John Mulaney spent a considerable portion of his recent stand-up special, Kid Gorgeous, telling his Radio City audience about a former Chicago police detective named J.J. Bittenbender. Bittenbender used to come to Mulaney’s grade school every year and talk about “street smarts” and “stranger danger” safety tips, and as Mulaney told it, those talks still “haunt” him to this day. According to the comic, Bittenbender wore three-piece suits, sometimes with a cowboy hat, and advised children to ward off potential robbers by carrying a money clip filled with $50 to throw at criminals as a diversion tactic while they ran away.
Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune got in touch with Bittenbender, and he is none too pleased with what he calls Mulaney’s mischaracterization of his appearance — and appearances. In addition to scoffing at the idea he would ever wear a cowboy hat with a three-piece suit (“That just doesn’t work. Doesn’t look good.”), the retired officer said Mulaney conflated the advice he gives kids with the advice he gives adults about fending off robbers. According to Bittenbender, the money-clip trick is only meant for grown-ups, and Mulaney “mixed it up good” for the sake of laughs. Despite their differences, though, Bittenbender makes a good point about the lasting power of his crime-prevention consultations: “If I talked to him when he was 7 or 8 and he still remembers some of that stuff, it must have gotten through to him.” Jokes on you, Mulaney.