Marc Maron & Kirk Fox
Company: Gilded Balloon Productions
Venue: Gilded Balloon – Wine Bar
Date: 21 Aug ’07
To be honest, I can’t review these two in the same review. I thought it was a bizarre decision to put them on a double bill in the first place; the standard length of a stand-up slot in Edinburgh is an hour, abnormally short to start with. To close that down to half an hour seems undesirable. To put two comedians together on the basis of not much more than the fact that they are both Americans who have been on TV and are a bit different seems condescending. And to try to rate two very different performances together seems unfair. So:
Clearly, the performance I saw, and for all I know many of them, was adversely affected by a negative review that the show had received (in Fest, of all places – the fact they had good reviews from The Herald and Three Weeks, both much more influential organs, makes me puzzled that it bothered them so much). The audience wasn’t of a great size either, which I suspect had more to do with it. Fox seemed to be down and irritable as a result, although for all I know that is just his style. Whatever, it didn’t work. Even if the material wasn’t actually that bad, the tone of voice and the empty acoustic in the room suggested he was dying. It didn’t help that he hadn’t really made much effort to localize his humour, doing a bit about his score on the US FICO system which obviously meant nothing to any of the UK audience. It helped even less that his material is pretty average in the first place.
I cannot be as impartial as I would like to be about Maron, having been aware of his work for a while both as a stand-up comic and, I think, as an even better radio host. Nonetheless, I thought this was a fantastic performance from him. The word “edgy” is used about a lot of comedy nowadays, but this is one place where the word genuinely applies. Maron’s wife Mishna has left him recently, apparently, which would explain why he was quite so angry, even for him. The point, though, is that Maron managed to turn what negativity he had about him into the energy to drive a scorching performance.
As familiar as I am with his established material, it took me a good twenty minutes before I spotted any. In contrast to Fox, he started his section with a bunch of comments about Scotland, ranging from the Scots diet (he wondered why, with so much fried food about, there weren’t nearly so many fat people as in the US, eventually concluding that it was because Americans never stop eating: “It’s part of your freedom in America”), to the bewildering popularity of circus-entertainment-type street performers relative to buskers on the Royal Mile. This was a jumping off point to a standard Maron theme: the idea that art and entertainment are not the same.
By far the funniest material, though, was the obviously very raw sentiment he expressed about his divorce, and his failings with women (“I keep thinking that if I can just find the broken Daddy Box in their heads…”). Continually kneeling on his haunches to get on a more intimate level with the audience, and lowering his voice to the level of a calm, suppressed anger, the performance often felt a bit like a therapy session where we, the therapists, were allowed to laugh directly at the patient. The result was the most disorientating show I saw in Edinburgh. As Maron says, he prefers people to come out of his shows remarking not “that was hilarious” but rather “I hope that guy’s OK”. He certainly managed that.
It is something I find continually frustrating about Maron’s comedy, that I don’t know how much of it is artifice, and how much is genuine. As a result, he has attracted a troupe of fans, at their peak when Maron was on the radio and able to give them a daily fix, who feel rather too concerned for, and familiar with, him. I fight the urge to become one of them. But it is perhaps this very uncertainty that makes Maron’s comedy work so well: if we were certain it was for real and not exaggerated, we would feel guilty laughing; if we were certain it was all show, it wouldn’t be nearly so funny. I just hope that Marc ultimately finds it fulfilling that he can make us laugh.
In any case, this is exactly the kind of show the Fringe is for, and I really hope to see Marc back with a show of his own and a bit more hype.