John Mulaney’s latest stand-up special, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, came out on Netflix in the spring, and it remains one of the year’s best. (It also just picked up an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special.) On September 28, it’ll be released on vinyl courtesy of Drag City, which means you can now put it on your turntable and listen to Mulaney yelling about street smarts and that time Mick Jagger told him he wasn’t funny.
Since he’s responsible for some of the most outstanding comedy records of the last decade, we asked Mulaney to talk to us about his five favorite comedy LPs. “I went for albums and moments that earned a Mount Rushmore spot in my brain rather than, say, recommending the top five albums everyone should hear,” he explained over the phone. “A lot of people have heard the great ones, but these are the ones that meant a lot to me.”
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra (2016)
Baby Cobra looms large in my head because it’s like a machine gun—like when an old gangster would have a Tommy Gun, take that stance, and just let loose. With hour-long comedy albums, it’s damn near impossible for the whole hour to be great. But there are a few absolutely perfect hours, and this is one of them. It’s just nonstop, relentlessly funny, and absolutely tough. If you’ve seen the film of the special, she comes out extremely pregnant and she does not shoot to wound. She shoots to kill on every joke. Watching and listening to that special, I’ve just never been so happy for someone—and also so like, “Shit, I’ve got to work hard.”
Eddie Izzard: Glorious (1997)
I lived in Ireland my junior year of college, and I got Glorious on CD. I just listened to it on a Discman on the bus in Dublin. It was a big deal to me. I had always kind of wanted to be a comedian, but that was the first time I was like, “Oh, that’s how I would do it too.” Not that I thought I could be as good as him, but Glorious is divided up into the Old Testament and the New Testament. That’s how he says the hour’s going to be. He starts on the Old Testament, and it’s like a long run with tons of tangents. Then, about a half hour in, far from the beginning of the premise, he finishes a bit and then pauses and goes, “So, the New Testament,” and it gets this huge laugh. It was so funny to me, to go back to the thesis statement that the show was going to cover the Old Testament and the New Testament when it hasn’t at all. He trusted that the audience was paying attention to the show, which speaks to his natural ease. I loved it.
Nichols and May: Mike Nichols & Elaine May Examine Doctors (1961)
I got this album for Christmas when I was in junior high. The last track, “Nichols and May at Work,” is an outtake from recording the album, they were just improvising dialog in a studio. They’re trying to do a piece where a son goes to his mother and says that he wants to become a registered nurse—let me state in ink, in Pitchfork, that the premise does not age that well. It’s something you just have to experience, because two people that funny laughing that hard is really, really, really funny.
You hear how they start. He goes, “Oh, I have an idea. I’ll be a son. You say, ‘What do you want to be?’” She goes, “What do you want to be?” He goes, “No no, start off like, ‘You’re getting older now.’” They’re going through the beats of what the sketch will be. She doesn’t know what he’s going to say, and he just can’t get through it from the beginning. I think it might be the happiest thing ever recorded.
Spalding Gray: It’s a Slippery Slope (1998)
His monologues were branded as theater, and I think they are; he was not doing stand-up comedy because he was literally sitting at a table. He didn’t write jokes, he just told you something one of his parents said or some other detail from his life. But his monologues bank on the same thing a comedian hopes for as their career develops, which is a place in your mind: If you’re familiar with their past material, you know walking in who this personality is and you’re willing to learn more about him and watch him change and hear the latest developments in his life and have him show different sides of himself.
Slippery Slope is about him learning to ski at the same time as he was having this total mental breakdown. He talks about how he left the girlfriend who he’d lived with and then actually married, and the audience has gotten to know her over many years. Now he’s had a child with another woman. He knew he wanted to be with this new woman and his son, and also he couldn’t leave the woman he was with. It borders on extremely unlikeable. I remember hearing him get interviewed by Terry Gross about that monologue, and she said something like, “You know, I hate to say this, I didn’t like you in that one.” He said, “I’m not a nice guy, Terry.” Not a lot of people will admit that, and maybe more people should.
Earthquake: About Got Damn Time (2005)
The great thing about stand-up comedy is that, as a fan but also as a comedian, you interact with people with whom you might not have a lot of shared autobiographical details. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Earthquake the comedian, and there’s bits in this show where I don’t understand the reference at all. He talks about playing the card game spades and having a “possible,” which I guess is a move or situation in the game. I have no idea. But it makes me laugh so hard, because he’s dying laughing talking about it, and the audience is dying laughing.
This is not a proper album, but I would listen to this with headphones. It’s just a powerhouse of a special. He has a joke about the next guy to try to date Michael Jordan’s wife after they got divorced—it is so funny, and I will not quote it. Honestly, just trying to mix Spalding Gray and Earthquake and Bernie Mac into some kind of amalgam has been the goal of my career.