John Mulaney’s “From Scratch” At City Winery, Monday, May 10th, 2021, Reviewed

Written by | May 11, 2021 7:18 am | 21 responses



John Mulaney, the SNL comedian, and writer, famous for his Broadway comedy “Oh, Hello,” and outstanding stand-up Netflix specials, “New Kid In Town,” “The Comeback Kid,” and “Kid Gorgeous,” is out of rehab and ready to spill the beans at the socially distant new City Winery. The result was an hour of super fresh, still in notes form, stand-up about drug addiction, interventions, and the Outback chain. Mulaney is overwhelmed with backstory right now, yesterday morning the tabs were filled with his impending divorce, with his wife, the artist  Anna Marie Tendler,  sadly saying “I am heartbroken that John has decided to end our marriage. I wish him support and success as he continues his recovery.” Nothing very funny there. Nothing all that funny in what Mulaney would call the shambles of his life. And therein lies a problem.

But before we get there, Mulaney’s performance of “From Scratch” last night at City Winery was my personal return to the beat since catching The Brothers at MSG on March 11th, 2020, and just about everything to do with the new City Winery is first-rate. Socially distance shows are a blast, in the Varick Street shop Michael Dorf stripped us of our last ounce of dignity as we were herded like cattle and cramped together for maximum City Winery buck. 2021 is still under restrictions and the net effect was 150 people in a room that could easily fit twice that amount, I was on the balcony ($31.50 including fees) and I could see perfectly, and I didn’t feel like livestock.

The new City Winery is on 15th Street and 11th Avenue, and the room works like the old place on steroids, a vast expanse of space. If you’ve had your vaccines (Michael Dorf, introducing the show, announced that everyone in attendance had had both shots) you should go, the “team” at City Winery is always personable without being overbearing, and the entire lead up to the main event was perfect. We felt like the chosen few. They took our cell phones, so no pictures by the way. But the show itself…Roy Woods is the Canadian rapper and when Dorf introduced Roy Wood I briefly fooled myself into believing that’s what we were getting, what we got was Roy Wood of The Daily Show doing fifteen minutes of observation humor on Covid-19 protocols and racism… you’ve got to wonder when American racism is going to stop paying off for black comics. Maybe here. I don’t know the shop well enough to tell whether the audience’s quietness was an effect of acoustics or social distancing, or because it wasn’t very funny, but few of the jokes hit hard.

Wood handed off to Mulaney looking hideous in white kicks and skinny jeans, and looking, or acting at least, a little off-center. I stopped drinking 11 years ago, and he reminded me of me three months after I quit; nothing I did felt right. Mulaney noted how this was the first performance he’d done without drugs in a long, long time, “I’d kill everyone here for a line of cocaine” the 141 days sober comedian cracked. And he acted  it as well; talking about prescription drugs with a member of the audience it was all inside baseball, till he ended the conversation with “We’ll talk later…” It was intrinsically not amusing.

Mulaney has come a long way from hysterical routines like being mistaken for a teen Asian girl when he was in High School, but “From Scratch” can’t be saved from its sorrow, every revelation is sad, every intervention pathetic, every joke a thudding bummer even when funny as he takes us through the life of a junkie in the middle of a pandemic. From buying drugs in an apartment in Queens to taking us from showing up to his intervention hours late to showing up to GMA hours late, to trying to sneak drugs into rehab, he is almost a rapper in discussing his life and borderline bragging. The best piece didn’t work but will soon, about a paranoid at rehab who flipped out when the only employee he trusted wore someone else’s shirt and nametag. Mulaney was confused by why the joke sank without a trace, it is a little convoluted, but I bet he fixes it by this evening’s performance.

John was at his best improvising with the audience, which made you feel like a close friend, so much so that he claimed we were his best friends and he loved us. Which was also kinda sad. Stand up is a sad and lonely job but is it this sad and lonely? Between the jokes, John was a tragic figure, a man with everything and he’d give it all for a line of toot. He has that fogged in recovery half-life and it inflicted the performance, checking his notes, checking the audience reaction to the jokes, he spun stories of rehab for an hour and then just stopped, he hadn’t worked out his close.

