The voice on the other end of the phone said, “This is Marc. What you got?” I tumbled into a manic existential crisis. What do I have? My God, what do I have?
It wasn’t the question but the context. Cantankerous meta-jokester and cat aficionado Marc Maron, who performs at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW) on Saturday, May 31, is renowned for his “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast and his hilariously self-reflective stand-up.
“I love New Mexico, so it always sort of triggers a lot,” says Maron, who spent a large portion of his formative years here. Although he doesn’t return often, he says, “I like going back. ... The first funny people I met were from Albuquerque. When I was in the third grade, Jerry [Dean] and I would do weird comedy skits in front of the class.
“But the guy who changed my life on all levels,” he recalls, “was Gus Blaisdell—the bearded wizard of the area. He was one of the funniest guys I knew.” From Blaisdell, the genius UNM film professor who passed away in 2003, to the guys working at the guitar shops in Nob Hill, the weird cross-sections of ABQ culture shaped Maron’s comedic personality. “Oh fuck it’s all coming back to me,” says Maron. “It was all so long ago. But yeah, Albuquerque has definitely played a role in my life.”
He found his comedy footing here but quickly left for the coasts. The golden boy of ’90s comedy, Maron performed with comics like Sam Kinison and was positioned to become a household name. Then addiction and other self-destructive behaviors nearly massacred his career; it wasn’t until 2009 when he started the podcast that his life took a dramatic upturn. He chats in his podcast with comics, actors and musicians, and yet somehow in all his interviews he explores profoundly personal areas of his own life. With the success of the podcast and his semi-
Maron openly talks about his past addictions, which he frequently works through onstage. In his most recent special Thinky Pain he says, “There’s something to be said for doing a lot of drugs. I personally have no respect for people who don’t have the courage to lose complete control of their lives for a few years.” Later this month, he performs a benefit show for sober transitional living facility Endorphin Power Company (EPC). Based on four pillars—education, exercise, community and service—EPC “offers a safe, supportive environment where individuals are encouraged to pursue their goals," says facility director Jeffery Holland. Having dealt with addiction issues of his own, Maron is intent on giving back in some way. “I’m a sober guy, and it seemed like [EPC’s] heart is in the right place,” says Maron. “I hope people come out and I can make some money for them.”
Are comics somehow more inclined than others to abuse drugs and booze? That’s the narrative commonly surrounding comedy. “I’m not sure I agree with that,” says Maron. “There’s a narrative around unhappiness. The bigger trope is that comedians are unhappy, and I don’t know if even that’s true. The bigger concern,” he says drily, “is that there are too many chipper, happy comics. Where did the edge go?”
For Maron, comedy is about exploring those emotionally vulnerable and dangerous areas of life. To burrow into dark, anxiety-provoking territory. “There’s something to be said about malignant violation. There’s something comedic there.” He deplores what he sees as a shift in comedy from this raw, meaningful space to a “mildly snarky, slightly skewed, observational comedy. Something has to be done about snark. Take that dog out back and shoot it.”
For Maron, comedy is about exploring those emotionally vulnerable and dangerous areas of life. To burrow into dark, anxiety-provoking territory. “There’s something to be said about malignant violation. There’s something comedic there.”
Despite this critique of new comics, earlier this month Maron tweeted that he needed local Albuquerque openers for his show. Comedians all over town sent him videos of their sets hoping to get a spot. I was one of them. I sent a link to a stand-up video of mine and waited for about three days. Day one, I obsessively checked my email. Day two, I questioned whether I should have sent the email in the first place. Day three, I quit comedy for about two hours. And then there it was. A short message: “Do you feel confident doing an opening slot? —Maron.” Yes. Yesyesyes! I now realize my response was so quick he must’ve known I was watching my email like a neurotic hawk.
Then I flipped through my notes for this article and read Maron’s words: “There are so many comedians that take no emotional risk at all. I can close my eyes and not be able to tell the difference between young comics. The bigger issue isn’t how many comics are depressed or on drugs, but how many are too happy and are just filling time with nothing?”
And I asked myself again, “What do I have?” That’s the power and draw of Maron, his ability to make you dig deep into your own psyche and pull out the dirt—the good stuff, the stuff that means something. He makes you ask the question, “If it isn’t difficult, is it worth it?” In a world full of nothing and people just filling time, Maron offers substance, vulnerability and a deep look into WTF makes humanity tick.