Do You Hear Yourselves?

The Tiktok response to John Mulaney's divorce

I want to preface this by saying I am a big fan of John Mulaney. I was a comedy nerd on tumblr and was deep in the trenches with the other girls. We combed over interviews and marked our calendars when one of our boys was going to be on TV. We would live blog snl and constantly refresh the Earwolf feed to see when new podcasts were dropping. We guessed that Moshe Kasher and Natasha Leggero were dating about six months before they announced it. I know a thing or two about parasocial relationships with comedians. I’ve been a fan of Mulaney since before New in Town was released. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m very familiar with his work. I say this to reveal my bias but also as a warning. Don’t fuck with me. I know what the fuck I’m talking about. I’ve been here before. 

I will say I always regarded the Just Mulaney girls as less than. We all loved comedians and comedy so to be dismissive of the art form as a whole except for Mulaney always seemed dumb and small minded to me. How can this man be your precious cinnamon roll and be close friends with Anthony Jeselnik, a man whose work you despise? How can he both be the best at something and entirely separate from it’s business and industry? Their logic seemed flawed and to me it proved that their interest and stanning could waver. It’s a difficult position to put someone in. To be the “only good comedian” when in order to achieve that he had to be completely independent from Comedy as an industry itself. 

It always seemed that they were not listening when Mulaney talked. They only wanted to hear the good things and only wanted to see him one way. Those girls in the future don’t really take to Oh Hello and ignore Big Mouth. Those two projects don’t fall in line with his falsely projected squeaky clean image. It’s not that Mulaney ever falsely presented himself as anything. It’s that he was falsely idolized when the evidence that he was just like everyone else was right there. He’s not “the only good comedian” or “the only unproblematic comedian”. Large portions of his work were largely ignored to build a brand he never fit into. 

So now we’re here. Several twenty and thirty something women on the internet feel betrayed by this man. He went to rehab, divorced his wife, and got another woman pregnant all within a year. Most of the anger at Mulaney comes from the fact that the divorce is too close to the Olivia Munn sightings and then subsequent pregnancy announcement. I’m not going to sit here and defend all of his choices but I want to present the flaws I see in what is being argued and the implications of some of the arguments. 

First of all I want to say, despite years of propaganda saying otherwise, stars are not just like us. Fame changes everything. Regular rules don’t apply to celebrities. That’s why framing the Mulaney gossip as “but how interested would you be if this happened to someone you know?” Very!  If this happened in the Burlington restaurant scene where all my friends from high school work, our world would be rocked but also it wouldn’t make any sense. The fame makes this story interesting. Mostly because celebrity divorce and relationships are tantalizing and enjoyable to the general public in a way that regular divorce isn’t. In real life divorce is mostly sad. The drama is fun but at what cost? It’s easier to think about when the only element is heartbreak. Everyone involved can break their lease and move to a different city if needed. In the celebrity world, Bennifer as an arc is incredible in a way that it wouldn’t be for real people. Getting back together with your weird ex from twenty years ago is not a flex if you’re not JLo and Ben Affleck. It would just be sad if it were two people who worked at the bank. 

That element of all of this keeps being overlooked. We don’t know these people. It may feel like we know them because we follow them on Instagram and when many people discovered John Mulaney he was not that famous. Despite all of that we do not know him. It is Bo Burnham all over again. We do not have ownership over these people because we fail to recognize the difference between stand up and our friend telling a story. I am going to echo a take I saw 1000 times, John Mulaney did not betray you. He doesn’t know you. A better way to deal with this news is to look inward. The celebrity can’t hurt my feelings when he does things that only affect his interpersonal relationships because he is not my friend. Their pain is not my pain. 

The actual pain of this whole ordeal that no one wants to mention is that John Mulaney is an addict. Or when they do it’s to point out that he is recovering wrong. I do not think his addiction excuses anything he may or may not have done but I think it’s a larger factor in all of this than anyone is willing to admit. I believe that being mostly sober for that past twenty odd years and then doing drugs again during a pandemic can fuck up your life. This is not exactly a radical or new statement but I believe that what is happening right now is still fallout from relapse. I’ll go one step further. I believe that if you relapse you are allowed to leave your wife. Everyone wants to point out that it’s not a good idea to start dating within the first year of recovery and they’re right, but I would like to say that I think it is a good idea to leave your wife after a relapse. We would all love the story of the addict and the dutiful wife who learned to love again after a battle with addiction but it’s not fair to be mad at people for not living up to an unreasonable expectation. This is not chicken soup for the soul. 

