The first we see comedian/podcaster Marc Maron in his new IFC comedy–Maron, about a comedian/podcaster named Marc Maron–he’s talking about himself. “When things are going well,” he confesses to a listener off-camera, “there’s a voice in my head saying, ‘You’re gonna screw it up!’… I just wish that voice were louder than the voice saying, ‘Let’s screw it up!’”
Maron’s therapist has no particularly helpful insight, because it turns out she’s not his therapist, she’s his veterinarian. The immediate joke is that he’s chatting her up because he’s attracted to her. The bigger joke, as becomes apparent the more you watch, is that he can’t help himself: when someone has a conversation with Marc Maron, they are going to get an earful about Marc Maron. In its first three episodes, the abrasive, often funny Maron is a deep dive into the bottomless reservoir of neurosis.
The knee-jerk comparison for this new comedy is FX’s Louie–partly because of timing, partly because of subject matter, partly because of the personal relationship between the two comics. (Maron has guested on Louie, and Louis CK famously hashed out their personal history on Maron’s WTF podcast.) But the comparison only goes so far. Louis CK’s show is all about “Louie”–that’s the title–but by philosophy it’s much more outward-directed. Especially in its most recent season, it’s laid out the comic’s worldview through episodes in which he learned about characters very different from him.
Maron, on the other hand, gets its comedy from Maron’s inspection of his own anxieties and insecurities, which he worries like sore teeth: his need to be liked, his sensitivity to criticism, his sense of inadequacy in his personal life, career, and manhood. Where the Louie of Louie greets life with a weary eyeroll, Maron wants to know why life is looking at him so funny, and what is its freaking problem anyway?
Maron can’t let things go, as the opening episode shows, having him pick fights first with an ex-wife and her new husband, then with a random guy who’s made a habit of insulting him on Twitter. He’s a raw nerve who can’t help prodding and probing himself where it hurts, less like the lead of Louie than the “Larry David” of Curb Your Enthusiasm, except buttressed by much less money.
I should clarify: though Maron, like David and Louis CK, plays a character with his own name and C.V., I don’t pretend to know how close this version is to the actual man. Certainly, on the justly famous WTF podcast–which figures heavily in Maron–the real Marc Maron shows a deep empathy and ability to get inside others’ experience (even if he comes to that by way of his own experience). And the comedy promises to make good use of other actors; the debut features Dave Foley, playing himself as a genially undermining unexpected visitor; Denis Leary (a co-executive producer) and Jeff Garlin show up for the podcast; later, Sally Kellerman and Judd Hirsch appear as Marc’s divorced parents.
But the show Maron has a particular perspective on comedy: that before it engages with and analyzes the world, it’s nurtured in the dank internal recesses of an anxious mind. (The show’s brief opening titles are sort of symbolic of this: it begins with Maron at his podcast studio, inside his dim-lit garage; at the end, we watch from behind as he throws open the garage door, and the light of the outside world is blinding.)
It can be claustrophobic; it can be, as Marc’s Twitter hater tells him in the first episode, “whiny.” But it can also be quite funny, as Maron’s instinctive kvetchiness runs up against the practicalities of life; in the very good second episode, he has to remove a dead animal from his crawlspace, a challenge that makes him confront his insecurities as an independent, grown man.
Part traditional sitcom, part self-psychoanalysis, Maron still needs to show if it can sustain itself over a season or seasons (the third episode opens with essentially the same confessional gag that opens the pilot). But it offers enough so far to make me want to watch its protagonist keep trying to clean house. Inside and out.