’t drink alcohol), Mulaney looked right at her and said, “Thank you. That’s very helpful.” It was these moments that made the evening so great – it was intimate, inclusive, illuminating and, above all else, hold-your-sides funny.
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