comedy review

Marc Maron at the End of the World

Marc Maron in End Times Fun. Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

For a long while after I watched it, I sat thinking about the closing story in Marc Maron’s new special End Times Fun. I don’t want to give away all the details, but Maron spends most of the special thinking about the apocalypse, and after teasing smaller stories about the end of the world, he launches into a final lengthy, raunchy, grim, hallucinatory image of the actual end of days. It features, among other things, Mike Pence, the return of Christ, the Marvel Universe, and a sky literally on fire.

Most of Maron’s special is about more mundane visions of everyday life. He talks about yoga instructors, does an impression of his aging mother, ponders the utility of vitamins, gets in a jab at Joe Rogan’s podcast. It’s all artfully done, but that closing segment is something from a different planet. Maron has spent most of the special hunched over on a stool, but at the end he’s standing, gesticulating, and physically acting out different characters. It’s funny in a big, biblical, absurdist way. Eventually I realized why it felt so right, even as it seems so different than everything else. It’s a set about the end of the world, and that giant, over-the-top, surrealist final story feels like an amazing stand-up comedian doing his version of the Book of Revelation.

It’s both disorienting and appropriate to watch End Times Fun at this particular moment in history. Maron could not have known when he recorded the special that the specifics of apocalyptic thinking would’ve shifted to viral pandemic by the time the special was released, and it’s not hard to imagine that the specifics of his end-times vision would look different if they were written in the last month. But Maron, who refers to his own thinking as “prophetic” in the special, is correct enough about the underlying sentiment of apocalypse that the details don’t matter much.

Written out like this, none of this special sounds very funny. But Maron’s incredibly adept at finding the line between bleak and bleakly funny, and then poking it over and over. One of the most remarkable jokes in the special is a riff less focused on the end times and more on Me Too, the issue most comedians have tackled as the important topic of the day. In End Times Fun, Maron introduces it as part of a whole riff on masturbation — a fraught subject in these probably-not-actually-post-C.K. times — but Maron’s take on the subject empties it of one element of the associated shame.

In his joke, the problem isn’t that he’s masturbating to a fantasy woman he saw at Whole Foods for 30 seconds. The act itself is neutral. The joke is about how quickly Maron’s fantasy spins out of his own control because his imaginary sex object decides she’s uncomfortable and starts to leave. He spins the story for so long that as a member of the audience, you forget that it’s just his fantasy. He imagines the woman getting dressed quickly, picking up her phone to tweet about what has just happened, and heading out the door. Just after Maron’s asked men to try to envision women as people rather than objects, his own fantasy woman becomes a person outside of his own control — so much a person that we start sympathizing with her rather than with the dude telling the story. “I’m like, What the fuck is happening?!” says Maron, wondering what he’s done wrong in this sexual encounter with a woman. “It’s not an unreasonable question, but the deeper question is, Why am I still jerking off to that? I had complete control over that fantasy, and it got away from me because of my own fear.”

It’s a fantastic joke, and that’s partly because Maron’s so good at performing each twist of the emotion as it all plays out. I tend to think of him as Marc Maron the personality before I think of him as an actor. And much of his stand-up performance is more subtle than the kind of comedy that relies on big, obvious impressions or physical silliness. But it’s performance nonetheless, and it’s easy to miss because he’s always performing close versions of himself — the crotchety angry guy yelling at idiots, the confused guy trying his best with stuff he doesn’t always understand. Those little bits of performance that he seeds throughout the set then pop out into the giddy, strange conclusion of that last apocalypse story. You’re surprised to see him there onstage, kneeling in prayer as Mike Pence facing the return of Christ. Surprised, but not that surprised.

In all, End Times Fun is exactly what I most wanted to be watching in a comedy special at this particular moment. It is furious and exhausted and funny and thoughtful, and if the apocalypse is coming, Marc Maron will at least help you crack a wry chuckle before your face catches fire.

Marc Maron at the End of the World