It's all about bouncing back

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Return Engagement / Final Engagement

Final Engagement

Marc Maron
2 Stand-up Comedy CD
Stand Up! Records 2009

Unprofessional though it may be, I'll start with a personal note: Yes, I'm back. Yes, it has been a long time. And no -- I don't feel like talking about it. (Okay fine -- we can talk later. But after this. I'm busy.)

Personal note #2: Maron's latest, "Final Engagement" was taped at Giggles in Seattle -- so I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience for the taping. It has been a long time since I reviewed the CD of a live performance that I attended; but it's always a treat. I love to compare the anticipation and surprise of hearing the material fresh to the more analytical experience of examining it repeatedly on tape. Hearing it again months later, knowing every punch line in advance, I still enjoyed remembering how each one arrives and lands.

But that's enough about me. What's been up with Maron? Quite a good nasty deal, it turns out. As usual.

Marriage number two is over. And in typical fashion, he uses the tale of that gruesome change as an opportunity to make himself look vulnerable -- so we can feel compassion and empathy for his story, even though he willingly admits that he may have driven her away. Even though he confesses that, in the back of his mind, when he reflects on her departure, he thinks only: "Good for her. I've been trying to leave me for years."

I enjoyed this material for many reasons; but I think my strongest connection to it arises from the associations with middle age. Let's be honest: the break up story of an attractive and virile 25 year old is frequently trite and overplayed. But the story of being left again at 40 is a far richer tale. But it takes confidence and skill to find the funny in an experience that is not only painful but which could easily spill over into pathetic if not diced precisely. Thankfully, after 25 years at this, Maron can avoid those traps with artistry.

Instead, it's all handled deftly. By the time of this taping, he had the whole separation defined and summarized by one or two quick jokes. "My wife recently brought it to my attention that I have an anger problem. But she didn't say it like that; she said: 'I'm leaving.'" And everything from that point forward is just exposition. With that simple set up, we maintain enough sympathy to hear out his side of the story.

The non-divorce sections of the performance focus on more classic Maron material. The core of it is reflecting on how to get by in the world as an aging romantic who is constantly at risk of turning [even more] cynical. Who can't relate to this? It's the joy of day to day mental struggle. As in: "[I]f you walk up to someone and say 'Hi, how are you doing?' and they say "Fine", what they really mean is 'Help me! Don't walk away! . . ." But you can't say that because they will only respond 'Don't worry you'll be fine.'" It stays with you throughout the day and makes life's little interactions and annoyances all that much easier to bear.

Recommend. Download immediately.

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