really nice positive thing about the entertainment business every single
day of the year, including weekends. Sometimes it may be something
simple, like a video that showcases something fun and sometimes it may be a movie poster
that embraces the aesthetic we all want Hollywood to aspire to.
Sometimes it may be a long-winded diatribe. Sometimes it’ll be from the
staff and extended family of CHUD.com. Maybe even you readers can get in
on it. So, take this to the bank. Every day, you will get a little bit
of positivity from one column a day here. Take it with you. Maybe it’ll
help you through a bad day or give folks some fun things to hunt down in
their busy celluloid digesting day.
What I’m Thankful For
My friend D.K. Holm said the two great art forms of America are Stand-up Comedy and Comic Books. As for the former, I have always been fascinated with the form. Growing up I would make my parents rent me stand-up tapes: Robin Williams absolutely kills for pre-teens, as does Stephen Wright. Whoopi Goldberg, not so much. The concept of smashing things on stage had a certain appealing brio, so it’s too bad Gallagher was never funny, but by the end of the video you knew there would be some fruit smashing so I think I watched the majority of his specials, though as a child spending two or three dollars for a 54 minute tape felt like a rip-off. I remember a stand-up tape that had Bob Saget – who told a joke that slayed me (“I met a woman, I’m nuts over her!” [holds hand under his testicles] “she’s this tall.”) – and Jim Carrey’s onstage work, which was mostly as an impressionist. Bill Kirchenbauer did an impression of a roll-on deodorant and a typewriter. Some of the jokes hit, but many were beyond my means. I have never wanted to be a stand up – though many of my Los Angeles friends have dabbled in the format – but the people and the ideas of it have long fascinated me. To this point, I was a twelve year old who rented Punchline.
When Comedy Central emerged, both Alan King and Paul Provenza hosted comics in a talk show format. With Provenza’s show Comics Only, it was mostly a couch to get comics to do their bits. Whereas Alan King actually asked funny people about being funny, which was a little more fascinating. The show Alan King: Inside the Celebrity Mind tried real hard, but you can tell they were nervous about ratings, because they’d go from Elaine Boozler to Michael J. Fox. But King got interesting things out of his guests, and I should probably revisit some of these interviews twenty years on now (they’re available on DVD). In its early days Comedy Central was also known for showing clips of comics. Most of them were against the classic brick wall of the touring comedy stores, and comedians were reduced to a bit that could go for a couple of seconds, or two minutes tops. Most female comedians did impressions of Cher, for whatever reason (the hair flick was the signature Cher move). There was a lot of Bill Hicks at this point, but there were also clips of Marc Maron.
I remember Maron as one of the people flirting with getting famous, but he was in the angry comic mold, and though he was funny he couldn’t compete with Sam Kinison or Bill Hicks. Most comedians – like Kirchenbauer – were happy to get a gig on a TV show, either as the lead or in a supporting turn, and this was right around this time is when Seinfeld hit, which changed the game, but Maron never had a sitcom personality. Instead he did the standard stuff, doing the talk shows, doing Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, but he never found the right mainstream gig, and he didn’t do the Saturday Night Live thing. Comedians will tell you that the landscape changed thoroughly over the last two decades, with a number of dry spells in that period. And Maron – as a working comic – kept the grind up. Now he’ll talk about the bad times as he fell into addiction and drug abuse like many of his peers, but with the What the Fuck podcast, Maron has reinvented himself as one of the great interviewers and historians of modern comedy.
In a process that’s been built over the 120-plus hour-long interviews that Maron has done, he is now the Rosetta Stone for whomever wants to write about comedy in the 21st century. Maron has the mileage, so he knows what a comedian is talking about, and he does a really good job of presenting the reality of the interview. When he did a two-parter with Louis C.K. there’s a lot of time devoted to their disintegrating relationship – this would be obnoxious if it wasn’t so real. But also when a comic talks about bombing or talks about the highs, you can tell that Maron relates in a very intimate way, and it translates to the interviewees. I just listened to his interview with Maria Bamford, and there level of honesty in how casually they talk about addiction and bad relationships and dating that it feels like neither has any sort of defense mechanism working – or perhaps that for many comics, absolute truth is the only shield.
