“End Times Fun,” a state-of-the-nation special, is his most ambitious production, sometimes to a fault, veering from reflective to raunchy, covering everything from the anti-vaccination and #MeToo movements to evangelical politics. Some of his premises, about the shadiness of Trump or the sexuality of Pence, are too familiar. What stands out is his anchoring theme: a skepticism of unshakable belief of any kind.
Speaking in a deadpan that gets raspier the longer the sentence goes, Maron, who wears jeans, a vest and a bushy beard, has left his old anger behind. He sounds more seen-it-all weary, impatient with anyone who thinks they have answers, including his fellow podcaster Joe Rogan, whom he needles for selling health supplements before saying he’ll get some flak about it online from “the monoculture of freethinkers,” a salvo that seems aimed at the class of commentators and comics reflexively at war with political correctness. Maron describes himself as “85 percent woke, the other 15 percent I keep to myself.”
He singles out three major American religions: Fox News, Christianity and the Marvel Universe. He spends the least time with Fox, while he is quick to point out that Marvel and Christianity were both “created in Jewish writers’ rooms.” In Jewish comedy, pride has always hidden right underneath self-hatred, a paradox Maron examines (and inhabits) as well as anyone.
After three and a half decades in comedy, Maron has evolved into a sneakily clever joke mechanic. Smuggling punch lines into asides or seeming tangents, he attempts to approximate more of a conversation than a setup-and-punch line structure, one full of Socratic dialogues, short stories and barroom theories. Sometimes he seems more interested in a literary flourish than a belly laugh. His final joke is not hilarious but it calls back to no fewer than four different ones from the previous hour. In earlier specials, he almost fetishized spontaneity, but his work now is more overtly writerly, intricate and structured.
Over the years, Maron has been on several comedy vanguards, from the birth of the alt scene in the 1990s to the podcast revolution more than a decade ago, but with age and success, he has become firmly part of the establishment, a television star whose podcast is as likely to feature Brad Pitt gushing over the host’s self-titled IFC show as a scrappy comic talking shop. (Full disclosure: I have appeared on it, and on a recent episode, he discussed me reviewing his special, the first time I have received a review invite by podcast.) Maron is now the old guard. It’s not uncommon to hear young comics poke fun at him. It’s part of the price you pay for a decade of nostalgizing in public as well as the inevitable hypocrisies you engage in if you live long enough. Maron hates comic-book culture, but of course he appeared in the movie “Joker.”