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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Exit the Navel: MARON, DICE








It's a swell time to be an older, white, straight male with a giant ego, a trunk full of clippings and top-of-the-world VH1 reveries. Chances are you have, or will soon have, your own self-titled show, either on IFC, Showtime, FX, or at the very least, "the Youtubes" if you fit the bill. Hey, g'head on and get some before it's all gone!

No matter what level of fame, micro-success, or just delusional 'web fame' the rest of us Aging SWMs may have garnered, we can all relate to these 1-2 syllable single name titles. Generation X, grown gray and haggard, we've been watching as our golden age of cocksmanship, fame, and rock swagger circles down the drain into the sunset. And don't let this get out, but--whether we packed stadiums or just half-filled a small local bar with our relatives once in 1985--we're kind of glad the 'having to try' part of 'making it' is over. We're glad we're not still hoisting amps in and out of back entrances, suffering stage fright, fending off a constant onslaught of snarky press, boorish fans, grabby jonesers, needy wannabes, lapel-grabbers eager to act like they know you, and bossy exes.

Since it's all safely behind us now, though, man, it stays ever-golden!

What most of my generation really wants now is simply an outlet, some medium to express ourselves and some kind of audience on which to leave our mark, whether it's just on the brains of our bored children, the pages of our blogs, or--if we're still in the game--our own self-titled show on cable TV, a single-cam autobiographical riff collection aimed by young turk producers to skim off the river of critical acclaim garnered by LOUIE.

Two of these self-titled single name series are currently fresh in the airwaves and, man, even more than LOUIE, they get at the heart of... well, vain aging males, dating younger girls thanks to Cialis, and evincing no interest in evolving past the mentality of a 27 year-old. My dad once told me I had perfected the art of being 28 and decided to stay there. That was 15 years ago, and I nothing has changed.

The new season of MARON (on IFC), and the premiere of DICE (Showtime) tell my story--and god help me I'm not proud of it.

I normally don't write about comedy (30s Paramount aside) but having lived six years with a comedy journalist who told me I reminded her of Marc Maron even before the show came out, I have to write about him, because like him I'm hopelessly myopic: I too am 16 years sober, bedraggled, bearded, bespectacled, misanthropic, reclusive; I dress all in black and dark clothes, think I'm better than everyone else, and even hate myself for being so egotistical. In AA we call that "being the piece of shit at the center of the universe" rather than finding the almost overwhelming joy of merely being a 'worker among workers' (which can seem like fascism if you're not on board with it). Meanwhile, I let any kind of fame or recognition go to my head so fast I'd almost rather not have it. The few times it's manifested it's turned me into a raving narcissistic womanizer, so needy for the next wave of adulation I would cry all night if I slept alone.

Maybe that's why I'm unable to enjoy MARON the way my comedy writer lady does; to me it's the kind of privileged bourgeois UWS shit only Eric Schaffer, Ed Burns, Woody Allen, Larry David, or Albert Brooks would think is universal. Frankly, I don't like to be reminded that my grandiose schtick isn't that easy to live with day-to-day. I'd never be able to tolerate being in a room five minutes with myself... or Maron for that matter. Just as I've never been able to watch more than five minutes of any Albert Brooks movie without wincing, and wanting to find and throw rocks at his mother for indulging him far too much as a child.

My hostile response to MARON, then, should maybe be considered with that disclaimer.

 good taste in music, but you think Iggy (upper right) ever whines about needing to quit nicotine lozenges? 
You decide: his IFC show involves a mix of him doing his podcast, fly-on-the-wall Grey Gardens-style messy house puttering, and show biz angst (including his allegedly naughty insults to his fey male assistant ("do you have a pussy, a little boy pussy?") and bitching at his hopelessly cliche'd suck-up producers --the sort of badly written foils that have to say lines like "I'm here just to lend a little corporate support," and "I'm gong to be personally shepherding the process" and then bringing in an overly fussy PR maven and Andy Richter. Home visits from out-of-town comics he knew on the way up round things out. In one thread he donates his semen to a lesbian comedian trying to have a child, etc. (PS - never use the sperm of an alcoholic/addict, that shit is hereditary).

Sure he's on camera a lot in real life. Sure he lives in LA and has his own successful podcast, but even so, Marc Maron spends an awful amount of time worrying he's getting fat, or addicted to nicotine lozenges. Constantly blaming his surly exhaustion on how he's poisoning himself with "too much caffeine too much nicotine" blah blah, he's really as LA as any of the granola gym rats he loathes. But hey, Marc - don't be a doof! No SWM over the age of 45 is naive enough to believe that buying a bunch of running gear and deciding to quit caffeine and nicotine and junk food all at once, right before launching a big talk show, is a good idea. No way anyone stays sober 16 years not knowing basic sobriety 101 shit like that, not unless they were never alcoholics to being with.

