Marc Maron, This Has To Be Funny
(Comedy Central Records)

This Has to Be Funny - Marc Maron

The liner notes by public radio darling Ira Glass could just as well serve as an apt review of Maron’s latest stand-up CD, “This Has To Be Funny,” but since most people don’t buy physical CDs anymore (or do they still?), then I’ll have to take a stab at it myself.

As Maron himself notes in the opening track, after the “honest sound check” has concluded, he’s still not doing well, so everything is OK. Which is how Maron’s world works. “Things are going OK, and I can’t handle it!”

The more I listen to him now, the more he sounds like a true successor of Bill Hicks who has turned his attention inward into his own headspace and humanity itself, instead of looking out at the world and topical events to define it.

Not that I’m saying he’s heady. But Maron is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. And even if he’ll admit he’s more than a bit self-involved, well, we all are to some extent — it’s Maron’s ability to make us all relate to that through his own self-analysis that serves him so well, both onstage and online.

He recorded this CD at Union Hall in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, which is why his track “New York Hipsters” resonates with impact with his live audience. Even when more than a few of those audience members, as I found out after the taping I had attended, had only heard Maron on his popular podcast, WTF. They’d never heard his actual stand-up comedy before, but they’d already connected to him and knew him better than most audience members know any stand-up comedian.

The CD includes an extended story about visiting The Creation Museum on the Kentucky side of Cincinnati — which listeners of WTF may have heard on an earlier episode from November 2010.

But where has Maron’s headspace moved from December 2010, when he recorded this album, and now in July 2011, eight months later when he’s standing in front of the comedy industry, delivering the keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Comedy Conference? As he realized then, heading into his garage and broadcasting his thoughts and interviews became therapy for him, provided therapy for his listeners, which in turn provided even more therapy for him. Turns out things are going even better than OK seemingly for Maron. Funny thing is, I think he’s not only more than capable of handling it, but also more able to truly appreciate the way fans are finally appreciating him, and will appreciate him on this recording.

Congratulations, Marc. You truly deserve this.

*P.S. If you don’t own a physical copy of Maron’s “This Has To Be Funny,” here are the liner notes from Ira Glass.

“I happened to be at one of the shows that got turned into this CD, and if you’ve ever been to a Marc Maron show, you know what that’s like. He doesn’t go through the motions. There are things he needs to say and they all seem pretty urgent. In fact, the emotional urgency is kind of the point.

And so Maron’s in the middle of some story about his mom, and how his mother is frightened of food, and how that’s led him to having a lifelong fear of food. And he’s on the way to telling how his mom recently said to him, “when you were a baby, I don’t think I knew how to love you,” which is of course horrifying but he hasn’t even gotten that far yet, he’s just warming up to that with other, only-slightly-less-terrible anecdotes about his mom. And it’s really funny though part of what’s making it work is the feeling in Maron’s voice, which I’d describe at that point as sincere and intense and anguished. And somebody in the audience lets out a sympathetic “Awwww,” in that way that means “you poor thing.”

And Maron stops for a second to speak directly to that person.

“No,” he says. “This HAS to be funny.”

In other words, if it’s not funny, it’s all just too fucked up to think about. If it’s not funny, then whatever feelings that would replace funny are not feelings any of us wants to feel, the guy onstage especially. It’s possibly the most concise description of the entire project of being a comedian ever spoken. Could you do it in fewer words? In less than six syllables? It’s good enough to translate into Latin and carve into stone.

My favorite bits on this recording are ones where Maron talks about what it’s like to be trapped in his own head. I’m a pretty anxious person, to the point where nearly any moment that I’m not actively doing something, I’m thinking about how cloddishly I handled some moment with someone else — a friend, a co-worker, a family member, recently or not so recently. So I relate to those bits most of all. At one point on this recording, Marc explains his weird and sweaty behavior to a flight attendant this way: “There’s a situation! In my head!” I know that feeling well. It’s a relief to hear someone else talk about it. Which I guess is the flip side of the darkness that’s in a lot of Marc’s stand-up. It’s a relief to hear him draw a map of some dark places you might know very well yourself.

And as a bonus, it’s funny! Apparently, it has to be.

— Ira Glass, Host of This American Life