John Mulaney: What We Learned from His 'Saturday Night Live' Comeback
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Since I last hosted, different things have happened.
Well, that’s an understatement. On February 26, John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live for the fifth time. On Halloween night, 2020, he hosted for the fourth. And in the sixteen months between those SNL gigs? It’s fair to say Mulaney’s life went a little sideways. Here’s a brief timeline:
December 2020: Mulaney seeks treatment for alcohol and cocaine addiction after 15 years of sobriety.
May 2021: Mulaney’s six-year marriage to Anna Marie Tendler ends. It doesn’t appear to be a mutual decision: “I’m heartbroken that John has decided to end our marriage,” Tendler said in a statement.
Also May 2021: Mulaney starts dating Olivia Munn. Cue the internet mob.
September 2021: Mulaney tells Seth Myers that he and Munn are expecting.
November 2021: Munn gives birth to their child, Malcolm.
Fan reaction to all of this commotion has been, shall we say, mixed. Celeb scandal sites and Twitter have blown up with Mulaney attackers and apologists alike exchanging barbs like gossip grenades. The comedian who everyone loved now had a deep split in his fanbase. So much upheaval in such little time! How has all this ruckus affected Mulaney’s career? How has it affected his comedy? Based on the small sample size of a single late-night monologue, let's see what we've learned about Mulaney's comedy going forward. But first …
Why are some of his fans so angry?
In a word: hypocrisy. (Or at least, that’s what it looks like from the Bitterly Disillusioned Fan point of view.)
Mulaney’s problem, to the extent that he has one, is that his marriage to Tendler was shipped by many fans as a wholesome ideal. The comedian spoke about his love and devotion to Tendler in his several of his comedy shows, like this bit from his Kid Gorgeous Netflix special:
"When my wife walks down the street, she does not give a s--- what anyone thinks of her in any situation. She's my hero.”
In The Comeback Kid, he reiterates his once-famous aversion to being a parent.
"I didn't mean to make it sound like (Anna and I) don't want children. We don't, but I didn't mean to make it sound like that. See, I just don't think babies like me very much"
So when Mulaney called off the marriage and had a baby in short order, the internet felt betrayed. Some “lamented how Mulaney didn’t seem like that kind of guy. He just loved his wife so much. How could he do this to her? How could he do this to us?”
Mulaney was fair game for public criticism, went one argument, since “your whole standup routine is about your personal life.” Others fired back, insisting that “John Mulaney doesn’t owe you squat.” Just another day in the life of Toxic Fandom 2022.
Is Mulaney talking about his addiction issues in his stand-up?
Based on his SNL appearance (and early reviews of his current concert tour), Mulaney is discussing his problems with the same candor that made routines about his earlier battles with addiction so relatable. According to his monologue, Mulaney knew a reckoning was coming:
In December of 2020, I went to dinner at a friend's apartment but it was not dinner. It was an intervention. For me. My least favorite kind of intervention.
When I walked into my intervention I knew right away that it was an intervention. Do you know how bad of a drug problem you have to have if when you open a door and see people gathered, your first thought is this is probably an intervention about my drug problem?
Check out this extended bit to see how far Mulaney will go in owning the depths of his addiction issues:
One thing I did in rehab, one exercise is you sit down with a counselor and you delete and block all of your drug dealers' phone numbers. In some cases, you reach out to a dealer to say, “Hey, never get in touch with me again. I'm sober now.” It's called breaking up with your drug dealer.
I texted Arvin first and I said, “Hey I'm deleting and blocking you. I'm sober now. I'm never gonna buy drugs again.” And then, I'm really polite so I didn't know how to end the text so I was like “But thank you for all of the nights that became days and your inspired professionalism.”
So I send the text and before I can delete and block him, he texts me back. He goes “Hey I'm so proud of you! I'm so happy that you got sober. You know, I only bought drugs to sell to you because I was worried about you and I didn't want you to get worse stuff off the street.”
I text him back. “Oh my God, you sweet man. You said you only bought drugs to sell to me?” He says, “Yeah.” I said, “Did you sell drugs to other people?” He said no. I said, “This is a weird time to ask but are you a drug dealer?” He said, “No, I'm a painter! We talked about this!”
Ladies and gentlemen, I have no idea how I know this person. So I text him. I go how did it come to be that you sell me drugs and he wrote back: “I don't know you, just kept asking.”
I like that story because there are many tales of drug dealers who have turned innocent people into drug addicts. I might be the first drug addict to turn an innocent man into a drug dealer.
So that must mean he’s also talking about his failed marriage and new relationship with Munn?
Eh, not so much.
The really polarizing part of Mulaney’s rocky journey has been the relationship parts -- and at least on Saturday Night Live, he wasn’t going there.
While he did talk about his new son, Malcolm, he never mentions Olivia Munn by name (although he does mention “his girlfriend” giving birth). Even his jokes about becoming a parent somehow circle back to his struggles with substance abuse:
(Malcolm) is a very good boy. His favorite pacifier just got recalled though. It's such a bummer, he loved it. So we had like a dozen of them. We still have them in a basket on our counter. And I see this look in his eyes all the time of like, “Ah, I wanna use those but I can't because they could kill me.” Welcome to my world, homey.
Have all the personal setbacks and online attacks damaged Mulaney’s comedy career?
Apparently not, at least by the looks of his current From Scratch tour.
For example, just a few years back, Mulaney taped his Netflix Comeback Kid special in the 3,600-seat Chicago Theater. This summer, he’ll return to his hometown for three nights at the dang United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and its 23,500 fans. Take a look at his tour calendar -- theaters and comedy clubs have been replaced by coliseums and stadiums, rarified air for one guy on a stage holding a microphone.
That means two things if you’re interested in catching his act: There’s probably a seat out there for you somewhere and you’re going to pay through the nose to get it. (Plan on spending at least $100 -- and that’s not for the good seats.)
As for the comedy? From Mulaney’s SNL set, it looks like he’ll be handing out heaping helpings of self-confession about his battles with booze and drugs. But if you’re looking for relationship dirt? You may have to head back to the celeb scandal sites for that -- when it comes to love, Mulaney’s not talking anymore.
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Top image: NBC