John Mulaney is a comedian and a celebrity. Olivia Munn is an actress and a celebrity. Celebrities often have children together. John Mulaney and Olivia Munn are having a child together. And for some reason, the internet really seems to be taking this personally.
After rumors spread for days, Mulaney confirmed the news last night on Late Night with Seth Meyers. It’s the exclamation point on his quick rundown of a jampacked year that saw him go to rehab, get divorced, relapse, go to rehab again, and then start to date a famous actress. That’s a lot of life in 12 months, and at the end of it Mulaney has found himself in a new relationship and awaiting a child. And none of it, not a single word of what Mulaney shared on TV last night, is any of our business.
Here’s the full interview.
It’s all a personal matter that’s only relevant to the people involved, but obviously Mulaney chose to share that info with the world. He’s always discussed aspects of his personal life in his comedy, so it’s not a surprise that he would discuss everything that’s happened over the last year, or that his fans would then talk about it on social media and elsewhere. What’s off-putting—and, frankly ridiculous—is how some have chosen to react to Mulaney’s news.
I’m not going to embed any tweets, or anything, because I don’t want to single anybody out, but for the last several days Twitter has been full of people revealing their unhealthy parasocial obsession with John Mulaney. There are people who are angry on behalf of Mulaney’s ex-wife, people who are angry because it reminds them of their own romantic problems, people who are angry because they’ve somehow turned the personal lives of strangers into a symbol for every time any man has ever mistreated any woman. It’s all very weird, very unhealthy, and very much the product of how social media and stand-up comedy work.
I don’t think I need to go into great detail about why social media is such a bad idea. Here’s a short recap: social media strips away context, makes nuance almost impossible, amplifies the angriest and loudest voices, and makes everybody hate each other, while also making people think they know each other way more than they actually do. John Mulaney fans have gotten a glimpse into his life through social media, including his relationship with his ex-wife, and now feel a sense of betrayal even though they’re absolute strangers. And then they can use the exact same app that created that parasocial relationship to complain about Mulaney’s personal life, as shrilly and thoughtlessly as possible.
It’s not just social media that helped build this unhealthy relationship between Mulaney and his audience, but his work, too. Not all stand-up is personal or confessional, and not all of Mulaney’s comedy is about his own life. Much of it is, though, including stories that feature his ex-wife. This has also created a bond with his audience that feels more personal and intimate than with most celebrities. Honesty can be an important part of comedy, and Mulaney has spent over a decade talking about his life with his fans; obviously they’ll feel a connection there, and be more invested in his life than they would a less open comedian or actor. Comedy and social media worked together to make fans think they really knew Mulaney, and then social media also gave them the opportunity to voice their displeasure when they felt like he abused their trust.
That’s not an excuse or a justification. It’s just explaining why this particular shitstorm started. And again, I don’t want to call anybody out. But here’s one example of the kind of overreaction that has proliferated on Twitter recently, with no names involved. One Twitter user wrote the following: “All of my anger about all the shitty things men have ever done to my friends is being poured into John Mulaney.” It’s entirely possible this is a joke, a parody of the kind of over-the-top disappointment people have been voicing on social media over the last few days. Even if it’s serious, it’s pretty obviously a bit of intentional hyperbole. Still, it sums up the noxious response to Mulaney and Munn’s news, and how a vocal segment of Twitter have turned strangers’ private affairs that they know very little about into a proxy for every terrible thing anybody has ever done to a romantic partner.
This kind of reaction also overlooks a crucial part of this story: Mulaney’s addiction to drugs. This isn’t necessarily the story of a man who left his wife for another woman. Based on the timeline Mulaney shared, it seems like he and his wife were already separated when he started to date Munn. Even so, this isn’t necessarily the story of a man whose marriage ended, and who then subsequently started dating somebody else. It’s the story of an addict whose personal relationship fell apart around the same time he relapsed. We don’t know the timeline, and we don’t have any right to know the timeline, but it doesn’t matter if the relapse came before the separation, or if the separation came before the relapse. It doesn’t matter if there was any cause and effect between the relapse and the separation at all. All we know is that Mulaney was clearly struggling with a disease that he’s struggled with in the past, a disease that can take a toll not just on one’s own life but on their relationships with others. To just assume that his emerging from rehab with a new partner is a sign that he disrespected or mistreated his previous partner isn’t just an example of an unhealthy, gossip-driven, parasocial relationship, but also dismisses how thoroughly addiction and recovery can impact one’s life.
This, of course, is the kind of self-defeating article I hate to write. My main argument is that we should stop talking about John Mulaney’s personal life, and to do that I had to write several hundred words about John Mulaney’s personal life. Still, if talking about why the John Mulaney discourse has happened, and why it’s not healthy to fixate on stuff like this, can help prevent something similar from happening the next time a celebrity does something strangers disagree with, it will have been worth it. And since there’s absolutely no way people won’t similarly fixate on the next big celebrity gossip story, that means everything I’ve written here has not been worth it, and has been a complete waste of time. So I just proved my own point, then: Mulaney and Munn’s personal lives are none of our business, the social media reactions to their relationship have been weird and worrisome, and people (like me!) who spend any amount of time thinking or writing about it should find something better to do. I’m going to go follow my own advice now and do literally anything other than think about John Mulaney and Olivia Munn. I suggest you do the same.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.