In ‘More Later,’ Marc Maron Hones Self-Obsession Into an Art

If you have time, it’s worth checking out Marc Maron’s half-hour HBO special from 1995 before watching More Later. Recorded during a period in the comedian’s career most of his current fans know from how often he apologized for it in the early days of his podcast, the special captures a pre-sobriety, pre-therapy Maron: pure, manic anger, uncurbed by introspection learned over the subsequent two decades.

In 2015, introspection might just be Maron’s defining trait. His persona, established over hundreds of WTF opening monologues and more recent specials like 2013’s Thinky Pain — like the half-hour special, which is on HBO Now, it’s easily streamable, via Netflix —  echoes not so much other stand-ups as another neurotic (read: Jewish) performer who’s disarmingly candid about their personal life.

Like Lena Dunham, Marc Maron relies on a paradoxical ability to learn from his mistakes just enough to turn them into candid, perceptive work his audience can connect with… but never enough that he actually stops making those mistakes, thereby depriving himself of material. And like Dunham, Maron has narrowed the space between doing something and analyzing something to mere seconds, a fact he both acknowledges and demonstrates in his latest special for Epix.

There’s no gimmick to More Later‘s cold open, no talking bulldogs or homage to past heroes. We just watch Maron fret over whether to partake of the deep dish pizza on offer backstage at Chicago’s Vic Theatre through the eyes of director, and fellow comedian, Bobcat Goldthwait’s handheld camera. He goes for it, of course, even though he’s well aware that a mountain of carbs and dairy isn’t the ideal pre-show meal — then walks out onstage, where he recounts the reasoning behind his latest bad decision as the night’s opening bit. (It’s so he can blame his performance on the pizza if the taping goes badly; also, “Why not have two slices of deep dish pizza? Why not not do that?”)

By the time Maron tells the audience he’s “tighten[ed] up the space between outburst and apology” so much he once ended an argument with “SHUT THE FUCK UP I’M SORRY,” then, it’s redundant to those of us watching in our living rooms and not the theater. To watch Marc Maron do stand-up is to see an internal monologue externalized — to witness a person progress and regress and doubt themselves and push through it, all in real time.

Maron exemplifies this approach with the rhetorical device that gives More Later its name: his “inner blogger,” who periodically chimes in with unsolicited feedback like “MARON’S OFF THE STOOL, IT NEVER GOES WELL” or “MARON FEELS UNCOMFORTABLE USING ‘GAY’ IN THAT CONTEXT” before signing off with the promise of “MORE LATER.” He is, in essence, live-tweeting his own performance, a recurring joke that hits unusually close to home if you’re, say, reviewing his special for an online publication, but also as fine an expression of hyperactive neurosis as Maron’s ever produced.

As always, whether one finds Maron’s act compelling or off-putting depends entirely on how much one relates to said neurosis. I’ve often joked to friends who find WTF narcissistic rather than therapeutic that it’s “a Judaism thing,” but it’s true that connecting to Maron’s comedy requires sharing an identity with him — just not a religious one. Only the anxious will resonate with tales of insecure cat ownership, self-conscious cat ownership, and sad masturbation, tied together with a joke that only gets more self-reflexive as it goes along (“KEEP THE META VOICES TO ONE, PLEASE. MORE LATER.”). Luckily for Maron, there’s no shortage of anxious people out there.

Goldthwait communicates the self-absorption, and self-awareness, that fuel Maron’s comedy by keeping reaction shots to a minimum throughout More Later‘s seventy-five minute runtime. Instead, the audience comes into play only when Maron engages with them, letting his old-school club comic show by slapping down a drunk heckler or projecting his insecurity onto the front row. Immediately after he takes his place onstage, he tells a particularly enthusiastic onlooker, “I do not indulge woos that happen in weird places.” Then, to himself: “How do you want to open this thing? Why don’t you just attack a woman for no reason over something she didn’t really do?”

It’s a neat summary of what’s to come in the next hour: observational comedy from someone who, like most people, finds as much to observe in himself as the world around him. Unlike most people, he’s not afraid to tell the rest of the world what he sees.

Marc Maron: More Later airs on Epix tonight at 10 pm.