Editor’s Note: We met author Mark Stevens through Mountainfilm in Telluride. He was in town for a book-signing at Between the Covers during the event. Now the book,”Buried by the Roan,” is a finalist for 2012 Colorado Book Awards. Good luck Mark.
It’s a beautiful early-April night, the cross-hatch lights of Larimer Square like a floating carpet overhead, limos idling curbside and dining tables from the fancy eateries serving nibbles and vino al fresco to well-appointed couples. It’s too warm for early April, too pleasant. But everyone’s in mid-summer stride. From all appearances, everything is right with the world. Forget the Great Recession. There’s no looking back. We head underground.
Elbow to elbow, drink to drink, The Comedy Works packs you in. Your metal seat is about as big as frying pan, its arm rest functioning as a cup holder for a glass of Shiraz. You get one arm rest on your left or your right and you get to share that with your neighbor. Two holes per arm rest. One hole per drinker.
The ceiling is low., and you are downstairs to begin with so there’s almost a cave-like quality to the room. The lights are low. It’s 10 minutes before the show. The stage is empty except for a microphone stand and two stools, one short and one regular. We’re all packed in. There’s nervous electricity in the air. We have all paid good money in hopes we’ll laugh. Or to lose. Losing it would be even better. We want to lose it.
I am no stand-up aficionado by any means, but there’s a certain risk in being in the audience, particularly if you don’t want to be picked on. Some, of course, want the abuse. They even ask for it, provoke it. They sit up close. But with a new comedian, you don’t know are they going to extract laughs from your appearance, your utterances, your stares, your unsmiling expression? That’s what so safe about watching the stand-up comedians on late-night shows—they can’t get you. They can’t get to you. They just have to be funny. A college buddy used to talk to the stand-ups on Carson: “Come on, MAKE me laugh,” he’d say to the TV. “Come on.” A dare. A taunt. No chance of reprisal.
First up, Adam Cayton-Holland.
With Cayton-Holland, the contract with the audience is fairly straightforward. He says something funny, we laugh. No tricks. Cayton-Holland is very, very good. Great cadence, good delivery, credible. He was a sharp, often witty writer at Westword and his point of view carries over easily to the stage. No reason he can’t be a star except, I’m sure, for competitors numbering into the low zillions. We’re here for Marc Maron, but Cayton-Holland leaves the audience rolling, plenty warmed up.
I’d been listening to Maron’s WTF podcasts since a friend turned me on to them late last year and I felt utterly compelled to see him in person. A must. Maron’s interviews with comedians and others are an anomaly in this Twitterfied, abbreviated, quick-bite-of-info world. His conversations last 70 minutes, 80 minutes and more. They are a bit free-form. By comparison, Charlie Rose is a fluffy local news anchor.
The Maron conservations are between two people in the biz. Some touching moments emerge. (Check out the WTF Molly Shannon interview about the car crash or Jon Glaser on adoption; real life for sure.) Maron seems to admire the success of others, not be jealous of it. He’s clearly a fan in some situations, giddy with enthusiasm about hanging out with a big name. Ultimately, Maron wants to know what propelled the interviewee into comedy. That moment in your life. How do you know you’re going to be funny, that you could develop that talent? The answers are all over the place—and fascinating.
The interviews aren’t necessarily funny, though some are. They are always, however, about the business of being a comedian and the work behind what it takes to be funny. You also learn plenty about Maron’s life. He opens the podcast with a rant or ramble of some sort and he’s an open book, naked on stage and naked beyond warts. Sometimes crude, sometimes ranting, but it’s all him.
In person, Maron is no less genuine. He sits on the stool like he was born there. He looks comfortable and remarkably uncomfortable at the same time. The schtick vibe is low. The stories start. Something is always bugging him. A bit of Woody Allen in his approach, but more jaded and no less amazed at how others react to the buzzing world around them. But mostly his discomfort is front and center. The man reveals how he behaved, how he reacted—how you probably would react in the same situation. When he’s confessing to the scream that comes out of his mouth during a bad storm on a flight coming into Cleveland, well, we are rolling. We are close to losing it.
Maron has this little laugh—he is so willing to laugh at himself. I can’t picture Woody Allen laughing, can’t hear it either. Maron amuses himself—you feel amused, too. There is brightness smack next to the darkness. The darkness gives way to the light. Everything is going to be okay.
The Comedy Works show rocks. The crescendo of laughter is intense—and wonderful. Afterward, Maron greeted fans.His new girlfriend Jessica was nearby, selling T-shirts and WTF schwag. We stepped back upstairs into the Denver nightlife and I wondered how I would describe Marc Maron.
And the next day I spotted, yes, a tweet. And that tweet nailed it:
@marcmaron i picture you leading a neurotic army through the streets of optimism holding a flag with a question mark on it
Thanks to the tweeter, Jameson Brewster. That about says it all.