Learning Comedy From the Pros: What We Can Learn From John Mulaney’s New In Town Standup Bit

I love the following bit; it’s from one of my favorite standup comedians, John Mulaney.

At first glance, it seems the bit centers solely around some strong jokes. That’s partly true. “Here is how I would have ordered those things. I would have said, ‘Excuse me. I’m new in town, and it gets worse.'” Is a very solid joke. Obviously, you need good material, but there’s more to John Mulaney’s bit, which makes it work so well.

He Chose Something Personal That Was Unique.

When coming up with something to write about, personal experience is always a good topic to write comedy about. We notice this experience was about an interaction with a homeless person. Many people interact with homeless people, and many comedians even tell jokes about the homeless–but John Mulaney’s bit was obviously his own.

He chose an experience that he had that was odd. This was probably something that happened to him that made him think WTF just happened? If something like that happens to you (makes you think the same thing), it’s probably a really good topic to write about.

Mulaney Shows the Power the Truth Can Have

Exaggeration makes comedy, but without truth, the odds of a joke or bit getting a laugh goes way down. Obviously we have the assumption that this actually happened. Next, we have a very logical conclusion: Mulaney tells us why the situation is unique.

“You’re going to close with new in town? That is not the most dramatic thing that you just said!”

Here, stating the ridiculousness of what just happened is enough for laughs.

Act the Part

If John Mulaney just spoke his set, it obviously wouldn’t have been as funny–even with the solid material. You can tell he is genuinely confused by the homeless man who approached him on the street.

He also makes a different voice for each character he portrays in the set. They are different enough so there is no confusion. The homeless guy sounds like he’s practicing his pitch during those jokes, and “I have AAAIIIDDDSS!” is louder and drawn out to add to the comedic effect of the homeless guy’s next reaction, “No, that’s too strong.” It’s also a contrast to the logical opener stated prior: “I’m new in town. No, hold back; save it.”

There’s also the third character who has a unique voice of their own. When they go “There’s no single guys left in Manhattan!” Mulaney does very well to sound like someone over-zealously complaining.

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