‘The comeback (to Buffalo) kid’

John Mulaney performs to sold-out Comedy Series crowds

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John Mulaney made it clear that if someone was confident enough to interrupt his joke, he would call them out.

The comedian bounced off of disruptive student comments while performing his set Saturday night. He asked their names and majors, and some had their comments turned into jokes. 

But the crowd was more than happy to play along.

Mulaney headlined the Student Association’s 2019 Comedy Series at the Center for the Arts. Mulaney performed two sets Saturday night to roughly 2,980 students in attendance, according to Marc Rosenblitt, SA entertainment director. Both performances sold out before the event with 3,496 tickets reserved. SA informed students on Thursday that no guest tickets were available due to high demand. The 7:30 p.m. show had 1,538 students in attendance out of the 1,748-seat capacity. The 9 p.m. performance saw a decrease in attendance with 1,441 students. 

The comedian, known for his Netflix specials like “Kid Gorgeous at Radio City” and “John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid,” is also known for his voice acting work in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and the Netflix-original series “Big Mouth.” Mulaney was a top choice for this year’s show. He came in second to Kevin Hart, who earned 89 votes in an SA survey, according to Rosenblitt. The comedian spent the night drawing in laughs with his opinions of UB’s mascot, police sirens, buying alcohol for minors as well as treading into politics and personal anecdotes about his wife and dog.

Mulaney questioned why UB chose a bull as the mascott instead of a Buffalo.

“I think you missed something there with what mascot you should’ve chosen,” Mulaney said. “I don’t know why you haven’t changed it. … We’re trying to use animals that seemed intimidating.” 

Mulaney also discussed President Donald Trump, and referenced the investigation into Russian collusion.

“I want the president to go down, but I kind of don’t want him to go down for Russian espionage,” Mulaney said. “It’s too fancy of a reason for that guy to go down.”

Mulaney, between commenting on empty seats and speaking to students in the first row, began his second performance by addressing the campus tunnel system. He referred to UB students as “mole people,” after learning about the tunnel system from a disruptive audience member in the first performance and adding it to his act.

But Mulaney didn’t let outbursts control his set. 

Lauren Masterpolo, a freshman music theater major, attended the first set and said she enjoyed the audience interaction.

“I thought John Mulaney was so funny. I really like that he interacted with the crowd,” Masterpolo said. “It made it feel personalized and super hilarious.” 

The comedian responded to a variety of audience reactions. Audience members’ facial expressions and seating changes often led to improvised moments. 

“I’m sorry, did that bum you out? I apologize,” Mulaney said during a joke about plants. “I don’t mean to be negative about plants. I saw your face and I felt so bad.” 

The comedian also used the latest issue of The Spectrum for material. He read aloud the SA Spring Fest survey results and the Living Stipend Movement’s Valentine’s Day protest, where students sent Valentines to UB President Satish Tripathi’s home to raise concern about their stipend levels. He criticized the amount of votes each artist received, as well as the implications of a Valentine-related protest.

“I’m no expert in protesting,” Mulaney said. “But that’s not really a brick through the window.”

The comedian won over the crowd with references to the SUNY system, which he called a “mafia,” but the audience didn’t seem to react to his material geared toward an older audience. Jokes about losing friends to parenthood and the Cold War seemed to be misunderstood and unrelatable, since the audience reactions weren’t as prominent. 

Comedian Max Silvestri opened for Mulaney and included more Buffalo-specific anecdotes in his set. Silvestri has toured with Mulaney before, and is best known for his work on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Silvestri made various comments about Buffalo foods like beef on weck. 

Silvestri and Mulaney proved to be a great team, and received a standing ovation following the performances.

Samantha Vargas and Julianna Tracey are the asst. arts editor and can be reached at Samantha.Vargas@ubspectrum.com and Julianna.Tracey@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @SamVargasArts and @JTraceySpec