I don’t think the people obsessively calling him out for his “bad behavior” are being willfully ignorant. They’re simply failing to see the big picture. Too often, we blame idiots for the subtext of what they’re saying as if they are knowingly obscuring their point. Most idiots are just idiots and therefore thoughtless. They don’t consider the subtext and underlying harm of what they’re saying. They think their criticism of Mulaney that isn’t about drugs is completely divorced from the addiction. None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for the drugs so to act like this fallout and behavior is not inextricably linked to that, at the very least weakens your point. Most of these people criticizing him say they support addicts because they’re not openly saying he should rot in hell for using. Part of supporting someone is supporting them through their mistakes and their attempts to rebuild. One cannot both tweet about “sending Mulaney support” the day he announces going into rehab and then turn on him when he ends his relationship and does not perfectly follow the rules of AA. 

These fans are clinging to that nugget of knowledge about sobriety. They know that a person in charge would not recommend getting into a relationship and having a baby within the first year of getting sober. John Mulaney breaking that rule gives them licence to say whatever they want. They hide behind the knowledge that he’s doing it wrong and that Olivia Munn is mildly problematic to give them free rein to say whatever they want. They use their cursory knowledge of the rules to find a reason to justify simply saying they’re feelings are hurt by something that simply does not affect them. 

These people think they’re so smart and so justified in saying what they’re saying. The smug look on their faces as they talk about all the bad things John Mulaney did. As time goes on they are losing the thread more and more. Their reasons for hating him now become less and less based in reality and more based in their echo chamber of who they think John Mulaney is and how he should act based on that. They’re bad listeners and even worse judges of character. I personally like John Mulaney because he’s mean and he’s very good at being mean. Most comedians are. It’s a function of the job to make fun and be mean. He was always punching up so these girls never noticed. They fell for the appearance rather than the words being said.

Comedians are like movie stars in that they are more persona than person. They tap into how people see them, what they look like, how they say things, what their standing in the world looks like to a stranger in order to best tell their jokes. A good comedian takes this into account. The persona is so close to a real person or type of person these people cannot figure out where the lines blur or that there is indeed a distinct line. This not Mulaney’s fault. On stage, John Mulaney plays a man wearing a suit, he talks about his wife, yes but he also talks about his dog, his parents, and the television show Law and Order. All of those things are real parts of his life but the way he talks about them is studied and practiced. The wording changes based on how the audience receives it. Mulaney talks about these things in line with his onstage persona. At his meanest he is George St. Geegland in Oh Hello. These jokes have the same tenor and cadence of other Mulaney jokes but they’re meaner and darker. George St Geegland is Mulaney telling jokes that the stage persona of “John Mulaney” can’t tell. If he did a special filled with jokes like that this genre of fan that is losing their mind right now would riot. Where’s my good boy? They would ask, yet again fooled by the magic of lights and cameras into believing they know the person on screen. 

Mulaney is not the only guilty party in this trial of public opinion. Olivia Munn is also on trial for being at all involved and being kind of annoying. Here’s the thing about hating Olivia Munn based on what she said in her book: no one read it. There’s a lot of things people said in 2010 that were edgy and offensive that are bad in retrospect. There’s a lot of people who built careers by saying those things who are still working today and don’t have to address them. Olivia Munn doesn’t have that kind of career. Olivia Munn barely has a career at all anymore. We gain nothing by hating an actress no one likes for things she said in a book no one read. Furthermore, the things she said were not that bad. I don’t care that Olivia Munn said that men who don’t sleep with her are gay and I know that most people using that as evidence for hating her don’t either. If that really upsets you, please get a grip. As for the fatphobia, I also don’t care about that. I don’t know how much we can keep condemning this woman for things she said in a book no one read. We can hate her all we want for being kind of annoying but just say that. We’re allowed to hate people for no reason.

As for their unborn baby, I am going to give you all a piece of advice: if someone is pregnant and they have decided to keep it, whether you like it or not there’s a baby coming in the next six months. The only thing you can do is be nice to both the mother and the baby. Being mean to a mother about a baby she has decided to keep doesn’t make the baby not happen. It does not help anyone to not be nice in this situation. When that innocent baby is born into the world are you going to continue to be mean about it? What was it that Mew 2 said? It’s not the circumstances of one's birth that matter, it’s what one does with those circumstances or something to that effect. Most American myths and stories are about people who are unfairly maligned because the circumstances of their birth are less than ideal. I hope these people take that into account and when this baby arrives they are pleasant and kind and say nothing mean about their recovering addict father and whore mother. However these people lack compassion and manners. 

