Stephen Colbert is a very funny guy, as you probably know. You probably also know John Mulaney, one of the great stand-up comics and comedy writers of his generation. Together, the two make for a …surprisingly authentic and profound duo to explore the contours of human insecurities.
The conversation starts with winsome if standard late-night show chit-chat and the two men’s recent goings-on. Mulaney talks about his hesitation to be his full authentic self around his parents. “If there’s a hell, I think it’s an encyclopedia and you can just look up what everyone in your life thought about you,” he muses, in what sounds like b-list material from his standup set. “And if there’s a Heaven, it’s a Wikipedia and you can just change that.”
“That’s beautiful and sad at the same time,” Colbert quips. But then, a few seconds later, Mulaney makes an off-handed comment about his own anxiety. Colbert leans in like a therapist and asks “Is that why you don’t want anyone to ever actually, truly know you?”
The question clearly catches Mulaney off-guard, and after about 30 seconds of pondering, Mulaney launches into a thoughtful and vulnerable assessment of his own desire to be liked and how comedy has become a comfort blanket for his own insecurities.
And then if that wasn’t good enough TV, Mulaney turns the question back on Colbert, who seems similarly unprepared, but still willing to wrestle with the question.
“There are a lot of people out there who I know don’t like me because of the sometimes-divisive nature of the jokes I make,” Colbert says.
“Does that feel personal?” Mulaney asks.
“No,” Colbert says. “What feels personal is the connection I make with the people who do appreciate the jokes. And beyond that I’m just doing my job and I wish no one harm. And if some people don’t like what I do, I don’t like that but it’s not my problem.”
All in all, it’s a great example of how good shows like this can be when the players are willing to take off their masks and talk to each other like real human beings.
It’s a long chat and all worth watching, but the exchange begins in earnest around the 6:30 mark.
Mulaney’s exceedingly funny John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch is streaming on Netflix now.