Marc Maron Pulls Back Curtain On Masterful New HBO Special

When Marc Maron’s new stand up special From Bleak to Dark debuts on HBO Saturday, you’ll see the veteran comic turned actor at his best, trudging through where we’re at as a society amid the fallout from Covid and constant political discourse and displaying incredible vulnerability in tackling the crippling personal grief he dealt with following the sudden loss of his creative partner and girlfriend, Lynn Shelton, who passed away in May 2020.

The only thing more impressive than the WTF podcast host’s honesty in the special is the frequent monumental laughs it provides in spite of the heavy material.

Maron masterfully sets up the intersecting themes of society’s melancholic woes and his own personal grief in From Bleak to Dark with this opening line:

“I don’t want to be negative, but I don’t think anything is ever going to get better ever again.”

“I think that that line for some reason, at the time I wrote it, was very exciting because it’s so succinct and so kind of like perfectly ironic that it always gave me great glee to do that joke,” the Joker actor told me over Zoom video. “But yeah, I mean, I do think it sets up the rest of it.”

As revealing as the personal anecdotes are and as familiar as the social commentaries seem, Marc admits comedy often stems from exaggerations.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in terms of how social media works is that you have to assume that if somebody is a professional comic, and they’re doing the comedy show, that what they’re saying on some level is supposed to be funny and a joke,” Maron said.

“That some things are said for effect. There’s a tone difference. There’s several shifts in engagement in that special that I’m very aware of, that the first 20 or so minutes, I knew I had to talk about culture in the way I talk about culture. And it’s something I’ve been doing my entire career.

“And then once I got to talking about my father (and his dementia) and about Lynn’s passing and about aging, that I was talking from a personal experience around life itself. So there’s a shift in tone.

“And the reason I’m saying that is that that moment where I’m like, ‘I have no hope. If you have hope, what are you seven?’ It’s hilarious. And it’s kind of a heartbreaking laugh. But it does shed light on the idea of what is hope, really.”

Maron’s podcast blew up around 2010 and has since kept a huge audience. From 2013-2016 he had his own series Maron on IFC. His performance in the hit NetflixNFLX
series GLOW (2017-2019) received accolades and he also snagged work in projects like 2019’s Joker and 2022’s To Leslie, along with lending his voice to characters in 2022’s The Bad Guys and DC League Super-Pets.

No matter what else has transpired in Marc’s career at any given time, he always got out and performed for his audience. He’s a comic first and foremost.

“It’s who I am. It’s my core. It’s what I set out to do,” he said. “And I’ve always been doing it. … What’s really happening with me now is sort of I’m doing pretty great work, and I don’t always believe that, but I think the last two specials are about as good as I can be. … But what I’ve had to accept is that I’m not an arena act.

“I’m pretty specific. I think I do unique stuff. And I have to sort of be okay with it. So it’s not so much, ‘Remember me, I still do this.’ I’ve always been doing this, but it seems to be only for a certain audience. And I’ve had to accept that.

“It was never about winning for me. It was never about selling out stadiums. It was always about finding an audience.

“And I have one, and they’re good, and there’s a lot of them, and they support me, and I can sell tickets. So then that means that people want to come see me. So I’m grateful for that. And I do believe this special is the best work that I can do at this point in time.”

Around a month after Lynn passed, Maron interviewed Jerry Seinfeld in June of 2020 on his podcast. It was a fascinating listen given Marc’s ability to candidly reflect on his then mental state and be authentically inquisitive about Seinfeld’s comedy philosophies.

The interview grew contentious when Jerry wouldn’t take the deep dive behind the jokes that Marc was accustomed to taking with his stand up guests.

“I mean, it was the first interview I did, I think, after she died. I think it was,” Maron recalled. “And we were working with Zoom. But I was surprised Jerry wanted to do it.

“I give Jerry his place in comedy, but I can’t say that I was ever a fan. But he’s obviously a great comic, but there was this idea that— I just never felt like he— I always felt people like me just make him uncomfortable. I’m unpredictable, I’m inconsistent, I’m emotional.

“I never thought that he liked my comedy or that I was even on his radar really. I’m not even sure why he did the show. I know that Tom Papa had asked him about it. I knew that he knew that he was invited.

“But the fact that he said that— when we hit that wall around points of view around comedy, and he goes, ‘You kind of knew this was going to happen.’ Right? So he knew what he was getting into.

“But I think, to be honest with you, all I was trying to do was get him to engage emotionally, to be honest. And for him to say to me that something a comedian has said has never changed his mind is ridiculous. And what became apparent to me during that conversation is that he has this line that he holds, and I think it’s disingenuous.

“I think that he holds it because that’s always been the way he’s been. You just write the s*** out of something, you do the joke for laughs, it has no bearing on anything other than the laughs, and you do the work, and that’s what you get.

“We’re not here to say anything important. I could see that we’re not here to talk about politics or even sort of real feelings about deeper things. So I understand that point of view, but I think it’s an ideological stance that he maintains that I think is a little dishonest.”

A guest Marc would often voice his desire to land in the early days of the pod was Adam Sandler. On an old episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Maron made a joke stereotyping Sandler’s fans, which the SNL alum let Marc know he was displeased with at a stand up club shortly after, according to Marc’s account on WTF.

Several years ago, Adam finally agreed to do The Howard Stern Show a longtime after Stern made similar comments about him and his fans. Sandler has been back multiple times since.

“I’ve seen him since then, and he’s very nice. I saw him a couple of times,” Marc said. “I don’t remember where it was. But he was like, ‘Hey, Maron. What’s up?’ He’s very nice, very Adam. We have a couple of common friends. That issue that we had was probably similar to Stern’s, but it was one event.

“And I don’t know how much he holds a grudge. And I don’t know how much he wants to talk about himself. Stern and I do kind of a different thing.

“But again, despite wherever I am in the world, I do not know— and I don’t know if it’s out of my own insecurity or my own inability to acknowledge who I am in the world— that Sandler really gives a s*** about doing my show or me or anything else in terms of my podcast. So I don’t know if it’s personal, or it’s just sort of meh.

“I mean, that was a long time ago. And I still sort of believe my reasoning on it because I did it in this new special, but not with Sandler. I believe that once you are a cultural phenomenon that is a marker of something within the culture…

“The joke that I did about Sandler was really about— it was really around his fans and what they represent. It wasn’t a direct shot at Adam. In a way it was, but he was a cultural touchstone at one point in time. So as a comic, at some point, it has to be fair game, right?”

Marc said he won’t be in 2024’s Joker 2, which already began filming.

Maron played “Gene Ufland”, a late night talk show producer in the original film and had a memorable experience acting opposite Robert De Niro, to say the least. After the first take of a “walk-and-talk” scene that was later cut, Marc noticed De Niro walk over to director Todd Phillips and say something.

Then, Phillips came over to Maron and told him, “You’re coming in a little hot.” Marc was happy to make the adjustment. A scene he filmed with De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix, in full Joker makeup, made the cut. Maron visibly held his own opposite the two stars.

“It’s very exciting to do a scene with De Niro,” the comedian stated. “But it’s one of those moments in the movie. It just goes by. And when people talk about Joker, I’m like, ‘I was in that movie.’ And they’re like, ‘You were?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I was there.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh yeah. Right.’ It’s one of those things. I’ve done a few of those, Almost Famous, most famous.”