Key Bits: “Bill Hicks Was a Poet” “Israel”
It’s very possible that nothing has ever sounded more ‘Maron’ than the beginning of his 2013 special “Thinky Pain,” now available on audio. He starts by wrapping up a podcast with Tom Scharpling and walking out on stage to tell a story about crazy Bill Hicks was, and then himself admitting he didn’t prepare anything for the night. Maron didn’t prepare any set or anything for the special – and it comes off in the most Maron way possible – 50% confidence, 50% apathy. He starts the Bill Hicks story with an oral history of the venue, killing time before figuring out where to start (like an “Odyssey” bard recounting a name). What follows is exactly what you’d expect from Maron – self-pity, unwarranted anger, and the thin line between insensitivity and offensiveness.
Most of “Thinky Pain” is personal stories. Maron recounts how missing a pop-out in baseball changed his life, and how he overcame hypochondria, and his trip to Israel with his Jewish wife, among many others. Since this special was unscripted, it reassures us that Maron really is the always-slightly-upset man behind the comedy. He even says at the beginning that he might end up not telling jokes but working through some things. Even though he does end up working through things, it’s riotously funny throughout.
Maron is usually at his funniest when he’s talking about himself, self-deprecating or not. He covers his Jewish upbringing and now-aversion to religion in “Born a Jew” and “I’m Not an Atheist” and how that translated a religious vacation with his wife in “Israel.” He talks about how the religious vacation was basically just looking at rubble of buildings that were and were not Jewish. He discusses his druggy past and how he doesn’t trust people who can’t let drugs take them over for a few years on “Drug Wisdom,” and he acts out what his first time trying out autoerotic asphyxiation would probably be like on “Autoerotic Asphyxiation.” Maron switches from angry to self-involved to reluctant on a dime, and occasionally comes off as a ranting man who just happens to be funny.
The only real fault of the special is that, since it’s all off-hand and unprepared, Maron’s stories get a little tired towards the end. He ends with bits on roosters, a vacation to Kauai and having a ‘porn brain’ that are funny, but not as funny as the stuff at the special’s midpoint. “Thinky Pain” ends up coming off as a little top- and middle-heavy, going on maybe a little longer than it needs to. But then again, he has a lot of stuff to work out.
With his now very successful WTF podcast, and an IFC show in it’s second season, Maron picked a very good time to drop a new special. “Thinky Pain” helps Maron milk this opportunity without overworking it. And it establishes Maron as someone who is unfazed and unchanged by a surge in popularity. In fact, in five to ten years, we can probably look forward to a special about all of the pratfalls of success. The special’s title even comes from understanding the mental turmoil he’ll go through after missing that routine fly ball when he was a kid. Maron hasn’t changed a bit, and “Thinky Pain” is just as angry, whiny and honest as Maron’s ever been.
If you like this, try: It seems like such a softball pitch to compare a comedian to Louis CK, but Maron’s comedy has aligned with CK’s for years, even if the two have a rocky past together (or at least as documented on Louie). Maron is every bit as self-deprecating, angry, perverse and in control as CK.
-By Andrew McNally