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Film & TV

You want it darker? Marc Maron’s game.

In his HBO special ‘From Bleak to Dark,’ the comic talks grief, Jewishness and the apocalypse

Marc Maron knows there’s one topic he just can’t leave alone. 

“I don’t know why — every show, there’s part of me that just wants to keep poking the Jew thing,” the stand-up comic says in his new HBO special, From Bleak to Dark. Just so people who think they don’t have anything against Jews under their breath says ‘we f—ing get it, man.’”

He’s harped on, and deconstructed, his need to air his origins before, in his 2020 Netflix special End Times Fun.

“I just want to know that there’s a few people in the room here that, no matter how progressive you may think you are, that are going like, ‘we get it, you’re a Jew.’ I just wanna know I’m causing that to happen because I believe that most people are antisemitic given the option.”

In his kvetching, pseudo-therapy sessions, Maron has owned a particularly unflattering lane of Yiddishkeit: a gleeful conviction that, the more you rub Jewishness in people’s faces, the more latent Jew hatred you can activate. 

And so, the new special, a reflection on grief and aging, is also brimming with mocking references to Jewish control. In a surprisingly dated bit, he says “as a Jew, I’m saying that we will replace you.” Jews are all in on the scheme, he says, and we get a cut from Soros in the form of a gold-leafed check or (if you replace a certain number) a giant gemstone. 

Maron could be a wry surrogate for the ADL, but in naming this hour From Bleak to Dark, and the one before it End Times Fun, he’s grooming himself for another time-honored Jewish vocation: Prophet of Doom.

Throughout From Bleak to Dark, Maron pitches possible one-man shows. The first is called Voices From the Future. It’s a run-through of ecological collapse told through different characters. 

One “sad guy” says, “you mean there’s no more water?” (Cf: Jeremiah 14:3 “They came to the cisterns, they found no water./They returned, their vessels empty./They are shamed and humiliated,/They cover their heads.”)

Maron bemoans the end of Roe and the rise of Christian fascism. And, after a long preamble, he addresses a recent tragedy, the unexpected death, in 2020, of his partner, the director Lynn Shelton. He jokes that he thought of responding to this with a dour one-man show called Marc Maron’s Kaddish: A Prayer for the Dead.

While ultimately fatalistic, Maron sidesteps a dirge-like evening, at one point positing that mining humor from tragedy is a Jewish inheritance.

“There was probably some hilarious people in Auschwitz,” Maron muses. But, to publish an Auschwitz joke book, he reasons, is probably a tough sell for a mainstream publisher.

He’s touched on something true, but also signaled a weakness in his act. Maron is now so preoccupied with process — how he’ll turn his life and neuroses into material — that humor is no longer a mechanism for coping; it’s the end goal. Detachment follows, for him and for us. 

Self-assured with a built-in audience, and millions of podcast listeners, Maron has fallen into the late-career trap of being too self-referential, as he inhabits the persona of a man who lives to add minutes to his set. Shelton’s death prompted a personal crisis, but also an artistic one. It’s a paradox that, while speaking to a crowd that knows him, the real face of his grief is unknowable. (On an episode of WTF, shortly after Shelton’s death, we came close.)

It’s striking how little has changed in Maron’s routine, and what remains constant: his outsider agitation, the neglect of his parents, his selfishness and his insistence that Jews are hated. 

“I don’t know how to accept the love,” he said at the begin of his last special, responding to a rousing round of applause. The line was earned after a long run of feeling under-appreciated, or worse, disliked for reasons he could never explain.

It’s no wonder then that, despite all his success, he can’t let the Jew thing go. 

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