They say that tragedy plus time equals comedy. This Thursday, SNL alum and beloved funnyman John Mulaney put that theory to the test with his one-man show, From Scratch, which detailed his recent recovery from drug addiction. The question some JFL attendees were left asking, however, was…too soon?
“Hi – it’s me. The comedian from a couple of years ago…” he cautiously began, addressing the enthusiastic audience at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, which was packed to the rafters. Clad in one of his trademark dapper suits, the likable comedian touched briefly on the news cycle in America – “CNN does breaking news the way a breathless kid runs up to tell you a pointless story,” he quipped – before getting straight to the meat and potatoes of the evening: the addictions that nearly ruined his life.
“I’m here to be vulnerable for money,” he admitted as he launched into the details, date by date, of how he lost his way. The seemingly-straightlaced 39-year-old admitted frankly to having used cocaine, Adderall, Xanax, Percocet, Seroquel and other drugs in the lead-up to December 2020, when his celebrity friends staged a 12 person-strong intervention under the guise of a dinner party.
“It was a star-studded intervention,” he remarked. “A ‘We Are The World’ of alternative comedians over the age of 40. The funniest people in the world…and they promised each other that they wouldn’t do bits,” he added. “Fred Armisen was serious. Do you know how off-putting that is?”
Mulaney recounted how Nick Kroll and Seth Meyers each expressed their concerns, though it was ultimately actress Natasha Lyonne who got through to him, prompting him to immediately enter a rehab facility where – to his disappointment – no one seemed aware of his celebrity status.
Seeking to connect with the audience during the show, Mulaney engaged in an impromptu interview with a former addict seated up in the balcony, asking her to detail her history of substance abuse for the crowd. While probably a genuine attempt on his part to discuss the subject of recovery candidly, it also came across as exploitative.
Once the woman finished answering his questions – no doubt excited to have connected with him – he rebuffed her request for better seats, leaving the crowd to laugh at her for expecting a celeb to value her honesty or participation. Apparently, the rest of us must content ourselves with being vulnerable for free.
Even with his flawless comedic timing and witty observations, the evening sometimes had the uncomfortable tone of a confessional. An amusing one, mind you, but at the same time, a troubling one as well.
Mulaney’s talents as a writer/performer helped him rise up in the world of entertainment, but it’s his complex personal struggles that have been the subject of headlines for years now, particularly his sudden divorce from first wife Anna Marie Tendler in the spring of 2021 and subsequent involvement with Olivia Munn, who bore his first child soon after. The comedian briefly mentioned his girlfriend and the birth of his son during From Scratch, but sidestepped the subject of his marriage altogether.
If some matters were still too personal to share with the world, others were described in full, such as his relationship with “Dr. Michael” – no last name – who worked from home and provided Mulaney with whatever prescriptions he wanted. The comedian even gave the JFL audience a verbal “how to” guide for finding sketchy doctors online, just in case anyone wanted to get their hands on some drugs. Not that he was endorsing the idea, he clarified. It was, for all these reasons, a bit of an odd evening of comedy.
One can only applaud a newly sober person who is willing to come clean about their mistakes. Mulaney would hardly be the first comedian to know these kinds of struggles, and turning his painful experiences into punchlines must feel both cathartic and like something of a professional reset. How else to move beyond the story of his relapse if not to address it head-on?
Yet, beyond the witticisms, a rather bleak picture is painted here of someone still in recovery who is returning to the same industry whose excesses fueled his addictions. A man who, judging by the name-dropping scattered throughout his show and his frustration over not being recognized while in rehab, seems a tad too focused on finding success of a very particular sort instead of sorting himself out.
Make no mistake: Mulaney successfully mined tragedy for laughter with his one-man show. Was that the best way to go about reintroducing himself to his fans? That may be up for debate.
Perhaps less addiction-related humor would have lightened the evening up. Or, alternatively, embracing the confessional nature of the piece and bravely examining the factors that lead to his addictions and divorce, which could have made for a more intimate and impactful set.
Looking at his current situation, one can’t help but think back to other entertainment legends who feared losing their moment in the limelight more than losing their lives. It might be wise for Mulaney to take a little more time to restabilize and find his footing without the pressures of showbiz complicating matters. His comedic chops, as evidenced on Thursday night, are obviously in no danger of disappearing and neither are his fans, who root passionately for his future to be a brighter one.
For more details about Mulaney’s From Scratch tour, visit his website