Marc Maron’s Brilliant Mistakes

The star podcaster’s success is rooted in his early-career failure and despair.

The Atlantic   Read Full Article


The American monologue, once you get an ear for it, is everywhere, beguiling and blustering and buttonholing. It raises you up, it bums you out. It has its pulpits and its sanctified places—the radio booth, the campaign trail, the AA meeting, the comedy club—but it is not confined to them. Anywhere a mouth opens, anywhere the wind blows, you can hear it. The Ancient Mariner (U.S. edition) on the park bench, his mind at sea, his skinny hand upon your sleeve; the shopper behind her cart in the aisle at Whole Foods, loudly volunteering to nobody in particular, or to everybody in unparticular, the information that she was expecting the place to be empty because it is so early; the newly met neighbor at the cocktail party, the fellow parent or dog owner, who talks into your face with such innocent and unflagging zeal that you begin to wonder whether he might be slightly insane—all artists of the American monologue, all busy singing the song of themselves, like Walt Whitman and Donald Trump.

Have you ever interviewed anybody? It’s not easy—especially if, like me, you are prone to finding yourself more interesting than whomever it is you’re talking with. (Sometimes I think I see that syndrome on Charlie Rose’s face—his ego chafing against its chains as he piously debriefs some State Department snooze merchant about his new book.) The secret of WTF is that Maron is a recovering monologuist: a hectoring, aggressive comedian and one-way verbalizer who has turned himself—through humiliation and self-examination—into a rather exquisite instrument of reception.

The podcast began in the ashes of a five-year, four-different-show stint with Air America, when Maron, having lived and battled and snorted and sneered as a comedian for 25 years, was by his own account close to giving up—like, really giving up. “I was broke, I was defeated, and I was careerless,” he said in the keynote address at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in 2011. “I started doing a podcast in that very garage where I was planning my own demise … I started talking about myself on the mic with no one telling me what I could do or what I couldn’t say. I started reaching out to comics … I needed personal help, professional help. I needed to talk to people.”

The podcast’s early days featured Maron in conversation more or less exclusively with fellow comedians, fellow nut cases—the only guests he could get at that point. He probed and confessed and sought common ground. The encounters could be edgy; some of them were industry reckonings. He confronted Carlos Mencia, over the course of two shows, about accusations that he was plagiarizing material; Gallagher walked out, offended, after Maron challenged his gay jokes. He had an absorbing exchange with Louis C.K. about their long and vexed friendship (“There’s a couple of things going on when I don’t answer your e‑mails …,” Louis began carefully.)

Others have found the garage a safe space: The comedian Todd Glass used the show to come out; Bob Odenkirk’s confession that he, like Maron, had an anger problem was a revelation to his host, who later referred to this moment as “the portal.” Plenty of guests find themselves unexpectedly confiding in Maron, the paradigmatic WTF moment occurring when the guest (or Maron himself) chokes up, signifying that the nerve has been struck and the truth is being spoken.

Sober since 1999, Maron enunciates with a precision that is nearly ironic, an accent to the caffeinated bite of his wit, and there’s a grinding, a gnawing, in his delivery, something slightly serrated that tells of terrible nights in toilet clubs, of jokes ceasing to be jokes and entire sets going south. One can imagine him in a purgatorial standoff with a heckler, a whole crowd of hecklers (or a bachelorette party—stand-up comics are always complaining about bachelorette parties) howling him down. But once deployed in the service of dialogue, his comedian’s bristling arsenal, that hair-trigger alertness to mood and language, becomes an interviewer’s golden skill set. He’s had a number of different looks throughout his career, but the current one is the most apt: glasses, eyebrows, and curvaceous mustache—droopily mirthful, like a disappointed Marx Brother (or like the great S. J. Perelman, who co-wrote Horse Feathers and sort of was a disappointed Marx Brother). WTF conversations are generously laced with his wheezy, geezerish chuckle, an omniscient, all-tolerating hee-hee-hee: the sound of amused experience.

Maron is a superb interviewer, a funny and clever man, and his guests are a procession of fascinating people. But none of these things accounts for the success of WTF. Sure, Maron’s a hit now, but as consumer-dreamers we are governed by archetype, and in the tarot of popular culture he represents the Happy Failure, or what Walker Percy called the Ex-Suicide: the man who, having elected to live, can sit on his front steps and laugh at the world. It’s an extraordinarily important position. Maron didn’t make a comeback; he didn’t finally break through. He hit bottom, and he stayed there. He set up shop there.

WTF shows begin in monologue, with Maron’s literate, bathetic, irritable/mystical intros. “I wake up aggravated,” he told us before one recent interview. “I wake about to snap … All I want to do is get my mop out and Murphy Oil Soap my deck. Which is empty. My sad, desolate deck, with my newly stained picnic table out there and three old beat-up chairs … I’ll go look at the table and be like, ‘I should hit this with a little more stain.’ I’ll go look at the chairs, be like, ‘Uhhh, these need a little more stain.’ Then I’ll sit in one, then I’ll sit in the other, then I’ll sit at the table, then I’ll look at all the cactus, then I’ll fucking go about my day.” Here is Maron deep in monologue, tied to the telling, Maron the Ancient Maroner. He, too, beguiles and blusters and buttonholes. He, too, repeats, repeats. (If I have to listen one more time to the story of how he almost got hired at Saturday Night Live—the “bizarre, almost dreamlike” meeting with Lorne Michaels during which he failed to land the gig—I’ll fling my headphones out the window.) But then he introduces his guest, and the albatross of Self falls from his neck and lands with a feathery thump on the garage floor, and the dialogue—which is sacred—begins.

So, Like, Why Are We So Obsessed with Podcasts Right Now?

From the true crime of Serial to Marc Maron’s garage psychotherapies, James Wolcott surveys the iTunes charts to analyze the real-talk, conversational appeal of the new radio.

