RED BANK, NJ—Mike Lawrence warmed-up the crowd with his patent mix of comic book references and embarrassing-but-funny accounts of daily life. On stage, Lawrence seemed nervous as he launched into jokes about marriage, Florida, and being the “Jamaican bobsled team of sex” (he knows he won’t finish the race, but it’s impressive that he even showed up). His cagey energy cooled as more laughs came, but Lawrence is clearly in transition as a comic, working his way from the safety of pop culture references to more brave material. In that respect, he served as a perfect counterpoint to headliner Marc Maron, who took to the stage like a king and overturning the nervy energy into something more calm and muted.
Going in, it’s fair to say that one never knows how a raised profile might affect a comic. Are they going to go the Louie CK route and push to become greater, or rest on their laurels as a Kevin James might? Maron pleasantly chose the former, brandishing his success in ways that only heightened his set. An addressing of his just-released chat with President Obama established a vulnerability and honesty that carried on for the rest of the 90-minute set time, as Maron looked to accept the conversation for all the strange wonder that led up to it. Interestingly, the only other celebrity anecdote concerned his admission of fear and emotional reaction to seeing the now-elderly Rolling Stones play a massive concert. Maron’s whole set was less concerned with the anger that characterized him early on, and more interested in what exists beneath all of the barriers he or we put up.
The longest chunks of the set concerned themselves with anger and religion, with Maron digging into both in his struggle to identify his interest or low-humming hatred of either. The anger bits were more precise, with Maron introducing a sort of aside where he gives voice to the angry blog commentator in his head and critiques his own set. On religion—arguably the best piece of the show—there’s more exploration and surprise. The bits more from the initial conceit (isn’t it weird that grownups believe in religion?) to inspired absurdism, as a recollection of a gig he did on Easter weekend leads to an extended consideration of the morality evident in a zombified Jesus, and what sort of God figure would work for Marc. The looseness of the segues is what makes the joke work, because whether an audience realizes it or not, one of the most thrilling experiences in stand-up is feeling like you’re discovering the bit with the comic. Maron had a strong idea of the joke’s overall shape, but it didn’t feel polished and ready to be taped for a special.
After riffing on his parents, relationships, cereal, and his married friends, Maron closed with a bit about ice cream. Usually, the closing bit is a mid-weight joke, neither amazingly funny nor dull, just a bookend for the bulk of the set. The same could be said of this closer, save for the fact that it opens up a new area for Maron to explore going forward: his body dysmorphia as it pertains to management of symptoms. Since This Has To Be Funny, Maron has been exploring himself more, almost as a means of self-improvement. While he’s touched on it before, the closer was an extended look into the jarring behavior that characterizes his eating/image disorder. While it wasn’t perfect (the bit went on a little too long), like Maron circa 2010, it showed promise for great things.