John Mulaney is 'right outta rehab' and it’s no surprise that his vibe has undergone a major readjustment.

The bumbling comedian is more known for being the guy “running for Mayor of Nothing” than the struggling addict. However, late last year, his public relapse seems to have morphed him into a far blunter person than he was before. Given the questionable set of circumstances Mulaney found himself in over the past year, it's not surprising. 

Mulaney demonstrates his change in persona in his new stand–up special, From Scratch, which he performed in Philadelphia at the Academy of Music on Oct. 11th, one of his many shows in the city. 

True to its name, Mulaney’s new stand–up special From Scratch sees him reinvent himself into someone almost unrecognizable after his rehab stint and highly–publicized divorce.

Yet, notwithstanding the less than ideal circumstances, this abrupt change in dynamic may be precisely the dialogue that we needed to open—what Mulaney really does is humanize drug addiction and rehabilitation in the face of tremendous criticism and controversy. 

Prior to 2020, Mulaney was, at his core, a comedian defined by his all–American 50s TV presenter aesthetic and sappy, idyllic relationship with his now ex–wife, Anna Marie Tendler. However, the image of the doting husband that he once projected—in fact, that of which became the focal point of his stand–up persona—was irretrievably broken within the first few moments of the show. 

Mulaney pulled no punches when greeting his audience, immediately referencing girlfriend Olivia Munn’s pregnancy, which amassed a fair amount of controversy even before the comedian announced it on Late Night With Seth Meyers in September. His newly–minted relationship with the actress irked many fans who had come to associate Mulaney as the antithesis of the emotionally–distant husband.

In fact, his early self–deprecating declaration that he’s “a drug addict and nobody likes [his] baby” is so unexpectedly jarring that it makes you question whether or not the criticism of a man deep in the trenches of recovery is even remotely fair. 

Yet, Mulaney’s new approach is equally if not more funny than his previous one, even if it's just a tad uncomfortable given the subject matter. There are moments of the show that are exceedingly sad as he describes his "coke skinny" self walking into a staged intervention, as well as his interactions with drug dealers such as a low–rated doctor dealing out of his kitchen and a painter–turned–pill pusher. 

The traces of the old Mulaney are tucked in between lines that candidly reflect on his rehab experience with jokes on his innate hatred of science and celebrities who bribe college officials to ensure their children’s admissions. But, these are scattered amid a complicated conversation that culminates in the star's bittersweet return to the stage.

This isn’t the same man from Kid Gorgeous At Radio City or John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch who radiates a childlike quality with his fast–paced speech and exuberant movements, but one hardened by a trying year. He talks slower and his movements are more limited than what we’re used to seeing on our Netflix recommendations—he doesn’t dramatically pace across the stage and not every word sounds like it begins with a capital letter. Yet, Mulaney is well aware of this sudden change and the negative public perception his actions have spurred (in his words, “all the teenage girls like Bo Burnham better now”). 

When Mulaney details his star–studded intervention with characters such as Nick Kroll, Seth Meyers, and Fred Armisen, he sustains the humor with only with a brief interlude to express his gratitude to his friends. Before he launches into his time at a Pennsylvania rehab center, he banters with the crowd and asks if anybody could relate to his experiences—there is neither pity nor indictment in his voice, but rather genuine interest. He expresses the simple idea that drug addiction isn’t a secret that you need to keep tucked away. For Mulaney, it's a difficult experience that one can find catharsis in sharing. 

This is a far cry from the comedian who jokes about ‘Stranger Danger’ assemblies and 1860s gazebos—From Scratch is a show centered on a deeply personal experience. Mulaney’s vulnerable set consists of necessary conversation on a difficult subject matter including drug addiction, intervention, rehabilitation, and recovery. Instead of shying away from his controversial year, he confronts it head on, perhaps prematurely, given that it has only been eight months since he was released. 

Even so, Mulaney manages to humanize a situation that many have villainized him for over the past few months. When speaking on his sister’s disability in his show DARK, comedian Daniel Sloss, who is known for his ability to weave difficult subject matters into his comedy, said that “to say disability is never funny, to me, is dehumanizing. You are saying that these people are not capable of doing something which you yourself are capable of doing and that’s laughing at the situation you’re in.” Though these are different circumstances, Mulaney speaks in the same vein. 

Some details seem far too personal for Mulaney to share on stage, such as how he elicited drugs; however, by speaking on it rather than sweeping it under the rug—as is often done in the media—he offers a stark reminder that he’s human too, while also combatting a dangerous stigma regarding addiction as a character flaw. 

The show isn’t perfect. Once again, Mulaney, in his own words, is “right outta rehab.” Nonetheless, the uncomfortable transition from Kid Gorgeous and The Sack Lunch Bunch to From Scratch not only makes you reanalyze your personal assessment of the star, but makes you confront the stigma of addiction. It’s a story without an apology; he owns up to his mistakes, but makes sure that his audience knows that they aren’t entitled to their opinions on his personal life.

This isn’t to say From Scratch is Mulaney’s best work; however, where it falters comedically, the special makes up for it in its brutal honesty. It may not be Mulaney’s funniest stand–up special, but it may emerge as his most important. 


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