John Mulaney told us last night at City Winery that he is 141 days sober after a terrifying battle with cocaine addiction and alcoholism. It was his debut, the first of five nights in a row, his return to performing.
“I was the best looking person at my intervention,” he said, because he was dressed up, had just had a haircut, and unlike everyone in the room who’d gained weight during the pandemic, Mulaney was down to about 105 pounds thanks to lots of drugs.
His intervention, by the way, included Seth Meyers, comedy partner Nick Kroll, Fred Armisen, Natasha Lyonne, and Bill Hader. None of them, he was disappointed to say, were doing bits. They were afraid for his life.
Mulaney has decided to work out his rehab on stage, with his interventionist watching from the balcony of City Winery. It’s a brave call. Mulaney, kind of a comedy genius who’s got a serious drug and addiction problem, joked that “the press” would be wondering if he “still had it.” Don’t worry, he does.
But Mulaney is fragile. His show for now will be like group therapy. He interacted a lot with the audience, discussing a raft of prescription drugs he’d been given by doctors, or bought from drugs dealers– besides cocaine. That part was endearing and sad. You can’t feel anything but sympathy for someone so talented and so plagued by his demons. He said it was once thought he suffered from ADHD but “I was just bored.”
For the opening show, Mulaney was dressed casually in a blue and white striped long sleeved Polo shirt, dark jeans, and white sneakers. He confessed to a stint in rehab that had been a secret last fall before hosting “Saturday Night Live.” It didn’t work, and he went right back in after bizarre appearances on Seth Meyer’s “Late Show.” He also talked about briefly taking a job at “Late Night” for the structure of having a place to go. That didn’t work out either. He went back into rehab in December 2020 and came out in February.
The rehab is a work in progress. “I’d kill all of you for a line of coke,” he joked, then took it back. “I’m a friendly addict,” he said. He said that in December he apparently gave an interview to GQ magazine but has no memory of it whatsoever. As a bit, he read some of it aloud, laughing at some of his responses to the reporter’s questions.
There’s a rawness to what Mulaney is doing. Since it was the first night, he maybe surprised himself with some of his comments. He said that he had never been comfortable with people, always felt alone, and that his experience with the audience was his most intimate relationship.
“When I’m alone,” he said, “I’m with someone who tried to kill me.”
I went to the opening night show out of curiosity mostly. Here is a troubled genius. He said that at the intervention, all the comics there talked about how brilliant he is. They’re right. Even when he made odd appearances on talk shows, you could see something unique behind those eyes. It’s mischief. When Mulaney does his musical parodies, they are off the wall, as if he’s channeling Jack Paar and Steve Allen and Sid Caesar.
This show will evolve as Mulaney finds his footing and renews his most successful intimate relationship– with the audience. They love him, so there won’t be a problem. I was surprised how many young people were at the show– I mean under 16 with parents, and just over 18. They have always seen a kindred soul in John Mulaney. Long may he wave.
PS If you’re lucky to get in, City Winery makes you place your phone in a locked envelope for the duration of your stay. No pictures, no videos, no social media while Mulaney is on stage or prior to the show. Everyone survived, I must report, although the comedian chastised the audience for being moderate in their drinking. “What? Just one glass of wine?” he quipped, jealously.