"There is truly nothing more important than comedy. Okay, that might be an overstatement. There are a few things more important than comedy, but they aren't funny... until we make them funny."
With that soon to be oft-quoted line, Marc Maron ended his keynote address at the 2011 Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. It's a specific comedic philosophy that gives the art form a gravitas and importance that isn't always stressed. Maron's work, whether it's through his critically acclaimed podcast or his latest album This Has To Be Funny, always reflects that idea. He takes something important like the chaos of his private life and makes it funny.
If you're not familiar with Marc Maron's work, here's what you should know: He's been doing stand-up for 25 years, is sometimes credited as a pioneer of alternative comedy, and found himself "un-bookable" after his second divorce sent him spiraling. So he started interviewing his peers for his often intimate, insightful and emotional podcast. What followed was a wave of mainstream exposure for his particular brand of neurotic, intense and heart-based comedy which has since led to a career resurgence.
If you are familiar with Maron, well, you know exactly what to expect. You may have even heard some of the album before, such as the 17 minute long retelling of the Creation Museum story. This Has To Be Funny is made up mostly of anecdotes, as he recounts the puzzling life inside his mind and beats jokes out of it. There's a lot to like: issues with his parents, a sewage clog in his garden and stripper girlfriends. Often, his jokes come in the form of those wrongheaded impulsive first thoughts we all have, or those panicky doubts that occasionally spring up in people. It's just that Maron sells you on the idea that he feels those things more intensely than the rest of us.
"I really wish my imagination was fueled by something other than panic," he says on a track titled, "A Situation In My Head." "It's not free. I have not freed my imagination to make bunnies. I don't know how to do absurdist humor, or understand how to sell it."
That's what makes his act special. While he excavates his soul for bits, he directly appeals to the audience's own, engaging them in a way that few comics do. You feel for him, or maybe you get angry at him, or maybe you just don't feel alone in your own particular craziness. But what's important is that it always circles back to the relief of a punchline. There is something about that contrast, between tension and laughter, that makes it feel even better.
It's telling that This Has To Be Funny ends not on the heartiest closer, but instead of a humorous climax it ends on something like the emotional high point: a four minute story about an intense argument with his girlfriend, which ends quietly and oddly. It's surreal, amusing and above all, moving. A few tracks earlier, the audience is dying of full bodied laughter, but Maron chooses to end on the bit that makes them feel the most.
It should be noted that, as Marc Maron says, his act "isn't everyone's idea of a night out." If neurotic obstacle courses and navel-gazing isn't your thing, it's entirely possible you won't love all that This Has To Be Funny has to offer. There are still good hipster jabs, atheist mocking, and conversations with the cats. But for those of you that enjoy stand-up as an outlet for expression, and humor outside of set ups and punchlines, there are really few guys that do it better.