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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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John Mulaney delivers big laughs at Turner Hall Ballroom

John Mulaney might have been new to performing in Milwaukee, but his show on Saturday night at Turner Hall highlighted why he is one of the best stand-up comedians working today.

Mulaney, who formerly wrote for "Saturday Night Live" and will soon be starring in an NBC pilot executive produced by Lorne Michaels, delivered a strong night of material that touched on a wide range of subjects without any central theme. He began his show by sharing all the gory details of the worst stand-up performance he’d ever had in his career. By opening with such a strong personal story, it immediately brought the audience into the fold and put everyone firmly on Mulaney’s side.

Some of the biggest laughs were earned when Mulaney talked about his e-mail getting hacked and all of his contacts being sent an e-mail that only consisted of a mysterious link and a subject line telling them to check it out. A humorless friend of Mulaney’s clicked on the link and wrote back that he wasn’t interested in purchasing the Viagra knockoff product that the URL led to. Mulaney expressed bewilderment at this - "He clicked on the link? Who the hell clicks on the link?" - noting that the link in the e-mail looked like a virus and contained "dollar signs and swastikas".

A great deal of time was spent talking about elementary school and his youth. He reenacted when an 8-year old classmate of his failed to deliver an oral report about horses, beyond stating the subject and then bailing out of the room in a panic. In an excellent twist, Mulaney replayed that scenario if it was an adult instead of a child and employed a series of stalling techniques and a Don Draper-esque closing summary to make the presentation seem more substantial.

Mulaney also touched on his relationship with his girlfriend and expressed his disgust at the expression "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free." He pondered who came up with this saying and just whose cow they were getting their free milk from. In addition to mocking the false proverb, Mulaney provided his own cow-less version of the same idea which he thought was more appropriate: "Why buy a car when you can rent a car/"

While the show was very funny, the material wasn’t quite as polished as what was presented on his first two albums "The Top Part" and "New in Town." Mulaney incorporated a small amount of crowd work into his set and proved to be pretty quick on his feet. Even when an audience member by the name of Noah failed to provide Mulaney with much to go off of, Mulaney found a way to make the situation humorous. It’s hard to believe that Mulaney is 30 years old, as he looks pretty much the exact same as he did when he first started to gain attention thanks to his appearances on VH1’s "Best Week Ever." Hopefully, he will make a return appearance in the near future, but with the type of turnout he had, an upgrade to the Pabst Theater could be in order.

While the vast majority of the audience proved to be very respectful and supportive of Mulaney, the chatter and murmur coming from some patrons at the side bar of Turner Hall was an unwelcome distraction at times during the show. If it had been a concert, these noise issues would’ve been buried, but when it is just one voice with a microphone, any other talking can be distracting for the audience. It was unfortunate that some audience members didn’t know this basic etiquette.

The opening act for the evening was Max Silvestri, who was hit or miss with his material. His strongest material, such as mistaking whose Facebook wall he was posting a message on, came from a place where he merged a universal topic with personal details. Other material, such as his confusion over celebrity tabloids, didn't feel as true, so there wasn't the same type of investment on the part of the audience. Silvestri had a rhythm that was similar to Mulaney, so it was a logical pairing that helped build up anticipation for Mulaney’s set.

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