If City Winery had announced the four nights as Mulaney working on new material, we still would have gone (all four nights sold out), but that is still only 600 seats for a man who sold out Radio City Music Hall); with our expectations narrowed we might have been forbearing. Mulaney will either relapse or will keep straight, and both would be better for his stand-up than this. Setting himself an impossible task, he failed to get it funny enough. You just know that by the end of the four-night run he will have, perhaps, one of his great sets in place but he didn’t last night. The only person I’ve seen nail drugs as a comedy routine was Richard Pryor, the pain is too deep, it is like joking about your wife’s suicide. We were sent packing at 930pm.

Grade: C




21 Responses to “John Mulaney’s “From Scratch” At City Winery, Monday, May 10th, 2021, Reviewed”

  1. Katie Manock

    Sober or not John managed to capture hearts like no other comedians I have seen. I’m sure he was working it out last night and thank God. The amount of courage it took to get up there is mind blowing. I agree with you that it won’t take long before nails it. But , honestly I would still say he is more talented than most dream of being . Way to go for the comeback. I hope I get to see you some day.

  2. blah

    Feels wrong to assign a letter grade to someone’s first show out of recovery, especially when it sounds like that show is about them coming to terms with their demons. It’s an especially bad look when you say stuff like “Mulaney looked hideous”.

    Also there were a lot of grammatical errors and unnecessary detours in here that made it hard to read.

    • rina

      lmao what a disgusting review. he just got out of rehab and you’re saying most of his jokes were about rehab?? no shit sherlock that’s crazy could have never predict it myself. i hate everything about this review and it’s not so hard to understand you’re an awful person irl as well as you are online. very rude of you to say he might relapse too???? fuck off

  3. Really?

    What a tasteless review. This man is going through some very serious life changes in an effort to better himself. Instead of showing even a shred of support, you choose to say that he is “sad and loney” or criticize his attire, as if that impacted the way he delivered his lines. It takes a lot of courage to stand in front of a large audience and attempt to rouse laughter; the type of courage you lack in your poor man’s Anthony Bourdain style review. Congratulations on your sobriety, but remember that you were in his “white kicks” once too.

  4. ...

    “…you’ve got to wonder when American racism is going to stop paying off for black comics.” Are you serious??

    • turanga

      lmao right? I was like “it’ll stop paying off when people stop being racist”

  5. Aubreii

    Agreed with the other comments. This is a ridiculous review, lacking empathy and filled with grammatical errors.

  6. Nope

    Agree with all here. John is great, addiction is terrible and had taken so many. He’s doing something daring , grading this is awful

  7. Andi

    You tore this apart like a B rated movie, not a professional comedian doing a raw show just after getting out of rehab you insensitive asshole

  8. Chris

    If John was half as funny as these comments tearing you to pieces like a Def Jam comic in the 90’s, then I’m sold.

  9. Ugh

    What a stupid, insensitive review. It sounds like you didn’t deserve to be one of the lucky few with a ticket to that show. God, it’s just disgusting.

  10. L

    Every leter of this article is dripping with sniveling, weasely, narcissism… What a creep.

  11. John

    This review was written by a cat that was looking for a laser to chase but found a flashlight it was bored by.

    The man came out there “looking hideous,” but he needs to learn to trust an audience again and do it sober. Maybe he’ll read this review and start wearing some cosmetics, as one needs to make sure they have the reviewer’s approval.

    The reviewer didn’t say, but was the audience also looking hideous? A good stand up usually reflects the energy of the room.

    Also wondering when racism will stop paying off for black comics is hella racist, and a bad way of saying Roy Word killed.

  12. Turanga

    this whole thing reeks of “I do sobriety better than John Mulaney” lololol it’s funny that you think you needed to be told that the very first show out of rehab, literally titled “from scratch,” wouldn’t be a polished Netflix special. are you unable to infer things?

    ps—racism will stop being part of Black comics’ shows when people stop being racist

  13. Ugh

    Dear Iman,
    Perhaps you should really inspect yourself before digging into a great talent like John who is amazing for facing his demons and sharing it with his fans when just fresh out of rehab. Tasteless review my dude. ::shakes head in disgust::

    • Edie

      I get you look/are about 90 years old, but don’t take it out on John that you’re miserable and bitter. One google search of you says it all. You can go longer enjoy anything, and you look like the asshole critic from Ratatouille. Very fitting.

  14. Jill Ryan

    We saw the show last night at City Winery (Friday, June 4th) and he was great.
    Mulaney teased that another critic called his show “raw and vulnerable” but you know what- it was.
    I loved the show and I love him and wish him only the best.
    I’m not going to say anything mean-spirited to Iman about his review above except to say that his review struck me as just that, mean-spirited.


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