By Marc Maron
Spiegel & Grau. 210 pp. $26
nolead ends nolead begins
Reviewed by Hillary Rea
Marc Maron is a stand-up comedian best known for his podcast WTF and for leading the podcast boom. He has a half-hour sitcom on IFC called Maron, four comedy albums, and his own brand of coffee, "the WTF Roast." It's fairly believable that a collectible action figure with soul patch, mustache, and furrowed brow is not far in the future.
Maron's brand is rapidly expanding, prompting the release of his second book, the memoir Attempting Normal. Maron's first book, Jerusalem Syndrome, was also a memoir but written during a point in his life and career that soon after hit rock bottom. Normal is an exploration of this past, but with a brighter, somewhat serene outlook on what he went through and how he has moved on and fostered his own comedy renaissance.
Fans of Marc Maron are Deadhead-like devotees - obsessed with his obsessions, his worries, his progress and transformation. Anyone can follow his every move without ever having to leave the house. There are nearly 400 episodes of his podcast, with two new releases every week. That's three hours of audio Maron and now an additional 30 minutes of visual Maron, thanks to his TV show, a lightly fictionalized account of a comedian who records a podcast in his garage.
It seems the only fantasy lived out in his sitcom is Judd Hirsch playing the role of his father. Maronites know all about his former life as a drug-addicted, twice-married, rage-aholic comic who partied his way through the Boston, L.A., and New York City comedy scenes. He's the guy who's known for being on Conan O'Brien's show all the time, and for once living in the shadows of his best friend, Louis CK.
Attempting Normal is all of this backstory and not much more. The pages are packed with stale material - a mixture of transcribed podcast interviews and a selection of life events that Maron gives in greater detail than he would on the air, but lacking the humor, anxiety, and intensity of his podcast-style storytelling. However, for those wanting to dip their toes into the world of Marc Maron without binge-listening to episodes of his podcast, Normal serves as the perfect Maron 101. Each chapter is a stand-alone essay, moving the book along at a quick pace, providing an entertaining overview that will leave most wanting to dive in for more.
For those familiar with the intricacies of Maron's personal life, the chapter titled "Babies" is old news. While Maron confesses his bundle of fears regarding having a baby and being an "old dad," those who follow him weekly know that his current girlfriend has already given him a timeline for producing a baby and an ultimatum if it doesn't happen. That is far more gut-wrenching than anything he has put down on paper.
There are two chapters that will please both curious readers and superfans. The first is "Cats," Maron's origin story of how he became not just "a cat guy" but a "my cat guy." Not only does he tell us in greater detail about his three pride-and-joy felines Monkey, LaFonda, and Boomer, but we also learn about his childhood pets, his first cat, Butch, and a colony of feral cats. Maron omits any humor in admitting that his infatuation with felines came about when he could not take care of himself and so devoted all of his time to taking care of them - a rare moment in the book when he is as fresh, raw, and untapped as the interviews on his podcast.
In "The Clown and the Chair," Maron writes with a clarity, honesty, and specificity not found in other sections of the book. He pinpoints the moment of demise of his second marriage to the purchase of a midcentury orange leather-back chair.
The final chapter of the book is a transcript of Maron's 2011 keynote address from the prestigious Montreal Just for Laughs Festival. This is another moment in his life that is too familiar to fans, and a bland finale to his memoir. He relays the message of struggle, overcoming obstacles, starting anew, and becoming a better person through it all. But this ending is out-of-date. What could have been a happily-ever-after ending for a memoir two years ago now reads as a CliffsNotes version of the life we listen to through earbuds.
But with its even-tempered, conversational tone, Maron gives a method to his madness that will certainly win over the hearts of new readers, whereas a heavy dose of Maron in other media might scare away those who are unfamiliar. Without the necessity of a punch line on every page, his neuroses and obsessions can simmer and become all the more lovable, even for those expecting more. Attempting Normal fails to live up to a comedy nerd's expectation, but will satisfy a curious reader.