By which I mean, as an addict myself, I'd have liked to see his relapse done right. It would be a great opportunity to see Maron the actor NOT be a dick for five minutes. Imagine if getting back on the drugs made him relaxed, intelligent, confident, witty, and ready to host his show with the focused charm of a Johnny Carson, but only for like, say, the first night. The next night, the time for being witty and erudite shrinks to a few minutes, and then --he's nodding off in his dressing room. He could have watched, say, the "never seen a man go through a day so fast" scene where Lee Marvin first guzzles downs the whiskey in CAT BALLOU (1965) to realize how he was self-sabotaging like some stage fright kid from Nebraska on his first audition.

You remember that scene? Lee Marvin arrives in town, a hired gunfighter, a legend, but now a shaky mess unable to hold a gun. In order to clear his shakes enough to demonstrate his skills, Lee bums a pint of whiskey and downs half of it in a single gulp - BAM! his shakes stop and, for like a hot second, he's a crack shot, a super erudite gunslinger, but then a few shots more (of each) and he's a boisterous mess; another swig, killing the bottle, and he's passed out again. That's how it really is! And Marc just skips right from nervous guy with 16 years clean right to a nodding off idiot, with nothing in between.

See, Lee Marvin was a drinker; you can fucking tell in his eyes. I can see it in other ex-alcoholic/ long-time sober comic's eyes, like Craig Ferguson's, but I don't see it in Maron's. I admit he does his nodding off shit pretty well, and he's got the self-pitying atheist mopiness down, but to not have even a single scene of focused peace and calm before complete mess relapse! What a waste. I mean just enough to we see WHY he drank and did drugs in the first place, so we can think for a hot second, "hey, he's finally not an asshole, maybe drugs/booze are/is the answer" which makes his turn to asshole five minutes later all the more heartbreaking? That's the stuff Emmys are made of, and Oscars (ala Marvin's, Cage's, Coburn's, Milland's, etc.) and reality -- and he'd only have to do it once.


Third, if you were really "cross-addicted" as the saying goes--but haven't done any of it for 16 years, sorry but you won't relapse on just pain pills if your back is bad enough to deserve them (presuming you don't have, like 200 pills prescribed by a dangerously incompetent doctor).  But if you take pills the way Maron does in this show, like Tic-tacs, you would be dead. Tolerance shrinks to normal schlub levels. Oxycontin tabs are NOT nicotine lozenges - you can't just guzzle them in the bathroom, not unless you want to die, and besides it's a huge waste of a good stash. They don't give automatic refills on Oxy anymore, and a real addict wouldn't waste them.

Maron clearly never went to AA or did any research or he'd have realized trying to juggle needed pain medication with nicotine withdrawal has never worked once in all of human history. And sorry but if believing in God makes you happier, and you're currently miserable, then you're an idiot to not believe in God (think about it). It will be interesting to see Maron in rehab in future episodes (only on IFC!) and if he actually exits his navel long enough to help another alcoholic, to become selfless enough to be a worker among workers, to genuinely open up to a sponsor, do the 12 steps sans smarminess, to learn to be nice to one other person, the way say Don Draper finally learned to do in the final episode of MAD MEN. (See 'Chop wood, carry sponsors.'), the show will win an Emmy. But if Maron himself has no higher power, how will that work? Spiritual awakenings are a tough thing to fake.


And then there was DICE!

Back when I was a wobbly little feminist in the 80s-90s I used to hate Andrew Dice Clay the way I hated Adam Sandler, the way I hated frat boys, sports, snarky teen sex comedies, and half the kids at my very working class Italian-American Jersey High school. Badda Bing! They were always nice to me, in their gruff way, but they were too loud for my delicate little self that I thought any amount of camaraderie they threw me was some prelude to bullying so I never went to their parties. By senior year I'd figured out they were actually nice guys, but by then I was drinking so they weren't as loud.

Still, I hated the perceived misogyny and monosyllabic shop kid goomba-ish Dice and Sandler represented. I became a punk, then I realized all my punk friends were gay and didn't tell me and so I became a hippie. Then I thought the hippies were naive and that the Dead sucked and it was the 90s and there I was, amidst the ecstasy and dancing everywhere, and cocktails of the beautiful hip young people of the loungecore scene, before they, in turn, were subsumed by swing dancing and cocaine and Sex in the City. Sigh. 

In short, I've wandered through many camps and sooner or later lost or outgrew them all. And now I kind of like DICE, and now I hate the smarmy bearded hipster millennials who passive- aggressively act like they own the world. See - I feel like they're my fault - that wobbly pre-PC feminism beat into me by an 80s liberal arts degree has come home to roost like a prodigal nightmare. I miss the boisterous blue collar energy of my high school. Those kids had balls, earthy joie de vivre. And the kids today do not. Looking back on high school I realize I was the asshole, masking my snobbishness in nerdy introversion. Maron is like that too, and I'd avoid him if I saw him at a party--he's too much like me. He'd cancel me out, like two wrongs making a zero.

