In many ways, comedian John Mulaney is the perfect model of an elder millennial.
From his dry, self-deprecating humor to his nihilistic social commentary, the 38-year-old has become “the golden boy of comedy” by making spot-on observations about life’s absurdities while falling short of the activism that characterizes Gen Z. Compared to Zoomers, we’re not that hopeful, damnit – We’re Millennials and everything sucks, so please refill our Adderall.
When reports confirmed that Mulaney had entered rehab for cocaine and alcohol abuse, it wasn’t a total surprise.
A source for Page Six commented, “John’s friends and family are happy that he’s finally getting some help and focusing on his health. His fans know he’s struggled in the past with sobriety, [and[ he has talked about it openly. Unfortunately he has struggled again during the pandemic. He’s on board with his recovery, he’s not fighting against rehab.”
The New in Town comedian has discussed his struggles with addiction in interviews and his stand-up. In 2019 he told Esquire magazine, “I drank for attention. I was really outgoing, and then at 12, I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to act. And then I was drinking, and I was hilarious again.”
Mulaney even reflected on his prescription drug abuse and use of illegal substances with his typical sardonic twist: “I never liked smoking pot. Then I tried cocaine, and I loved it. I wasn’t a good athlete, so maybe it was some young male thing of This is the physical feat I can do. Three Vicodin and a tequila and I’m still standing. Who’s the athlete now?”
John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid | Trailer [HD] | Netflix
During his teen years, Mulaney’s parents sent him to see a psychiatrist who described him as “one part nice kid” and “one half ‘gorilla that wants to kill the other half.'”
Frankly, that dichotomy suits much of the Millennial generation, which accounts for about 72 million people born between 1981 and 1996. We are legion and ironic; we have insatiable cravings for attention and the promise of social security.
Sometimes called “a generation of contradiction” or a “disoriented generation,” we’re adults who’ve experienced a protracted adolescence (some scientists say adolescence doesn’t end until 24), parents who didn’t enforce boundaries, and disillusionment from the pre-2008 dream that hard work and a college degree will lead to security.
Cue 2008, AKA The Great Recession.
As Forbes notes, “Millennials came of age during a time of transition in both the economy and in the landscape of higher education. During their lifetimes, college costs have risen significantly, with the net price of tuition, fees, and room and board at a public, four-year college increasing 68% since the 1999-2000 academic year.”
As John Mulaney more wisely notes, “I already gave [my college] $120,000 and now they have the audacity to ask me for more money. What kind of a cokehead relative is my college?… What is college? Stop going! Because I went to college; I had no idea what it was. I lived like a goddamn ninja turtle….I didn’t drink water for four years.”
“By the way,” he continues in his 2018 comedy special Kid Gorgeous, filmed at Radio City, “I agreed to give them $120,000 when I was seventeen years old, with no attorney present. That’s illegal!…”
John Mulaney Got Cheated Out of $120K | Netflix Is A Joke
Sociologically, Millennials are weird. Some argue that we were “infantilized” by our parents, who gave us too many “participation trophies” and raised us to be “entitled” brats.
In reality, there’s a deep divide between how Millennials were raised, with elder Millennials experiencing the vestiges of the laissez faire parenting style of the ’80s and younger Millennials experiencing the helicopter, or “vigilante,” parenting of the ’90s. (With the dawn of the 24/hour news cycle, parents realized that the world was dangerous, and children were taught about stranger danger and the dire news stories that will circulate about you if you were kidnapped.
“I grew up before children were special,” Mulaney says in his 2015 Netflix special The Comeback Kid. “No one cared about my opinion when I was a little kid. No one cared what I thought. Sometimes, people would say, ‘What do you think you’re doing?” But that just meant ‘Stop.'”
Being an Elder Millennial probably feels similar to what a refurbished iPhone feels: You’re supposedly good as new, but all your parts are salvaged from past wreckage, and half the time your home button does nothing.
Without the respect of your elders or juniors, you’re pretty much a broken VHS. In John Mulaney’s 2012 debut comedy special, New in Town, he says: “I was once on the phone with Blockbuster Video, which is a very old-fashioned sentence. That’s like when your Gram would be like, ‘We’d all go play jacks by the soda fountain.’ And you’re like, ‘Nobody knows what you’re talking about, you idiot.'”
But you know what all Millennials have in common? In a post-Internet world, we were all raised in a strange culture of optimization.
When it comes to our upbringing, BuzzfeedNews writer Anne Helen Peterson recounts how sociological approaches to parenting taught Millennials to believe two contradictory truths: You need to optimize your time and your habits to be successful in the workplace; and you (theoretically) have more freedom than any prior generation, so you better become something great.
So we grew up nervous – nervous enough to undergo a prostate exam in exchange for a Xanax prescription or allow Delta Airline to frame us for murder. And while we deserve the blame for inventing Instagram selfies and dating apps, perhaps we needed distraction from being the new goddamn “Lost Generation.”
We self-deprecate and employ gallows humor because the world has pretty much been ending for as long as we can remember. In her 2020 article in The Atlantic, “Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance,” Annie Lowrey wrote, “The Millennials were left with scars during the Great Recession that never quite healed, and inherited an economy structured to manufacture precarity for the young and the poor and black and brown, and to perpetuate wealth for the old and the rich and white.”
After entering the work force amidst The Great Recession of 2008, we carried the weight of a student debt crisis, roughly half of all college graduates couldn’t find a job, and we perfected the psychological crash of Burn Out. Cut to 2020, and Millennials have become the demographic most likely to die from alcohol and drug abuse, as well as suicide.
And yet, in pop culture, we’ve laughed our way through it all with our generation’s signature dark humor and chaotic comedy, celebrating the mundanely absurd moments of modern life.
It’s no wonder John Mulaney became “the golden boy of comedy.” As of 2020, Millennials are the largest living adult generation in the U.S. How do we cope with the most openly intolerant and corrupt president in recent U.S. history? We imagine a horse loose in a hospital.
In Kid Gorgeous, Mulaney debuted a brilliant bit capturing America’s collective disoriented horror under an insane U.S. government: “Here’s how I try to look at it, and this is just me, this guy being the president, it’s like there’s a horse loose in a hospital… I think eventually everything’s going to be okay, but I have no idea what’s going to happen next. And neither do any of you, and neither do your parents, because there’s a horse loose in the hospital.
“And then,” he says at one point, “For a second, we were like, ‘Maybe the horse-catcher will catch the horse.’ And then the horse is like, ‘I have fired the horse-catcher.'”
There’s a Horse In The Hospital | John Mulaney | Netflix Is A Joke
So John Mulaney can go to rehab 100 times and we won’t change our minds about him. He’s no less “golden” for being as exactly human as the rest of us. In fact, it’s well-reported that the current pandemic has increased the risk of substance abuse, as well as depression and other unhealthy coping mechanisms, as a result of the unprecedented amount of political and social instability.
Altogether, 2020 was a great year for disaster memes and binge-watching John Mulaney’s Netflix comedy specials. While we sat at home and watched the world dip under even our lowest, most jaded expectations, we too thought: “This might as well happen. Adult life is already so goddamn weird.” Because at the end of the day, we’re all just “tall children” who look terrible.
John Mulaney – New In Town – Tall Child