Monday, September 25, 2023
Homeentertainment‘John Mulaney: Baby J’ Director on the Comic Journey to a Funny...

‘John Mulaney: Baby J’ Director on the Comic Journey to a Funny Man’s Dark Places

When John Mulaney was touring the material that would become the Emmy-nominated John Mulaney: Baby J, he was playing massive arenas like Madison Square Garden. But for the filmed version, Mulaney wanted the show to be intimate, according to director and executive producer Alex Timbers.

It was fitting for what Mulaney was tackling: Baby J delves, hilariously, into the circumstances surrounding Mulaney’s drug addiction and time in rehab. “There’s a sense of vulnerability and intimacy inherent in this material that’s more so than his previous stand-up specials,” explains Timbers. “How do you support that?” For the Tony-winning director, the answer to that question is itself a question of design, thinking deeply about lighting and color palette and how that could enhance what Mulaney is trying to say.

“It was about trying to understand what are the things that matter to him and what are the qualities he wants, and then how do we amplify them in a way that has showmanship, visual sophistication and panache,” he says.

Baby J marks Timbers’ third time directing a Mulaney special: He also helmed Oh, Hello on Broadway, based on the 2016-17 stage production (which he also directed) in which Mulaney played a cantankerous old guy alongside Nick Kroll, and 2018’s John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, which earned Mulaney an Emmy for writing. “What’s hopefully come about over time is understanding John’s taste and how to support him to get his best work,” he says, adding that Mulaney has a lot of “big theatrical ideas in terms of sets, in terms of lighting, in terms of trying to do something really bold, something that maybe sits outside the normal stand-up special.”

For Baby J, the two considered a visual look unlike the “desaturated” trends they see in many stand-up specials, which Timbers describes as a “gritty, cool, cold, almost icy vibe.” Baby J stands in contrast to that aesthetic, with Mulaney strutting around in a bright red suit: “It’s almost like Wonka-esque in how colorful this is.”

The lighting that floods Boston’s Symphony Hall, where the special was filmed, also brings the audience on a journey as Mulaney explains his path to rehab, “taking you on an arc to someplace that lands in a more hopeful, joyful place.” Timbers also reflects themes via camera position. “As he’s getting to a more intimate place, the camera is getting closer and closer to him,” he adds.

After working together on multiple pieces with largely the same team, Timbers notes he and Mulaney now have a shorthand. “There’s a lot of trust, and that’s what you want out of the best collaborations,” he says.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Featured NEWS