Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Mulaney apologizes for the Trump joke that didn't get him investigated by the Secret Service

Jimmy Kimmel, John Mulaney
Jimmy Kimmel, John Mulaney
Screenshot: Jimmy Kimmel Live

Appearing on Tuesday’s Jimmy Kimmel Live (via the pandemic-thwarting internet), John Mulaney addressed the controversy about his 2020 Saturday Night Live monologue Trump joke. No, not the most recent one (he’s hosted in both February and October of this year), although he did that, too, confessing that anti-Trump viewers were appropriately annoyed with a set-up implying that it didn’t matter which “elderly man” people voted for on Election Day. Noting that the payoff of the joke—that, America being America, “the poor will still suffer, the rich will continue to prosper, the mentally ill and the drug addicted will still not be taken care of”—was his broader point, Mulaney copped to uncharacteristically careless joke writing. “I forgot to make the joke good,” is how the forthrightly contrite Mulaney phrased it, explaining in signature Mulaney aside that, as a Joe Biden-voting Democrat type, “I like people, and I’m generally happy and not deeply angry.” Plus, as he put it, “My dad didn’t make me feel, like, not a man, so I’m, like, you know, trying to prove him right by voting for some psychopath.”

So that clears that up. Sure, the Twitter-sphere will hold a grudge over a well-intentioned but self-confessedly sloppy joke until the end of all time, space, and reality, but, as Mulaney told Kimmel, at least his Halloween SNL joke didn’t become a literal federal case. The same could not be said of his Leap Day hosting gig, which, as Mulaney explained to Kimmel, came under the official scrutiny of a particular, heavily armed government agency. Cagily describing his post-show interlocutors as “a service that operates for the president, and they’re secret,” the comic said that it was one of those pesky asides (this one about how Julius Caesar was famously “stabbed to death by a bunch of senators because he went crazy”) that caused said agency to actually open a file on him.

As Mulaney tells it, the dutiful federal agent who checked up on him for a joke about regicide (that didn’t mention any would-be dictators by name) wasn’t all that urgent in determining Mulaney’s “threat level.” (Mulaney says that anyone who’s ever met him would slot him in consistently at about a one.) Still, he did note that since his wife was then working for the Washington D.C.-based Smithsonian, and since what became the couple’s one-year rental quarantine apartment happened to be located right across the street from the Secret Service building, he can only imagine that his file (the very existence of which he is obviously tickled) had at least a yellow flag on it for a time.

In his typically entertaining ten minutes on the show, Mulaney also took the time to bemoan his continued annoyance that, after four years of playing “a horny child” on pal Nick Kroll’s Big Mouth, he’s still required to produce his character Andrew Glouberman’s many, many lonely orgasm sounds. “Don’t you have, like, a bank of these already?,” Mulaney recalls asking at one point. (“Could you do it with, like, a question mark at the end?,” is one director’s note Mulaney got in response.) As any viewer of the hilariously filthy (and genuinely smart and insightful) animated series is all too aware, sometimes you have to put a little spin on it to keep things fresh.


Big Mouth’s fourth season premieres on Netflix on Friday.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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