Fairly Aggressive Jews

Written by Brian Heater on . Posted in Posts.

“Where’s the fucking cap for this thing?” It’s a few minutes until show time and Marc Maron is pissed. Flanked by a half-empty pack of nicotine gum and the ever-rotating “Shame Wall”—today featuring, from top-to-bottom, images of Gerald Ford, a bowling Nixon, George W. Bush, a most-likely Photoshopped gun-toting Bush 41 and a surprisingly presidential-looking Ronald Reagan—he shuffles papers angrily around his table, searching for the cap to his highlighter.

Finally locating it below Sam Seder, he yells at his co-host for refusing to pick it up, berates cameraman Matthew Weiss for not taking his side in the argument and, half-jokingly, hurls a chair across the Air America break room where the duo host a mid-afternoon Web video show (available every day at breakroomlive.com). After a moment, Maron picks the chair back up and smiles.

It takes more than a pre-show freak out to faze Seder. The comedian, who moments ago was discussing his three-year-old’s potty training, barely lifts his head. The camera has yet to start rolling, but it’s still nearly impossible to discern where the men’s bi-polar relationship begins. “Despite whatever cockfighting goes on and whatever battles we have,” Maron explains, “we have two sort of specific, different ways of approaching things, but we’ve known each other for a long time.We’re both fairly aggressive Jews, and funny sort of happens from that.” The duo has known each other for 20 years and both are veterans of the comedy circuit. Maron’s rants have landed him specials on HBO and Comedy Central and made him one of Conan O’Brien’s most frequent guests.

Seder, the more politically obsessed of the two, compares himself—tongue tentatively in cheek—to film pioneer John Cassavetes, having used the money earned through a string of failed network sitcom pilots to finance his own self-directed films. A pile of DVDs of the latest, Bad Situationist, sits in the office he shares with Maron and Break Room Live’s producer, Brendan McDonald.

Along with Maron and Seder, the film’s cast reads like a who’s who of alternative comedy, including Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo and Jon Benjamin. Like most of Seder’s forays into the entertainment industry, however, the movie’s destiny was ill-fated.The words, “This film was entirely written and shot by June of 2001” grace the back—a sad but necessary disclaimer. Three months later, few would be jumping at the chance to distribute a comedy that opened on its protagonist aiming a rocket launcher at a New York skyscraper.

Both men also did time in Air America’s radio studio during the station’s heyday. Maron co-hosted Morning Sedition with radio vet Mark Riley. Seder, meanwhile, did The Majority Report with Garofalo. After a fair deal of shifting, Seder and Maron ultimately left the station. And now, five years after first helping the station get off the ground, both men have returned to Air America—or Air America’s kitchen.

There are five of us crammed in the room waiting for 3 o’clock to roll around. Maron and Seder are on the other side of a kitchen table. A subway map is taped to the window behind Maron’s head, perhaps covering up one of the room’s cosmetic blemishes. A fire extinguisher arrow hangs on the wall behind Seder, pointing down at the host’s head. On either side of the break room’s entrance hang signs reading, “Break Room Live is on the air…but you are more than welcome to enter.”

The show began life as a video show shot in a radio studio, bearing the title Maron v. Seder—a less than subtle nod to the duo’s combative relationship. “When it was Maron v. Seder,” begins the latter, “people asked what the ‘V’ stood for, and I said, ‘it’s a battle every day of cynicism versus pessimism.’” After a few months, the show moved to its current setting, adopting its new name to reflect its less ostentatious surroundings “When you were in the studio, it felt like we wished were in a better studio,” Seder says. “It’s just more confident to do it from the break room, because we don’t care about the trappings. And I think that’s the interesting thing about the Internet, too, on some level it’s counter-establishment.”

Today’s show isn’t off to a rip-roaring start. By the time the first pre-recorded sketch opens the episode up, things are about 25 minutes late, the show suffering more than its usual share of technical difficulties, thanks in no small part to a production switcher that has been shipped off to Washington D.C. for the inauguration.

After introductory statements, which find Maron declaring his hate—and then love—for Seder (“let’s not rebound too far to the other side,” retorts Seder), things take a turn for the serious.The interplay between the somber and the comedic is another balancing act in the hour-long show. For a new program, however, Break Room Live has done a good job maintaining stasis. “A lot of people are active and a lot of people are progressive, but a lot of people don’t know what the fuck is going on,” Maron explains to me after the show. “And I think our dynamic speaks to that.”