Marc Maron’s newest album – his fourth – This Has To Be Funny, was released Aug. 9. From a journalistic perspective, I’ve already failed you. I should’ve had this review posted on Laughspin by Aug. 8, at the very latest— so that you, the reader, would have a proper preview of the album and be ready to purchase the next day. Chances are you already have the album. And if you don’t, you should get it now. There’s the non-spoiler spoiler of this review: it’s a great album. That’s another reason this review is so late; I’ve been struggling over what to say about it, besides that it’s everything I’ve come to expect from Maron— beautifully thoughtful, emotionally exhausting, sobering, honest, funny.
But I knew it was going to be a great album. Why? Because I was there at one of the tapings for the album. And because Maron is great. And he has been. For years— well before his podcast WTF with Marc Maron helped launch him into the current career high he’s enjoying (or desperately trying to enjoy). Well before every major national newspaper and a handful of high-profile glossy magazines were dying to know how the comedian’s mind works, Maron was deeply affecting comedy audiences – me included – not just with jokes, but with his very presence.
I began writing about Maron in 2006 and first interviewed him in 2007, the same year I saw him perform with Henry Rollins and Janeane Garofalo at the Gramercy Theater in New York City. His first two albums, Not Sold Out and Tickets Still Available (Stand Up! Records) were already classics to me by the time I got to chat with the man. Both albums (especially the latter, which still might be my favorite Maron album) became my go-to at-home catharsis therapy. In fact, those recordings were the first thing that made me feel the same way music did years before.
Indulge me (more than you have already) while I offer a side note: Before I launched Punchline Magazine (now Laughspin) in 2005, I was writing about, reviewing and interviewing bands (mostly punk, hardcore and metal) for magazines, as well as playing drums in bands for years. I became especially attached to Snapcase, a five-piece hardcore outfit from Buffalo, NY, whose songs regularly centered around the concepts of “unlearning” what we’ve been taught in an effort to live more honestly. Their live shows were crowded, communal occasions. I would opt out of “the pit” for fear of bleeding and instead press myself up against the stage where I – and a few dozen others – would spend 50 minutes screaming every word to every song toward vocalist Daryl Taberski and the rest of the band. Each lyric expelled from my guts was accompanied by pieces of my anxiety, worries and insecurities. By show’s end, my T-shirt was drenched in sweat; my throat was raw and I was exhausted. I felt so fucking good.
Without the use of blaring guitar amps, a driving beat and a gymnastic stage presence, this is how Maron made (and makes) me feel each time I saw/see him live. And the next best thing to watching Maron live, in person and onstage is listening to his albums. And, for me, This Has To Be Funny gives me that experience. It’s the perfect look inside Maron’s emotional progress. “I’ve always seen comedy as an ongoing, standing dialogue about how I see the world,” Maron told me in 2007. And since that time, it’s been a joy to watch his evolution—both from the eyes of a comedy fan and writer and from the eyes of a person who, in early 2009, got to produce his one-man show Scorching the Earth (about the breakup of his second marriage); I was even honored to have written the liner notes to his double live album Final Engagement, which came out later that year.
On Funny, we find Maron nearly over his second wife and “dating aggressively,” as one of the tracks is titled. And although we find him in a relatively more secure head space than we have on past albums, Maron is fully aware that he can fuck this up at any moment; after all, extreme successes and failures are in his DNA. A kitchen-set conversation that Maron recalls with his mother and a chat with his father about “mustard slacks” become two major indicators as to why Maron is so often stuck in his own head.
And as psychologically committing Funny is at times, Maron deftly weaves slice-of-life respites throughout (albeit with typical Maron follow-through): a backyard problem with some “bubbling goo” turns into a hilariously warped, auto-erotic anecdote; the simple concept of texting while driving translates into an analysis of his lifelong addictive behavior; his relationship with his cats as foils becomes the mirror Maron uses to see himself for who he really is. And a trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky acts as a catalyst to a series of religiously and socially-propelled existential crises.
The point is this: by the end of this album, if you’re doing it right, you will have visited most every part of your brain. You will have laughed a lot, sure; but more importantly, you will have listened to a real-life human being trying to work through life and, in the process, you’ll start feeling like maybe you aren’t so alone in your own damaged head.
Download This Has To Be Funny from iTunes.