All that work we did unlearning the meanness of society doesn’t matter. Olivia Munn was fatphobic in a book no one read and is pregnant with a baby from a recently divorced man so now anyone can say whatever they want in public about her. The timeline strangers on the internet pieced together about this man's divorce isn’t clean and nice so we’re turning on him because that doesn’t line up with our perception of him. You will get nowhere in this life if you are morally correct but a dick about it the whole time. A philosophy that will get you far when applied beyond its original scope is “addicts deserve clean needles'' the heart of that philosophy is someone who’s choice I don’t agree with and don’t make for myself still deserves to be safe and healthy even if they continue to make those choices I don’t agree with.  John Mulaney shouldn't be having a baby this close to getting out of rehab. Ok? And? The baby’s coming. What do you want to do about it? Be right and feel morally superior for not being an addict in the first place and then not having a baby on top of that? Do you want a cookie for having a cursory knowledge of how sobriety should work with no experience of how it actually does work most of the time? 

Everyone is allowed to feel however they want. Far be it from me to stop anyone from being a hater. My point is mostly that all of these people are wrong about this from several angles. We don’t all have to be nice all the time about everything. I just think one should be able to recognize when they are justified and when they are being a heinous bitch. I’m never justified and I’m always being a heinous bitch. I give it the veneer of cultural critique but I know that at the core of my being I am a hater, and you can be too! Just accept the hate within your heart and let it fester. You lost the moral high ground long ago. 

Also, You can say unkind and ungenerous things in private! That’s really all that I want. To recognize the difference between public and private. I want everyone to know that they continue to be like this and say mean things to their friends in person and in group chats but the second you get an audience the crime becomes much worse. It’s the difference between saying mean things about Britney Spears to your friends and Perez Hilton’s whole career. In the world of Tiktok you may have a few followers but the second you hashtag it #mulaney and #fyp you’re asking people to chime in and see it. You want an audience and you want outside validation on your opinion. You want your own piece of the Perez Hilton puzzle. That’s not a horrible thing to want but you have to acknowledge that’s what you want. I mean it is, but baby steps

It’s not always about morals, it’s about charisma. Some people are allowed to cheat on their partners and we call it a great love story because they’re hot and quiet and their new partner is better and hotter and we like them more. Everything in life is a popularity contest and nothing is a meritocracy. Couching your dislike of Olivia Munn in some form of social justice is so unbelievably stupid and ultimately a losing game. I hate her cause she seems like she sucks. I also think she gets a bad rap because she’s not a girl’s girl. Being a girl’s girl is not this transcendental way of existing it's marketed to be. If women can sniff out you don’t have unending loyalty to our gender and aren’t willing to excuse bad behavior in the name of “feminism” they will turn their backs on you. Girls who drink beer are labeled Pick Mes. Any attempt to step out of line is labeled internalized misogyny. Olivia Munn may be a pick me but the reason everyone is so mean to her is because she’s not hot enough or talented enough or cool enough to get the apology women like Megan Fox, Britney Spears, and Monica Lewinsky got. It’s silly to pretend these factors that have always been at play aren’t still at play because it’s “mean” to say them. If John had left Olivia for Anna people would think he was cool and hot, but if things were different they wouldn’t be the same. 

At the end of the day the reason this is so blown out of proportion is because people can’t listen and refuse to acknowledge they’re projecting. I get it. You think you’re Anna, or that you could be Anna. You want to be a beautiful weird girl with a comedy husband. Joanna Newsom is a little ambitious so you settled on Anna. If Mulaney was capable of this then so are all men. Mulaney never said he wasn’t like this. I’m sorry but no one who ever worked at SNL has a clean reputation. I still watch SNL and find it enjoyable sometimes but it is a hotbed of sin and if you're fave is not actively sinning they’re covering up someone else’s. Wise up. No one is good and no one is sweet all the time. Even Ted Lasso knows that. I’m sure there’s some sweet shy gamer who won’t cheat on you out there. If you’re over the age of 19 and still want to date comedians as a type, you can’t be surprised when they are the way that they are, and they’re all like that. It is ok to privately acknowledge to yourself that this divorce hurts because it means your fantasy isn’t possible or perfect. Though that thought goes in your diary. You can tell your therapist and your best friend but not the internet. 

My final thought is this, Good riddance. If you were a fan of John Mulaney because you mostly loved his wife and not his comedy, I will gladly show you the door. It was never for you just like all work creatives make is never exclusively for their fans. I’m still here and I’m excited for his next special because I think he is funny and I like hearing what he has to say. I love John Mulaney’s comedy and I am going to continue to watch his work because I was always in it for the love of the game.