The formerly “unbookable” Marc Maron delivers powerful keynote address at Just For Laughs

MONTREAL — There has long been the acknowledgement of a fine line that exists between the realms of laughter and pain. It’s a concept perhaps even older than fully evolved vocal chords – since the dawn of humanity, there’s been an instinctual understanding that what we can’t laugh about, we cry over, and what we can’t cry over… well, we emit some sanity chuckles and then hope we’ll have the stamina for belly-laughs later.

During his keynote speech to a room packed with captivated comedy connoisseurs, Marc Maron brought at least one audience member to tears, and induced a sense of somber reflection in all present. Of course, this is not to say there weren’t any laughs – quite the opposite, really. There were laughs by the beer-bong full. Marc Maron is still Marc Maron, after all, but listening to the same king of the comedy podcast wax philosophic about losing his mind over obsessive self-doubt definitely proved the sort of consciousness-altering moment in time that few hear about, and even fewer get to experience.

But first, let’s start with the logistics. Intro-ed by Andy Kindler, who did a wonderful job of easing the crowd into the setting by recounting an ill-fated road trip he, Maron, and Eugene Mirman had once undertaken while struggling to break into the comedy game, Maron was met with the kind of eager and warm-hearted reception one might expect of George Takei at a gay-Asian-trekkie convention. Amongst the comedy kind, both elite and not-so elite, Maron is, quite simply, a master-power player at the very top of his long executed game. Such wasn’t always the case, though, Maron insisted in his hilariously caustic, self-deprecating style. Not so very long ago, his then-manager labeled the great comic “unbookable.” “Nobody wants to work with you, Marc,” said manager opined, and the world was nearly deprived of one of the most original and brilliant comic minds to have ever graced this laugh-factory we call life.

Of course, we can all safely fill in the missing blanks at the end of this story in our minds. Maron fell into a destructive pattern of unease and unrest; reassessed his direction and destiny; decided, fuck it, comedy is my calling, and gave the culture WTF with Marc Maron – a gift so course-altering it might as well have been the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Others, Maron was remiss to point out, were not so lucky as he. Some had fallen, the victims of personal inner demons so vicious and relentless that the only choice left to the tormented was to acquiescence to the tormentor. “Greg Giraldo is not here this year, and that’s so… weird,” Maron reflected, poignantly, filled with palpable sorrow. “He is survived by his wife, his kids, and his YouTube videos.” The fact that one’s comic ripples could continue to permeate the cultural conversation even in death itself speaks very plainly to Maron’s most important point: namely, comedy is a life saver.

Without the presence of comedy, Maron said, he would never have survived childhood. His own demons, momentarily, exist in a state of coerced submissiveness, but as a comedian, Maron was careful to convey that he knows that ugly heads were meant for rearing. Comedy, therefore, is ultimately about beating back the ugliness which resides within the self; it’s about bringing fulfillment and happiness to the performer while simultaneously stimulating the endorphins of the performance. It is art that is alive within the culture as perhaps few other mediums for self-expression can truly be.

Yet, as unqualified for the task of delivering a keynote address as he may have claimed to be, Maron’s stirring rhetoric could accurately have summed up the brightly colored umbrella under which we all sit, and indeed the ongoing motif of the Just For Laughs festival tradition. Collectively, we are in the business of making the common folk laugh. We solicit that which is inherently antithetical to the source of the solicitation: humor from humiliation. Funny from fear. Self-sufficiency from self-trepidation. It’s the common bound that brings individuals as diverse as Jack Paar and Joan Rivers and Maria Bamford and Marc Maron together under the same roof.

And for just one solitary month in Montreal, we are jesters united by location as well as metaphysics.

photo by Seth Olenik

The folks at Cringe Humor shot this video from Maron’s address:

Emma Kat Richardson

Emma Kat Richardson is a Detroit native and freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in, Bitch, Alternative Press, Real Detroit Weekly, 944, and She’s enough of a comedy nerd and cat lady to have named her Maine Coon Michael Ian Cat. Follow her on twitter: @emmakat.

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