Marc Maron could’ve strutted his way onto the Laughing Skull stage Thursday night, carrying himself with the earned swagger fit for the Comedy King of Atlanta that he is for the next few days. After all, dude’s on the cover of ATL alt-weekly Creative Loafing, he was kicking off the first of six sold-out performances in the Peach State’s capital city and a particularly devoted cadre of fans awaited his presence in the intimate space in the back room of Midtown burger institution The Vortex.
Instead, Maron came out like Maron: slumping a little, with a preoccupying—for him, at least—bright blue bandage on his finger, a similarly preoccupying styrofoam cup of iced tea in his hand and a cold sore on his mouth. Each served to entertain or befuddle depending whether you were the person talked to about these maladies or the person who possessed—and was possessed by—them. All this is understood by a WTF with Marc Maron podcast listener, and if the podcast’s titular creator is a little self-conscious or off-put by performing, or if it feels like he goes on a little longer than he should, well, that’s all part of the live-show experience, just as it is with his celebrated twice-a-week program that has in the scant space of barely two years redefined what it means to discuss comedy. Which is to say: Maron is Maron, and that’s what people came to see.
Before going into something an hour in that was just maybe a little bit too personal, already locked into full-on neurotic hilarity, he summed it up aptly: “Anyone who doesn’t know me has already left by now, right?” In a way he was correct, though no one had walked out. He was also right when, first thing after hitting the stage, he announced, “I’m a man for all people!” WTF‘s reach, at least on this night, included a dude who repeatedly exclaimed, “Yeah, mon!” to his date because the venue served Red Stripe, the kind of over-the-top, beyond-Comic-Con nerds who would interrupt the performance to fill in biographical detail Maron had forgotten (only to apologize when he looked annoyed) and folks who laughed at a Steven Wright impression even when the impression didn’t involve Wright saying something particularly funny. Maron attracts passionate, respectful people, and he treats them with that same respect, crouching on a stool and staring right down into their eyes, often addressing individuals when hitting high points in his stories as if telling them one on one over coffee. This craft—and his warts-and-all approach—goes over exceedingly well with his people.
Maron’s material, fittingly, was all over the place. As he frequently informed the crowd, “You guys know me,” meaning he was self-conscious about doing any old stuff. He did perform a couple previously released bits including “Stop Talking!”, the bittersweet closer to 2011′s This Has to Be Funny, which describes a fight with his girlfriend that ended up involving a “weird angel” neighbor. But much of the material was either brand new (including a particularly rewarding tale of a near-deadly flight that ends in an unusual-but-literal climax), riffs on previous emails or WTF monologues, or fleshed-out ideas from his Twitter feed and all the random scraps of paper he keeps. Some of the best laughs came from things he read that weren’t even jokes, such as “empathy vs. contempt—the line is hazy.” Watching Maron read something like this, then experiencing the half embarrassed, half well-it’s-true look he gets after reading it, is as exciting as any traditional setup and punchline.
Eventually he turned it over to his adoring fans. Although he was quintessentially uncomfortable for much of the evening, this current incarnation of Marc Maron: Performer is not above letting the occasional laugh slip out after a joke. He’s also happy to sit and interact as opposed to stomping around the stage, barking and pointing. It seems that comfort is sneaking into the usually-more-ragged repertoire of emotions in Maron’s holster, and it’s a good look. Nevertheless, he kept checking on the 74 folks in attendance throughout the evening. “Are you guys having fun? What if I just open it up to questions?” he proffered after exhausting himself of material about an hour and a half in. This clearly took a weight off his mind, and the questions, they came. Comedy questions, book questions, merchandise questions, questions that led to tangents about cats and fancy blue jeans that you should put in the freezer instead of washing. “I appreciate all the love that comes my way the best I can,” he said during one interaction, when an overeager denizen apologized for his behavior, causing Maron to quickly backpedal, apologize himself, and come to an impasse with the distraction. “Don’t make me cry, fucker. I just learned how to let audiences love me.”