John Mulaney Shares How Serious His Substance Abuse Problem Became (And His Relationship With Pete Davidson)

In John Mulaney‘s New In Town standup he shares that although he is Irish he doesn’t drink. “I don’t drink,” he says. “I used to drink but I drank too much and had to stop. That surprises a lot of audiences because I don’t look like someone who used to do anything.”

He shared that he quit drinking because he would drink too much and then blackout and “ruin parties,” he recalled. For example, he had already blacked out at a party when someone wondered what the liquid was inside an old bottle they found at a house. “Hey is this whiskey or perfume?” the person asked. Without hesitation, Mulaney swigged right out of the bottle. “Apparently, I grabbed it, drank all of it and said, ‘It’s perfume.’ And it was,” he said.

John Mulaney
John Mulaney | Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Mulaney often jokes about times when he overindulged with stories that most audiences can relate to (not to mention find hilarious). But Mulaney’s substance abuse problems were no laughing matter. He shared how deep they became with Esquire. Plus he discussed his relationship with comedian Pete Davidson who he tells he loves all the time.

He started drinking at age 13

Mulaney’s relationship with alcohol began at an early age. He recalls that drinking helped him deal with those awkward years during adolescence. “I drank for attention,” he told Esquire. Adding, “I was really outgoing, and then at twelve, I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to act. And then I was drinking, and I was hilarious again.” 

He spent the majority of his teens inebriated, managing to maintain his grades despite being on the verge of constantly blacking out. Mulaney comes from a traditional, upper-middle-class Midwestern family, raised by two attorneys. “We were a good, uptight family, in a fifties way,” he recalls. “There was a lot of fun and love. But a strictness. My parents were a tight unit, like Walter Becker and Donald Fagen,” of Steely Dan. “You couldn’t play one off the other. I said something once, like, ‘Mom sucks!’ And my dad said …”

He continued dropping into part of the Harrison Ford standup selection from Kid Gorgeous. “‘That’s my wife.’ And I went to a very strict Jesuit high school, so there was always this, like, ‘Young man, your tie is not straightened.’” 

Serious drugs were next

Mulaney didn’t stop with drinking. He tried a host of drugs, discovering he preferred cocaine. “I never liked smoking pot.,” she shared with Esquire. “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
John Mulaney |Rob Loud/Getty Images

He shared that doing insane and embarrassing things while wasted were commonplace, including the story about guzzling down the bottle of perfume. And while he shares a number of “blackout” and party stories in his standup, he finally stopped doing drugs in August 2005 when he was 23 years old.

“I went on a bender that weekend that was just, like, fading in and out of a movie,” he recalls. “It was just crazy. A weekend that was . . . there were . . . I’m never going to tell you. That’s mine. I didn’t kill anyone or assault anyone. But yeah, I was like, You’re f**king out of control. And I thought to myself, I don’t like this guy anymore. I’m not rooting for him.

He shares an affinity for Davidson

Mulaney never went to rehab or a recovery program, but just stopped drinking and doing drugs. Which may be one reason why he feels so bonded to Davidson. Davidson has publicly dealt with mental health issues and attacks on social media. Mulaney took Davidson under his wing and the two became friends.

Davidson has to feel the love from Mulaney too. “I tell him I love him all the time,” Mulaney told Esquire. He added, “I have a lot of friends who are like Italian grandmothers, just like, ‘How are you? I love you!’ ”

He adds, “Pete and I came up with that bit together, but in my head, I was like, ‘I hope this is a cathartic thing for him.’ However it came to be, I was very glad it was there.”