Vanity Fair    Read Full Article


n last month’s column, I squeezed America’s heart with a poignant account of how there’s just too much good TV to keep up with these days. No matter how hard one grips the arms of the speeding treadmill, the view queue just keeps growing and, oh, the futility. And now I have a similar lament to unbosom, if that image doesn’t make you shriek: the equal overwhelmingness of the podcast explosion, all those iTunes subscriptions extending unto death. It seemed only a few wispy years ago that in the future everybody of relative sentience would have their own blog, a personal soapbox or public diary dotting the information superhighway. (This was back in those optimistic days before the superhighway became a garbage run.) Blogs bubbled out of the tar pits of the Internet in the peeping dawn of the new millennium, a democratic upsurge that would enable every caliber and denomination of writer to live the dream of being his or her own pamphleteer, creating a global village of town criers, a cacophonous shout. Today the shouting is mostly a distant growl. Energies that formerly drove current-events blogging have been largely rerouted into Facebook posts, Twitter buckshot, or, on the pro level, “hot takes” that make an immediate splat and drive traffic. And for those who find writing an outmoded activity, like taking up the banjo, there’s Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and similar galleries for eye-grazers. But the screen devices that enslaved our gaze and bathed it in artificial moonlight also gave birth to an audio renaissance—the rise of the podcast.

Podcasts are essentially radio on the installment plan, a return to the intimacy, wombed shadows, and pregnant implications of words, sounds, and silences in the theater of the mind. As commercial radio trashed itself with too many commercials, demographic narrowing (in many markets, pitching to the Aging Angry White Male), and the incessant pandering of the religious/right-wing tom-tom drums, podcasts redeemed the medium by restoring its lost creative promise. Instead of peddling itself to demographic markets, it appealed to interests, enthusiasms, and the oral tradition of storytelling, and for every interest there’s a flock of podcasts vying for attention. (And business has noticed. The podcast network Gimlet Media raised $6 million in its most recent fund-raising round, for a reported valuation of $50 million. Shannon Bond reported in the Financial Times, “The company expects to take in more than $2m in advertising sales this year from clients including Ford and Microsoft. It is also developing branded podcasts for advertisers, an area of increasing interest to marketers and to podcast producers.”)

My own pod diet is eclectic. I subscribe to: The Norman Mailer Society Podcast, which presents archival selections from his wooly-bully exploits; a podcast devoted to The Art of Manliness (because, well, you know how it is); Vanity Fair’s Oscar-themed Little Gold Men podcast (got to support the team); You Must Remember This, the podcast hosted by Karina Longworth that peels the history of Hollywood; podcasts devoted to the Alexander technique and radio astronomy; Marc Maron’s WTF, Bret Easton Ellis’s eponymous podcast, Bill Simmons’s sports podcast; and so many more, which I hope someday to have time to listen to, though who am I kidding? I am still several episodes tardy with Marc Maron’s podcast, and it is Maron who gave podcasting the authentic thumbprint it has today.

The story of Marc Maron’s climb from career doldrums and psycho-pharmacological burnout to buckskin pioneer of personal podcasting has been oft told, as befits a folk legend that inspired a nation. It is 2009. Maron’s stand-up-comedy career is on the luggage carousel to nowheresville. Air America, the liberal radio network not long for this world, has canceled his lunch-break program, having earlier canceled his morning show with Mark Riley. He’s going through a public, war-torn divorce, lacing his stand-up-comedy performances with psychodrama. Like a fanatic, he neglects to shave closely. But he refuses to throw in the gym towel. Using his Air America key card like a spy, he sneaks in and records the first episodes of a podcast called WTF (for “What the Fuck”). Not long after, he moves to California and hosts the ramshackle show from his ramshackle garage, beginning each installment with a status-update monologue about his cats, his storm-tossed love life, and the chafing irritations of daily existence before moving on to the main course with his fellow comics, sharing war stories and commiserating about cheesy club owners, hecklers they have left for dead, that time Marc was a dick to them in Boston, and life on the road in the Twilight Zone of groupies, pizza cartons, and unspeakable laundry. These mutual meditations weren’t like the canned segments on late-night talk shows; they were and remain confessionals, healing exercises, bonding experiences, one-on-one Gestalt therapy sessions, and WTF doesn’t so much find an audience as its audience finds something it didn’t know it was looking for. Maron’s garage—nicknamed “the Cat Ranch”—becomes the log cabin of podcast lore, and the show itself a modern American institution, tricked up into a sitcom now heading into its third horny season on IFC.

How an angry comic who had a coke habit became the Barbara Walters of podcasts

Marc Maron hosts his “WTF” podcast in his garage. (Kyle Monk/For The Washington Post)

The Washington Post     Read Full Article


 

Just before noon, hundreds of eager attendees, some paying as much as $2,000 for “4 Days of Inspiring Events,” pile into a ballroom in Boston’s convention center for the main attraction of INBOUND’s Thursday program.

The masses have come for comedian and podcaster Marc Maron, most certainly the only headliner at a motivational conference who has both snorted coke with Sam Kinison and interviewed the president of the United States in his garage. He’s also the lone speaker on the slate — which includes Chelsea Clinton and BuzzFeed boss Jonah Peretti — who has openly discussed killing himself.

Here, Maron recounts the bizarre moment this year when President Obama’s motorcade rolled up his narrow street in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles to tape Episode No. 613 of “WTF,” the shorthand for a phrase that can’t be printed here.

“I had to ask my neighbor, Dennis, if it would be okay if we put snipers (to protect the president) on his roof, and Dennis is retired, so he’s like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ ”

The president boosted Maron’s profile — and Obama made headlines by dropping the n-word during a discussion of race — but the appearance was no fluke. Since 2009, “WTF” has become a must listen, downloaded by millions and inspiring a loosely autobiographical television series on IFC, a daring memoir and a stand-up revival for Maron. His first comedy special in 20 years, “More Later,” airs on Epix on Dec. 4.

In this age of the soul-baring revelation, Marc Maron is the closest thing the Snapchat generation has to a Barbara Walters. She made her subjects cry. He makes them confess — and it never feels cheap.

“There’s something paradoxical about Maron,” says “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, a loyal “WTF” listener and recent interviewee. “His TV and onstage persona is kind of cranky, angry. Yet he’s so intuitive and empathetic as an interviewer. He emotionally commits when he’s doing an interview, and I think that’s one of the reasons why people, like me, feel comfortable confiding in him.”

If only Maron could enjoy the ride. On the INBOUND stage, his left leg thumps as an interviewer fumbles by asking about the presidential race. (Maron hates talking politics.) Finally, freedom arrives in the form of a malfunctioning, wireless mike. Maron darts out of his chair, grabs a handheld and paces across the stage. Now we’re talking. He’s restless, funny, unsure and typically acerbic as he frames his rise alongside a critique of today’s clickbait culture.

“I don’t know why we have to accommodate people’s drifting attention spans.”

“There’s something amazing about conversation. Because people just don’t do it anymore.”

And finally, a call to arms, sort of.

“I feel like I should have been more motivational,” Maron says. “Let me try it.”

