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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Marc Maron, Comedian

“If I can have a strong opener, then you’re at least in.”

First headshot, 1987.  

If you do stand-up comedy and keep doing it, there has to be something really wrong with you. It’s relentless. You spend a lot of time being paralyzed with nervousness over a set that might not happen for weeks.

I can’t say it was having a great set necessarily that really compelled me to be a comedian. It was about getting that first real laugh — and probably more about getting it again. For me, it was always about that opening joke. If I can have a strong opener — you get that first laugh, a good laugh — then you’re at least in. You can figure out what the audience is, what they’re willing to give, and what the reaction’s going to be.

There were a couple of openers from the beginning. There was that one about a roommate who was majoring in the Grateful Dead and used to have flashbacks of the refrigerator. But the first one that really worked was this ridiculous joke that I used to do when I was an open-miker. I would come out onstage and I would put the mike stand on top of the stool. It would just sit there like that. And I would let it sit there and just say, “I recently went to the Museum of Modern Art.” Once they put it together, it got this weird building laugh usually. It’s not an easy joke necessarily: You have to make this leap and have to have some sort of point of reference of the ridiculousness of Dada. Maybe it was a little divisive, but it was not in any way controversial. I thought it was pretty clever and generally it would get me in. I don’t know where it came from, really, it was probably improvised or I probably got it in the Museum of Modern Art. There was another joke I did where I used the mike stand as an examination tool for a doctor who wanted to touch a guy’s dick.