Chilarious

Marc Maron and the Art of Standup Comedy

Comics are artists. I truly believe that. I've said it onstage and off, and been greeted with a sort of, "Yeah, I guess so," response from quite a few people. Perhaps this is because comics are also a product used to peddle beer, and bring folks into over-the-top, big budget movies. A comic's work is their brand, and the stylings of a particular comic might even boill down to a compact, easy to recall tag line. Then there's Marc Maron's Scorching the Earth.

A long-time vet of the scene, Marc has had mainstream success.  He's been on HBO, Letterman, and Comedy Central.  He appeared on Conan forty-two times. He even had a role in Almost Famous, for crying out loud. Like many a comic before him, Marc is outspoken about a past that includes an excess of drugs and alcohol. If you look online you can find footage of him laying himself bare at Zanies as a part of the now deceased Chicago Comedy Fest. He appears drained but sharp, bold in his dismissiveness of any dip in the audience's reaction, and smokes a cigarette onstage - something that was taboo (though not illegal in bars) even then. The clip is from the end of his years as a drug user. He had been up for three days straight prior to the set.

If you were to compare this glimpse of Marc's work to his act today, you'd find quite an evolution. And for good reason. The years have taken him through two divorces, anger management treatment, and a movement away from the traditonal brick-walled comedy clubs and into the realm of alternative comedy - a realm he helped create. Even his look has changed. He seems thinner now, wears his hair longer, dons hip, black-framed glasses. He's the comedy industry's cool creative writing professor. He's an artist.

I had the opportunity to speak with Marc a few weeks ago in preparation for the run of his new one-man show, Scorching the Earth, presented by Punchline Magazine at the Lakeshore Theater this weekend. The show that will run is an expanded version of the hour-long jokestorm he brought to the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal this past summer. That festival operates as one of the world's largest comedy stages, and we're lucky to have the production rolling through town; I was stoked to chat with Marc about it.

It was one of those phone conversations that keeps you buzzing for a bit afterward. Marc's brain just seems to be kicked into overdrive. He's hyped on his work, and that's something I can certainly vibe. And he should be hyped: he's doing comedy on his own terms and making a living doing it.

In a scene of folks perfecting their tight five minutes for Letterman (and the clip at the start of this post is one of Marc's tight fives...it's from a few years back before his marriage failed, but some of the material predicts their break-up) or their strong hour-long college set, Marc has spent the last few years working out material on the failure of his marriage in a basement venue of New York City. Within a month of his wife leaving him, Marc was creating art from the experience. As he says, "I decided to find a stage where I had nothing to lose and begin telling the stories...I was looking for freedom outside the pressure to make people laugh."

Appearently he didn't need that pressure, because his work brings the funny. Yes, it's raw, and wildly personal. But a comic of Marc's experience level can apply the rhythm and meter of a good joke to any experience. If standup is a conjugatable, emphasis-oriented language, Marc has surpassed fluency. And this is why I think his work is important. Because he could be mining pop culture, and stick to the more superficial nuances of our time, and his work would be hilarious. In fact, he has quite a bit of political material, and his work as an on-air personality for Air America Radio would make any liberal proud. But his decision to take his skills as a standup and turn them inward, keeping pace in real time with the revelation of his own shortcomings, gives a fullness to the business of comedy for which we all should be grateful. Audiences that have seen his recent work have begun to sense that.

By processing his divorce in a public forum, Marc has had the chance to speak to the parts of human experience sometimes kept off the standup stage. "I don't want to entertain people away from their sadness," Marc says, "I've walked offstage feeling embarrassed - that I've shared too much - and then someone will tell me, 'I feel less alone.'"

That's where my catergorization of Marc as an artist comes in. He's funny, he's a baddass, and (according to one fan and the bio on Marc's website) he's Iggy Pop meets Woody Allen. And you should check out his show this weekend. I'm bummed big time to miss it because I'm on the road, so you (yes, you!) need to see it in my stead. And then regale me with with the truth of how he blew your face off with jokenormous tales of his the worst moments of his life. When you laugh not at a recognizable part of Goonies, but at a recognizable portion of the human experience, take a moment and let me know telepathically. Marc's hope for the show is this: "You're gonna walk out saying, 'Holy shit, that was interesting...man, that guy's hilarious. I hope he's okay, that guy."

In my view, that's about the loftiest goal there is. To get an audience laughing - really rolling - takes skill, natural talent, practice, but to get an audience feeling, especially for the human bold enough to get onstage and spout truth, that's art.

Scorching the Earth runs September 24th, 25th and 26th at the Lakeshore Theater. 

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1 Comment

Greg Morelli said:

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Marc Maron might be reluctant, but he's certainly the messiah of comedy. Loved his book, "The Jerusalem Syndrome."

Caught his act just after 9/11 in NYC. He literally brought laughter back to the island of Manhattan. L'Chaim!

Can't wait to see him at The Lakeshore Theater. Thanks for the post.

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