He pauses.

“You people can do anything if you concentrate and you focus your creative abilities, there is no limit to what you can achieve in this life. The only thing that can stop you is you. You know that voice inside of you that says, ‘I can’t do it.’ Don’t let that little f--- win.”

Maron, 52, has certainly spent quality time with that inner voice. It drives and disrupts him. It leads to rages and jealousies, insecure rants and fascinating insights. He has grown better at controlling his worst tendencies, tamping down his temper as well as his fears, this sense that at any time, everything could collapse.

Still, he has his moments, usually recounted on paper, stage or the opening of another “WTF.”

Yelling at his (now former) girlfriend to the point that a neighbor comes by. Screaming at a comic at a club when the other guy complains that Maron dissed him online. Cursing out a waiter at a breakfast spot when he screws up his eggs.

“Let’s see, I’ve known Marc since about 1988,” says comedian Louis C.K., “and he’s exactly the same person. He’s built some skills over that time. He’s got a little further vision than he used to. But he’s got the same neuroses that he had back then. It’s just like there’s a bunch of blankets over them.”

“Marons have a hard time experiencing joy,” adds Craig, his younger brother. “It doesn’t come very naturally.”

In his 2013 memoir, “Attempting Normal,” Maron describes his past in uncomfortably delicious detail. His father, Barry, is a gifted surgeon whose bipolar condition and narcissism can disrupt any moment. Take graduation day. Before Maron can participate in the ceremony at Boston University, his father confesses that he no longer wants to live. He then runs off. The family doesn’t know whether to call the police or search for him. (He eventually returns.) Maron’s mother, Toby, has her own issues — an eating disorder that, he says, has led to his own complicated relationship with food.

Barry Maron, reached in New Mexico, where he now lives, declined to address his son’s comments in detail. “I think he’s a great comedian,” he said. “I don’t care what he says about me because in the total picture, it’s not important.” Toby, who lives in Florida, says she doesn’t believe her son’s childhood was so terrible. “He certainly was loved,” she says.

After graduating from college in 1986, Maron headed to California. He worked the door at the Comedy Store and met stand-up screamer Kinison. The late comic turned him on to cocaine, an addiction Maron didn’t kick until 1999. With long sideburns and a jittery routine that dutifully hit most of the expected touch points — Bob Dole sucks, doing drugs — Maron resembled an entertainer on the cusp of a Denis Learyesque breakout.

If only. None of it — a gig on Comedy Central, an interview with Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live,” an HBO special, and even a one man, off-Broadway show — led to stardom. In 2004, drug-free but as jealous and bitter as ever, Maron signed on for what would be a five-year run on the liberal Air America network. That arrangement found him bouncing from show to show, from radio to the Internet, and also amounted to very little.

Maron wasn’t the only one frustrated.

“When Lewis Black got the attention on “The Daily Show,” I love Lewis and was happy for him, but I thought, ‘Why can’t that be Marc Maron?” says Dave Becky, his manager for years. “Why is Lewis Black selling out theaters and he can’t get arrested?”

At Air America, Maron did meet Brendan McDonald, a young producer who instantly became a believer and would become his producing partner on “WTF.” Early on, McDonald was asked by a higher-up at Air America what he thought of the network’s talent.

“I can tell you what’s working,” McDonald remembers saying. “Marc Maron. That guy could be Howard Stern. The problem is we haven’t built the show around him.”
Learning how to step back and listen

The garage, a few steps from his house, is nothing fancy. Red painted stucco, peeling in back. Wooden panel doors secured by a padlock. And inside, a table with a coffee cup that Obama sipped during his visit, preserved under a plastic dome. This is where interviewer faces guest.

The space feels more like a clubhouse than a studio, in large part because of how much Maron has packed into the 15-by-12-foot space.

Fender guitars, hundreds of books, posters, a $5 donation check from a couple in Long Island, an old feedback note demanding that a comedy club owner “Get rid of Marc Maron. His material alienated too many people. He was vulgar and not funny at all.”

“A lot of pictures of yourself,” Obama joked when he walked in earlier this year. “It’s a little narcissistic.”

In 2009, when Maron started “WTF,” he was sinking. Nobody wanted to work with him.

“People just picked up the bad energy, and I think it hurt him,” says comedian Greg Fitzsimmons.

Becky, his manager, pushed Maron off to a junior agent and asked what this podcast idea was all about. Seething, Maron fired him. Then there was his divorce. Maron gives his second wife, writer and sometime performer Mishna Wolff, credit for helping him get sober. Still, as divorce negotiations dragged on, he began to believe she was trying to bankrupt him and force him to sell his house. (Wolff, in an e-mail, said: “I’m sorry to hear Marc saw things that way. That was not the case.”) This is when Maron, on air and in print, has said he contemplated suicide.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” he says. “There was some sort of deep self-pity. I would rather be dead than be an anonymous headliner working ‘b’ rooms the rest of my life because I didn’t have another choice.”

“WTF” became his therapy. Comedians came to his house to talk. Maron, always so desperate to get the first and last word in, began to listen. Conversation, he discovered, could be more cathartic than a monologue.

“That was the part of the thing that was so great to me,” Maron says. “I needed to get out of my own head, whether I knew it or not. I always was a center-stage guy. I never thought that I would be very good at surrendering stage. But I grew to really appreciate it. I learned how to learn the space of somebody and listen empathetically.”

Comedian David Cross, who had grown tired of listening to Maron’s endless complaining, realized during an early appearance that his friend was ideally suited for the format.

“To be able to listen to a guy who is so relentless and has that kind of balance of intellectualism and emotional response but who doesn’t have an agenda,” he says, “it makes for some really interesting, genuine conversation.”

That’s an understatement. Over 655 podcasts, two posted each week, “WTF” has piled up countless, must-listen moments.

There was Robin Williams, four years before his suicide, talking about his struggles with alcohol, depression and even accusations of joke theft. A two-parter with Louis C.K. found the estranged friends working through the breakdown in their relationship. Maron pressed Gallagher about accusations of racism in his act until the melon-smashing comic stormed out of the interview. And a 2013 podcast with actor Will Ferrell caught the ear of Shailagh Murray, a senior adviser to President Obama.

“Everyone knows Will Ferrell,” Murray says. “He’s this hilarious, blockbuster movie star. And yet his personal story is so interesting. His dad was in the Righteous Brothers band. I came away thinking I’ll never look at that guy the same way again. And I realized how effectively Marc had kind of broken this guy into these different pieces and put him back together as a totally different person from the public perception.”

