Comedian John Mulaney has certainly been having a rough year. This past December, he was admitted to rehab after a relapse in alcoholism and cocaine use, and upon his release he announced his separation from his wife of six years, lampshade artist Annamarie Tendler. Within a week of the news going public, rumors began to circulate that Mulaney was already in a relationship with actress Olivia Munn. In his first interview of 2021, Mulaney confirmed on The Late Show with Seth Meyers that he is in a relationship with Munn and that the couple is expecting a child.
This was definitely surprising information for me to read. I’m a long-time fan of Mulaney, and some of my favorite material were the bits he did about his relationship with his wife. However, the fact remains that I do not know this man. I have never met him, and I likely never will. Although I have watched his comedy specials almost to the point of memorization, John Mulaney is not my friend and never will be. I know nothing about his life and experiences. He may have a confessional, personal style of comedy, but that does not make me anything beyond a stranger, or him anything other than a face on my screen. I only know what he tells an audience.
Many fans of Mulaney, myself included, were anxiously hanging on for news during his stint in rehab. It’s natural enough to want to know someone is doing okay, but the more personal news coming out about him became, the stranger the fixation got, and the more concerned I was about myself and my own interest. Reading articles speculating on the nature of his relationships honestly began to feel gross, like I was looking at something that I wasn’t supposed to see. The news of Mulaney’s divorce had some on social media going so far as to compare it to the separation of their own parents. When the news came of him dating Munn so soon after the split, people quickly accused him of moving on too fast and her of being a homewrecker. From the way people talked about her, you would think Munn had seduced their actual dad.
The term “parasocial relationship” is thrown around a lot online and it is largely misunderstood. Essentially, the term refers to a psychological phenomenon where people form imaginary friendships with media personalities. People see a person on television or social media often enough, and come to see them as a friend despite the lack of real connection. Our monkey brains are not evolved to recognize a difference between a Netflix comedian and a fellow hunter-gatherer tribesman. We have to put in mental effort to acknowledge that celebrities are just strangers we know a disproportionate amount of information about.
Please note that an interest in celebrity gossip or having a favorite celebrity is not inherently bad or parasocial. If you’re a fan of someone, that’s great! There is nothing wrong with enjoying content. Following your favorite singer or actor on social media is completely normal. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that whatever connection you feel with your icon, this is not mutual.
Of course he’s going through something. Of course this man is having some sort of rough patch. That much is obvious. The polite thing to do here is to simply stop feeding into the obsession with a random man’s life. You don’t know John Mulaney. His personal life is not your business.