Recess editors Kirby Wilson and Tim Campbell saw comedian Marc Maron perform at The Carolina Theatre Feb. 17. In an email exchange, Tim and Kirby discussed all things funny, dramatic and sentimental from Maron's performance:
Kirby: I didn't really have time to think about what to expect at Marc Maron's comedy show because I was too busy stuffing Pompieri into my mouth as you and I did our eleventh-hour power walk. (Side note: the titular pompieri pizza was incredible. Would recommend). We were like ten minutes late, but luckily Maron had two openers. What did you think of Blayr Nice? I'm not sure why I expected Maron's opener to be a functional person. She had some good lines, though. ("I want to date a man so skinny and white you can snort him" made me LOL).
Tim: I thought she was good, although to be honest I wasn't expecting someone with her style to open up for Maron. Given what I knew of him from his podcast, I expected any comedians that worked with him to be angry older white men wearing flannel, so her high-energy and upbeat style caught me off guard, but in a good way. I think having a middler with a more attention-grabbing persona was probably a good decision, if for no other reason than it reminded me that I was at a comedy show.
The transition from her to Maron was dramatic to say the least—as I'm sure you remember, he spent a solid thirty minutes at the beginning of the show with his head buried in his hands, anxiously bemoaning Trump. He definitely got some good bits out of it, but I think without the energy in the room coming off of Nice, he might have had too cold of an open. Still, as it was I think his first half hour reminded me exactly why I like Maron in the first place: despite the rough edges that they can give him, his neuroses are so pronounced as to be goofy and even endearing.
Kirby: That first half hour may have been my favorite part of the set. The reason any of us are Marc Maron fans is because he's our friend that we need to check up on every now and then. Those neuroses contain fascinating multitudes. I was genuinely concerned that the presidency of Donald Trump was shredding his already-fragile mental state. ("What's he gonna do next, man?")
It's not easy to make the a standup audience believe that anything is possible. At the back of our collective crania we know that standup is an act—and a well-rehearsed one at that. But with Maron, there's a nonzero chance that the dude is going to break down onstage, or start crying or scream bloody murder about his feud with Jon Stewart. He is our insecure Id walking around a stage, except he's really politically conscious and his eye for observation is sharper than the precision of his soul-patch shaving. Was that metaphor convoluted enough?
Tim: You're absolutely right. I think Maron's fragility, staged or otherwise, is what makes his jokes hit so hard. In his show, he did a bit about how if he was hanging off the edge of a cliff, he would immediately assume that he'd never be able to climb back up. A more self-assured comic might be able to play a comment like that off as pure irony, but with Maron, we're never absolutely sure whether he's joking or not, and most of the time there seems to be an element of truth to even his darkest bits. As a listener, that kind of sincerity can make you wonder whether you're laughing at the joke or laughing because you're uncomfortable and shocked at how adeptly Maron described something that you have experienced yourself. One of my favorite parts of the night was when Maron read a bunch of half-baked joke premises that he had hastily scrawled on post it notes while driving. I'm paraphrasing, but one note read something to the effect of "uncomfortable is my comfort zone," and I think that short statement pretty much summed up the themes that he covered that night, and also why I find him so (painfully) funny.
Kirby: Standup is such a fascinating medium, too, because the audience is a part of the performance. Maron made a not-so-heavily veiled reference to suicide, and one of the members of the audience shouted, "WOO!" That seemed to really throw Maron off, because what could possibly be intended by such an interjection? There was also the balding dude seated in the row in front of us who laughed a little too hard at the "My life/mental stability is falling apart" shtick. I almost went up to him after the show to ask if everything was OK. If you're reading this, we're here for you, balding man.
About those joke premises, though. I have to comment on how much you enjoyed one particular post-it scrawling, "The reluctant Dave Matthews fan." Your heartiest laughs of the evening came from the ten minute bit that this note spawned, in which Maron dissed Dave Matthews and his "music" six ways to Sunday. Coincidentally, Six Ways to Sunday is probably the title of one of Dave Matthew's bogus records. I wouldn't know.
Tim: I’ll come right out and say it: Dave Matthews is a schmuck. I can sometimes find Maron’s high-octane music snobbery off-putting, but his characterization of the Dave Matthews Band brand of mellow, feel-good rock as lacking in sincerity or meaning had me in stitches. As he aptly stated, the best defense that most fans can come up with for Dave Matthews’ music is that he himself is a talented musician. That might be true, but it doesn’t make me want to listen to Six Ways to Sunday. Someone can be really good at making haggis, but it’ll still make me feel sick when I consume it.
But moving on from Dave Matthews, I think part of the reason why I liked this joke and the parts of Maron’s act that followed was that they showed his fundamental silliness. Even in some of his darkest moments, Maron’s worldview seems to be one in which the absurdity of things is their most defining feature. In a story that he told near the end of the show, he laughed at himself because he was dissatisfied with his healthy relationship, not because it wasn’t good but because it was too good. Looking back, that sentiment doesn’t really make sense to me, but after listening to his perspective for over two hours it seemed like it was just… true. I guess he really does pull people into the comedy—by the end of the show, I felt like I had really gotten to know him as a person.
Kirby: I couldn’t agree more. If anything, I wish I could give Marc Maron a call to ask him, like I want to ask the balding man, whether he’s ok. For now, we can rest assured that he’s not.
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