It’s getting grim out there.
COVID-19 panic is making Purell-soaked adutls and children run from anyone who snuffles in public. The Democratic primary has sunk into a murky swamp-pit. And the stock market has sunk even lower.
Although none of this had happened yet when Marc Maron recorded his new Netflix special last year, it’s all reflected in the title: End Times Fun.
The timing of its release may be coincidental, but Maron has been bracing for an apocalypse his entire career. Now that the locusts are finally descending, it’s his time to shine.
“I think the sort of nondramatic Armageddon scenarios with just fever and coughing are probably the most miserable,” Maron says, vigorously washing his hands for 20 seconds on the other end of our recent phone call. “I’m sorry to disappoint the people who’ve gone off the grid and armed themselves and are going to be out there on the field in their body armor and just get a slight cough and keel over. I think it’s probably disappointing for that crew, but I kind of anticipated it would go like this.”
This is Maron’s third Netflix special since becoming one of the world’s most successful podcasters, and the first since his TV show, GLOW, struck a nerve. He also appeared in last year’s DC Comics meditation on whether we live in a society, Joker and lined up parts in not one but two major 2020 musical biopics (a Bowie and an Aretha). What an inconvenient time for the end of the world!
Maron has a history of going dark and angry, and yes of course he gets there in End Times Fun. Environmental atrocity, Nazis, and Fundamentalist Christians who seem horny for the rapture all get their due. However, the vintage Maron doom-and-gloom is now wrapped in its most accessible packaging yet. In his mid-’50s, at the apex of his career, Maron hasn’t exactly mellowed out, but he’s in a better place, emotionally and comedically, than ever before—as bereft of baggage now as he’s always been of f—s to give.
As his new special drops and self-quarantining spikes, Maron talked with Fast Company about how everything in his life and career has prepared him for this moment.
Always look on the bright side of death
Over the years, the comedian’s tone has shifted away from the aggressive anger of his earlier work to the the point where he now approaches the end of history with something like serenity.
“We all get older and we all grow up and there’s a logic and a wisdom that starts to reveal itself,” Maron says. “I think that comedy is a sort of medicine in times of tremendous fear and chaos. It’s a stabilizing thing. I think talking about what I talk about in the special in the way I talk about it, it’s kind of like we’re all on the same boat. There’s something a little comforting. I know that some of the material is extreme and dark, but it’s a reflection of a lot of what we’re all going through right now. I think people feel that and I think there’s relief to it. I know I got some relief out of it.”
Giving up on hopelessness
Maron’s 2017 special, Too Real, opens with full-blown panic over what He’ll do next. (Yes, same He as now.) By the time Maron filmed End Times Fun, the panic that the bit was based on had become unsustainable in real life. So panic has been replaced by something like acceptance.
“[End Times Fun] is only calm in the sense of, like, panic leads to hopelessness and you have to have a certain amount of acceptance and an ability to hold onto yourself through this stuff or else your sense of reality will be annihilated,” Maron says. “It’s important to hold onto yourself when you have this much chaos coming at you, so that you can at least try to think clearly and continue to accept properly what’s going on. The people that have been brainwashed or are in the cult of Trump, that’s the end of themselves. I’m not saying that will happen to progressive people, but you can be defeated mentally and emotionally by what’s happening and then you become paralyzed and passive. I wanted to address that reality.”
The lost art of shutting the f— up
Something else that’s changed since the last special is that more comedians are either getting in trouble, or at least feeling persecuted for not being woke enough. In End Times Fun, Maron goes kind of a different way.
“It’s part of the process. Either you’re going to be part of moving forward or you’re gonna end over saying something that we’ve evolved past,” Maron says. “I think that the idea of me being 85% woke is that’s just a relatively honest number, and 15% is just learning how to keep your fucking mouth shut. In a ‘being respectful’ way, not being afraid that it’s going to cause trouble socially, but because it’s been proven to be disrespectful and hurtful. What’s going on now is not some sort of aberration. It’s a reckoning and it’s not unreasonable.”
The antidote to dread is putting in work
Maron has baked a lot of career anxiety into his comedy over the years. In his latest special, he’s become more accepting of having less to be anxious about now.
“I have a very hard time thinking there’s going to be more good things in the future, so my basic approach to future thinking is always dread,” Maron says. “I couldn’t have imagined any of what’s happening [in my life] now. I’m just grateful that it’s happening. But I do know that I put the work in, and I do know that I’m ready to do the work I’m doing, so I’m happy I have the opportunities to do it. And all these opportunities that have come, like whether they’re for standup or acting or anything else, I’ve been working for 35 years at these things, and I’m just glad that when something’s offered to me, I can challenge myself and take that opportunity or just say no. There’s no desperation driving me. I’m excited to do things to try new things and not be driven by fear of being broke or desperately trying to be relevant. And it’s really a relief that a lot of that’s gone.”
Peaking at the apocalypse
The irony has not escaped Maron, however, that he is having unforeseeable career success at a moment that sure looks and feels an awful lot like the end of the world.
“I’m glad I made it under the wire,” he says, laughing. “And I’m glad that I still feel the need to stand up now, literally be a standup comic, and deal with what’s happening from my point of view. That’s why I got into comedy, was to figure out who I was and what I had to say and what I’m made of and what I can make funny and do some satire on and speak some real truth to power about. So I’m happy because there were a few years there where I was sort of more self-involved and I’m glad I stepped out of that enough to stand up and be counted here, right now.”