“I don’t know what’s happening, people — I don’t know. But it’s pretty clear the world is ending. I don’t want to shock anybody — seems to be happening, though. I thought we’d get out, I thought we’d make it under the wire. I thought I would — I’m 56 — but I dunno, I think we might see it.”
When Marc Maron recorded End Times Fun at REDCAT in L.A. on October 30th, he couldn’t have known how prophetic those rambling words would sound this month when his stand-up special premiered on Netflix. But 10 minutes into the set, he drops that gloomy observation in reference to global warming. And although carbon emissions may not be on many people’s minds at the moment, the comment nonetheless plays like a clarion call from the podcasting king and GLOW star. The particulars of our collective anxiety have changed from then to now, but what’s striking about End Times Fun is that, for the most part, the general sense of unease has remained the same. And like the rest of us, Maron doesn’t have any answers — although he can at least offer a few good jokes. Maybe not enough, but a few.
This would seem like a happy time in Maron’s life. Currently dating filmmaker Lynn Shelton, who directed End Times Fun and the 2019 indie comedy Sword of Trust (which starred Maron), the comic continues to land major guests for WTF and has seen his acting profile rise of late, including a supporting role in Joker. But dissatisfaction and self-loathing remain key components of his repertoire. As the special begins, he explains what it’s like to be “a midlevel celebrity,” a condition that means that if three people are walking toward him, one will be really excited and the other two will have no idea who he is. A glass-mostly-empty guy, Maron can’t help but focus on the two dudes who haven’t heard of him, but he’s getting better about that. “Now, look, I’m happy the one guy likes me,” he tells the intimate crowd, “but what I’ve learned over time is that I don’t really have to stand there while he tries to explain who I am to his friends.”
Maron is hardly the only lovable grump who’s made his living in comedy, but his particular brand of irritable humor has never entirely won me over. Often more aggrieved than insightful, he’s your one buddy whom you agree with politically but is so loud and angry about everything that it becomes a bit of a drone. In End Times Fun, he’s best when he doesn’t belabor his points, smacking down Trump, Evangelicals, anti-vaxxers, anti-Semitism, yoga instructors and the latest health trends with quick, snotty putdowns. Dressed in a buttoned-down shirt and vest, Maron looks more like a groovy Berkeley professor than the town crank, but when he unloads on Marvel fanboys, who he considers as brainwashed and cultish as religious zealots, it’s funny but goes on so long that it starts to seem excessive. As sharp as he is, he’s probably not someone you’d want to be quarantined with for a considerable length of time.
As we all hunker down and stay indoors during this pandemic, it’s natural that we’ll be extra-selective about the entertainment we consume. Some of us will cozy up with comforting old favorites to forget our troubles for a while, while others will seek out bleak doomsday movies like Contagion and 28 Days Later as a way to confront the impending apocalypse head-on. Funny enough, End Times Fun serves both purposes. Maron’s disgust at America’s political reality, in which he envisions (not unreasonably) religious conservatives in the GOP speeding up our destruction so that the Rapture can come sooner rather than later, would have been deeply disconcerting… at any moment except the exact one we’re in now.
Sure, you can connect the dots — the incompetent Republican leadership that Maron is barking about is the same one that bungled the country’s handling of coronavirus — but his 2019 concerns feel endearingly antiquated in 2020. When Maron bitches about technology controlling our lives and eventually enslaving us, you almost smile at his unwitting naiveté. Marc, honey, people don’t have toilet paper or ventilators right now — we’ve got bigger worries.
Nonetheless, even more than Maron could have known when he taped it, his stand-up special is a compelling argument that we’ve become inured to calamity — each new disaster makes the old one suddenly seem commonplace. After a silly joke about Trump ushering in an era of rampant lizards and daytime coyotes running amok, he gets serious with an observation that was very timely for late October:
“Our state is on fire right now. It’s on fire all the time. Every year, California is on fire to the point where it’s just the way it is. Two weeks ago, my friend Lynn said, ‘Aren’t the fires a little late this year?’ How is that something you say — like it’s a season? It kinda is a season: Once a year, if you live in California, you’re like, ‘Ah, fuck, there are ants and shit’s burning — must be summer.’ So they are late this year. And it’s crazy, man. We just kinda live with it, and they’re worse and worse.”
I laughed, but I also shook my head. I haven’t thought about the California fires for ages — there’s always some other emergency to deal with, whether personally or societally, and as a result, we can’t focus on any one of them too long lest we be caught unprepared for the next. The sadness of that perpetual low-grade dread hovers over everything in End Times Fun, which is equal parts angry, funny and resigned, and like a lot of us, Maron simply seems exhausted by the news. He talks a little about this idea that we shouldn’t “normalize” Trump’s behavior, as if we’re all supposed to walk around screaming every day in terror and rage because he’s president. Maron thinks that’s bullshit. “You can’t do that,” he says. “Many people have jobs, they have things to do. They have to function in the world.”
And to function in the world, we need to spend a little time during a crisis detaching from it, maybe even watching a Netflix stand-up special. At one point during End Times Fun, Maron confesses he doesn’t know what to do about Trump, bigots, global warming or any of the other ills he brings up during his set. Nobody does. And as the special heads to its big finale, Maron ponders what the end of the world might look like. He has two best-case scenarios. I’ll resist spoiling them, partly because one is so satisfying that it’s better that you see it for yourself — and because the other is so protracted and juvenile that it’s not worth the energy to recap it.
Either way, the odds are still very good that COVID-19 won’t bring about the Rapture. We’re going to get through this. But as End Times Fun suggests, that will only mean we’ll then be able to reacquaint ourselves with the daily catastrophes that have temporarily been put on hold.