John Mulaney and the Problem with the So-Called “Good Ones”

Comedy Features John Mulaney
John Mulaney and the Problem with the So-Called “Good Ones”

Unless you are one of those lucky people who remains untethered from their phone (how I long to be one of you), you likely heard that Dave Chappelle was the surprise opener for John Mulaney at his Columbus, Ohio show on May 20. Attendees were not allowed to record the performance, but Chappelle reportedly told transphobic jokes—something he’s unfortunately made a staple in his comedy these days. Chappelle’s specials Equanimity, Sticks and Stones, and The Closer have all been criticized for their blatant transphobia.

We’ve come to expect this from Chappelle. It’s shitty, but not at all surprising. However, his presence and predictably transphobic jokes felt like a betrayal to Mulaney’s fans, many of them trans themselves. Pop culture consumers have been repeating that same refrain: I thought he was one of the good ones. Unfortunately, the so-called “good ones” often come with an unspoken expiration date.

While I’m not a massive John Mulaney fan, (I am not that photo of the little boy holding a gun and crying right now or Wesley Snipes doing the same thing, take your pick on weeping/shooting memes), I know how much his comedy means to people. Clips and screengrabs of his stand-up are near ubiquitous on social media. Even if you’ve never watched his stand-up, you likely know at least a few of his bits thanks to the ongoing memeification of Mulaney.

As an Internet favorite, Mulaney has often been held up as “one of the good ones,” a phrase that’s been used an awful lot (especially since the MeToo movement’s rise in 2017) to describe any famous cis man who still manages to not be an asshole in one way or another. Besides the fact that merely not offending or hurting people is a depressingly low bar, ultimately he is a powerful man in a system that upholds his power—just like the other “good ones.” His readiness to slough off the concerns of the vulnerable in order to align himself with the status quo is just about as predictable as Chappelle saying something transphobic. For years, Mulaney stuck out as an apparent exception to the rule; now we know that’s no longer the case.

Mulaney did not care that he was platforming a transphobic comedian. At that show, he was more than just a bystander as Chappelle performed discriminatory jokes (and the audience apparently laughed along). He gave Chappelle the opportunity and ambushed an audience with the unannounced opener. Show business and personal connections trump the safety of trans people. Cool.

This is why any cries of “cancel culture” immediately elicit eye rolls. Chappelle is raking in cash, Louis C.K. won a Grammy, and guys like Bryan Callen and Chris D’Elia are still getting booked all because the comedy establishment acts in its own self-interest. Mulaney is a part of that establishment. This shit is systemic, and the “good ones” are all a part of that system.

As of the writing of this article, Mulaney has not addressed the situation on social media, and his reps have not yet responded to Paste’s request for comment. He may be banking on this going away, but platforming transphobia is unacceptable. Hopefully Mulaney apologizes, but whether he does or not is beside the point. He’s past his “good one” expiration date and proven that he’s just like many other cis men in power.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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