In mid-December 2020, multiple sources revealed that former Saturday Night Live writer, comedian, and actor, John Mulaney, had admitted himself to an undisclosed rehab facility in rural Pennsylvania after relapsing during quarantine. Mulaney had previously quit drugs and alcohol “cold turkey” after a long-standing cocaine and alcohol addiction that lasted from his childhood to his early 20s. Even though Mulaney is a friendly, familiar face in the mainstream comedy world, this news does not come as a complete surprise as he has used his occupation to offer some transparency about his relationship with drug culture. In the past, the comedian has commented on his habits, having written bits in his standup about his drug use in college such as blacking out at parties and claiming to have once chugged the contents of a perfume bottle. He then decided to put an end to his behavior in 2005, when he was 23 years old. Since then, Mulaney had enjoyed a sober life, even becoming an unofficial mentor to current SNL cast member, Pete Davidson, who also has been open about his own drug use and how it’s affected his life.
Mulaney grew up in an affluent part of Chicago, was raised in a two-parent household and attended a prestigious university. If you’ve ever seen Mulaney perform on stage, you’ll first take notice of his clean cut look—he’ll wear a suit, deliver his jokes through a mostly deadpan but smart point of view. He is, seemingly, not the person you would expect to have a such a turbulent past.
When word broke out of his entry into rehab, his name began to trend on Twitter. Mulaney’s fanbase had become very supportive of his decision to enter rehab and called for others to respect his privacy. While this is a valid response, this is also where public discourse can get a little murky. As much as Mulaney deserves to have his privacy, he does not get a free pass to online criticism. Just like him and many other public figures, his fans and haters alike are never shy to share their personal thoughts on situations relating to these issues. As the comedian received an outpour of support from his fellow colleagues and fans. Some users touched on the double standard for female celebrities and more specifically black female celebrities who have also battled substance abuse.
In the past, we’ve seen a wide range of black public figures be made into outcasts because of their use of drugs. Someone like Whitney Houston, who had often been subjected to ridicule during her own struggle with drugs was far from being the only Black performer who had received that treatment.
Substance usage has historically been a prevalent subject within the black community, an issue that started with perpetuation of stereotypes eliciting from the start of the war on drugs in the early 70s. Drug use has been become more normalized and is only taken seriously when its effects have claimed the lives of those we know and love. The rap scene, a coast to coast empire created and populated by a myriad of black rappers and songwriters has had its fair share of association with drugs in song lyrics mentioning “lean”, “coke”, and a variety of different liquors. Rappers who the world has unfortunately lost to drug use include “Juice Wrld” whose work was recognized for its references to drugs.
Another user wrote about Mulaney, “I genuinely wish him well but I have to wonder where all this empathy for John Mulaney was when Demi Lovato checked into rehab/overdosed etc.,”
This commentary can also extend to celebrities’ posthumous reputations such as English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse and the aforementioned, Whitney Houston. Amy Winehouse had received public criticism in the form of jokes such as comedian Patrick Kielty description of the singer. He referred to her as “dirty” in one of his sets. Throughout the music industry, references to drug culture run rampant in songs from a variety of different artists in different genres. The music industry is notorious for encouraging references to be made in music and because of this, listeners are more likely to feel the desire to engage in the use of hard drugs because their favorite artists are saying that it’s ok to do so. With artists normalizing the use of hard drugs, they are simultaneously creating a culture of harm for listeners of all demographics. This type of behavior is most detrimental to younger listeners who could grow up with the mindset that having a relationship with drugs is not only a sign of maturity but also a way to help them cope with struggles. It’s a cycle that artists, executives, and patrons of the music industry must come together to fix.
Another user wrote, “if you’re upset about John Mulaney, give that same energy to both your friends and complete strangers you don’t even know. Stop using cr*ckhead, don’t ignore homeless ppl asking for money bc they might spend it on drugs, and stop treating people staying sober like a burden”
Drug culture continues to permeate through the entertainment industry. There’s a multiple step process to educate people on how to increase drug advocacy. In present day, it seems as if drug advocacy is only necessary depending on who the person in question is and of what world they come from. Rap, music, and comedy culture should not be synonymous with drug culture. No matter who the figure is, there should always be urgent advocacy against the use of hard drugs.