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Marc Maron's Jerusalem Syndrome
We know Marc Maron from the early days of Comedy Central when "Short Attention Span Theatre" was aired, it seemed, 24 hours a day, and which Maron eventually hosted for a period of time. We also caught him emceeing some simul-internet-cast weekly thing at the now-closed Catch a Rising Star. We even chatted with him after one of those shows and found him to be a pleasant fellow, in apparent contrast with his tendency for abrasive, aggressive stand-up.
His one-man show, Jerusalem Syndrome, which ended its run at Westbeth Theater earlier this month, is an extension of his stand-up work from the last several years. It, too, is abrasive and aggressive at times, but also full of wit and unafraid of exposing some of Maron's workings. It's also mercifully devoid of characters, skits and setpieces, instead structured as an extended monologue centered around Maron's assertion that for years he's suffered from a case of Jerusalem Syndrome, a psychological condition which causes the affected to either believe that their trip to the Holy Land is a great portent of grand happenings, or that they are actually a Biblical figure. In Maron's case, he felt that his trip to Jerusalem would be the time for, well, something big.
He begins the tale in college, when a stoner-poet's experiment with meditation caused an out-of-body experience, and moves on to L.A. where his bottoming-out on coke caused him to believe that god had spoken to him. After the drugs took him nowhere and god wasn't calling anymore, he veered off into consumerism. A deconstruction of brand loyalty and a suspicion of corporate motives are the subtext of the show. With little place for the inflexible dogma of institutionalized religion in their lives, many substitute brand loyalty for the antiquated concept of religious affiliation. Maron's recounting of his trip to Jerusalem, for instance, was hinged on his belief that he was destined to capture the face of god on his Sony camcorder, which he had bought specifically for the occasion on an instruction in a dream.
Fortunately for Maron, Denis Leary -- the actor--is just about forgotten as a stand-up comedian. They're cut from the same cloth, only Leary got out of Dodge in time for Maron to make the staccato, semi-rant smart-guy monologue thing his own. He's honest and funny, and pulls the best material from those incidents in life that most would conceal. For instance, his trip through Hollywood's underbelly in the days of Kinison is unapologetic and unashamed. While he never tries to elicit sympathy with his coke anecdotes, he also doesn't hold it up for street cred. It's just something he uses to make jokes. Similarly, his retelling of his youthful naivete in thinking that he was destined for great things is wonderfully self-mocking. ("That's not smog [over L.A.]. It's vaporized disappointment.")
Unfortunately for Maron, he plays to the Jewish crowd a bit much. This may be the nature of the material, and he is a Jew after all. But the hasidic asides are a little too insidery ha-ha and perhaps a bit gratuitous. (With the exception of his observation that the hasidim need to exist as Jewery's extremists so that the middleground can continue believing at a level of devotion comfortable to them. That was a nice bit of observation.) Maron runs the risk of Jerusalem Syndrome being pigeonholed as a "Jewish" act: a group of a dozen people in the crowd were speaking Yiddish afterwards, and we wondered if word's gotten around that there's a funny Jew doing a show about going to Israel. We also wonder how the orthodox in the crowd felt about the vulgar language and abovementioned tales of drug-use.
We're not saying Maron should worry a whole lot about being pigeonholed. The material is great, and the show's timing and direction are perfect. But it would be a shame for the show's success to come at the expense of losing wider appeal. Before he knows it, Maron could be headlining at Triplets Old New York Steak House for a dinner crowd of young Jews and their Jersey in-laws. Our advice is that when the first B'nai B'rith organization offers Maron a cool 5 g's to "do that funny Jerusalem act" but "without all the cursing," he should please, please decline the dough and instead keep plugging away at the next project on his list.