Heart in an Idiot Box: How Marc Maron Has Become a Cultural Leader

Perhaps the revolution will be televised…on basic cable.

Stand-up comedian Marc Maron has reached a new career plateau as his long-running podcast (WTF), his new book (Attempting Normal), and his self-titled IFC series combine to legitimize him as a bona fide brand in the industry that overlooked him for decades. And nearly midway through its first season, Maron has confirmed that although his wait to “blow up” was long, it was worth it. In fact, he may even agree that the timing couldn’t have worked out any other way.

We can all remember the first time we made this face and why.
Admit it; you remember the first time you made this face and why.

In a fashion similar to how Louis CK redefined the TV sitcom with his self-titled(ish) FX series, Maron not only has become a rising star across formats, but is also using his career as a testament to the upside of marching by one’s own beat. Although Maron’s new lease on comedy came out of desperation, his leap into the unknown resonates with millions of people at the end of their career ropes and who feel paralyzed by the fear of chasing their dreams. Maron’s championship of the do-it-yourself method of reaching the people remains a scourge in the broader entertainment industrial complex, but Maron’s success implies that change is afoot.

Fortunately for consumers interested in comedy with depth, the executives at IFC (who have been at the forefront of adapting independent comedy for TV) see a profit motive in attracting an audience that doesn’t consider The Big Bang Theory or 2 Broke Girls the quintessence of situation comedy. While the American landscape accommodates major network sitcoms, there grows an unsatisfied market of viewers who demand more than a lowbrow quip-fest to enjoy comedy on television. And considering Marc Maron’s underground popularity, the suits at IFC naturally recognized Maron’s value as a unique commodity.

On Maron, consistent with his other projects, Marc unapologetically displays the wounds of life that give accessible dimension to his neuroses, even for people who do not share his experiences. Whether encountering a pregnant ex-wife, bedding women half his age, or accepting the relationship with his father, Maron’s point of view confirms that tapping into humanity’s emotional core is what makes comedy an art of substance. Being confronted with our own truth through someone else’s experience also validates how social a species we are, despite how technology has turned us away from the basic methods of connection that we all once held dear.

Maron avoids the burden of invention demanded by ironic detachment (prevalent in comedy today), opting instead for a more traditional approach of storytelling: building around real experiences and feelings to create an entertaining and relatable narrative. And as he focuses on how vulnerability and desperation influence our decisions, decisions that often result in self-sabotage, Maron provides the audience with a cathartic mirror into the self instead of an escapist’s window into an experience that lulls audiences into the comfort of, “Hey, at least I’m not that guy.”

Like Louie, Maron speaks to those of us who have chosen the frightening path of introspection, those of us who have chosen self-awareness as a tool for ultimate happiness, and are using those choices to blaze our own trails. And for those who would rather veg out and avoid themselves over back-to-back Mike and Molly episodes, Nielsen has your back. But as the legions of intellectual consumers continue to become an attractive market share for TV executives, even the Wal-Mart set may be driven toward a brand of programming that shows them who they could be instead of what they have resigned to become.

Maron airs at 10pm/9pm Central on Fridays on IFC.

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