To John Mulaney, From Chicago With Love
I am thinking of John Mulaney as I reach for the plug on my Charlie Brown Christmas tree, melancholy mixing with my holiday cheer like oil and water. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m ready for bed when it dawns on me what tomorrow really is. It hurts to picture John in a cold, Pennsylvania rehab surrounded by strangers on Christmas Day.
From what I know, he’s been clean and sober for around 15 years. And many view his recent relapse as the cruel byproduct of a stressful pandemic. No matter the reason, John Mulaney is the last person in show biz that you want to see anything bad happen to. He’s a national treasure — like Wrigley Field or Betty White.
As the sparse sapling illuminates my room, I imagine the intense emotions he may be feeling. Troubling scenarios play out like a bad indie movie in my head. I worry about his career and future professional endeavors. I grieve for his friends and family who just want him to be okay. And I hope that the two ladies he loves most in this world, Petunia and Anna Marie, are alright.
It sounds strange, but I do feel a humble connection to John Mulaney. And it’s not just because I’ve been inside the Salt & Pepper Diner, the iconic eatery made memorable by John’s jukebox hijinks. (Shuttered in 2016, gone now are the days of grabbing a greasy burger after an iO improv show).
We’re also both blue-state-livin’ Democrats, English majors who overpaid for our degrees and admirers of unconventional artists like Julian Casablancas and David Byrne. We even share the same nasally, Chicago accent and crippling Midwest need to be nice to everyone that we meet.
But what John and I really have in common is a passion for all things funny — both of us shipping off to the coasts to pursue comedy. Me to Los Angeles to intern at Conan for three months; him to New York to become the biggest stand up comic to come out of the last decade.
We’re also both open about our love for Saturday Night Live. Him through writing for the show for five seasons and hosting four times; me by hyperventilating when I won tickets to a taping in 2018. Solidifying my fake friendship with John Mulaney is the fact that he does all he does sober.
I’m not quite sure where it stems from, but I genuinely lack the desire to drink. And while I’ve certainly indulged in the past (usually at a special event), I more often than not choose to abstain. Being the only one not partaking at the party can be ostracizing, so I’m sympathetic to the sober.
I can’t be the only one with John on my mind. I grab my laptop to take my sorrows to Reddit, a place where I know I can find community and maybe a little comfort. There’s dozens of posts showering John with support and of people sharing their own harrowing anecdotes of addiction.
One user pledges to remain sober alongside John for the duration of his 60 day stay, the challenge to end on his discharge date of February 18th. But why does this day seem so familiar? I just can’t shake the significance from my psyche. I read a few more encouraging messages when it hits me.
February 18th is Craig Ferguson’s sobriety anniversary. (Before John, Craig was my favorite sober comedian). And there’s no one better to speak to this situation than the former Late Late Show host himself. I remember the Britney Spears monologue well and search for the 12 minute clip.
Back in 2007, Ferguson made waves after delivering a serious speech about Britney Spears on his show. She had just (now famously) shaved her own head and it was apparent that she was unwell. Ferguson boldly strayed from his late night counterparts and refused to make fun of her.
He goes on to tell his own tale of recovery through a story about forgetting to kill himself on Christmas Day in 1991. The 13-year-old monologue is light years ahead of its time in regard to celebrity sobriety, toxic media culture, and personal accountability. There’s even a dig at Trump.
One of the most profound parts is when he talks about not having a “drinking problem” but a “thinking problem,” echoing modern day mental health sentiments. He proudly mentions that he’s 15 years sober. Suddenly, I see just how silly the similarities between John and I really are.
I close my computer in hopes of getting some sleep before Santa arrives. We live in a bizarre world now where we think that we know the people we see on our screens. But we don’t. Invasion has somehow become synonymous with compassion and it has to stop.
I have absolutely no idea what having an addiction is like. How it deteriorates your mental and physical health. How much emotional work goes into staying sober. How difficult it is to admit that you need help and then ask for it. I don’t know John Mulaney — and I shouldn’t feel like I do.
At the end of the day, I know that Mulaney is going to be just fine. He doesn’t need me focusing on his well-being so I can avoid caring about my own. He already has everything and everyone that he needs (whether he knows it or not). Besides, I really don’t get along with Northsiders anyway.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline at 1–800–662–HELP.