The Marc of Maron


Is it an odious omen that an edgy comedian's phone number ends in the less-than-holy trinity of 666?

Do we have reason to be frightened of Marc Maron?

What, me worry? Are you mad? his taken-aback demeanor suggests.

He's paid his dues, says Maron; he also claims to have paid to get that special number. "If you can't rely on Satan," he says of what may be the only Faustian bargain struck requiring a two-drink minimum, "then who can you rely on?"

Despite his phone's satanic septet of digits, he's clearly got the audience's number. End of the world scenario for 2011? Not likely; Maron's just got too many engagements to make it worthwhile.

New Year's is about to start, and Helium, the Center City comedy house where the air is light with laughter, and the humor sometimes dark and daring, is filling its balloons from Jan. 12 to 15 with Maron, who can inflate them while deflating social mores in a rambunctious roar.

The devil didn't make him do it; this is Maron, not Damien. Sure he can rant all he wants on being judgmental — "Can I judge you? Why should God have all the fun!" — but judgment daze comes with jokes, not jeremiads about the end of time.

It's all part of the act. And it is an act that has carried him far — including a record number of appearances on Conan O'Brien's former NBC late-night show, as well as Comedy Central and HBO specials.

Now, isn't that special? Well, Maron is: He roars and retreats, watching the fumes in his fumigation of society smoke the wicked. The man a fan once described as "Iggy Pop/Woody Allen" seems almost guilty that he's receded a bit in acrimony.

"Well," he analyzes, "I'm more focused now."

But a pod person? It helps that he has a hit podcast that casts around for contradictions in modern-day society. Maron's marrow remains his relevance in pricking larger-than-life balloons that once seemed as invulnerable as those floating in Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

"I don't believe I'm as cynical as I used to be, but then neither am I more idealistic," says the ideal party guest for a shindig where some snotty pseudointellectual corners the conversation being hortatory over hors d'oeuvres.

Time to tenderize with Maron-aid: Here's someone who can ruminate and riff devilishly on the debacle of turning into a death star from watching an overload of "Six Feet Under" DVDs all at once.

For all his nonchalant negativism — and it is all marvelously manic, cutting edge — there are anecdotes that make for some disturbing memories.

The Jersey City-born comedian turns the corner of a trip down memory lane into a sluggish dash through the snow of sneers instead. "I left when I was 6; I have no memories of Jersey City whatsoever and when I took my father back for ride through the old neighborhood, I suggested he not get out of the car."

But moving on to a new life in New Mexico was not without confronting old agendas. Maron remembers with cataclysmic recall how an anti-Semitic classmate at Albuquerque High got his message across — across the front of Maron's car, with "Jew, Die Jew" spelled out.

But it was the way the perpetrator did it that adds some spice and sauce to the routine: "It was an Arby-sauce and horseradish hate crime," recalls Maron of the condiments used condemning him as a Jew. No happy meal here: "And then, he loaded up my wipers with the sauce," making their use a rain of terror.

But, Maron muses now, "it was an isolated instance. I was connected to the Jewish community there."

And he connects in comedy clubs to his own well-defined use of community, communing from the heart without the hurt. "The way I operate in the world is inherently Jewish," reasons the author of The Jerusalem Syndrome, which he made book on in 2001, focusing on a trip to Israel.

"The way I approach things is with debate," which is so Jewish an entry point, he argues.

Debate this: The genesis for the difference between Jews and Christians all comes down to the Bible, contends Maron: "In the New Testament, Christians face their wages of sin" with death. "Jews in the Old Testament? It's negotiable."

What isn't is the method of Maron's madness. In his memorable memoir: "Faith in the face of disappointment is only enhanced by laughter in the face of pain. That's my belief. That's my job."

And making others laugh has been job one. Not that he's won in all conflicts. Take the marital wars, where good grooming had nothing to do with hygiene. "I can't erase the past," he says of his troubled walk down the aisles of wedded blitz, "but I can remember it differently and make myself the hero."


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