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Marc Maron masterfully turns his grief into laughs in new special

<i>Randy Shropshire/Getty Images</i><br/>Marc Maron on stage in 2016.
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images
Marc Maron on stage in 2016.

By Marianne Garvey, CNN

Marc Maron was deep in the throes of trauma and grief over the sudden loss of his creative partner and girlfriend, Lynn Shelton, in the spring of 2020. Like many of us, he was also feeling isolated and lonely due the pandemic.

At the time, Maron would often take to his front porch and work through his feelings publicly on social media. He lamented Shelton and wondered if he would ever perform standup again, both because of his emotional state and restrictions due to the pandemic.

Three years later, the comedian-actor-podcaster is off his porch and back on stage, laughing, again. He explores loss and the state of the world in a new HBO special, “Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark.” (CNN and HBO are both part of Warner Bros. Discovery.)

The upcoming special was taped at New York City’s Town Hall in December and was directed by Steven Feinartz. Shelton had directed Maron in his standup specials “Too Real” in 2017 and “End Times Fun” in 2020, along with episodes of his IFC series, “Maron,” and in her own 2019 film, “Sword of Trust.”

Maron spoke to CNN about the process of returning to the stage and how he’s getting on with life and work since his devastating loss.

“I think that those porch talks, the Instagram lives were kind of essential in that process because I think that at the time, I was unwilling to do outdoor comedy or drive-in comedy or zoom comedy, I just, I couldn’t because it just seemed too difficult and I didn’t need that aggravation and I didn’t see it as a way to to process or create,” he said. “I think that the Instagram lives became essential in me engaging with an audience of people that were watching, and so I was in a zone where I was putting stuff out in the world for people and doing it much like I do comedy.”

He said he wasn’t really missing standup “because no one else could do it either.”

“Once we could get on real stages again, I just began the process of how I work through stuff, which is I’ll do a residency at a small theater,” Maron said. “The people that came knew I was workshopping stuff.”

Heavy laughs

Maron has a number of moments dedicated to Shelton in his new set, as well as the special itself.

“Talking about the grieving, that’s a story. Like, I think that the trick of it all becomes when I started talking about that stuff, it was emotional and the laughs were kind of heavy and sad and they were right on the edge of people crying,” he explained. “And that still happens, but I think over time in telling the story, if it’s told with a slightly different tone, it has a different weight to it.”

Without giving away part of the special, Maron explores the idea of mysticism as the common crutch humanity leans to in order to make sense of death. When he misses Shelton and can’t stop crying, Maron tells the audience he starts to greet what he thinks is her, returning in the form of a bird.

“I think the touching and the weird thing that people in grief have is that you look for that. You want to believe that stuff. That they’re out there, they’re with you, they’re still there. They’re watching you, they’re part of the world,” he said.

Maron talks about the first joke he wrote after Shelton’s death, calling it “really kind of brutal,” but also the “first funny moment that I experienced.”

After thinking about if he should use it for some time, that joke also made it into the special.

Returning to screens

Maron said he also found joy and relief in filming a movie during the height of Covid. He stars in director Michael Morris’ “To Leslie,” alongside Andrea Riseborough, and said the human contact on set ended up being a salve for his spirit.

“I mean that director wouldn’t leave me alone,” he quipped over why he took the role of Sweeney, a motel manager that helps a down and out woman get her life back. “I just kept saying like, I don’t think so. And then he had Chelsea Handler text me and you can’t say no to her. There was something about my emotional capacity that he wanted. And I was like, all right dude.”

He ended up having chemistry with Riseborough, who earned an Oscar nod for her performance as an absentee mom struggling with alcoholism.

Of the Academy’s review of campaign tactics for the film, and decision to uphold her nomination, Maron said it was much ado about nothing.

“It’s just sad because Andrea is really not even the kind of person that wants this kind of attention. She is not a sort of awards-pandering person and it all happened very organically,” he said.

Maron said he’s glad he took the role and he’s busy again, reading more scripts and writing more comedy.

“I’m okay,” he said.

He’s also seeing someone new.

“We enjoy each other’s company,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “I’m just trying to figure out how to enjoy whatever time I have, you know, left.”

“Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark” premieres Feb. 11 at 10 p.m. EST on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

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