Mo Gilligan, who hosted the BRIT Awards earlier this month and has won BAFTAs in each of the past two years, returns to Netflix for his second solo stand-up comedy special to remind us all that There’s Mo To Life. So to speak. Will this special take home any prizes?
The Gist: His first special, Mo Gilligan: Momentum, served up nostalgia with a beat, and he’s certainly run with that momentum in the three years since his Netflix debut, what with the back-to-back BAFTA wins for hosting (The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan on Channel 4) or co-hosting (The Big Narstie Show on Channel 4) chat shows, plus this month’s gig hosting the UK’s version of the Grammys. Since the pandemic started, Gilligan also has scored judging roles on both The Masked Singer UK and The Masked Dancer UK. So yeah, he’s quite the celebrity now among Brits watching the telly.
His hour, however, looks back at his younger, less successful days working in retail, what it’s like to be broke, and basic relationship situations that anyone can relate to, even if you’re not a celebrity yet.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: Would you believe Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable?
Memorable Jokes: He opens with a quick callback to one of his earliest viral hits, back when he first caught the attention of Brits online with his videos. “Julie! Get a couple of cans!”
As in his first Netflix special, Gilligan has help from the sound booth dropping beats or adding background music throughout the hour, and those cues help make his stories more memorable, whether it’s a pivotal moment in an exchange with a customer at Jo Malone, or slowing things down in an act-out where he re-enacts the moment when he sees his first paycheck show up in his bank account, or near the very end of his special — when, just like DeGeneres in her 2018 Netflix special, Relatable — Gilligan demonstrates how everyone has that one song that coerces them to hit the dance floor.
Our Take: Perhaps Gilligan’s most vital bit comes early, though, when he shares with us the trappings of success (having a chauffeur pick you up to whisk you to a TV appearance, and the swag you might receive along with your own dressing room), only to reveal that said TV show might try to talk you into doing a demeaning and slightly racist bit. Would you cluck whilst wearing a full-on chicken costume and follow it up with some grime music if you were asked? Gilligan shares how he handled that situation.
Which is why he takes that scenario to pivot backward. As I mentioned above, not everyone can know what it’s like to be famous, but so many more have experienced working in retail or customer service. So many more audience members have suffered the indignities of a boss who tries to act like both your friend and your enemy. Who hasn’t eagerly anticipated a birthday card from a grandparent precisely because there’s hopefully cash inside?
Gilligan leans into these simple pleasures. His descriptions of how groups of men at the bar versus groups of women brunching might not tread on any revolutionary comedy ground, but that’s not really his aim, innit? He’s not looking to innovate, so much as entertain. And so Gilligan engages not only in simple crowd work, but also in full-on call-and-responses. Which might be loads of fun when you’re in the club or theater, but loses a little something once you’re detached from it all, watching from afar on your screen. Even if you do choose to shout out “wanker” or even “bumboclaat” when he asks.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Gilligan may be an award-winning entertainer, but if you want to really enjoy his solo performances, then you really need to experience it live. The fun of his show doesn’t translate fully to the screen, especially if you’re on the other side of the pond.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.