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John Mulaney: Why is the Former SNL Writer in Trouble for His Drug Jokes?

John Mulaney has faced multiple scandals, does the former Saturday Night Live writer’s career still have legs?

John Mulaney and Nick Kroll at a red carpet event - Photo Courtesy of Kathy Hutchins on Shutterstock

If you were to ask someone just two years ago to name someone controversial in the world of stand-up, John Mulaney would not have even reached the top 50. Mulaney, 40, had spent much of his career building himself up as the clean man of comedy.

His comedy specials primarily centered around his upper-middle-class upbringing and his long-term relationship with his now ex-wife Anna Marie Tendler. His clean-shaven baby-faced persona had earned him a wide-ranging audience and a harmless reputation in the media. But his reputation may be long gone.

The Image Falls

John Mulaney on stage wearing pajamas and boxing gloives
John Mulaney on stage performing “Split Decisions”
Image Courtesy of Lev Radin on Shutterstock

This facade was rocked by several nearly simultaneous controversies that rocked his established image over the last few years. In 2020, after nearly 15 years, John relapsed from his long-time sobriety and checked himself into rehab. This went relatively unnoticed outside of some good-luck wishes on his journey. However, this was the calm before the storm. 

When John and Anna revealed they had filed for divorce, it hit the Mulaney fanbase like a cement truck. John’s relationship with his now ex-wife had been a long-standing foundation of his comedy. The sudden separation felt entirely out of character with the John we thought we knew. This shock was only compounded by the reveal that John had not only already begun a long-term relationship with actress Olivia Munn, but only four months after his separation went public, he and Munn were already expecting a child. 

To many fans, this felt like a betrayal. The subject of parenthood had been a topic of John’s comedy before. In his 2018 comedy special Kid Gorgeous, John admitted that he did not see fatherhood in his future. This sudden behavior change was jarring, to say the least. However, context may have been given to those events. In early 2021 it was revealed that Mulaney had again fallen back on his years-long sobriety and entered rehab. This occurred simultaneously with his shifting relationship.

Speculation and Reemergence

Mulaney’s battle with alcoholism was also a common topic within his stand-up. Freely admitting that much of his teen and college years were spent wasting his brain cells away. To many fans, it became clear that his recurring substance abuse problem likely caused John’s sudden change in attitude and behavior. Some had even theorized that John cheated on Anna with Olivia as speculated in this article. These rumors have neither been confirmed nor denied by any parties involved. 

Regardless, John mostly hushed about the specifics of his new substance abuse battle. The few interviews he gave regarding the topic in the meantime just gave reassurance he was feeling better. Like a true comic, John kept all his new material for the stage. And when Mr. Mulaney was given a chance to host Saturday Night Live in February of 2022, the comedian took the chance. Both solidifying himself as a member of the 5-timer club and giving him the biggest stage in the world to tell his new set. When the freshly clean comic took the stage, he had no shortage of shots at himself. Indeed, much of his opening dialogue focused on his addiction struggles. 

After two separate rehab stints in less than a year, a divorce, and a surprise pregnancy, John had no shortage of material to pull from. While critics admired his openness for mocking himself at the time, others believed that Mulaney had opened himself up a little too much. 

To many of Mulaney’s scorned fans, his February 2022 SNL appearance gave them little answers but rather more concerns. John’s attempt to humor away the events of the last two years did not sit well with the fanbase, who had felt his behavior was out of line. 

Repeat Offender

Notably, this isn’t even the first time John has had an SNL monologue gone wrong. In 2020, shortly before his second stint in rehab, John hosted SNL, where he said a joke that many found distasteful and even got him attention from the secret service. The joke suggested that they bring back the practice of stabbing disliked political figures. Although no modern politician was mentioned by name in the Caesar joke, the implication was clear. So clear that the secret service needed to visit Mr. Mulaney.

“Leap Year began in the year 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar. This is true. He started the Leap Year in order to correct the calendar and we still do it to this day. Another thing that happened under Julius Caesar was he was such a powerful maniac that all the senators grabbed knives and they stabbed him to death. That’d be an interesting thing if we brought that back now.”

John Mulaney -2020

In the same monologue, John was also in trouble for over-comparing then-President Trump and presidential nominee Joe Biden. This was combined with other material critics complained was ageist. 

Could He Comeback Kid Again?

Image of a trans demonstration against Dave Chappelle
Netflix walkout transgender rally
Image Courtesy of Ringo Chiu on Shutterstock

So far, John’s reputation is slowly climbing back, however, not without significant setbacks. Back in May of last year, John surprised his audience at an Ohio show with the sudden guest appearance of fellow comic Dave Chapelle. Chappelle has been fighting his own reputation battle after his 2021 Netflix comedy special The Closer found itself in hot water after several comments Chappelle made about the trans community. Mulaney was immediately hit with backlash and ridiculed for supporting someone whom they viewed supported anti-trans agendas. 

Suffice it to say John Mulaney has had a rough 3 years. Significant familial and relationship changes, struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, and multiple backlashes. John took the beatings, but he seems to still be doing alright. Notably, Later this month he will be returning to Netflix for the first time since 2019 for his new special Baby J. More info can be found here.

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Hey! My name is Ryan, and I am a student senior at the University of Missouri St. Louis. I'm a communication major with a specialization in public relations. Writing is a pastime I picked up over the pandemic and felt journalism might be an interesting career path to check out. I am a nerd with a love of video games and sci-fi. I am also a slight anglophile with a solid toe in the U.K scene at most times. My favorite TV show is Psych and my favorite video game series is The Legend of Zelda.

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