Assuming the Worst: John Mulaney and his life after rehab
By Lucy Cullen
John Mulaney has become one of the most popular comedians of the past decade. A Georgetown alum (COL ‘04), Mulaney made a name for himself as a writer on Saturday Night Live. He began headlining stand up comedy shows in 2008, landed his first TV special in 2012, and has been an incredibly successful comedian ever since.
In his stand up sketches, Mulaney frequently references his drug addiction in college, but also his efforts to get sober in 2005. Staying clean while working at SNL was no small feat for Mulaney, I’m sure, as the writers room is infamously known to be home to various narcotics. But in December of 2020, Mulaney checked himself into a rehab institution in Pennsylvania seeking help for his alcoholism and drug addiction. Mulaney’s fans were shocked to hear that he had relapsed but, at the same time, were glad that he decided to get help.
The comedy world rejoiced when Mulaney was released from rehab in February 2021, but shortly thereafter Mulaney’s wife, Anna Marie Tendler, announced that he had decided to end their marriage. Wide speculation about the cause of Mulaney’s relapse and divorce began circulating throughout the media with fans divided over whether to blame Tendler or Mulaney for their troubles. As a fan of both parties' work, I chose to believe that their divorce was a mutual decision. However, fans started to doubt Mulaney’s character when rumors arose regarding Mulaney’s new relationship with model Olivia Munn barely two months after his divorce.
Fans swiftly jumped to the conclusion that Mulaney had cheated on Tendler and instigated their divorce. Considering the media only received certain information to publish about Mulaney’s separation from Tendler and relationship with Munn, these kinds of assumptions arose easily. Many fans were annoyed at Mulaney for leaving his wife, whom fans felt connected to as the subject of many of his stand up sketches, and were confused as to why he would start a relationship so soon after getting out of rehab. To top it all off, Munn and Mulaney announced that they were expecting a child together in September, and their son Malcom was born shortly after in November. Fans compiled all the dates into a timeline that indicated Mulaney and Munn must have started their relationship in February as soon as he got out of rehab–before his divorce with Tendler was announced to the public.
As a fan of Mulaney for the past five years, it was upsetting to witness him go through these difficult, life-altering changes through social media in the beginning of 2021. Yet shortly after leaving rehab, Mulaney returned to the comedy scene with small performances where he tested new material for his upcoming tour. It was nice as a fan to get the opportunity to see him that May, yet it turned out to be a stand-up routine that was much more pensive than playful. Mulaney performed at City Winery in New York City, a small venue which made his show even more vulnerable and intimate than it was to begin with. He recounted his intervention full of A-list comedians that convened, not to crack jokes, but rather to tell Mulaney to seek help. He told the audience about his experience in rehab and, for the sake of the audience, inserted witty remarks in between serious topics to reassure us that he was still a comedian; he recounted his attempt to order Outback Steakhouse to rehab that failed due to the restrictions put in place to prevent patients from smuggling in drugs. Upsetting yet equally comical.
After initially hearing that Mulaney and Munn started a relationship and were having a child, I regarded him in a negative light, questioning his integrity and decision making abilities. However, the raw, unfiltered information that he shared with the audience at the show I attended in New York gave me a different perspective on the rumors. Do we know what really caused the divorce between Mulaney and Tendler? No. Will we ever know the detailed timeline of events that occurred in Mulaney’s life in early 2021? I highly doubt it. Will fans continue to assume they know every fact about Mulaney’s life and reasoning behind his decisions? Most likely yes. Hardcore fans today fixate so heavily on our parasocial relationships with the celebrities they admire that when they do something remotely wrong, we feel personally betrayed. I know many fans, including myself, felt betrayed when the news surrounding Mulaney’s divorce and addiction broke. It’s quite easy to make assumptions about celebrities based on what we see in the media, but hearing about Mulaney’s experience first-hand made me realize that it is unfair and selfish to believe that what fans learn from the little scraps of information we are provided is the whole truth of the matter.
Lucy Cullen is a freshman in the College and is undeclared.