What’s amazing is that he’s talked to the most prominent jokes thieves of the modern era. Though he goes soft on Robin Williams – who had the worst reputation in the 80’s for pillaging other comic’s sets (though he speaks to the common ground that is inevitable in stand up comedy; no one can own the current president, or the Tea Party, or 9/11,etc.) – Williams at least is so open about falling off the wagon, and being something of a horrible human being that it’s okay Maron doesn’t try to nail him on it. Whereas Dane Cook comes off surprisingly well. Cook is fascinating because you can tell from the start that Maron doesn’t respect him, while Dane is in a position in his career where he knows the bridges he burned might need some repair work. Cook was vilified in community for stealing from Louis C.K., but also for appealing to frat-boy douchebags, and using myspace effectively. For a while Cook was just an up-and-comer who worked the game well and may have annoyed others with his quick ascendancy, but by the time of his HBO show and the appearance of Raaaaaaaandy (Aziz Ansari’s “energy” comedian) there was too much evidence to call it just jealousy – the guy came off as a self-involved joke thief. A collection of terrible movies later, and Cook is no longer the golden God, but another comedian on the circuit, and doing the Maron show and taking his licks is the smartest thing Cook’s done since Mr. Brooks. It’s the first time in a long time that Cook comes off well.
But the best is his interview with Carlos Mencia. Carlos comes on and tell his life story, and why he goes by the name Carlos instead of Ned, and addresses much of the criticisms leveled against him. Maron lets him talk, but Mencia’s attitude suggests he’s steamrolling a little, and wants to build sympathy – he keeps calling Maron “Bro” and talks about his hard knock life. Maron centers on Mencia’s first stand up appearance, where he had one joke, and then bought a joke book to fill out his time – suggesting that he was born a joke thief. Maron then dedicates a second show to Mencia, where he talks to people who had been close to Carlos, and about the jokes stolen, and from who. From there Maron has way more ammunition, and Mencia’s tone changes slightly. He knows what’s up, he knows why he’s there (to repair his reputation), but when confronted with the jokes he’s stolen, he talks about the common ground and then does a soft shoe about his tendency to take a stage from a headliner or from up and comers. It’s amazing, because he’s told face to face what he’s done wrong, and there’s a sense of red-handedness, but also that Mencia is a sociopath enough to not really care. He knows he has to apologize for a lot of things, but there’s a cognitive dissonance. It’s Sunday morning penance for Mencia and nothing more.
But not all the interviews are combative, and he not only gets great stuff out of Judd Apatow, he gets a hold of Judd’s recording of comedians from when Judd was in high school – when he would convince comic’s agents he was talking to people like Gary Shandling for a radio station. But really, Judd just wanted to figure out how to be a stand up, and Shandling deconstructs the evolution of a joke. Apatow and Maron are great together, and you can tell when Apatow says he’s been listening religiously Maron’s show it’s not bullshit. Recently he talked to Ira Glass, and it’s a great interview because it’s like two polite scorpions and you can tell that though Glass is the interviewee he can’t shake his own nature enough to not prod Maron with his own questions. There’s a number of great back and forths there. I don’t know too much comedian inside baseball, but when talking to famous performers, there’s definitely some tapping of that baggage. Maron asks Sarah Silverman about the comedians she’s slept with, and I’ve heard that complaint lodged at her before. But you never know what you’re going to get – though the show has been around long enough now that many of the guests request to be on, including Ken Jeong, who tells a great story about deciding to do his full frontal scene in The Hangover as his wife was dealing with breast cancer.
Every week there’s something interesting, and I can’t wait to both get more into the archives, and see who’s coming up next. The website is here, and there’s a number of apps for the show/site. Go here: http://wtfpod.com/