Earlier this year, Maron also found himself sitting across from “Fresh Air’s” Gross, who is famously private. For this live interview, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, she chose Maron precisely because he wouldn’t let her dodge questions.

“I didn’t want it to be boring,” Gross says.

It wasn’t. During the show, Gross discussed her first husband and her past smoking pot. In 40 years on air, she had never discussed either.

“I could literally feel him feeling me out and trying to figure out what I was feeling and if he could go further,” Gross says. “There’s a powerful connection that I don’t always feel when I’m being interviewed.”

Things are good. He tells himself that all the time. He tells that to his listeners as if it’s a mantra to remind him that things, indeed, are good. Because it is a daily battle. Bad days happen. He can get snippy about the smallest point, even a quick chat with a stranger about an old rock band. He’s still so thin-skinned that he’ll get sucked into Twitter spats with nobodies, guys named Tractor Drivingchamp who have fewer than 73 followers. (Maron has 581,000 and counting.) It’s an idea so ridiculous, so embarrassing, that he spoofed it on his IFC show — two years ago.

But success has helped. Just compare the Maron on “More Later” with the bitterly angry comic on “Final Engagement,” a set recorded during the pre-“WTF” lows of 2008. “What do you think I want, big success?” he sneers, scolding the small crowd for even considering offering him sympathy.

In “More Later,” Maron sits calmly on a stool for much of his set. He mocks his obsession with pour-over coffee, his relationship with his cats and the unfortunate rise of kale. He talks of the absurdity of religion and lets an inner blogger deliver a running commentary of the gig. There’s no political talk — he doesn’t do it anymore — and plenty about the lifelong struggle to control his “river of rage.” Things do seem to be getting better.

“It’s weird to perform being pleasant,” he confesses at one point.

Illeana Douglas, left, and Marc Maron in “Maron.” The show was recently renewed for a fourth season. (Chris Ragazzo/IFC)

Sitting at the dining-room table, Maron talks of another change. He is trying to hold back, for the first time, about his personal life. His relationships have provided highly entertaining material over the years. But the openness probably hasn’t helped maintain domestic bliss. So Maron is resisting much on-air conversation about his girlfriend, Sarah Cain, an accomplished painter he says he’s crazy about.

Maron is moving slowly, with no plans to leave the modest, two-bedroom home he maintains with his cats, LaFonda and Monkey, the pricey McIntosh stereo — his one luxury — and his search for inner peace.

Is he happy, he’s asked while waiting for comic Brian Regan to arrive for a taping?

“I’m definitely content, and I feel a little proud of myself. Which I never felt before. But those problems that I have emotionally, they remain. If I’m immersed in work or busy and I’m kind of feeding my ego that way, which I don’t really acknowledge as that’s what it is but it probably is, I don’t think about it as much. But like I still have a feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ The point of the work is clear. But what’s the point of life sometimes?”

He pauses.

“Happy? I am kind of.”

Marc Maron’s Lorne Story

Marc Maron, the creator and host of the podcast “WTF,” has wanted to interview Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of “Saturday Night Live,” for many years. Finally, he did.

The New Yorker     Read Full Article


Many of us have a person from our past who’s broken our heart—personally, creatively, or professionally—and made us wonder what if. For Marc Maron, and countless others, that person is Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of “Saturday Night Live.” Maron met with Michaels in 1995, for reasons that were unclear—a possible “Weekend Update” commentator gig, it seemed—but thrilling to imagine. Afterward, though, he never got a call, the call. Maron has talked to “S.N.L.” veterans about this meeting, and about Michaels himself, on his podcast, “WTF,” often. Everyone from Harry Shearer to Amy Poehler to Jimmy Fallon has discussed Michaels on the show; some people have weighed in on theories about the Maron meeting; most have done Lorne impressions. The Lorne story in a person’s life takes on a mythic quality because it’s often the moment at which a life changes—or, crushingly, doesn’t. Maron, now a big success himself, has wanted to interview Michaels for many years. Finally, he did. The episode, which is two hours long, posted this week.

“I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen! But it happened. Oh, it fucking happened, people,” Maron says at the beginning of the episode. In this, as with other interviews he’s done on “WTF,” Maron went in preloaded with vibes—not quite the grudge-beef vibes he’s had with other standups over the years, often rooted in jealousy, self-pity, and insecurity—but with the questions we have about someone who has made us feel slighted, rooted in the same things. Maron describes the pain of rejection in 1995, “when it was hot and new,” as feeling like “I got fucked, or Lorne doesn’t like me, or Lorne is evil, or Lorne is some sort of demonic puppet master, or I was used to pressure somebody else.” (Somebody such as Norm Macdonald.) He calls the subject “an ever-flowing rabbit hole of possibilities for me to either think I was fucked or that show business was fucked.” Talking to people about Michaels and “S.N.L.” over the years gave him perspective and empathy—which he didn’t necessarily want. “I liked keeping Lorne Michaels this evil wizard who had somehow shunned me and exiled me from a possibly much different career in show business,” he says.

Of course, the notion of Maron’s actually being on “Saturday Night Live” at any point in his career is a bit counterintuitive. He’s not a yes-and guy, an improv-team guy—he’s an unhinged garage-podcast messiah. He’s great at riffing with guests, but the idea of his fitting into someone else’s world, even as a “Weekend Update” commentator in nineties-“S.N.L.” A. Whitney Brown mode, isn’t easy. Maron’s “Saturday Night Live” dream seems more about the dream of making it than about the show itself. Because he did not get the gig, and because of similar career starts and stops, he found his way to the right thing at the right time, his ideal form: pure talk, angst, hard-won wisdom, on a podcast, using the brilliant insights and damaged relationships he’d developed along the way as fodder for great listening.

Like the President Obama episode of “WTF,” this Lorne Michaels special event comes with a sidecar: a bonus episode that reflects on it and pays respect to its magnitude. It’s called “Lorne Stories,” a collection of those clips: twenty different interviews in which Maron asked people about Michaels. Listening to “Lorne Stories” puts Maron’s obsession in perspective. Generally, the people who succeeded on “S.N.L.,” who chose to leave after many years, and who went on to make movies or to have their own shows, enjoy their relationship with Michaels. The people who were let go, or feel thwarted, are more tortured about him. (As Amy Poehler puts it, “People that cared a lot about his approval never got it.”) But just about everybody is fond of Michaels, grateful for whatever chance they got, and mildly amused by his quirks and mystified by his understated, indirect speech. “Everything is sideways,” Poehler says. “And you either take him personally or you don’t.” Will Ferrell tells a funny story about having several interviews and then attempting to bribe Michaels with a briefcase full of fake money; Jenny Slate and Michaela Watkins both sound reverent, sad, and a little stunned; Bill Hader says that telling Michaels he was leaving the show was like “breaking up with your dad.”

