Only a comedic mind like John Mulaney’s could mine gold from one of the lowest points of his life. The comic released his third Netflix special, “Baby J,” in April. In stark relief to his previous, more ebullient hours, his latest work examined his 2020 drug relapse and the intervention that led to a successful stint in rehab.
“Going to rehab and a lot of other things had become public knowledge, and I felt there was no way to start doing stand-up again without going through this,” he tells Variety now. “I also had a lot to say about it. It had been an extremely eventful time, and the goal from the beginning was to do this as funny as I could make it — not as impactful as I could make it, not to pause for dramatic effect. I just wanted it to be a little wilder and put you in my very confident, demented brain during the time of addiction.”
Luckily, Mulaney, who has now been sober for three years, has a strong support system of comedic peers and heroes that he has gotten to know from his time on the road and writing on “Saturday Night Live” from 2008 to 2013. One of them gave Mulaney advice while he was developing “Baby J,” which gave him the confidence to keep things honest with his audience.
“I kept asking friends, ‘Do I come off like too much of an asshole?’” he says. “Jimmy Kimmel saw it at the Troubadour and said, ‘Yes, but you have to keep it all.’”
Since embracing emotional honesty in “Baby J,” Mulaney has opened up more about his personal life in recent stand-up sets and late-night segments, including sharing stories about his family: girlfriend Olivia Munn, their son Malcolm and Munn’s mother, Miss Kim.
“It’s a funny thing to me: I don’t have an immediate comedic take on being a dad,” he says. “I have some stories that I think are funny because of the amount of talking we do now. We’re just chatting all the time, and I find the amount of time I spend talking to a 23-month-old versus any adults amusing.”
“Baby J” was nominated for variety special (pre-recorded) at the 75th Emmy Awards; Mulaney also received a nod for writing for a variety special on the project. The special is primed to receive even more recognition, thanks to the Golden Globes celebrating the best in stand-up with the September announcement of a new category, performance in stand-up comedy on television.
Along with more industry kudos, Mulaney says he has enjoyed being part of the increased wave of stand-up interest in recent years.
“Stand-up comedy has just become enormous and continues to grow and be so strong,” the comedian says. “I think the respect and esteem comes from all the people that come out to see it. Netflix has elevated it too. People check out tons of specials now: ‘Oh, I saw Beth Stelling’s. I saw Nate Bargatze’s, I saw the new Ali Wong.’”
Mulaney says that his audience’s willingness to follow him to new places helped this special succeed.
“I’ve had bits my entire career where I think, ‘Oh, this is a little dark. I don’t know if people are going to go with this,’” he recalls. “For some reason, I attract an audience from 70 years old to 7, and I’m aware of how this is going to play with the great big group that I’m very lucky to have assembled. I just knew that this vein would be interesting to people.”
Even though they’re told onstage for cathartic laughter, Mulaney’s stories in “Baby J” are sure to hit home for fans who are impacted by addiction. Mulaney spoke with Variety for this story in the weeks following Matthew Perry’s sudden death at 54 years old. Although the comedic actors didn’t know each other, Mulaney was affected by Perry’s journey as told in his memoir, “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing,” which detailed his addiction and recovery at length.
“Addiction is just a disaster,” Mulaney says. “Life is like a wobbly table at a restaurant and you pile all this shit on it, and it gets wobblier and wobblier and more unstable. Then drugs just kick the fucking legs out from under the table. I really identified with his story. I’m thinking about him a lot.”
Post source: variety