Have we gotten to know the comedians of the world a little too well? With the expectation that every living stand up has to have a podcast and a social media presence of some size, the mystery of their lives and backstory is gone. We might know more than we need to.
That’s certainly the case with Marc Maron. Ever since he took to the airwaves of the internet with WTF, we’ve learned so, so much about his life outside of his garage and the comedy club. The romantic trouble, his feuds with other comedians, the names of his cats…he’s leaving it all out in the open. It makes for great listening, and it has done wonders to revitalize his career as a performer, but when we watch him on stage now, as with his current Netflix special Too Real, it’s like watching a band that’s been around for 30+ years. We’re just waiting around for the hits.
So at the first mention of his apparently healthy relationship with a painter, the crowd at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis cheers mightily. Or when he brings up his tenuous relationship with his family or drops the names of his beloved cats Monkey and LaFonda, it’s like hearing “Satisfaction” or “Highway To Hell”: satisfaction guaranteed.
It all comes as somewhat of a detriment to the rest of the hour, which is, by far, some of the strongest material to come out of this recent career renaissance. The first 45 minutes is perfectly-paced and finds Maron tapping into some rarely used strengths as a physical comic (sure, it’s only doing broad imitations of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but it works) and some smart use of props, in this case the Post-It notes where he writes down thoughts and joke ideas (“My comfort zone is uncomfortable,” “The monster I created to protect the kid inside me is hard to manage,” etc.).
What wraps it all together is some extended commentary on getting older and dying. Maron imagines his brave death, hanging from a cliff before finally letting go. He also uses it as the perfect excuse to get out of watching a movie he doesn’t want to watch or going out to see a shitty band because he doesn’t know how much time he has left. And it’s what fuels his mixture of excitement and fear about going to see the Rolling Stones in concert. He knows it will be fun but he also doesn’t want to watch these old men embarrass themselves in front of thousands of people. The trick is how nimbly Maron pivots from that to accepting his fate as someone who was more excited that they skipped out during the encore to beat traffic than the actual show he just left. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll relate. And if you’re not, give it time.
The peak of the set builds from the simple story that some fan of Maron’s sent him a super expensive hat. It’s a weird and sweet gesture that he turns into an extended tale of his experiences buying a hat. In the store, it looks great. Then when he walks down the street with it on, the regret sets in. The next six months, he says, are just a slow process of accepting what a dumb purchase it was. On its own, it’s a great bit. But he takes it a step further imagining it as a children’s book, retelling the whole thing with an air of toddler-like joy that amps it up to new levels of brilliance.
Maron’s become increasingly famous over the course of the eight years since WTF premiered and with it has come more bookings and more opportunities, like his fantastic semi-autobiographical sitcom and now his wonderful turn in the cast of GLOW. With all the extra work, his writing has grown sharper and more polished. He’s a much better comedian than he ever was. But he plays into the expectations a little bit by closing the hour as he does, opening the last segment with, “So, what’s going on with me?”
Everybody loved it—including myself, if I’m honest—but mostly everyone already knows what’s going on with Maron. Folks tuning into WTF love the opening extemporaneous chat about his life as much as they enjoy the interviews with famous people. He knew what he was doing talking cats and girlfriends. He was hitting a familiar riff and riding the waves of recognition that ran through the audience when they heard it. Ride on, Marc Maron. Ride on.
Robert Ham is an arts and culture journalist based in Portland, OR. Read more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.