“I just did that!” Maron says delightedly. Maron has dad issues, we remember, and his Michaels obsession makes even more sense.

What Maron finds in 2015 is that both the show and the man are smaller and realer than he imagined: human-sized, not larger than life. If you’ve ever been to “S.N.L.” or to another TV show’s taping, you might have experienced the same thing: a combination of Wow! and This is it?

“It’s a fairly intimate space,” Maron tells us. “There’s chairs set up on the floor for people that are close to the stage. It looked an alternative-comedy venue in that way.” Many sets, dozens of people moving things around, electricity and excitement in the air. “There was a humanness to the experience that I never realized or noticed on TV,” he said. When Maron sees Michaels before their meeting, he thinks, “Oh, fuck! He’s just a guy! He’s a man! And this is his job! He works here! He runs this place.”

On the recording, we hear Michaels say, “Sorry for the delay. This is the scene of the crime! You were here before.”

This gets Maron all excited and riled up. “You remember!” he says. Soon, he launches into clearing the air. He describes it moment by moment. He does an impression of Michaels to Michaels. He explains what was going on in his head. “I was trying to exude some star quality of some kind and I was not successful,” he says.

“God, you really remember this,” Michaels says.

As with an actual crime, memories of what happened differ. Michaels’s remark about comedians being like monkeys may or may not have had the monkeys jerking off; they both remember Maron making a joke about monkeys throwing their shit at you, and Michaels not laughing. Maron thinks there were Jolly Ranchers in the candy bowl, and that he chose the wrong candy, failing the “candy test”; Michaels assures him that they would have been Tootsie Rolls, just one kind of candy, and that there was no test.

When they try to reconstruct what happened substantively, the only account that matters is Michaels’s. He reassures Maron that he respects his “original voice,” or he wouldn’t have invited him to meet in the first place; he describes the era in the show, a big upheaval, transitioning away from the baby-boomer audience to a younger audience, a period of intense critical scrutiny from the network and the media; he suggests that there might not have been a “spot” for him in the lineup, and mentions David Spade filling in for Dana Carvey in wide shots when Carvey was playing both Bush and Perot in a debate sketch; he talks about networks uniting the country as railroads once did; he explains that he likes to meet with people doing important things, like the kids who made “Bottle Rocket.” It’s both reassuring and a bit of humdrum rhetorical magic, and from there, Maron, who has probably calmed down a bit, proceeds to interview him as he would anyone else.

“You grew up in Canada,” Maron asks. “What was your family like?” They talk for an hour then and an hour later, and it’s a valuable interview for many reasons—a chance to feel like you’re sitting in Michaels’s office, gabbing about the nuts and bolts of making the show. Yet, like Maron’s interview with Obama, it’s both intimate and at arm’s length; Michaels, while not evasive, doesn’t need to truly open up, and is by nature indirect and a little aloof. He talks about Chevy Chase doing Gerald Ford, and the brilliance of his not even attempting to look like him; he explains his own specific talents, which include “encouraging people and discouraging people”; he explains the show’s allure to high-schoolers. (“In high school, you have no power. You have no money, you can’t drive. Just staying up late is exciting, and having a few friends over.”) When Maron asks him about self-destructiveness among cast members, and mentions John Belushi, Michaels says, “Well, it’s a small point of pride that nobody’s ever died doing the show. It generally happens a couple of years after they leave the show.” The intensity of the show, he says, leads to “an exhilaration and high that they want to continue.” Then they get a bit sidetracked talking about the intensity of the show. “It’s like a sport you play,” Michaels says. Its Super Bowl, perhaps, was the fortieth-anniversary episode, which Michaels thinks was “as close to perfect as it’s ever going to get,” and tremendously satisfying.

“So you’re just going to keep going until you can’t see? Or one day they find you wandering the halls looking for Chevy?” Maron asks, toward the end.

Michaels answered this by expressing admiration for Don Pardo, who died last year at age ninety-six, after having been at NBC his whole life, and by indicating the momentousness of the fortieth-anniversary show, likely “the last time that the founding generation would all be there.” So yes, basically.

If you’ve ever had such a conversation—a healing conversation in adulthood with someone who stymied or wounded you in youth—chances are that you’ve come away enlightened, relieved, amazed, empathetic, forgiving, perhaps more aware of a certain amount of hubris or naïveté in your long-held idea that talking to this person could fix it. You can’t undo the years you spent agitating about it—your only reward is maturity, awareness that you’ve grown up, and, if you’re fairly evolved, freedom from continuing to agitate. The reason Maron is so compelling, here and elsewhere, is the way he embodies and expresses the tension between these impulses, between the id and the superego. He’s matured a bit during this experience, but he’s still himself.

“I just want to say, in closing, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t: I’m ready to re-audition,” he tells Michaels. “I think that I’m at that place now. I think I’m fully formed.”

“Well, again, we’re always on the lookout,” Michaels says. Maron laughs his head off. Michaels says, “And you’ll leave your head shot, of course.”

10 Things We Learned from Lorne Michaels' WTF Interview

Why Marc Maron really didn't get the 'SNL' gig, and other takeaways from an incredible WTF interview.

Rolling Stone     Read Full Article


Any casual listeners of Marc Maron's WTF podcast will be forgiven for presuming that the President Barack Obama, whom the comic interviewed a few months back, was the comedian's ultimate get. His fans know better: The host has been obsessed with talking to Saturday Night Live's creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels. In rant after rant — and conversation after conversation with SNL alums — Maron has cursed himself, cursed the "evil wizard" he saw in Michaels and cursed showbiz itself while trying to figure out why he didn't make it onto the show in 1995, when he was considered for a "Weekend Update" contributor position and ultimately didn't get it.

Arguably, this meeting, and Maron's perceived rejection because of it, was a grain of sand that helped shaped the cantankerous black pearl of his comedy over the years. After years of perceived industry indifference, the stand-up comic slowly began to from being a comedian's comedian to more of a household name, in no short part because of the success of his podcast. During a recent conversation with jilted SNL performer Michaela Watkins, he admitted that he didn't even know what talking to Michaels would really accomplish for him anymore.

