Sunday, May 18, 2014

Marc Maron's "Thinky Pain"

There’s a point in the new Marc Maron project, “Thinky Pain,” where he tells the story of his sage-like Jewish doctor and the simple, four-word piece of advice he offers that is much deeper than it first appears. After Maron pours his heart out to him, talking to him more like his therapist than his physician, the doctor pauses, thinks, and shrugs before offering up this simple observation: “People make a mess.”

People make a mess. 

Nowhere is that truer than in the life of your favorite self-diagnosing psychoanalyst, Marc Maron. If you’re familiar with him, his comedy, his podcast, his TV show, or his many recent late-night appearances, you know as well as I how much he loves to break things down and really try to figure them out. He’s open, candid, and completely transparent in his earnest attempt to better himself. Sometimes he seems to make some ground, actually closing in on a solution and sometimes he’s just talking aloud, spinning his wheels trying to work it all out. Regardless of where he is in the process, I’m glad to be a fly on the wall listening in. 

Maron’s approach to comedy is laid back and relaxed. He’s proud in his refusal to prepare (What do you think he is, a coward?) and as a result the pauses that are present between his bits carry a deeper weight. They aren’t put in solely for timing or comedic effect but it’s more like a GPS re-routing after you’ve gone a little off course. Maron sits. Thinks. And re-routes. I like watching Maron on stage because his set is real and organic. This is happening, man, and we’re all gonna watch it go down together. He brings a couple of notebooks on stage and then, rather than use them for reference as he intended, decides instead to give himself a hard time for doing so, challenging himself to fly solo and just figure this shit out.

His father was a physician (hence Maron’s hypochondria) and his mother a professional anorexic (hence Maron’s struggle with self-image) so it’s no wonder he’s dealing not with baggage, but a complete matching set of baggage. His attempt to garner his father’s attention resulted in finding himself being finger-banged by a GP in an unannounced home visit and his mother’s loathing of his extra weight made every trip to Dairy Queen one riddled with guilt. 

I know, I know, this hardly sounds like a chuckle fest comedy album, but trust me when I assure you there are a lot of laughs to be found here. The CD runs a more-than-generous 95 minutes and you won’t find anyone else who makes introspection so entertaining. Whether he’s judging others (and their shorts) or having a powerful moment with a rooster (not what you’re thinking, North Carolina), for every minute Maron spends in the deep end of the pool, there are just as many light-hearted interactions that keep us from becoming completely submerged. One of my favorites is Maron’s impression of “Morning Zoo” radio using only grunts and gibberish.

There’s a great track on the album entitled “Why I Don’t Like Sports” that is just as good as any one-man show you’ll watch. It features 49-year-old Maron talking to Little League Maron, walking his younger self off the baseball field after a botched fly ball catch. He wants to reassure the little guy without candy-coating everything; he wants to comfort but doesn’t want it to be the false comfort of “everything’s gonna be OK.” Yes, this pain you feel now is something you’ll feel again. And again. Things will get worse. Things will get better. Things will get worse again. Cocaine will be involved at some point. You can almost see the two Maron incarnations slowly shuffling past the dugout and onto the gravel drive behind the chain link fence. You feel for Little League Maron. He has no idea what he’ll be up against in his future but 49-year-old Maron is proof he’ll get through it. It’s a truly beautiful moment.

Yes, people make a mess.

Maron takes that mess and makes people laugh.

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