John Mulaney & The Issue With Celebrity Perception

You know those days where you’re like, ‘this might as well happen?’

If your social media experience is anything like mine, you’ve probably been recently flooded with a whirlwind of opinions about John Mulaney and the surprising direction his life has taken.

The tl;dr if you’ve been living under a rock is this:

  • John Mulaney is a very successful and beloved comedian.
  • This successful and beloved comedian’s public persona has, for years, hinged on how much he loves his wife.
  • John Mulaney went into rehab for abusing alcohol and cocaine in December.
  • It was announced that he had split with his wife, Annamarie Tendler, this past Monday, May 10th, the same day he returned for his first performance since rehab.
  • Yesterday, May 13th, a source has reported that John Mulaney is in a relationship with actress Olivia Munn.

I’ve been a huge John Mulaney fan for years, so these past few months have been quite the whirlwind. It’s been shocking, mystifying, and — frankly — upsetting. This relationship announcement felt like a genuine attack to me personally, which I realize is an absolutely ridiculous statement.

Here’s the thing. From the information we, the public, know: it’s not a good look. It looks like John Mulaney left his wife for another woman. A woman who admitted to fangirling around him back in 2015? And tweeted support for him right as he entered rehab? Also, his wife’s statement indicates that he is the one who wanted to end the marriage. Feels gross.

But is it? The answer here is that we truly don’t know. The facts we do have don’t piece together the entire puzzle because these people have a right to keep some of their private lives, well, private.

Truly, I think everyone who is outraged here has fallen into a trap that I admit to have also fallen into. Celebrity idolization, or at least a version of it.

Here’s what it all boils down to: we don’t know John Mulaney personally. We know the version of himself that he allows us to see. I was reading a Reddit thread (always wise) that insinuated that maybe John Mulaney is actually a bad person and what we’ve been seeing is a façade. I think the more nuanced explanation is that we just haven’t seen everything. Which is true of, well, everyone.

Shrek said that ogres are like onions, but I’d go so far as to say that humans are also like onions. We’ve all got layers and, honestly, no person in our lives knows us at our deepest layer. We choose what we let different people see based on our relationship with them.

For example, the version of myself that I am with my closest friends is very different than the version of myself that my coworkers and boss know. Both versions are me and neither of them is a lie, but they are filtered through different lenses.

I’m sure it’s the same with public figures. I’m sure that the wife-loving, nervous-on-airplanes, awkward guy that John Mulaney presents himself as in his stand up is absolutely a part of who he is. But there’s obviously a lot that we don’t see. We don’t truly know what his relationship with his ex, Anna, was like. We don’t know the circumstances of him getting involved with Olivia Munn. And it’s likely that we never will have as many answers as we seek.

It’s easy to see a guy like John Mulaney and latch on to the package as we see it presented. He’s a smart, clean cut man whose comedy is bitingly funny without having to be grotesque or laden with shock value. He’s a guy whose demons were seemingly behind him, who lived a beautiful life with his beautiful wife and their so-ugly-she’s-cute French bulldog. He’s friends with other known “good guys” like Seth Meyers, Andy Samburg, and Bill Hader. This particular crop of SNL dudes have been presented as such wholesome, upstanding members of society that it’s hard to see one them slip like this.

But there has always been so much we don’t know. I’m not going to make any sweeping assumptions about whether John Mulaney is a good or bad guy. I’m going to hope he makes sound decisions and that he thinks everything through. I’m going to wish the best for him, for Anna, and all involved. I’m going to take John Mulaney off of the pedestal I’ve had him on and see him for what he is: a human person who made some questionable decisions, just like we all do.

Writer with more ambition than energy. Gal that likes punk rock, cats, and attempting weird art. In a complicated relationship with my treadmill.

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