The journey of Marc Maron will go down as one of the most documented in comedy history. Both his professional and personal lives have been mined, dissected and agonized over in a number of public forums. The excruciating details of his divorces, career failings and cat problems have provided fodder for his game-changing podcast WTF with Marc Maron, his stand up and one-man shows, his new IFC sitcom Maron, and now his memoir-ish collection of essays, Attempting Normal.
Years of self-analysis, both on and off the air, have made Maron acutely aware of his motivations and flaws. This awareness goes a long way to making his trademark neurotic paranoia more palatable. “When life is scary and chaotic I like to make it more so,” he says matter-of-factly, recounting his decision to begin fostering cats one stressful, sleepless night. Aside from one chapter devoted to his childhood love of music, the book stays away from self-indulgence, instead focusing on what his “loyal borderline-obsessive fan base” wants—crazy family anecdotes, heartbreaking road tales and brutally candid personal stories.
Given Maron’s history of exploiting his life in his comedy, the honesty on display in Attempting Normal isn’t surprising, but the frankness is still striking. The essays, which jump around chronologically from childhood to present day, include such details as “My mother always told me that I was a diaphragm baby,” and his happiness at having passed a case of oral herpes along to an ex-wife.
A chapter about his current girlfriend is at times so revealing that it’s hard not to turn away. His willingness to detail his much younger partner’s desire for a baby (and the new house and diamond ring that would accompany it) feels raw, like the fight he’s detailing happened this morning. It’s also these glimpses into his relationship that introduce doubt about his reliability as a narrator. His girlfriend comes across as a harpy with fairytale expectations, which feels unlikely from a woman who famously e-mailed him for casual sex.
The book ends with a transcript of his 2011 Keynote Address at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, as well as an anecdote about losing a cat while filming his new TV show. Both serve as acknowledgments that he has achieved a type of success—not quite superstardom, but a place as a well-respected icon in the comedy industry. He’s still clearly uneasy with this status, as demonstrated by the “You’re going to fuck it up!”/”Let’s fuck it up!” bit that features in both the keynote and the opening moments of his show.
Were Maron’s story made into a film, his present life would probably mark the ending montage—our antihero, laughing with a string of famous guests in his garage, running the set of his own sitcom, making it work with the girlfriend he thanks for “matching [his] crazy,” and detailing the whole ride in his own book. Which is why what happens next may be the most interesting chapter of all. It’s hard to tell how well success will sit on Maron’s shoulders.