Marc Maron is having a productive quarantine. Holed up in his home in Los Angeles, Maron subscribed to the Criterion Channel, most recently watching “A Place in the Sun,” “From Here to Eternity,” “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” and an old Rita Hayworth movie. He’s been following the new season of “Better Call Saul,” and working on a new script with his partner, Lynn Shelton, who directed him in last year’s “Sword of Trust” and Netflix’s “GLOW.”
And of course, he still has the podcast. While much of the world struggles with the sudden necessity to stay indoors, Maron reinvented the work-from-home rulebook when he launched “WTF with Marc Maron” in 2009 — before a deluge of comedians deuted on the platform — and he’s been churning out deep-dive interviews ever since. Episode 1,106, featuring an interview with Thandie Newton, posted on Monday, and Maron said he has enough recorded material to carry him through April. Only one scheduled guest, Laura Linney, canceled due to travel complications. “We’ll see if people stop coming by,” Maron said by phone on Monday. “The good thing is that I’ve got a little money saved and I can do my bread-and-butter in the garage.”
If Maron radiates a rather unorthodox business-as-usual vibe, it’s only because he saw all this coming long ago, and his new Netflix special proves it. “Marc Maron: End Times Fun” dropped on the service March 10, one day before the World Health Organization labeled the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic, and the 71-minute set plays like a snarky prophet of doom softening the blow with punchlines. “It’s pretty clear the word is ending,” he declares, with eerie specificity, 10 minutes in. “I think we might see it.”
He squeezes the pronouncement in between gags about taking his vitamins (“You can actually believe something you know is bullshit”) and the notion that paper bags could save the environment (“We know in our hearts we did everything we could”). Yet as Maron leans back on his stool and deadpans his prediction, it registers as a deep-seated conviction, one now available to Netflix subscribers around the world.
“I don’t want to say I’m happy that the world is on fire,” Maron said, “but rarely in my life have I had any sort of cosmic timing, and this time it’s horrifying, but it’s true.”
The irony of talking to Maron now is that his gloomy pronouncements exude an unusual tranquility. Maron’s delivery is steeped in eye rolls and shrugs: Everything’s terrible. What are we going to do? Might as well talk about it. He’s lived this way for years, and the appeal of “End Times Fun” suggests the rest of the world has caught up with him. “Oddly, I’m fairly calm,” he said. “There’s something about having an anxious brain and being someone full of dread and somewhat apocalyptic — but also being older — so I’m not really freaking out in any kind of existential way.”
Maron has maintained a healthy relationship with Netflix, where he was continuing his supporting role on “GLOW” until production shut down a few weeks ago. “End Times Fun” is his third special for the platform, which he said gave him complete creative control, and only pushed back on his idea for the title. “I initially wanted to call it ‘Jeremiad,’ because I feel that’s what it was,” he said, and chuckled, crediting Netflix standup programming director Robbie Praw with talking him out of it. “He was like, ‘No one’s going to know what it is! It’s got to sound like a comedy special!’” Maron said. “Netflix was smart about this. But I still sort of fought for it, and they stopped me from my own deep propensity for self-sabotage.”
However, he acknowledged that even with his current popularity, Netflix had the upper hand. “With Netflix you don’t even have any traction to ask for more money or bonuses because they don’t tell you if you’re doing well,” he said. “If the algorithm leans in my favor, they’ll probably give me another opportunity.” He expected the current circumstances would likely support that possibility. “The weird thing is that you can’t determine how a special’s going to land on that platform,” he said. You know, this is a global platform with a million things on it. They don’t necessarily get behind shit, and you can just get lost in the sort of churning cloud that feeds us our entertainment. You don’t really know what’s going to happen when something enters the streaming ecosystem.” He called out the outcome “bittersweet.”
That extends to much of “End Times Fun,” as Maron recounts his nostalgia for the analog age (including a prolonged bit on voicemail messages). However, the comedian takes on a more savage trajectory as he moves along, skewering Donald Trump’s lack of humanity, and culminating in the most vulgar joke about Mike Pence imaginable. It’s a brilliant bit of physical theater that builds to a surreal fever pitch as Maron moves along, working in fellatio, Jesus, and Iron Man in the greatest apocalyptic finish to a comedy show since George Carlin’s envisioned mass death with his “Uncle Dave” closer from his 2001 HBO special.
“The whole thing became this operatic variation of the crass, old-school satirical ending that’s super filthy ,” Maron said. The former Air America host used to play to both sides of the aisle with the national reach of his podcast, but that has receded in recent times. “At this point in time I don’t care what the righties think anymore,” he said. “The way I handle that, as opposed to just trolling them, is the same way I handle Trump. I think it’s an observational thing to say he’s a horrible person and then give an example of human nature reacting to that.” And for the Pence fans out there? “If people are going to be upset that I’ve diminished Vice President Pence,” Maron said, “I don’t give a fuck about those people.”
“End Times Fun” does show its age in one way that almost all traditional comedies now do: It involves an audience. The cancelation of group events has made Maron concerned about the standup profession for his peers. “The fact is that the audience is necessary for standup,” he said. “For me, the growth and process of my standup has been about an ongoing conversation with an audience. That’s all of it.”
His podcast did change that to some degree. “I speak to an audience twice a week without having them in the room,” he said. “You have to understand how to pace yourself on a microphone solo.” And it has changed his relationship to his fans. “You don’t know how it lands until somebody tweets or emails that they had to pull over, because they were laughing about some riff I did,” he said. “It’s a more intimate thing, without all the bells and whistles. But maybe we need a break from all those bells and whistles.”
Maron recently finished up his latest tour, but had no plans to give up that side of his career. As strange as it may sound, he said, he felt optimistic about the future. “Most of us are under the assumption that we’ll get through this pandemic, and the audiences will return,” he said. “I don’t think any of us assume this is the end of audiences.”
“Marc Maron: End Times Fun” is now streaming on Netflix.