Hard to know whether someone nudged the Saturday Night Live creator or the timing was just right, but Maron finally got his chance for closure a few weeks ago. On the evenings of October 5th and 6th, he finally sat down with Lorne Michaels to talk about everything that's been on his mind (and gnawing at his gut) for two decades — as well as chewing the fat over showbiz and SNL history, to boot. The episode finally posted on the WTF site today, and here are 10 things we learned listening to the two-hour therapy session-cum-podcast extravaganza.

1. Lorne Michaels is not an "evil wizard" who has it in for Marc Maron
He is not a robot, the cold fish that many friendly (and unfriendly) impersonators have made him out to be over the years, and certainly not the "evil wizard" Maron has long imagined him to be. He's simply a man who loves writers, performers, putting on shows and chasing a perfection he'll never achieve. (You knew this already, of course, but it's intriguing to listen to Maron come to terms with it.) Once the initial dissection of "the meeting" is over, and Maron starts asking Michaels about Canada and his upbringing, you can hear the host relax and get back in the zone. This is, after all, just another conversation. But this brings us to …

2. There is no "candy test."
At this point, the details of Maron's ill-fated 1995 meeting with Michaels will be more than familiar to WTF fans: Michaels' derisive comment about the downtown comedy scene at New York's Luna Lounge, Maron's misstep in talking about monkey scat and — the final nail in the coffin — the comedian brazenly taking a Jolly Ranchers from Michaels' candy dish. As the host presents each talking point as though it were a ticking time bomb, Michaels either defuses it directly or proves that there's no big boom coming — mainly by refusing to acknowledge the existence of an explosive device whatsoever. ("God, you really remember this," Michaels says at one point.) For years, the comic has been haunted by the candy dish: Was it some kind of trial that Maron failed when he took a piece? Michaels just corrects him: The dish contained Tootsie Rolls and not Jolly Ranchers — or any other types of sweets for that matter. "There was no alternative candy," Michaels confirms. "There was just the one."

3. Ultimately, Maron didn't get SNL because the timing wasn't right
If anything, Michaels comes across as apologetic about the fact that Maron didn't get a job at SNL. The reason, according to the producer, has more to do with timing than talent. He explains that when he has a one-on-one with comics or other performers, it's because he already believes in them. "I wouldn't have met with you if I didn't think you had [an original voice]," he tells Maron. In the mid 1990s, the show was taking a beating in the press and from the network executives — according to Michaels, everything was in a state of transition. And with so many moving pieces and masters to serve, he just failed to find the right spot for Maron. "You had a strong point-of-view, you were clear," Michaels says. "You were just part of a mix."

4. Michaels doesn't idealize any era of SNL
Adjusting to new casts and new writers is always painful, Michaels confesses. Fans are likely to mention a certain era they hold near and dear to their heart —the producer predicts that a person's favorite version of SNL usually corresponds to the time they were in high school. (As in, when they were powerless and with nothing better to do on a Saturday night.) Every cast reinvents the show — and every cast starts out as something less than great. "All babies are ugly unless they're your baby," Michaels says, adding that it takes three or four years before everyone agrees that said metaphorical baby is cute. But even when talking about those beloved early years, Michaels doesn't glorify them: "I've been there for all the golden years, and I can tell you, they weren't golden at the time."

5. Michaels' career straddles two very different eras of television
When the SNL creator started out writing for comics in New York and variety shows in Burbank, the world of TV was dominated by middle-aged men writing sitcoms such as I Love Lucy. Michaels sucked up lessons from the old guard while watching music and film adopt something of the counterculture. Then he started working for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. (At one point, there were "40 million people watching Lucy, 40 million watching Laugh In," Michaels says. "There have always been two Americas, in that regard.") Not long afterward, he started taking risks as a producer and put "new wine in an old bottle" with the live format of Saturday Night Live.

6. Lily Tomlin changed Michaels' life
When working as a writer in California in the early 1970s, he met with the character actor about doing a special together. Michaels confesses to feeling a bit lost and wondering "if I could do the things I wanted to do." Tomlin, whom he calls "a braver spirit than I was," not only picks him to help with the special, but vouches for him as a producer. Once the show won an Emmy, Michaels says the credibility helped him when creating the show with NBC.

7. The 40th Anniversary show will be the closest Michaels thinks he'll get to perfection
Due to the nature of the live show, Michaels understands he'll never achieve everything he wants. "From my side of things, you only see the mistakes. The camera cut was late, the guy was cued in too early, that joke didn't make it to the cards and there was a stumble," he says. "It's like a sport, you play it." That said, he confesses that the star-studded 40th anniversary show was the closest he'll get to what he aims for: "The feeling in the room was so warm and so supportive. In that very clichéd sense, it's a family."

8. The strength of SNL, according to Michaels, "has always been the middle of the country"
Michaels designs the show not to appeal to New Yorkers or Angelenos, but those in Kansas. Though the writers may never have a consensus about what they find funny, he never wants to shut out people who seem to really need the show by "doing things that are too specific." This is why he tries to include elements of satire, political, dry, broad and physical comedy. Regardless of personal aesthetics, Michaels feels, "If you laugh, if you give it up for somebody ... we know it."

9. Despite what it may seem, Michaels doesn't always know what he wants from new talent
Michaels tells Maron about bringing on Leslie Jones, who came in after a recommendation from Chris Rock. While he describes her as "the real thing," he admits that she was not initially what he was looking for. "Then you see it and you fall in love … when you see it and you're blown away by it, you can do the right thing."

10. The door is open, just a crack, for Maron's triumphant return to SNL
Before the conversation ended, Maron told Michaels, "I'm ready to audition." Michaels replied, "We're always on the lookout … you'll need your headshot, of course."

 

WTF? Marc Maron, the podcaster with presidential approval

When angry US standup Marc Maron’s talkshow was cancelled, he started doing interviews from his garage. Then one day, Barack Obama came round for a chat…

The Guardian     Read Full Article


t was the evening of Thursday 18 June and Marc Maron was worried. Specifically, he was worried that someone might have tampered with his fusebox. It hadn’t been an ordinary day up to that point. That morning, 50 secret service guys were being briefed in his living room and a sniffer dog was sweeping his house for bombs. A large tent was in the process of being erected over his driveway. His two bamboozled cats, Monkey and LaFonda, were hiding under the bed. Maron was equally freaked out.

