Not necessarily humorous, but powerful
Since the days of Turkey TV, when Comedy Central played like MTV for standup comedians, I’ve seen Marc Maron in all his forms. Longtime comedy fans have watched Maron’s evolution from fledgling comic to podcast hero, and all his dynamic haircuts in between. At times, Maron has delivered his deep thoughts with much energy and verve, bounding around the stage, but today he sits on a stool, a rumpled professor having end times fun in his new Netflix special, End Times Fun.
Maron has come to the fore as one of America’s best interviewers. Listening to Maron’s WTF podcast made me realize that I don’t enjoy the podcast format, and that, if I did, I just wouldn’t want to go down any humorously depressing rabbit holes with Maron. I’ve found him less stilted as an actor, playing roles like the journalist in the new Marky Mark movie Spenser Confidential, and as pro-wrestling director Sam Sylvia on the Netflix show GLOW. Though those roles too seemed based on Maron’s naturally cranky personality and don’t require much of a stretch, he comes off more dynamic as an actor than as a straight-up comic.
For End Times Fun, Marc Maron chooses a space somewhere between his podcast and acting personas. He remains smart and funny, his observations and his imagination both sharp, but his set here is almost as depressing as it is funny. It ain’t Nannette, but when Maron uttered the phrase “not necessarily humorous but powerful,” I thought that could serve as a great alternate title for End Times Fun.
Given the special’s almost morose tone, I feel compelled to define it in the negative, by what Maron doesn’t do:
• He doesn’t laugh at his own jokes. Too many comedians today suffer from Jimmy Fallon Syndrome. He gives a few exhausted chuckles, but good for him for not laughing at himself.
• He isn’t trying to fill the void left by Louis CK. I can’t even watch up-and-coming bro comics like Anthony Jeselnik without seeing them as unfortunate side effects of Louis’s disappearance. Around just as long as CK, Marc Maron doesn’t copy other comics.
• He doesn’t use the ubiquitous comedy stool as a prop. He just sits on it. Almost the whole time. Here, Maron plays the sit-down comic, arms folded, shoulders slightly slouched.
• He doesn’t generate belly laughs. End Times Fun feels more like a humorous, meandering TED talk.
• He doesn’t generate joy, or come from a place of joy. Even at his funniest, Maron never gets silly or giddy, or provides his audience and joyous escape.
• He doesn’t shift gears–except at the end, during an attempt to get zany, with an animated piece about Mike Pence sucking cock at the world’s end. This ending feels slightly out of place after an hour of comedy-tinged truth-telling and soul searching.
• He doesn’t show the audience. Most comics gladly shoot their crowds losing their shit. But Maron’s camera stays on Maron, only sometimes panning out to take in an interestingly-shaped, wooden theatre stage.
• He doesn’t create the (illusory) sense that he’s spontaneously telling these jokes. Maron comes off as if he’s been sitting in his house talking to himself about what bothers him, and that if he doesn’t share it with someone, something bad might happen.
• He doesn’t make me dislike him for even one moment, despite his being kind of a downer.
• He doesn’t keep momentum throughout End Times Fun, but loses it about halfway through, during an extended routine where he explains to young people the differences between old technology and today’s technology. “It used to be that if you had to wait in line, that was all you could do,” he says of the pre-cellphone world, and then does an impression of silently standing in line for an extended period of time. “Did you feel all that space I just created. That used to be around us all the time!”
Not necessarily humorous, but powerful.