As a woman of a certain age I am increasingly confronted with people wondering when I’m gonna pop out a few little ones. My mom. My mom’s friends. My dad (who is also my mom’s friend). There’s nothing more devastating than the look in their eyes when I say with all the confidence in the world that I do not want kids and I never will. Well, good news, mom and dad. The Netflix special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch has changed my mind.
In the opening scene, stand-up and nonparent John Mulaney is surrounded by a diverse group of perfectly normal children on a Sesame Street-esque set. The kids ask the questions we’re all thinking: Is this supposed to be ironic? Or did John Mulaney really just want to make a genuinely fun hour of television for kids? The answer seems to be kinda both. The 70 minutes that follow are filled with a mix of nonsense visual gags, catchy songs relating to very specific yet relatable childhood experiences, and emotional talking-head interviews with the featured children and special guests revealing their greatest fears.
The special guests are unexpected and delightful: David Byrne joins one of the members of the Sack Lunch Bunch, Lexi, for a song shaming adults for not paying attention to the creative prowess of children. Richard Kind guests on the talk show Girl Talk. Natasha Lyonne walks onto set seemingly just to say something inappropriate. And Jake Gyllenhaal completely loses his mind. I wondered if the child actors—or the kids watching at home for that matter—even know who these celebs are, but the who hardly matters when what they’re bringing is boundless energy, genuine connection with their fellow actors, and a vulnerability about what still scares them.
The bizarre, smart, unhinged comedy in this special excites me not only as a piece of entertainment on its own, but as a source of inspiration for the next generation of comedians. Kids watching will know that comedy doesn’t have to punch down or be shocking or even be “adult.” The best jokes come from not being afraid to share your emotions or experiences, and sharing them in the silliest, strangest ways possible. Watching this special made me feel OK about having kids because it, like so much other content these days, reinforced for the next generation that they can just be themselves with a good spirit and witty mind. Who knew a childless, 30-something white man from Chicago would be one of the most reliable soldiers in the fight against toxic masculinity and a champion for weird and wonderful kids everywhere? v