But DICE, the Tangiers Las Vegas lion, the Bickle in repose, living with girlfriend Natasha Leggero? Yeah I'll hang out with him. He reminds me of my old pal Johnny. That's a case of a wrong and another kind of a wrong making left-and-a-rights. Unlike ego-paralyzed Maron, Dice throws himself forward and doesn't back down or overthink things. His is a kind of hangin'-brain style confidence that most guys who get their own 'this is my sadsack life at 40+' shows fail to deliver.

And lord we need it. We need him like King Arthur needs a slug from a grail of 121 proof Booker's before the final battle in EXCALIBUR.

Iron John Wild Man-deep, Dice brings a no-toupee faux macho to the table that's way less misogynist-- if you just look under the hood--than the more surface liberal/educated MARON type. Dice grants Leggero as much power and respect as he grants himself, which is way more than Maron ever would. Dice is never surly with her or trying to hide something except in a kind of roundabout playful rapport. He falls asleep going down on her, obsesses about table cloth fabric for his gay brother-in-law's wedding, and then interrupts the ceremony--not for some homophobe reason--but because the Elvis impersonator conducting the service is a jinx.  He parties with some group of affluent bachelor party hipsters and then starts a fight with them when they dis Joan Rivers! He fights for the honor of Joan Rivers! That is so badass. In an effort to be more tender in bed he introduces his Jewish side into his and Leggero's love making (wearing a yarmulke and shyly introducing himself to her by his real name of 'Andrew'). She's frustrated at times with his manly man stuff, but never caries it farther than a scene or two, never bothering with trite cliches like left-up toilet seats and oh I guess work is more important than Jimmy's soccer game and I asked you to do one thing, wear a tie for church, or zzzz. None of that shit, or if it is, it's casual bickering stuff rather than the big WASPy life and death squabbles we're used to. "I'm just bustin' your onions," she says giving him shit about his theory of why he's giving cash on her brother-in-law's gay wedding.

Dice tries on a chair

Dice in the end is a MAN. Strutting through Vegas like he's king of the forest (he's what made the hottentots so hot, even if now, eh, they've been hotter). It doesn't matter if the man he is or is playing is "Dice" or not. He knows everyone by name, from parking attendants to waiters to casino owners, treats them all with first name respect and vice versa. Sure he leans on his past glory like a cane, but fir a man who was once packing stadiums for tens of thousands at a crack and now can barely fill a back banquet room, he's doing all right. Other women are safe from him, he's got a lady and his eye doesn't wander. Dice is content.

Meanwhile Tin Man Maron is still trying to feed his squeaky wheel ego through that teensy oil can beak, out in the Hungry Ghost "I me Mine I me mine I me mine" L.A. The Woodsman forgot to carve him a heart. That hollow-chested Maron would be considered the liberal cool one and lionhearted Dice the intolerant bully instead of the opposite is endemic of the shallowness of America's post-PC masculinity. And I should know.

What's Dice got that Maron ain't got?

Tolerance. 

NOTES:
1. And everyone is as famous as they want to imagine (we never know who's reading us or watching us online at any time-- with the cumulative result no one actually needs to for us to feel like we're getting through.
2. . Who was the idiot creative writing teacher who first thought we should always put pet names front and center in short stories? They were an idiot. They always get a big laugh in New Yorker lit readings, but I think it's way too cheap.
3. see my rant against one of them in my Remote in Reach: The WALL
4. remember I'm only talking about trends in masculinity at least on TV and the movies; not real life except as a dim reflection. 

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous14 May, 2016

    This helped me understand Dice a little more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQugLUPi1ZU

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree completely. I like Maron's stand up, his memoir, his interviews, but his acting on his own show went to hell when he started trying to play a recovering addict losing his grip. I have always had a soft spot for Dice. His peak was during my divorce, so even though I knew it was an act, it was nice having him as a Sin Eater in my corner. I especially liked the episode with the plaster caster of the phallus, and Wayne Newton teasing Andrew with an empty box, and thinking, "If only Andrew had watched The Lacan Hour, he would know that the phallus is an absence to begin with..."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amen, Thanks Johnny. That plaster ep was the second ep I saw, kinda accidentally after the one with the Cosmo questionare and glomming of Adrian Brody. I admired that Dice handled himself with such unruffled aplomb no matter what embarrassing indignity or frustration came his way. That you quoted The Lacan Hour made my night. That Wayne Newton empty box was when I knew I liked DICE.

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