He had good reason: the following day, if all went according to plan, he would be interviewing the president of the United States of America for an hour-long podcast recorded in his garage in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Being in his house on his own when all his neighbours knew Barack Obama was coming to visit was giving him the creeps.

“I mean, it’s an event,” Maron says. “It’s not just a guy coming over.”

He was worried, too, that his usual interview style – an intimate, conversational shooting of the breeze which relies on an upfront emotional connection – would not work on a media-trained public figure practised at politely dodging uncomfortable questions. “I knew that he [Obama] would have a narrative on almost everything,” says Maron. “Getting around that would be challenging.”

How did Maron, a 51-year-old, twice-divorced, childless standup comedian with late-90s indie hipster facial hair and a penchant for lumberjack shirts, come to be interviewing the leader of the free world in his garage? To understand that, you have to go back to 2009, the year he started the WTF podcast: a twice-weekly encounter with fellow comedians, actors and directors. At the time, he had just been fired from his job on a liberal talk-radio station and was going through a costly divorce after the failure of his second marriage. Despite a fairly healthy standup career (Maron held the record for most guest spots on the talkshow Late Night With Conan O’Brien), he had witnessed contemporaries such as Sarah Silverman and Louis CK become more successful than him. He was, by his own admission, bitter, sad and resentful.

“I got into the podcast because I didn’t know what to do with myself and I was going broke,” Maron says. He turned his garage into a studio and started approaching friends for interviews. Maron proved to be a free-ranging, easy-mannered conversationalist, unafraid to speak about his own vulnerabilities in order to get more from his guests. He found that he enjoyed the new medium: “I was proud of myself for the first time in my life. I was doing something I wanted to do and it filled a big hole in me of fear and insecurity.”

He never prepared a list of questions – still doesn’t – preferring instead to embrace the tangential detours of a more natural one-to-one.

“I try to get a sense of people through different means: where they come from, where they grew up… I like to start with a question like ‘What street did you take to get here?’ just to get them going.”

    I think it took the president coming to my house to hammer it into my dad’s head that I have achieved something

People responded positively and WTF With Marc Maron hit the No 1 spot on the iTunes comedy chart a number of times. A two-hour 2010 interview with Louis CK, in which the duo openly discussed their tricky 25-year friendship (Maron had been jealous of his peer’s success; Louis CK had thought Maron unnecessarily aggressive and needy) was voted by the Slate website as the No 1 podcast episode of all time. The comedian Todd Glass came out as gay on a 2012 episode. Other interviewees have included Judd Apatow, Amy Poehler and Ian McKellen.

But the president of the United States of America? That was a whole different ball game. Astonishingly, Maron and his producer, Brendan McDonald, hadn’t even put out the initial interview request. White House communications staff had approached them via their website a year earlier, as part of a broader strategy to get the president to connect with potential voters beyond the normal outlets for political discourse. After months of to-ing and fro-ing, a date had finally been agreed.
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Maron was understandably apprehensive. He has the kind of brain, he says, that fixates on minor anxieties in order to avoid focusing obsessively on the bigger ones: “It’s a coping mechanism.” Pause. “Not a great one.”

He needn’t have worried. In the resulting interview, the president talked frankly about race, poverty and gun control. “The grieving that the country feels is real,” Obama said of the recent Charleston church massacre. “But I think part of the point that I wanted to make was that it’s not enough just to feel bad.” The podcast was listened to almost 750,000 times within the first 24 hours of going live – nearly quadrupling Maron’s record for the most downloaded episode in a single day. Within a week, it had amassed 1.7m downloads and Obama’s use of the N-word garnered international headlines.

Maron liked Obama, finding him both sincere and impressive. After the president left, Maron started to cry.

“It was this almost immediate, postpartum relief and emotion. I don’t know if it was pride, or because it went OK, or we did it. It was the relief and intensity of it.” He stops, embarrassed. “I mean, I didn’t break down or anything. I just kind of had a little overwhelmingly teary moment.”

Maron got into comedy as a way of dealing with his father. Barry Maron was an orthopaedic surgeon who was “absent and volatile, a depressive of sorts”. It was rare that he would make it home in time for dinner. Marc, the elder of two sons (he has a brother, Craig, who works in food franchising) at first experimented with hypochondria as a means of getting his father’s attention, but “then I got exhausted by it and moved on to other fears”.

He was born in New Jersey, but the family moved first to Alaska and then to Albuquerque, New Mexico with his father’s job. Maron’s mother, Toby, was a real estate agent. He grew up watching comedians like Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison on television. He was drawn to comics because “they seemed to have a handle on things. What was compelling to me was they seemed to have the answers to everything. They were in control of the situation. They had a point of view on stuff.”
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Maron discovered that the ability to make his father laugh was “a way of protecting myself from his moods and depression and also a way of connecting with him naturally”. Humour, he says astutely, was a shortcut to entertaining people, but it also enabled the person making the jokes “to stay well defended”.

After graduating from Boston University with a degree in English literature, Maron started his career at the Los Angeles Comedy Store before moving to New York and becoming a fixture on the alternative comedy scene. But he wasn’t particularly happy. He did drugs throughout the 1980s and 90s and was locked in a constant battle with his “dependency-oriented personality”.

“My nostalgic recall is normally around pot,” he says. “Being stoned every day, everything takes on a poetic intensity I enjoyed. I think the reason I did coke is that it made me so fucking confident…

“I drank a lot but I didn’t love it. It was a balance of booze and coke: that was the perfect thing. If you could balance the booze and coke for a couple of hours there, you feel like everything is just right. I guess the reason I did drugs was to try and feel just right.”

He went to Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 26, started on the road to sobriety and began therapy. After that, there were bit parts in television, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as an angry music promoter in the 2000 film Almost Famous and a few one-man shows. He was a regular presenter on Air America, the liberal talk-radio station, but had frequent run-ins with executives who did not appreciate his satirical brand of angry humour and who cancelled his contract in 2009.

“I felt like I was an angry person and was using politics as a template to express that anger,” he admits. “I decided to pull myself out of that dialogue… It’s not the life I want to live.”

Along the way Maron got married and divorced twice – once to Kimberly Reiss, once to fellow comedian Mishna Wolff – and the break-ups became part of his introspective, confessional on-stage shtick. For a long time, he was furious – with himself, with the world, with being misunderstood.

“I don’t know if I ever got into comedy to be an entertainer… I thought you go out there, push the envelope, do morally dubious, aggressive comedy that was some sort of angry truth.”

