Sobriety has always been the connective tissue of comedian Marc Maron’s podcast WTF and his stand-up specials, but it’s front and center in the fourth season of his IFC sitcom. Maron (an AfterPartyPod guest) boldly starts his fictional alter ego off at less than zero: talking to himself, alone, out of his mind. Maron’s lost not only his celebrated podcast and devoted following, but his home and career prospects. He’s lost everything in a spectacularly public way, destroying a chance at hosting a talk show by getting addicted to Oxycontin.
We’re greeted with a disheveled, hobo-bearded Maron who’s addicted to pain pills and living in a storage space, two months behind on rent. Maron has always been raw, personal and ruminative in his podcast and stage work, but his sitcom has rarely been this note-perfect when it comes to articulating emotion. Maron, who is 16 years sober in real life, engages the sad reality of relapse and the difficulty of sobriety head-on. “I see guys who have been sober decades go out, and it’s a horrible reality,” Maron said in a recent People article. It’s officially become one of the very few television series that gets sobriety “right”—Maron understands addiction enough to respect it, while disassembling its absurdity.
Out Of The Garage
Not every success story begins at home, but Maron’s does. The comedian’s success story is pretty renowned—it’s your typical guy-goes-to-his-garage-and-restarts-his-life story. All kidding aside, rather than succumbing to a stalled career or depression and anxiety, he reinvented himself through his twice-weekly podcast WTF. Having lost a political-talk job with Air America, Maron turned his neurotic rage and honesty back toward the microphone and pioneered the art of the podcast, corralling the likes of Louis CK, Robin Williams and David Cross. Even President Barack Obama swung by the garage (while secret service snipers perched on Maron’s neighbor’s roof). More than anything, Maron’s voice has motivated countless imitators and inspired and driven millions of listeners with his passion and respect for sobriety.
A Creative Slippery Slope
By sending “himself” to rehab in Season 4, Maron embarks on a tricky creative decision that’s “not outside the wheelhouse of the possibilities,” according to People. It’s a fascinating, almost hypnotic choice. To me, there’s something exhilarating about watching a creative artist wrestle with their demons in public. It’s also a slippery slope in that the entire time I watch Maron’s Louis CK-funded trip to rehab, I can almost hear the pain throbbing in Maron’s writer’s room. In a Slate article about his sobriety, Maron noted that “even with therapy and AA it took me 26 years to get 14 years in a row sober. I was in and out, in and out.”
Watching sobriety unfold on screen is as haunting as it is hilarious. “It took some pretty dire circumstances to really get me sober. My career was not really going anywhere. I was in a marriage that was not good. I was not being a good man,” Maron said in the People profile. “I was using cocaine and alcohol and weed most of the week, and I was trying to hide it from my wife. I would go on the road and get into some pretty dangerous situations.”
The Reluctant Hero
Marc Maron may not have set out to become a paragon of sobriety, but his podcast is one of two podcasts that genuinely helped get me sober. Early on, his podcast was simply one of the few things that I could focus on instead of focusing on how good a bottle of wine sounded. I listened to his conversations and it took me a good dozen or so episodes to even realize Maron was a sober guy himself. I was almost delirious when I discovered this. In Slate, Maron went so far as to address all the alcoholics who think they can outrun their lifestyles: “You’re going to die from this. Nobody survives this. One way or the other, it’s going to kill you. It may take a while, or it may happen in one night for a million different reasons—a bad mix of drugs, drunk driving, catching a bullet because you’re scoring drugs in a shitty place, whatever. There’s a million ways it can kill you—but it will kill you. Even if you’re 65—sure, you’ve made it that far, but then your liver goes bad. I know guys who haven’t shot dope in 20 years but now they’ve got Hep C. You’re dealing with a chronic condition. And it’s going to kill you.”
His honesty is so bracing in the Slate piece that it’s disappointing when that doesn’t always translate to his IFC sitcom. For me, the show’s never been as immediate or engaging as his podcast. Maron has the rare opportunity to stage cathartic fictional scenarios, but they ultimately seem hollow and forced instead of raw or compelling. In one episode, his ex-wife becomes a celebrated author whom he invites to be a podcast guest. The result is a contrived half-hour that awkwardly goes back and forth in time, showing their tumultuous marriage then and their barbed, thorny relationship now. It was less entertaining than an inauthentic exercise in exorcising the past. But, in this season, there’s a confidence that’s been absent in almost every episode before. Here, in a rehab populated with very real characters (right down to the sober counselor who’s a wannabe podcaster), Maron knows what he’s talking about. He knows what it’s like to be sick and suffering. He’s not resurrecting the past or thinking through what could happen—he’s providing a very real glimpse into the stark reality that awaits all alcoholics and addicts, no matter their lengths of sobriety.
At one point, his friend tells him: “You’re a talented guy with a history of overcoming a lot of shit. You can do this.” Maron answers that he doesn’t understand show business, but his friend counters that he’s talking about life. It’s a beautiful moment that underscores just how much Maron’s alternate reality is as much a cautionary tale for his audience as it is for himself.
Photo courtesy of Timothy Krause via Flickr [CC0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/] (resized and cropped)
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