No Easy Marc
Podcast phenomenon goes from garage to the grand stage
By Travis HoewischerPublished February 1, 2013
“What do you do with the anger? And beneath that is fear. What do you do with the fear?” asked Robin Williams.
Weeks after heart surgery, he is again cracking his chest open – and it’s not to promote a movie or an HBO Special. And he’s not the turbo-charged dervish you see on Letterman. Rather, quietly and calmly, he’s sharing an existential self-examination on his life and career, outlined by his recent divorce and relapse into addiction.
His interviewer knows a little about all of these things.
On the other side of the table is Marc Maron, who a year earlier, had been broken by his second divorce and relieved of his only gig as an on-air talent for Air America. The sometimes-manic, always whip-smart comic had once been linked with Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K. as one of the next big stars in comedy, but nearly 20 years later – while his peers were collecting Emmys and movie roles – Maron was down to three cats, two bedrooms and a garage.
That’s why, on that day, recording the most famous of Maron’s now wildly popular podcast WTF, there was no separation between an Academy Award winner and a disgruntled liberal talk radio host. Just two comedians engaging philosophically, as they might have in an NPR interview – only if both interviewer and interviewee knew the same coke dealers.
On WTF, Maron has sat down with hundreds of our most treasured artists in that same garage, and thousands have tuned in to hear intimate, disarmed profiles of men and women with the most reason for emotional firewalls. And in each of the show’s 200-plus episodes, Maron is as revelatory as any of his guests, a self-reflective honesty not often found in the world of online comedy.
Before he takes his act to the big stage, (614) drew Maron out of the garage to see what we could uncover.
We have to start with the podcast. Your early forays into the standup elite happened so long ago … when you started the podcast, were you at a place where you were like, literally, “WTF? Is this it? Am I done?”
Oh yeah, dude. That’s where I was at exactly. I was suicidal, bro. I was 47, and I had nothing. I was done. By the time I started [WTF], I was broke, I had gone through another divorce, and I was finishing up another stint at Air America that had gone nowhere … I was washed up, really. People still dug me – the few that knew me – and comics respected me, but it was just … over, man. I was over at Air America, and they fired us, but they were too stupid to remember we had time left on our contract. We still had our office, and a security card, so we started breaking in and recording our first few podcasts right there, after-hours. This whole thing has changed the game; I had a big bag of Conan O’Brien appearances and some other things that I’d done, and none of it had equaled a big fan base, or money.
So, now that you’re back in the spotlight, so to speak, how has this new medium changed your comedy? How has your audience changed?
Ya know, I’m not that different a person; I’m a little bit of a different performer than I used to be, because now I have a little bit of an audience. They know what to expect to a degree, and the best part is, they’re not really comedy people … they really know me. They feel like they know me personally, from listening to the podcast. Someone last night told me it was the first time they’d ever been to a comedy show. I was like, ‘Alright, well, this is it!’ That’s pretty wild.
See, it seems like we’re in the middle of a new resurgence for comedy. Louis C.K is winning Emmys, Jon Stewart is the voice of a generation, Judd Apatow movies are blockbusters …
Clearly, this is a great time for comedy of all kinds. I don’t really know why, but it seems to be that, young people, comedy is important to them again; comedy seems relevant again. There was a period of time there where comedy was just out in the wilderness; now, it seems like there’s a premium on it. Plus, with this new podcasting format, and YouTube and things like that … if you’re diligent, you can find your audience.
On WTF, you’re very disarming in your interviews, and I was curious how much of that was a tactic or device, or whether it’s just your natural conversational style?
I try to think about what it is that I do … maybe what I’m doing has somewhat evolved into a style, but if I think about what I want to do before I go into an interview, it’s always different, but usually it’s just, ‘How are we going to start?’ That’s mostly what I get hung up on. It’s almost like a jam session, where you’re like, ‘Okay, what chords are we gonna start on?’ I want it to become a conversation as quick as possible, as opposed to an interview.
You certainly achieved something different with the Robin Williams episode, which became a touchstone for the show in how candid he became with you. Even more noteworthy that he called you a few times after. Is that fairly regular?
Ahh, ya know, occasionally. Maybe he’ll see me on TV or something … after the Montreal Just for Laughs he called me, and was like, ‘Oh, that’s some really good stuff.’ And I never get the calls … I’m like, ‘F*ck, I just missed my yearly call from Robin Williams.’ (laughs)
Yeah, it’s easier to answer those calls than return them, I suppose.
I could, but I don’t for some reason. That’s my own weird thing, my own insecurities. I mean, you meet these larger-than-life celebrities, and sure, they’re just people, but are you gonna be hanging out? (laughs) Ya know?
For some reason, I am imagining you tapping out text messages to Robin Williams, only to delete them immediately. What’s your favorite episode of WTF?
It’s hard for me to answer that question, because there’s so many types of episodes I liked for such different reasons; most of them had some effect of me, believe it or not. I’m always surprised. You always think you know something about someone based on what you assume, or what you know about their public personality. I’m always wrong. In that way, they’re all sort of surprising to me. Some of them are very exciting and I’m very nervous … I mean, going to see Jack White and knowing you have an hour … it’s f*cking crazy.
You talk openly about addiction; you’ve been married a few times. And comedy has been both your livelihood and one of your biggest frustrations. Do you feel you have to have some level of torment to be an artist?
I used to. But, the more I talk to well-adjusted people in the garage, the less I think it’s necessary. I think it’s more fair to say that [artists] are generally quirky people, and have their own little neurotic things, but I don’t know if it’s torment. I think they’re usually unusual (laughs). But I know a lot of funny people that aren’t tormented. It’s probably still 70/30 tormented, f*cked up people, versus well-adjusted, but I used to [think that], and now I don’t, thanks to the podcast.
And, it seems the podcast has given you more than just perspective on other people. You appear to gain something personally from the interviews as well.
Absolutely, man. I mean, as I said, I was definitely in some sort of trouble at the beginning [of the podcast]; I could hear it. I definitely needed to reach out to people. And I enjoy it. It’s such a rare thing to get to sit down and talk to someone for an hour or so – in real life. It’s an important thing to do; if I don’t do a couple interviews a week, I get antsy. Most of the reason I do the podcast is to f*cking talk to people (laughs).
Marc Maron: Out of the Garage
February 15th, 8 p.m.
Capitol Theatre, 77 S High St.