Marc Maron Wants People to Feel Less Alone

Comedy Features Marc Maron
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Marc Maron Wants People to Feel Less Alone

Marc Maron’s new comedy special, From Bleak to Dark, is about as him as a show can get; that is, a mix of the brutally honest and the utterly devastating. He jokes about Christian fascism, how to rebrand abortion clinics, and his own personal life. Some of Maron’s most refreshing material comes from his criticism of conservative or so-called anti-woke comedians, who are just annoyed that they now have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

“I think that the first third of the special when I dealt with cultural issues, that that would provide some people with a reaffirmation of their own point of view, which sometimes can get kind of solitary, especially if you’re dealing with this sort of bullying, dominant, libertarian, or right wing perspective of things. It’s very intrusive,” Maron explains to me over Zoom while smoking a cigar on his porch. He’s just as cool as you’d imagine.

He then adds, “Somehow or another, I find that I give voice to people and make them feel a little less alone around certain things.”

One of the ways Maron makes people feel less alone in From Bleak to Dark is by talking frankly about the death of filmmaker Lynn Shelton, who was his longtime partner. She died of leukemia in May 2020 at only 54. He spends much of the hour talking about missing Shelton, as well as joking about the myriad strange ways losing someone affects you.

“Well, I mean, it was part of my process and dealing with grief,” Maron says of including Shelton in the special.

“I thought that the open discussion and the humor that I found within that process, and within loss and grief, would provide some relief for people who have also dealt with that, which is going to be almost everybody at some point in time,” he continues.

The part of the show about Shelton doesn’t just stop when he reveals the first joke he was able to write about her death; Maron describes how when he delivered the bit at Dublin’s Vicar Street venue, the lights started flickering on and off, as if Shelton herself was making an appearance. That sort of evolution of From Bleak to Dark, with the performances informing the material itself, is a natural part of Maron’s process.

“I do almost all my writing by speaking. So it usually starts as ideas that I begin to talk about on stage and then improvise through until I find the comedy. I usually start with a fairly funny concept around the ideas, but then I kind of put myself in a position on stage where I have to be funny. So I kind of wait till that stuff’s delivered to me on stage,” he says. “And then it kind of evolves, things start to stick and come together and fit together in pieces.”

Finding the funny can really be the tough part, especially when discussing subjects as sensitive as the ones in From Bleak to Dark. But his honesty seeps through, and that’s what makes Maron’s comedy land. Maron’s bit about his dad getting dementia and the “sweet spot” of the disease was a particular challenge. His father, who was emotionally abusive and selfish for much of Maron’s life, suddenly became “open… kind of funny… [and] warm,” as Maron says in the special. Strangely enough, it was an experience that resonated with me, a similar thing having happened with my grandmother.

“I think me saying that [about dementia]—which is really one of the most difficult jokes of the special—to frame it that way, was really hard to get that to work… If you think about it, in light of what ultimately happens to those people, which is ongoing and disturbing and devastating, but there is that weird window where they kind of relax. And I just thought it was such an interesting observation,” he explains. “But it took a while for people, especially people who haven’t experienced it, to laugh at that, but people who have experienced it really get it.”

Maron includes so much of his personal life in his work—whether in his stand-up or his prolific podcast, WTF with Marc Maron—but he’s had years to determine what to share and what to keep private.

“Over time, I’ve learned how to be respectful of people in my life, in terms of how I talk about them. All I can do is math on it. There’s obviously a good 20 hours a day that I’m not speaking publicly. I’m doing things, I have a private life. I may talk about what I’m doing, but I do have space, I do have to be aware of my boundaries with people who don’t know me,” Maron shares. “And because of how I present myself their familiarity does create some parasocial relationships that are a little weird. And I think it’s natural that they feel like they know me, but I don’t know them.”

When we discuss these one-sided relationships, Maron acknowledges that it’s something that can color his own perspective on WTF interviewees: “We all kind of do it, or at least you put together a sense of somebody and you think you kind of know them, but then you just realize—like I kind of learned that with Bryan Cranston. When I interviewed Bryan Cranston, while he was still doing Breaking Bad, I really wanted to talk to Walter White. I know that guy. And so when he was just sort of Bryan Cranston, I’m like, Oh, man, you’re just this goofy actor, dude. Where’s Walter White?

As the interview comes to a close, I ask Maron if he has any advice for Paste readers.

“I want to tell people, don’t be too hard on yourself and just do what you feel like doing, even if you’re afraid of it, because you’re gonna run out of time,” he says.

It’s some wisdom I have to avail of right after the Zoom call—the “don’t be too hard on yourself” part. As our conversation winds down, we talk about Dublin (where I live) and how he went to see an Angel Olsen concert at Vicar Street the last time he was here, the same venue he performed at. I get excited—some of my friends had gone to the gig—and mention that I heard Harry Nilsson came out during the show.

Maron graciously says that Nilsson’s been dead a long time (since before I was born, in fact), and that I was probably referring to Olsen’s cover of a Nilsson song. But then he suggests that maybe, like Lynn, Nilsson was there in spirit.

From Bleak to Dark is streaming on HBO Max.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.