It’s the One Thing You Can’t Replace

Exploring Alcoholism in John Mulaney’s Stand Up, New in Town


A sea of brave people plop their eager bottoms on top of lava-stained chairs (which is much more of an issue than quicksand). They rejoice in sync as [up beat music] plays in the background. There’s a single stool in the center of the stage with an unopened water bottle. It is not quite placed in the center, but it is in perfect range of a dry-throated comedian’s reach. The stage is illuminated by a blue back drop and twinkling florescent lights sparkle in the background mirroring the actions of stars in the night sky. Four spot lights dance about until finally meeting with their perfect partner. And as they come together the audience seizes their thunder of claps and like lightning they are drawn to the center of the stage like a bolt is drawn to the steeple of a church.

“Whoa that tall child looks terrible.”

After the roar of claps begin to disintegrate a slender, pale, on the verge of passing as a foreigner arrives on the stage. He is wearing a grey suit that could very well fit a teenage boy. His name is John Mulaney, but don’t worry ladies because he isn’t here to rape you as he later jokes about in his stand-up. “In a couple days I’m gonna turn 29 years old and I’m very excited about that. I was hoping by now I would look older but it didn’t happen.” He is now thirty two years old, married, and still may very well be mistaken for as the teenage child of his wonderful wife. In a quote from his stand-up, The Top Part, he mocks himself by saying, “It’s weird too because I’m still afraid of being kidnapped.”

Well, first off, John Mulaney does indeed have two perfectly functioning eyes, but what this adolescent boy was referring to was the fact that they could not be seen do to his collapsing eyelids. “I was bullied for being Asian American,” jokes Mulaney, however, this joke’s on them because he in fact is not Asian American at all. John Mulaney was born in Chicago, Illinois to two Irish parents. In Ireland, unlike the United States the attitude towards drinking is very lenient and because of incredibly cheap imports the price of alcohol is relatively inexpensive. This is probably why binge drinking is so common in Ireland. So with roots such as these imbedded in Mulaney’s bloodstream it only made sense that alcohol would seap its way in there.

Mulaney is best known for his work in Saturday Night Live, stand-up comedy, and a semi-autobiographical sitcom Mulaney. Unfortunately, his self-named television show did not make it past one season. Mulaney received very harsh criticisms, receiving a very low “rotten” score of 17% on the movie critic website Rotten Tomatoes. The issue that viewers had with the show was that it resembled a lesser version of Seinfeld; therefore, it was seen as unoriginal. Regardless of the fact that he is mistaken for an Asian American, a prepubescent boy, and a knock off Jerry Seinfeld, the one thing that cannot be forgotten is his actual ancestral lineage. He has not one, but two Irish parents! It is known through his numerous jokes that at very young age he drank more like a camel on a rainy day than any other nationality/eighteen year rebel/ or Jerry Seinfeld ever could.

“And then I would blackout and “ruin” parties.”

Beer bellied boys and winey-women laugh loudly as Mulaney delivers joke after joke about his younger days. Have you ever noticed that there is only a lonesome water bottle on stage, but the audience chuckles cheerfully as they guzzle down their fifth beer of the night? John Mulaney is only thirty-two years old, and has been sober for nine years now. If you’re sober enough to do the math right now that would make him twenty three when he realized he needed help. Alcoholism refers to the “compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages…” The American Medical Association recognizes alcoholism as a disease. The classification of alcoholism encompasses both physical and mental components. Alcoholism has a genetic predisposition (American Medical Association). This means that the likelihood of a person becoming an alcoholic if one of both of their parents suffers from it is very high. Mulaney is just of many comedians who have suffered from addictions. Alcohol as many people (over the
age of 21) know calms the nerves, and puts the body at ease. However, the body develops an innate dependence to this dangerous substance. Comedians such as Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, and most recently Robin Williams have fallen victim to their vices.

“Is it true you bought the Elephant Man’s bones?”

“I don’t know,” responds a confused and baffled Michael Jackson. Mulaney compares blacking out to an incidence in which Michael Jackson was told a story about himself that he couldn’t refute. Due to his aggressive alcohol consumption Mulaney had to be filled in on incidences that occurred the night before. Essentially, he could’ve been told anything about himself from the previous night and he would have to take it as true because it isn’t like he knew what happened. “Here’s a story I once heard about myself,” exclaims Mulaney as he continues on describing how he was the confirming tongue as to whether or not a container with illusive liquid was whiskey or perfume. Although, this was a potentially hazardous situation his taste buds came out of it unharmed (even though it was in fact perfume), after excessive drinking his mind and liver will soon enough reap the consequences of his alcoholic actions.

“It’s the one thing you can’t replace.”

Have you ever woken up in your bed, but not quite sure of how you got there? Well John Mulaney is all too familiar with this feeling. Approximately ten percent of all dementia cases are related to consuming alcohol. This makes it the second leading cause of dementia. The term “blacking out” refers to memory loss. In terms of drinking it has been shown that alcohol impairs the brain’s ability to transfer short term memory and experiences into long term memory. There are two categories of blackouts, “en bloc” and “fragmentary” blackouts. An en bloc blackout is when a person appears to be able to converse and accomplish certain tasks (Iizuka). During these
blackouts people can remember things that occurred a few moments ago, but would be unable to recall events prior to the one mentioned. Whereas, fragmentary refers to instances in which the person is unable to remember certain events until they are reminded, thus jogging their foggy memory (Wetherill). Mulaney tells an anecdote from his past about how he was questioned as to whether he was responsible for taking very old family photos from a party that was thrown, but obviously he wouldn’t know whether he had or not so not only was it a mystery to the victim of this heinous crime, but it was also a mystery to himself. Years later while visiting an old classmate; he is taken to a small room within a room (which is never a good sign). Once he enters he is shown plenty of pictures that had been taken from parties throughout the years. And his classmate’s only cynical explanation was that it is the one thing you can’t replace. Along with old irreplaceable family photos, memories are another thing that you can’t replace.

Mulaney exits the stage and all that is left is the single stool and an empty bottle of water to show that time had passed; not only his duration on stage, but also his past of alcohol consumption. When he looks out to the audience he sees a haze of people living a life that he once had. This single water bottle shows his growth and thirst for a healthier life for himself. Alcoholism can be controlled and he is an example of this. Rather than quenching his thirst with shots of whiskey, and sips of rum he now fills that void by telling his stories to eager intoxicated individuals.

“…and he was wearing reading glasses to show that time had passed.”

Works Cited

1. “The Big Profile: John Mulaney.” The 6th Floor The Big Profile John Mulaney Comments. 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/ 2012/01/20/the-big-profile-john-mulaney/?_r=0>.
2. “Mulaney.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulaney>.
3. “Mulaney.” TV Series Finale RSS. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <http://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/ mulaney/>.
4. Rowles, Dustin. “John Mulaney Explains Why He Didn’t Replace Seth Meyers On ‘Weekend Update’.” Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <http://uproxx.com/tv/2014/11/john-mulaneyanswers-why-he-didnt-replace-seth-meyers-on-weekend-update/>.
5. Bromley, Patrick. “11 Comedians Who Died Too Soon.” Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <http:// comedians.about.com/od/top10lists/tp/10-Comedians-Who-Died-Too-Young.htm>.
6. “En Bloc Blackout.” En Bloc Blackout. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <http:// enblocblackout.blogspot.com/>.
7. Wetherill, Reagan, and Kim Fromme. “Acute Alcohol Effects on Narrative Recall and Contextual Memory: An Examination of Fragmentary Blackouts.” Addictive Behaviors.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pmc/articles/PMC3101897/>.