JFL Toronto Review: John Mulaney - From Scratch

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The journey to the From Scratch Tour for John Mulaney and the city of Toronto has been a long one starting in 2018, and has had many twists and turns. He canceled four shows in Toronto for reasons from "I don't remember" to an opportunity to host Saturday Night Live (again). His life was turned upside down with a very public period in rehab, changes to his family dynamic, and a global pandemic.

Despite or arguably because of all that, he was in fine form tonight. Comedy thrives on gifts which can come in different forms. They can be given to you, you can create them, and they can be -- at times the best of all -- an accidental gift.

Starting with the gifts he created, Mulaney opened the show with two incredible comedians. The first was Seaton Smith, who's appeared in many things including Mulaney's ill-fated sitcom Mulaney and most recently Search Party and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The second was Dan Levy (no not our Dan Levy, America's Dan Levy), who produced and wrote on Mulaney but who was most recently employed on How I Met Your Father, which he speaks to hilariously. These two performers channeled different aspects that people know and love about John Mulaney. Smith was calm and dry, connecting emotionally with the audience, while Levy was high energy, bouncing between universal experiences of getting old and parenting to inside-industry takes with some epic asides. Thanks to Mulaney's choice to have them open, they gave him the gift of an audience warmed and primed and ready to laugh.

Next are the accidental gifts, as the From Scratch Tour is very much a post-rehab reset of Mulaney's persona. John couldn't just walk on that stage and break into an updated "Horse in the Hospital" -- there were elephants sitting at the back of that room and they needed to be heard. And heard they were, and in Toronto, they had carry-on luggage. From the multiple cancellations to the stint in rehab, there was a lot of ground to cover, and off the bat Mulaney was handed a gift by way of Bay Street or, in Toronto rush hour, Bay Parking Lot. His driver was stuck and Mulaney recounted how he had to walk down that street to get to the venue (late). It's something that my companion and I struggled with ourselves, and on hearing this, cursed ourselves for not paying attention, because for all we knew we may have been steps away from a comedy hero. By tapping into these accidents and owning his foibles, he had the already-warm room on his side.

The last gifts were the ones given to him by the audience: the warm and welcoming audience enticed John into a surprising amount of crowd work for a stadium show. These gifts started with Francis, a 9-year-old fan in a red baseball cap and cool glasses. This youngster in Grade 4 was much like many kids I know attracted to Mulaney at that age, ignorant of his nuance. But at his age, I was lured to the flame of Steve Martin and the bonfire of Richard Pryor -- I knew there was something there I just didn't quite get, but thought if I hung on I'd find it. This led to the first powerful and lovely moment where John had to explain quite a few things to Francis -- including "what are drugs" -- which were kind and poignant and allowed John to have the perfect button for the end of the evening. The second gift was Gabby. As John launched into his journey through rehab, he asked if anyone in the audience had experienced rehab. Gabby spoke up and gently shared moments that helped him tie back to his experiences, not as the excess of fame but the struggles of people, including those in the audience.

This was very much John's Live From the Sunset Strip tour addressing the obvious but affirming the positive, and John Munaley's greatest gift is himself. He's self-effacing and kind. He's complex and human and his wit avoids cruelty but remains sharp. And even though he only touched briefly and lightly on his family, it highlighted how he and his 10-month-old son shared a connection of being irritable polite people. And I can think of no better way to describe Torontonians than irritable polite people.

Tags: John Mulaney, From Scratch Tour, Seaton Smith, Dan Levy, JFL Toronto, stand-up comedy, stand-up, rehab, Toronto

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