Not long into Marc Maron’s set at Portland’s Aladdin theater last night (Feb 28), the comedian spied a teenager named Avery in the front row and struck up a conversation. How old was he? What was he into? Did he do sports? From then on the show became a conversation between Maron and the shaggy-haired 16-year-old.
A mostly one-sided conversation, but Avery’s presence, along with Maron’s addressing so much of what he had to say directly to him — often while hunkered down right in front of the boy — invested the comedian’s lost-in-the-un-funhouse-of-consciousness musings an unexpected, and powerful dimension. Maron was talking to himself, really, and his news was tough, but ultimately good: Don’t be afraid of the bullshit in life. Bring it on, climb inside and master it from the inside out.
So this is what Maron does, both on the stage and in his increasingly well-known podcast ‘WTF.’ The podcast is an interview show, once devoted almost entirely to comedians and comic actors (he’s branching out these days, which is good). But when Maron has the right guest he’ll draw them deep into the muck, often prompting revelations. Chatting with Tom Green (famed for his MTV pranks show during the ’90s) a few weeks ago, Maron started the show by admitting that he had never cared much for Green’s work or what he’d seen of his character. No matter, he treated Green with typical warmth, drawing out his guest’s tales of glory and then his ugly, semi-redeeming run-in with testicular cancer.
Maron also gave Green the leeway to reveal how shallow and at times unpleasant he can be. Asked about his marriage to, and speedy divorce from Drew Barrymore the former TV star explained their split (which came after Barrymore’s supportive role in Green’s cancer battle) by wondering aloud how his host would feel being tracked by his wife’s paparazzi all day every day, and having the resulting stories being almost entirely about her. Weirder still, the cancer survivor spoke enthusiastically about taking up cigarettes, and the electric non-smoky cigarette he now uses. And proceeded to suck on during the interview, leading to weird gaps in his responses and an odd, choked tone in his voice.
So yuck. But once again Maron had led his audience so deep into Tom Green’s flinty humanity the experience seemed revelatory. Not just because Green sounded like a dick, but because he sounded so puzzled about the whole thing. He’d flown so quickly to the top of his game, only to have the rules changed. His dream-come-true went sour and even now he has no idea what to do about it. I know that feeling. I’d wager you do, too. The big question for us is the same one Green still can’t find a satisfying answer for: what do you do next?
At the Aladdin show Maron tossed fistfuls of emotional crud onto the stage. Vivid tales of pornography and masturbation; the wonderful/terrifying burdens of romance and marriage (as symbolized by a nauseous helicopter ride above the island of Kauai), and the many mythologies people use to make it all make sense. Much of it was really funny, of course. Maron is a master of being simultaneously wise and outrageous, and when he went deep into the downside of pornography (you know you’ve lost your grip when you see your naked girlfriend in bed and look around to see where the dude is) or the crazy aggressiveness of evangelical vegans and atheists, the place twisted and flew like a roller coaster.
But it doesn’t all work. Maron is only now healing a decades-long reputation for blatant and unapologetic nastiness. His ongoing feud with Jon Stewart — they were once seen as quite similar, and Stewart often won jobs Maron really, really wanted — reveals far more about Maron’s shortcomings than anything else. That he refuses to back down, even after 14 years of sobriety and publicly distributed amends, is a bit dismaying.
But no one gets it right all the time, and Maron is nothing if not transfixed by his own, often gory, imperfections. You have to root for him, not just because he’s so smart and funny, but also because he knows how grating he can be. Everyone looks like a monster when they shed their skin, and his own personal horror, and great gift, is that he knows this all too well.
Now Avery does too. It might not save him from all the angst and hassle of real life. But it can’t hurt, so what the fuck.