Marc Maron had a reputation for being cranky. This was partly due to the curmudgeonly tirades he’d go on sometimes while hosting his weekly podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, which began in 2009 and is still going strong. It’s also partly because the 59-year-old frequently appeared in films and TV shows as a pissed-off Jewish guy with a short fuse—like in Almost Famous (2000) and GLOW (2017–2019). Mainly, however, this persona arose from the acid-drenched standup routines he’d been performing around the country since he started out in comedy 36 years ago.
But then, something truly tragic happened. In May 2020, Maron’s partner, indie filmmaker Lynn Shelton, died of acute myeloid leukemia at age 54.
Two days later, he released a podcast in which he explained what had happened and emotionally cracked wide open in a truly brave and harrowing expression of grief that made everyone within the sound of his voice—especially those also grappling with loss—feel a deep kinship with this man who seemed to understand his listeners’ deepest pain.
In the ensuing years since Shelton’s death, Maron has metabolized his loss into a compassionately observational style of comedy that’s perfect for the post-COVID era. And he is arguably doing the best work of his career. His latest standup special, From Bleak to Dark on HBOMax, is a surprisingly beautiful meditation on sorrow that is also, somehow, brilliantly funny. “She passed away,” he tells his audience solemnly. “It was the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to me…and I’m sure to her.”
“This stuff about grief, and about Lynn passing—that was stuff I was really wrestling with,” he tells me via Zoom from his kitchen table in Glendale, CA. “After From Bleak to Dark, I don’t know exactly where I need to go thematically. I have an inkling, but I’m starting to find that being an emotionally stunted, childless man with a few cats, my life doesn’t change much— know what I mean?”
As if on cue, a handsome gray and white cat noses his way between Maron and the camera, obviously ready for his closeup. “Come on, Charlie,” he says to one of his three feline roommates, pulling him close. “Charlie’s an asshole all day long. In the middle of the night, he’s on my face. He’s sticking his nose in my mouth and purring at 4:30 in the morning. He’s just full, kitten asshole.”
It was actually Maron’s love of cats that helped him find intimacy of the human variety again after Shelton’s death. “Kit came around months after Lynn died,” he says of his current girlfriend who works at the Pasadena Humane Society. “She was a cat person and kind of nerdy. So, I responded to her email. Neither of us really expected anything out of it other than companionship in these dark times. But it just kept going. And over time, I’ve surrendered to it, and that’s where we’re at. She’s a very good person.”
When I ask Maron if he’s a feminist, his answer suggests that he’s striving to be a good person, too. And for him, that means improving his relationships with women. “I believe I am a feminist,” he says. “I’ve been a bad guy. But even when I was a bad guy, I didn’t see myself as not a feminist. I just had emotional problems. I feel like I am definitely a feminist now, though, because I’ve learned how to not be such a toxic asshole. I was so emotionally insecure that I did a lot of damage to myself and to women I’ve been in relationships with. I was volatile, insecure, jealous. There’s a toxic male spectrum that goes from insensitivity to murder and I think most men are hovering between insensitivity and mildly emotionally abusive. So, for me, it was about owning the pain I caused. More than anything else, I shifted to finally having the proper amount of empathy toward women, as opposed to just seeing them as people reacting to me.”
Top Image: All Photo Credit: Elisabeth Caren & Grooming: Michelle Demilt @ Celestine