Mulaney makes vulnerability funny

By Jacob Smith, Staff Writer

If you’ve ever seen a John Mulaney comedy special, you know his trademark mild-mannered persona, that he was raised Catholic and that he’s funny as hell. 

If you’ve seen anything about him on the internet in the past year, you know he’s divorced and went to rehab for drug abuse. In his new tour, From Scratch, Mulaney assumes the audience knows all of this; he wastes no time getting to the heavy subjects. 

From Scratch is a very personal and honest stand-up act, and within five minutes of greeting Cincinnati, Mulaney was already addressing his problem with cocaine. 

He spent a good portion of the show detailing his intervention and time in rehab. The moments he described are objectively not funny, but Mulaney’s innate comedic storytelling ability never failed to be gold –– even in retelling his darkest days. 

The audience had no idea whether they should laugh or give the guy a hug. They laughed, of course, because he was hilarious. In the process, he pulled back the curtain on Mulaney the character to show the audience his real self, a deeply flawed person. He wasn’t always calmly sarcastic; he proved he can be a real asshole. 

Instead of the classic setup where he’s the straight man recounting an encounter with some ridiculous person, Mulaney put all the scrutiny on himself. When his friends came together to try to help him, he lashed out with ad-hominem insults. When he went to rehab, he was offended when other patients didn’t know who he was. This new persona shared his struggles and his mistakes with honesty and the kind of dark humor usually reserved for good friends. As a result, he never felt more real.  

Once he was past the rehab and intervention, he shared a couple vignettes from his childhood that served as both hilarious anecdotes and psychoanalyses of the roots of his vices. He detailed his history with alcohol and drugs from a young age, never failing to capture genuine laughs, even as he tiptoed around trauma. He examined his obsessive need for attention with possibly his best bit yet about praying for his grandparents to die so he could get more attention in grade school. 

Each segment summoned waves of laughter while adding layers to his character. In the end, it truly felt like Mulaney was a friend you’ve known your whole life. 

I should advise anyone planning on seeing his tour, or watching the Netflix special when it eventually drops, that his act can be triggering to people struggling with addiction or who are in recovery. 

He called out to the audience during the show this past weekend and asked how many people have been through rehab, even focusing on one woman near the front and asking her what she was there for. When she responded that it was for suicidal reasons, the uncomfortable reaction from the audience made it clear that Mulaney crossed a line many weren’t prepared for. A friend of mine  who recently became sober had to leave the show halfway through despite being a longtime fan of Mulaney’s comedy. 

By the conclusion, it was clear that the transparency on the issue was meant to promote mental health and to encourage anyone going through a rough patch to accept help.

I’m not sure if From Scratch is Mulaney’s way of addressing controversy, or if it’s just an hour-long therapy session he reenacts with a new audience every night, but I can confirm that sober Mulaney is healthier and funnier than ever.