Seemingly, Marc Maron has a bit of a conundrum on his hands. Until fairly recently, Maron was a stand-up comedian whose brand of bitter, ugly truth-telling made him well-known among comedians and serious comedy fans, but deprived him of any serious mainstream success. Lately, Maron has been enjoying a professional upswing on account of his invaluable “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast, which has allowed him regular access to a large and eager audience as well as provided a forum for him to apologize to the many comedians to which he has condescended over his long career. Over the course of each episode, Maron vents, philosophizes, pontificates, and contritely examines himself before turning his attention to his guest, who is usually happily subjected to Maron’s brand of empathetic and probing inquiry. The resulting programming is frequently cathartic, charmingly unpolished and invariably fascinating.
So what does a notorious pessimist do when he has a serious artistic breakthrough that leads to tremendous success? Judging by Maron’s latest album, This Has to Be Funny, he stays pessimistic. Maron wastes no time before reassuring his audience that though his fortunes may have changed, he’s not about to stop neurotically worrying about and painstakingly analyzing every last little thing. One of the opening bits on the album concerns the voices in Maron’s head: one mocking his success, assuring him that he doesn’t possess the wherewithal to not fuck it up, and the other anarchically insisting “LET”S FUCK IT UP!”
Yet there’s still no denying that Maron has attained an unexpected level of inner peace. It’s doubtful the Maron featured on previous comedy albums like Final Engagement and Not Sold Out could reach the conclusions modern Maron reaches on the album’s centerpiece, “The Creation Museum.” He is certainly an unabashed liberal, as his stint at Air America attests, but rather than restricting himself to merely mocking the sort of anti-knowledge at the heart of the entire premise of Cincinnati’s Creation Museum, Maron finds a way admire the craftsmanship and care put into the entire effort. Sure, he spends plenty of time mocking the museum’s core argument, but he comes away admiring the sincerity of the people involved, and hilariously juxtaposes that sincerity with the smugness and self-serving argumentative nature of atheists and vegans.
But Maron wouldn’t be Maron if there weren’t a darkness looming around every corner of even his most joyful bits, and This Has to Be Funny gives over plenty of time to that side of his personality. He knows things are better, but can’t help dwell on the parts of himself that leads to thoughts like “What did you do? Why is there a woman crying again?” Maron seems as eager as ever to mercilessly pillory himself in sharp, relentless, and painfully funny detail, and it would seem no amount of professional success is going to change that.