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Review: John Mulaney and Friends at The Bell House

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Mulaney, Paul F. Tompkins, Mike Birbiglia and Aziz Ansari gathered to benefit the Innocence Project.

Comedian and writer John Mulaney gathered a comedy dream team in Gowanus, Brooklyn on June 6 for a great cause: The Innocence Project. The group works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system, and if you have ever listened to some of his stand-up, you would know about his love of the seminal television program Law & Order. That didn't mean that the evening was going to be about criminal justice-themed humor, but it did mean everyone was in store for some hilarious comedy in the name of a good cause.

It was a rainy night in Brooklyn, but that didn't stop a capacity crowd from showing up for two separate shows. The early show featured Jim Gaffigan as one of four comics, and that's who I expected to also perform during the late show. As we all piled into the Main Event Hall and proceeded up to the bar, we were graced with the presence of deranged millionaire John Hodgman serving drinks behind bar. I thought to myself, if Hodgman is being used just as a bartender, we're in for a great show.

The late show lineup featured Mulaney, Paul F. Tompkins, Mike Birbiglia and Aziz Ansari. All four offered distinct stand-up styles, but all touched on similar topics concerning relationships. Mulaney started things off by discussing his recent engagement with a clever skewering of the popular idiom, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" He scattered in several other hilarious tidbits as well, including a retelling of an awful standup experience deep down south. Mulaney has such a unique but appealing style as a comedian, and it's no surprise his star is rising so quickly.

Paul F. Tompkins came up next and, unlike Mulaney, was able to tell stories about his wife. The debonaire Tompkins, dressed in a black blazer complimented with a bright yellow vest, is more of a storyteller than a stand-up. He told two humorous tales that Thursday night: the first about the night he proposed to his wife, and the second about her obsession with the LA spot the Magic Castle. His tales move slowly and don't have the fast-paced quick hits of a lot of stand-ups, but for comedy lovers like myself, Tompkins is a treat. I was really happy I got to experience his comedy.

Next came Mike Birbiglia, fresh off a show at famed NYC venue Carnegie Hall. Birbiglia didn't talk about relationships per se, but killed it with some observations on the standards and norms people have developed when dealing with the opposite sex in public. This involves lesse-looking gentlemen taking quick glances at beautiful women on public transportation and then staring at the floor for the remainder of the ride. The people who went against these norms, Birbiglia said, often appear to be having the most fun. 

An odd moment came towards the end of his set when he discovered a man in the front row had been videotaping his entire set. He called Mulaney out on stage, took the man's phone and even went to read some of his private emails. I think half of the audience found the whole incident terribly awkward, while the other half found it terribly hilarious. I was part of the latter group.

Finally, Aziz Ansari was announced as the surprise lineup change, and he destroyed with his takes on modern dating and the problems that technology have brought to the dating world. A lot of it felt perfectly designed for me, someone who tries too hard to send the perfect text or reads into not hearing back from someone after just a half hour. Whether is was about how brazen and loose the dating culture in France or the current pressures of modern dating, Ansari had something that everyone could relate to. It was hilariously on point and delivered in that incredible style that Aziz has made all his own. 

Mulaney's Benefit was a success on two fronts: entertaining and raising money and awareness to an important cause. The best benefits are the ones that entertain you to the point where you forget you are even at a benefit, and that's exactly what all the comedians did on June 6. To find out more about the cause, visit www.innocenceproject.org.

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