Comedian and former SNL writer John Mulaney spent a week in Atlanta, GA from Sept. 16 through Sept. 22 performing nine different sold out shows between the Coca-Cola Roxy and the Tabernacle venues. Mulaney’s “From Scratch” tour was presented on the coattails of what can only be described as quite the eventful year for the stand-up comedian.
The 39 year old — fresh out of a divorce from his seven year marriage, a visit to rehab for alcohol and drug addiction, and an announcement of a child with brand new lover Olivia Munn (“X-Men: Apocalypse”) — came on stage in his usual suit and tie attire. While Mulaney tried to play the stage as the old squeaky clean, put together version of himself we are used to seeing in his Netflix specials, a few minutes into the set made it very clear that the John Mulaney standing in front of the crowd was a changed man.
Sauntering onto the stage of the Roxy, Mulaney set the tone for the night by pleading with the audience to buy his merchandise out in the lobby, including a shirt with the phrase “I saw him right after he got outta rehab” emblazoned on the chest. This shirt design signaled what everyone was there for: to revel in the chaotic details of the past year of Mulaney’s life.
Mulaney officially opened the performance by addressing his most recent controversy, which was the announcement of his incoming child with Munn during an intimate interview on “Late Night with Seth Myers.” He poked fun at the media’s reactions to the accelerated timeline of his relationship with Munn, by saying “you know you’re problematic when you tell people you’re having a baby and the reactions are mixed” and mentioning that the kids like Bo Burnham better now because he is “less problematic.”
The rest of the set went on to describe the details of his star-studded hybrid intervention that took place in a friend’s apartment, with several of Mulaney’s west coast friends tuning in over Zoom. Dubbing it the “‘We Are the World’ of alternative comedians over 30” Mulaney explained how the event went down and his subsequent 60 day trip to a rehabilitation center in Pennsylvania.
While it was to be expected that Mulaney’s struggles with addiction would be addressed in the set, no one anticipated that it would dominate the theme of every joke of the night. The confident, spunky Mulaney that the world was used to seeing was no longer detectable under this new comedian who spent part of the set explaining to a thirteen year old in front of the crowd how he started drinking at the age of five due to his father’s “European” stance on drinking.
As the performance went on, it was clear that Mulaney was using the stage as his way of processing his past year. One of the most sobering moments was when Mulaney pulled the facade down and expressed how thankful he was that he was able to be on stage again with an audience.
To say Mulaney has some stuff to work through would be an understatement. His insecurities, stemming from his fall from grace as America’s poster boy of on demand comedic relief, are heavily apparent through the bombardment of self-deprecating jokes. Mulaney knows he is public enemy number one now, due to his suspected infidelity throughout the end of his marriage to his ex-wife and subsequent relationship with Munn (an incredibly problematic character of her own due to past fatphobic, homophobic and generally terrible statements).
At the end of the day, Mulaney profits off of something that only comedians can really profit off of, and that is his depiction of his rock bottom moments over the past year. Whether Mulaney’s situation speaks more to the morbid nature of good stand up comedy or the shamelessness of the audiences that enjoy laughing about the worse parts of someone’s life is up for debate. In any other profession, Mulaney would be ripped off of public appearances and shoved to the bottom of press lists everywhere in order to recuperate from such a slash to his image, but because he is able to craft jokes around his struggles, he has sold out shows across the country and is once again rising to the top as America’s favorite comedian.