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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

John Mulaney starts ‘From Scratch’

Mulaney returns to the stage to address his road to recovery, recent publicity and distaste for scientists and rioters

By SUN YIE — arts@theaggie.org 


Though John Mulaney had incorporated quips that alluded to his previous experiences with addiction in his earlier specials, such as “The Comeback Kid” and “Kid Gorgeous at Radio City,” he dives deeper into his addiction and his relapse in 2020 in his new set “From Scratch.” He reveals he had experienced addiction during the pandemic, listing xanax, klonopin, percocet and cocaine as a few examples of substances he used, until December of 2020, when his friends had staged an intervention. 

At his April 8 show in San Jose, Mulaney recalls with a sheepish grin that he had showed up two hours late to his own intervention and that everyone had been mad at him, even though he had believed it was a friend’s dinner party. He claims he realized it was an intervention when he opened the door and saw Seth Meyers. He then lists all of his other acclaimed friends, such as Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Natasha Lyonne and Nick Kroll, in his declaration of gratitude, claiming he would not be where he is today without them. 

He leaves the audience to revel in this touching and sincere moment of vulnerability for a few more seconds before he moves on to make a dig at Kroll, his best friend. He reveals that the rest of the intervention group had made a group email about the best way to approach him about his addiction, but had forgotten to include Kroll, who had started the intervention conversation and had berated Mulaney for being a “bad friend.” After this, Mulaney breaks out into a hearty chuckle before continuing, “Nick Kroll was upset that I wasn’t asking him enough questions about him at my intervention,” and his amusement at this memory quells the gossip among fans that the two have lost their friendship; in fact, Mulaney’s delight in recounting this memory serves as a testament to their close bond.

Afterwards, Mulaney transitions from addressing his road to recovery to addressing the audience, making this set seem much more immersive and intimate than his former shows. He first chooses a teenager from the audience and launches into a lighthearted spiel against substances, warning them against becoming like him. He then turns to the more mature crowd and questions whether anyone had previously experienced addiction and had gone to rehab like him. A man in the front row opens up about his own story, informing Mulaney that he, too, had been using substances since he was a teenager and that Mulaney’s own tumultuous journey to recovery had incentivized him to reclaim agency over his life as well. 

Mulaney’s new, active approach in incorporating his audience as a part of his show felt so much more raw than his former shows. Although I enjoyed consuming his goofier, more chaotic bits that included “Dr. Bittenbinder” and “Victorian ghost girl,” I found that this show was a tasteful way for Mulaney to make his return to comedy; rather than adopt a new persona or ignore what some say is bad publicity, he embraces the controversy surrounding his relationship with Anna Marie Tendler and Olivia Munn in a way that makes the audience relate to and sympathize with him. 

Mulaney feels so much more like a tangible person in “From Scratch,” which is an apt title that reflects his reformation after his rehab, his return to comedy, and introduces the possibility that he will produce more shows like this one, where he drops his goofier and more chaotic facade for the sake of sincerity. In “Kid Gorgeous at Radio City,” Mulaney admits he feels the need to please everyone, but in “From Scratch,” he vocalizes that no one will ever find happiness from others, insinuating that he’s unlearning these toxic habits as well. 

The comedian shares touching moments of vulnerability with the audience in between his more random topics that bear no correlation; for instance, he announces that he doesn’t actually care about science and claims his indifference comes from the illogical way dinosaurs are constructed. He jests, “I imagine after the scientists have finished assembling a dinosaur skeleton, they discover two small bones that they missed and they just put it on a T. Rex.” He then switches from denouncing science to joking about the insurrection, claiming, “This never would have happened if Baby J [Mulaney] was in town,” as he was in rehab when the insurrection occurred. 

There isn’t any coherent structure in Mulaney’s show after he indulges the audience with anecdotes about his experience with addiction, and yet, in a way, this seems almost more on-brand for Mulaney after the past couple years. He ends the show claiming, “In the darkest time of my life, I never thought I would have gotten out and I’m grateful that I can still be here and do this,” which echoes the point of Mulaney’s show in the first place — to start from scratch. 


Written by: Sun Yie — arts@theaggie.org




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