About halfway through Marc Maron’s set at Kodak Hall Saturday night, Maron did an impression of himself stalking around in his early years. He said, mockingly, “I had to own the stage.” The irony was, all these years later, with a far more subtle (though not always) approach, he owned the whole theater. In fact, from the first minute of his act, which consisted of him reacting to the grandeur of the hall, he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
A fair amount of his act was about other things he frequently held in the palm of his hand, but -- and you really had to be there for this -- it was his imitation of female masturbation that got one of the biggest laughs of the night. A lot of his material would fall into the category formerly known as risqué; I’m not sure that category exists anymore.
There were segments of Maron’s act that could be called a routine, but even these were sprinkled with improvisatory bits. His overall theme was the tension between flying without a net and falling back on tried and true material. He’s obviously a comedian who likes to take risks, making him a perfect choice for the Fringe Festival. Although the balconies were sparsely populated, the main floor of Kodak Hall was just about full.
A recurring presence that tied his act together was a meta-Marc-Maron, who critically evaluated how he was doing at various points along the way. Perhaps his finest improvisation came when he accidently kicked over his water bottle. Discovering it a few minutes later, he got down on his hands and knees with a towel, and after commenting, in the meta-Maron voice, about his transition to a character in a Eugene O’Neill play, he dove into the role, complaining loudly of a family stain that could not be removed. It was pretty brilliant.
He segued from topic to topic, telling stories involving hypochondria, drug use, morning radio, judging people, spirituality, and religion. Maron himself was at the center of all of them, usually in the role of antihero. His narratives about his relationships and his anxiety about running out of time to have children (he’s about to turn 50) were funny, but they also contained poignant truths.
One thing Maron does not do is paint a pretty picture of his life. Yet, he manages to be hip, smart, and loveable. Maybe audiences respond to all those neuroses he is willing to expose in himself so they don’t have to expose theirs. It could be he provides some sort of Dorian Gray-like portrait for his fans who feel a sense of relief that they’re not him. Whatever it is, it worked Saturday night. After the show (and a standing ovation) Maron stuck around, shaking hands, signing autographs, and posing for pictures with a long line of fans.
The opening act, Nate Bargatze, had a comedic identity built on the idea of being not too bright. He announced early on that he was from Tennessee and, pointing to the deaf translator signing on the side of the stage, he said, “We’re gonna find out what ‘unh’ looks like.” He was very funny, keeping his deadpan delivery in place while traversing topics ranging from locking himself out of his hotel room naked to replacing guns with tigers.