“It’s been an interesting few years” is the central theme of John Mulaney’s new stand-up special BABY J. For many of us, that quote is an understatement. From Covid itself to lockdown, masking, vaccinations, working from home, and all the other ways our life has changed since early 2020. And if you follow celebrity news, you probably have heard John Mulaney’s life has changed in very large ways too.
For years, Mulaney made jokes about how he and his now ex-wife didn’t ever want kids. They’d been together a long time and were perfectly happy, so it seemed in wedded bliss as non-parents. John has also made his past addiction problems the focus of some jokes throughout his career. As you may or may not know, John fell off the wagon and went to rehab for cocaine addiction in late 2020. When he got out, he divorced his wife in what seemed to fans as a sudden and inexplicable breakup. “But they seemed so happy!” was all over the internet. Shortly thereafter, he found love again with a new partner and is a dad to an almost 18-month-old son as of this publishing.
Mulaney lays it all on the line in BABY J. His addiction wasn’t just to one drug but many. A dinner party he thought he was having with friends turned into an intervention. He’s spoken publically about these two points in particular when doing the talk-show circuit the last year promoting his comedy tour. I couldn’t help but think how “coke-addict John” was the most relatable version of himself that I’ve seen in any of his specials. Not because of the addiction itself, but because he wasn’t this squeaky clean comedian anymore. He was a human with BIG OL human flaws. Even when I’d heard him talk about his addiction issues in the past, I couldn’t imagine it until now. His brutal honesty about how he used, blew through money, and lied to his loved ones (and the press) paints the clearest picture of who he was and is.
Mulaney isn’t worried about any of us canceling him, either. I admittedly did not get tickets to his Los Angeles shows over the last year because I was disappointed he had a transphobic comedian opening for him a few times. It wasn’t the drugs or the divorce for me. But if you put someone in the spotlight who is actively saying things that hurt MY loved ones, I get mad and spend my money elsewhere. John seems to be very aware of all of this. But if his addictions had killed him, there wouldn’t be anyone to cancel anyway.
He’s also aware that he lives a very privileged life. Some of the best jokes in the show center around how his intervention was “star-studded” because he’s friends with so many famous people. Being able to find humor after hitting rock bottom is one thing. Having the resources and support to come back and then poke fun at your journey and entitlement adds another level of relatability to his story. If most of us found ourselves in John’s situation, we’d have it A LOT harder off. But at least he’s aware and grateful for how good he’s had it.
There will be some folks out there who dismiss BABY J as ‘just another rich white middle-aged comedian who got a comeback’ and in many aspects, they’re not wrong. Mulaney is still as charming as ever, but the layers he peels back on himself in this special add a very raw, human element that has been absent from most of his previous material. For good or for bad, it really has been a few interesting years. Maybe John’s story will inspire you to quit your bad addictions. Worst case scenario, it should just make you really laugh out loud.
JOHN MULANEY: BABY J is streaming on Netflix.