By Ken Tucker
Updated January 28, 2012 at 04:58 PM EST

You may have seen John Mulaney on Saturday Night Live, where he’s made some drolly precise, funny appearances on “Weekend Update.” (Mulaney is also a writer for SNL.) He’s been a guest on Conan O’Brien’s show. But tonight, his Comedy Central special John Mulaney: New in Town proves something: He’s one of the best stand-up comics alive.

Mulaney is a preppy little fellow — okay, he’s probably not little but, as he jokes, at age 30 he still looks like a boy and, dressed in a trim gray suit, he’s filmed in a way that makes him look dwarfed by the stage. He holds the microphone gingerly, a physical manifestation of the way Mulaney approaches comedy: He’s least aggressive when he’s being the most funny.

Reminiscences about his crush on his babysitter; explanations about why he doesn’t drink anymore; vivid scene-setters about going to the doctor and receiving a prostate exam when all he really went for was a Xanax prescription — to rattle off these subjects may make Mulaney sound no different from a thousand other comics, but he is. He speaks in full sentences with grammatical precision; he rarely uses obscene language (not that there’s anything wrong with that…but it is a novelty). Indeed, it’s the vividness of Mulaney’s descriptions that give his jokes a lot of their punch; he has a bit of that early-period-Woody-Allen-on-Ed-Sullivan aspect: The spectacle of a hyper-intelligent, self-conscious fellow who’s also a tough-minded bird who’s honed his timing with ruthless precision.

Even if Saturday Night Live wasn’t a rerun tonight, I’d be pretty sure that Mulaney’s special this evening, at 10 p.m. EST, would be wittier than anything SNL has done except for its recent booking of Lana Del Rey. (I know: Sometimes I miss recapping SNL.)

Anyway, watch John Mulaney: New in Town; in a variation on a joke he tells, I’ll say it’s almost as much fun as not doing anything at all.

Twitter: @kentucker

Episode Recaps

Saturday Night Live - Season 42

Saturday Night Live

The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.

  • TV Show
  • 46
  • TV-14
  • Saturdays at 11:30 PM
  • Lorne Michaels
  • NBC
stream service