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There's no doubt that comedians have a tough job. Not only are they tasked with standing up (usually alone) in front of large groups of strangers and trying to make them laugh, but they're also supposed to be able to do it during seriously trying times, like, you know, 2020. Well, comedian and former Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney has returned to his old stomping grounds at 30 Rock a few times to host the late night hit, and now he's talking about the SNL joke that got him investigated by the Secret Service.
John Mulaney appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live recently, and was asked about the time he spent hosting the show twice just this calendar year. While recounting how one of the political jokes he told on the October 31 episode of SNL didn't go over so well, Mulaney began to talk about his February hosting stint, and how a joke he told then alerted the secret service. Mulaney noted:
In February, I did a joke that was not about Donald Trump. The joke was about how it was a leap year, and leap year had been started by Julius Caesar to correct the calendar, and another thing that happened with Caesar was that he was stabbed to death by a bunch of senators because he went crazy. And I said that’s an interesting thing that could happen. . . . [The Secret Service] investigated me. I guess they opened a file on me because of the joke. I have to say, am I stoked there’s a file open on me? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it in the moment? Not so much.
Well, I suppose that taught John Mulaney a lesson about totally not even saying the president's name while telling a joke about a leader from thousands of years ago and how that leader was murdered. Of course, part of the issue is that the Secret Service has to take anything that even remotely seems like a threat to the president's life very seriously. And, while Mulaney didn't mention the president by name, we all know that politics, especially in the past few years, have been incredibly contentious. So, it was pretty easy for a lot of people to read into what he said on SNL, and consider it an actual threat.
You can take a look at John Mulaney telling the joke, below, which comes in at about the 3:24 mark:
While Mulaney even acknowledged in his monologue, immediately after telling the joke, that it was a bit tricky, during his conversation with Jimmy Kimmel he says that what happened afterward was that a lot of conservative sites began to pick up what he said, and were obviously upset by it. I doubt that anyone from the Secret Service is seriously monitoring every SNL monologue for signs of trouble, so that negative press might be what brought Mulaney's joke to their attention.
As you can imagine, even though it sounds like it's sort of a point of pride now for Mulaney that the Secret Service has a file on him, it was not fun while he was actively under investigation. Luckily, Mulaney says that the agent who was assigned to his case wasn't too hard on him, and he thinks there are a couple of reasons for that:
The person vetting me was very understanding that the joke had nothing to do with Donald Trump, because it was an elliptical reference to him. I didn’t say anything about him. . . . They were very nice in the interview. In terms of risk assessment, no one who’s ever looked at me has thought I registered above a ‘1.’
I mean, really, it must be nice to be a completely grown man with sometimes dark, jokey thoughts but still look like you're the type of person who would never dream of hurting a fly, much less a whole president. Who knows? Maybe John Mulaney will continue to be in the clear no matter what he says on stage, as long as he maintains his studious college senior appearance.