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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Break Room Live with Maron & Seder

I was a big Marc Maron fan without ever having seen his stand-up act. For years I admired his intellect as a panel guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. It was sit-down comedy, I guess. And I loved him in animated form on my favourite animated show of all time, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist. Then in 2003, I met his publicist at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. She told me Marc would be playing the Chutzpah festival in Vancouver the following year. I couldn't wait.

When the time came, I arranged an interview. Needless to say, it was a good one. The guy is whip-smart and full of neuroses, always a great combination for a comic and an interview. When I finally got to see his act, I wasn't disappointed, even though he almost killed my baby. My wife was pregnant. Right after the show, she experienced some bleeding so she went to a clinic the next day and the doc told her she probably lost it. We figured Maron made her laugh so much she spontaneously aborted the fetus. Thankfully, it was a false alarm. All was forgiven.

A couple years later, Maron returned to the Vancouver comedy festival (not sure what it was called that year – it has a different name almost every year). I got to see a much rawer Maron experience than the more genteel (but not gentile) show at the Norman Rothstein Theatre.

Here's what I wrote in a festival wrap-up. I believe this section on Maron was edited out of the final story that ran in the Straight:
Marc Maron, former morning man on the Air America radio network and one of the prime movers in the so-called alternative comedy movement of the mid-1980s, was nothing short of brilliant all six times I saw him. His best set, oddly, was at Balthazar’s House of Comedy on Monday night. The restaurant/bar is not the perfect comedy room with its temporary stage and L-shaped layout. Throw in a party in an adjoining room, and you’d expect nothing good to come out of it. But Maron hit the stage with attitude and did 38 minutes of pure gold, talking about everything from religion (“I don’t mean to mock the myths that define some of you”) to drug testing (“It’s cheating. If you can’t tell I’m high just by looking at me, I win”) to politics (“George W. Bush is absolutely the right president to oversee the end of the world. I think he’ll do it quickly and efficiently”).

Unfortunately, the next night at Yuk Yuk’s, as good as he was, four fans sitting front and centre, ruined it for the rest of us by constantly interrupting, while Yuks security stood by the whole night doing nothing. In 15 more minutes than he got the previous night, he got to only half of the same material. But Maron handled it beautifully, eventually pointing at the overzealous quartet saying, “I’m the audience now. Bad show.”

And this brief graf was also lost in the editing, I do believe, the next time he came to town:
Marc Maron’s existential angst is always a treat. His wife left him this year, so his soul-baring was even more pronounced than usual. But as he says, he’s just as happy if someone comes away thinking he’s hilarious as he is if they just hope he’s okay.
The guy's a real mensch, too. I e-mailed him during his first comedy festival appearance here in 2006 to ask if he'd be in town on the Sunday night after the festival ended, and if so, would he want to do my little radio show. He wrote back and said he wouldn't be, but if I could get him an extra night at the hotel, he'd stick around and do it because he was just going to be driving to Seattle and didn't need to be there until mid-week anyway. Our show – hell, our station – has no budget, so I asked festival organizer Will Davis if he could keep Marc an extra night at the hotel. Bingo, he was in.

Marc was true to his word. A couple nights before the show, I saw him and he asked if he could bring his friend Janeane Garofalo with him to the show. Yes, that Janeane Garofalo. Can you imagine a better show than Marc Maron and Janeane Garofalo on co-op radio? I couldn't. So I said of course. The next night I got an e-mail from him, again asking about Janeane, saying that if I didn't want her there, that was fine. I responded that I'd be more than happy to have her on, but it's totally up to him if he wanted to share the hour with someone else. Finally, on the evening of the show, he called me at home, just to make sure I was okay with him bringing Janeane with him. You can hear the hour-long show right here.

All this just as a preamble to say I stumbled across a show Marc's doing now on Air America. Or it's somehow affiliated with Air America. I don't quite get it. It's a web show, I think, on video. He does it with Sam Seder, but this week he's all alone. It's a funny political show. I don't usually care for bloviating opinion jocks, but this show is fantastic.

I couldn't figure out how to embed this particular clip, so I'll just provide a link below. In this particular episode, one of his viewers IM'd him asking for his top five comics of all time. Throughout the 22 minutes, he keeps coming back to comedy, all the while giving a thoughtful and intelligent lesson on the art form. He's more articulate off the top of his head than most people are in print (read: me). When a woman IM's him asking how he could possibly like Sam Kinison, Maron says this:
The reason that good comics like Sam Kinison is that he pushed an envelope. He created a delivery system that was completely unique and his own. He also had a sort of energy of wrongness and transcended moral barriers. Obviously he was questionable in a lot of ways but there's a couple of bits of his, just because of the way he delivered, because he had the thrust of the preacher and he developed this device in himself. He was sort of the perfect angry clown and he was a complete original. No one had ever seen anything like him and no one has seen anything like him to this day. His bit on drugs, his bit on Charlie Manson were spectacular. His bits on Jesus were spectacular. The homosexual necrophilia bit was spectacular. The questionable bit about "move to where the food is", which is wrong politically but nonetheless a clever bit. His stuff on women and on AIDS was pretty insensitive, though a couple things on women and abuse, even though he was speaking from the point of view of a potential abuser, were true-to-life psychic nightmares of many people. So I think that's why. I can understand why women didn't like him. A certain type of woman. But believe me, he had no problem with the other type.
He also talks about old-timers like Shelley Berman, Buddy Hackett and Lord Buckley. And brings up the Robin Williams-Steven Pearl comparisons. And if you heard him on my show talking about Dane Cook, you'll know he doesn't hold back. Here he is on his biggest beef with comedy:
The thing that I find most disturbing, because the business has expanded so much, because people can find their own little demographics or sort of campaign to get people to like them, and because of Last Comic Standing you get people who are too green or unprofessional or unoriginal. I think unoriginal or hacky disturbs me more than anything else. And I think the other thing that disturbs me is, because there is a movement towards alternative comedy, that I can sit in the back of a comedy room and close my eyes and not be able to tell the difference between comics and how they deliver jokes and how they structure jokes and how they distance themselves from anything real and just manufacture little packages, little poetic packages that have turns of phrases at the end without taking any emotional risk to find out who they are up there or be something different or at least engage in something that is real life.
To watch the whole thing (and you really should), go here:

But for some reason, I'm able to embed this short clip from a show earlier this week. Here Marc has a brilliant take on Bristol Palin's interview with Greta Van Susteren, including the greatest description of the male member you'll ever hear:

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