As Marc Maron recently discussed on Comedy Bang! Bang!, doing Maron has forced him to step outside of himself a bit more and see his issues more plainly. Prominent among those issues are the ones he has with his father. Maron has talked extensively about his father in his act, on WTF, and his new book, which has a hilarious chapter that transcribes the insane message his dad left on a Mother’s Day card for Maron’s sister-in-law. On Maron, Marc is estranged from his father (played by the great Judd Hirsch), who’s a former doctor with bipolar disorder and a huckster’s drive. In real life, Mr. Maron is a bipolar doctor—who can still legally practice—prone to fleeting obsessions, like raising show dogs (as detailed in Attempting Normal).
In the original 2011 pilot for Maron, Marc’s dad was played by Ed Asner, but by the time the show was picked up to series, they couldn’t work out the scheduling with him. When Judd Hirsch’s name came up as an alternative, Maron says in that Comedy Bang! Bang! episode, the concern was that he’d be too Judd Hirsch-y—that is, charmingly neurotic, not menacingly neurotic, like they needed. When he came in, that’s what happened. But Maron said it only took one bit of feedback to get Hirsch into character. On the show, there’s still no mistaking him for Judd Hirsch, but he definitely exudes a sense of imbalance, like he could rage or totally shut down at any moment. He looks much more like the guy who spawned Maron than Asner.
Maron recorded that episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! months before the show premiered, and at the time, he wasn’t sure which episode would lead off. On the podcast, he mentioned it’d either be the Dave Foley one (which it was) or another one, but he didn’t mention it by name. “Marc’s Dad” seems the likely candidate. It opens in a similar way as “Internet Troll,” only this time Maron’s talking directly into the camera as he gives a rapid-fire biography of himself: He lives alone with his three cats; he has two ex-wives (one who’s bitter, one he could probably get back); he has a mom in Florida, and a “lunatic bipolar father.” IFC used this scene in promos for Maron, and it’s a remarkably economical bit of exposition to set up a series.
“Marc’s Dad” also feels like the other first-episode candidate in the way that it establishes his career. In real life, Maron started his podcast because he had nothing else going on and a manager who ignored him. Art imitates life here again, as Maron’s agent keeps him waiting for half an hour while he sucks up to Pete Holmes. (“I’m gonna land you your own talk show!”—hey, he came through on that one!) It becomes clear right away that Maron isn’t a priority for this guy, and that he doesn’t know how to process Maron’s assertion that “Podcasts are the future of show business.” It’s clear how this is going to end.
On the show, Maron knows nothing of his father’s whereabouts, but he isn’t surprised at all to find him at his door out of the blue. That moments says a lot about their relationship; here’s a guy whose flakiness forced his family to accept just about anything as a possibility—like getting a bunch of boxes of “vitamins” called “Maron’s Mix.” (“Gives you five-hour energy and a 72-hour boner.”) Like water receding from a shore before a tsunami, those boxes are a harbinger of what’s coming. As Maron tells his brother, “I knew there was a storm comin’ when I woke up. The cats were freaked out; one of ’em’s missing. They got a sense, buddy.”
The vitamins, it turns out, are only the latest in a succession of schemes hatched by his father over the years, and it looks a hundred times sketchier that he’s trying to sell them out of his RV. (“Where do you get that stuff? What, do you make it in the trailer? What are you, Walter White?”) Marc is having none of it—he won’t even let his dad draw power from his house for the RV.
As much as his anger is justified—especially after his dad crashes an important interview with Jeff Garlin—Maron struggles with the nagging sense that what he’s doing isn’t right. And that nagging sense’s name is Andy Kindler. (BOOM!) No, but Kindler advises him to make peace before it’s too late. “My dad’s gone, and I miss him every day,” he says. Maron’s nonplussed: “I haven’t seen him in years. I don’t miss him at all.”
Maron does realize this is an opportunity; after all, there’s no telling how long his dad will be around—not just in the sense that he’s old and doesn’t have a lot of time left, but also that he’s a flake who could be gone the next time Maron turns around. But their attempt to clear the air doesn’t accomplish much other than giving Marc a chance to vent. Again, the show draws from real life, like the “fancy dogs” and Maron’s pointed comment, “If you weren’t yelling, you were crying.” (In Attempting Normal, he writes that, on his college graduation day, his father told him he didn’t want to live anymore.)
Only the first taste of success with his podcast can push Maron into a more forgiving mindset—with his dad at least, because the agent gets canned. His buying an extension cord for his father was a small step toward reconciliation, not an emblem of its completion. Those guys have a lot of work to do to get to a better place, but it turns out those plans will have to wait.
So far, the episode-closing monologue into the microphone in the garage has offered some summation with color; the one that closes “Marc’s Dad” gets a little on the nose when he mentions how you have to learn how to parent yourself and accept the way things are. That’s big talk from a guy who, only moments before in the episode was (hilariously) flipping off his dad’s RV. That lucidity feels a little too sudden for what preceded it. As much as his dad’s sudden departure is supposed to give viewers a feeling of unfinished business, Marc seems pretty at peace by the end. It seems like he should be upset that he missed what may have been his final chance to make peace with the man whose love he desperately craves.
- That new advertiser on Maron’s podcast is a company that makes “vibrators, ass plugs, that kind of stuff”—just like adamandeve.com, a longtime sponsor of WTF.
- Maron’s Joe Hollywood manager is wearing on of the shiniest, tackiest suit I’ve seen since the last time I watched Goodfellas.
- “Stop it! That’s not even a real laugh!” That’s exactly the kind of thing Maron would say—and probably has said—to Pete Holmes in real life.
- Podcasts, explained: “It’s like a radio show on your computer.” “So how do you listen to it?” “You listen to it on the computer.” “Nobody’s ever going to do that.”
- Maron asks his dad if the vitamins are approved by the FDA, but the agency is notoriously hands-off when it comes to “dietary supplements.” They aren’t really regulated.
- Kindler: “No, but I met your dad outside. He offered to sell me boner vitamins out of his camper.”
- “He almost killed Jeff Garlin, but that guy’s a pro, man. He puked, came back and gave me 45 minutes.”