Marc Maron and Friends: Real…Rare…Stand Up

by February 1st, 2009 - Culture » Performance »

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Tuesday, January 27th, just a shade safely into the labyrinthine West Village of New York City, stand up comedians of considerable stature rather spontaneously combusted on stage, scalding the soft sensibilities of the small squishy minds stuffed into an impossibly smaller space.

Oh…perhaps its wasn’t as elaborate as all that…but it was only $10…as Marc Maron and Friends – in the persons of Todd Barry and John Oliver – repeatedly reminded the audience.

But you ask…who is this Marc Maron…who exactly are these friends…and is their actual friendship just a convenience for advertising?

Marc Maron…is one of a handful of my favorite living comedians…which says something significant, but I do not know exactly what. He has been doing a great job in the last few years continuing to be a living comedian, but I had not seen much new from him since his radio show, Morning Sedition, ceased to be. A stand up comedian of grand manic depressive proportions who has been bringing fits of fury and funny to audiences for a great many years, he is additionally beloved as author of The Jerusalem Syndrome and host of Short Attention Span Theater, an early Comedy Central talk show.

But new things were indeed to be seen of him at The Cornelia Street Cafe, where he and that night’s cohorts were to use the smaller venue and lower price to stretch out some new material…stutter around a bit…scratch their crotches if need be…and in general throw polish to the wind and get hit in the face with whatever the fan may return.

My good lady and I had perhaps foolishly not made reservations and were forced to cross our fingers next to a waiting list. Very near to abandoning all hope, we were told that there was just barely standing room in the very back of the venue. While this seemed something less than ideal as we squeezed into the very back of the space, we quickly found a silver lining as we also happened to be squeezed almost directly into Marc Maron, Todd Barry, and John Oliver.

As the venue had no true green room or off-stage area, we enjoyed the show very much in the company of the other performers – their general amusement, laughter, and applause along with ours, we were also treated to somewhat less private remarks they had with each other between sets.

Marc Maron played a great part introducing the night and each comedian, mixing tried and true material with newer riffs in short bursts as he did so.

First featured was Todd Barry. A soft-spoken touchstone of stand-up, he seemed to experiment more than others, airing out untested material with such calm and even delivery that the audience’s mind is left a defenseless sponge to the uglier and stranger things he may say, an aftershock of laughter striking after a delay in the synapses. Following the casual somewhat haphazard theme of the night, Barry, still delightfully, took time to mismanage his cell phone and malign the sound system that struggled to project his whispering sarcasm without feeding back a piercing whine.

Performing next was John Oliver, the very British comedian who regularly appears as one of the better correspondents on The Daily Show. His was quite a shift from Todd Barry, as Oliver puts forth a much more rapid, exuberant and accented performance. I believe perhaps there may have been some slightly sour feelings from the other comedians, as Oliver seemed to almost exclusively use his A material in a night that I think was meant as more of a workshop. Nonetheless, Oliver was extremely entertaining, dancing through a program of world politics and violent culture clashes through a prism of straight faced absurdity that can’t help but remind one of Monty Python – hilarious ideas married to a complex construction of language that would be beautiful and entertaining even if the subject were the study and cultivation of the smaller and less interesting components of dust particles. Although terribly polished overall, there was one rather enjoyable awkward moment where he got stuck in a 5 minute loop of playing both roles in a conversation that had begun humorous, but which had no ending and lingered on into an abstract bit of existential thought wherein the characters autonomously became aware of their fictional nature and stammered around on this point with no end in sight…

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