Looking back, he sees it as a form of posturing. These days, he is calmer. He has been sober for 16 years (his vices are now limited to caffeine and nicotine sweets). He has returned to therapy several times, most recently to try and salvage a relationship a year and a half ago. The relationship didn’t last, but he stuck with the therapist.
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Has therapy taught him anything about being a better interviewer? “I think I learned to listen,” he replies. “I had to learn to open my heart.”

What issues does he go to therapy for? “Some of the most… ” He stops, then starts on a different tack. “The weird thing about it is my relationship with intimacy and trust. The strange thing is the most intimate and trusting I get are those interviews in the garage. With primary relationships, I have an issue with trust and intimacy. But with a stranger in a garage for an hour? I’m fine.”

Why does he think that is? “I think it’s a weird combination of wanting to connect, to identify and wanting to be liked by this person and the fact they’re going to leave. Maybe you can go all-in, and then – it’s gone! Having a relationship and being in a relationship, that’s a very challenging bit of business. It just is.”

Because you need to commit for longer than an hour? “Yeah.”

He insists he has never had a truly difficult interviewee, although some have been less forthcoming than others. Nick Cave was tricky:

Maron: “It seems like you’ve made a record a year for the last 20 years.”

Cave: “Well it’s not really like that, but we’ve made a lot, yeah.”

So was Harry Dean Stanton – at one point Maron was reduced to asking if the actor could do accents:

Maron: “Can you do Irish?”

Stanton: “Oh yeah.” Pause. “‘Faith and begorra.’”

But mostly, Maron is adept at getting people to talk. He thinks this might be because he invites them into his own environment – the garage in Highland Park is covered with personal photographs, books, music posters and a propped-up black-and-white sign stating: “What people need is a good listening to.” It is an informal space that lends itself to opening up.

The success of WTF has led to other opportunities – there was a semi-autobiographical 10-part TV series that aired in 2013 and Maron is about to embark on a UK tour – but it also “filled up a big gap in my sense of self and self-esteem”.

Are his parents proud?

“I think it took the president coming to my house to hammer it into my dad’s head that I have achieved something,” he replies.

Towards the end of our interview, Maron mentions that he grew up with dogs. His father had a liking for old English sheepdogs and the family had four of them, through the years.
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As an adult, Maron has become a cat person (regular listeners to his podcast will know the frequency with which his pet felines are mentioned: he still refers to his favourite cat, Boomer, who went missing two years ago) and it’s almost painfully obvious how many of his choices up to this point have been made in opposition to his father. Instead of dogs, Maron has cats. Instead of emotional distance, he has made a career out of intensely forged human connection.

“I like animals that don’t seem to really need me and you have to earn their affection,” he says. I wonder if it’s this that makes him a master of the hour-long interview: he wants to win someone around, to cajole, to charm, to chip beneath the surface and then he wants them to go home. He doesn’t feel comfortable with it being too easy. Like he said, he still has intimacy issues.

Marc Maron performs his new show at the Southbank Centre, London SE1 on Thursday 3 and Friday 4 September

How Marc Maron Built a Brand That Helped Him Land the President

On WTF podcast, the personal became the professional

Adweek     Read Full Article


hat President Barack Obama said the n-word earlier this week while making a point about racism in America understandably made headlines. That he said it during his appearance on WTF with Marc Maron, an appearance that certainly helped Maron's brand skyrocket, makes sense, too.

Maron, 51, has become known for his unique interview style on his podcast—he works to make a personal connection with his guests during a long-form, sometimes provocative interview that often isn't informed by research. It's a style that could be comforting or discomforting, depending on the guest, and one that breeds conversations that feel well earned.

"I think what resonates with people is kind of raw honesty and authenticity," said Maron from New York. "If anything defines whatever the brand is, or if anything defines the success that I have in talking to people in interviews, it's that there seems to be something very personal and raw in how I engage with people."

What began in 2009 as a show with philosophical segments, seeking answers about how to live in the world, has morphed into an interview show with celebrity guests who know that an interview with Maron will delve into the personal. With roughly 5 million downloads a month and an average of 450,000 downloads per episode, according to Maron's business partner, Brendan McDonald, the show, which is usually recorded inside Maron's Los Angeles garage, has helped cement the host as a brand and generate a rapid fan base.

"People have asked me about who listens, and I say I don't really have a demographic," said Maron. "I have a disposition that sort of travels through all ages and isn't gender specific. The type of stuff I'm expressing in terms of my struggle or my concerns, my neurotic ramblings about trying to exist in the world, resonate with people of all ages, all sexes. It's sort of astounding."

According to McDonald, the WTF audience senses that Maron isn't a guy who'll just take a paycheck, and that helps foster a relationship between performer and listener.

"Marc is a very loyal guy," said McDonald, who explained that Maron's WTF logo, created by illustrator and friend Nathan Smith, hasn't changed since the show's inception for a reason. "The thing we first noticed when we started back in 2009 was that most of [the podcast logos] were photos of the host, and we just would notice those little thumbnail tiles up on iTunes. We could really see a difference with that image from the things that were surrounding it. Marc's attached to [the logo] much the same way you would be to an old car."

 "Everything he's doing has his personal stamp on it," said McDonald, who, until last year, ran much of the show's advertising. The podcast is now represented by Midroll, the podcast advertising network, which books brands like Naturebox and Blue Apron spots on Maron's bi-weekly show.

According to Maron, there was no real discussion about what his brand would be. "With branding, there's usually some sort of intention in it," he said. "People sat around and said, 'What is this brand; how does it fit into the world?' Whatever brand I have it just evolved out of my own sense of place in the world, out of my own point of view."

But even if the comedian wasn't trying to build a brand, he has built one—a successful one at that—and it has taken him beyond his garage. Not only does he have a scripted TV show on IFC, now in its third season, but he's also working on a new portrait show for Vice—a show that takes the ethos behind his podcast and attempts to do the same for television—and is taking his stand-up on the road this summer.

Still, Maron's found the most success in his garage, and that's where Obama wanted to do his interview. According to McDonald, the White House contacted the show roughly a year ago, and the idea of interviewing someone was tossed around for months. It wasn't until March of this year that the possibility of an interview with Obama seemed possible.

"We thought it was crazy, and we didn't think that was something that would really wind up happening," said McDonald. "We thought it would get to a point where they'd say, even though they were in L.A., that we should come over to the Beverly Hilton or something."

McDonald dealt with the nuts and bolts—working with the White House advance team, the White House press team and the Secret Service—to get the garage ready for the interview. McDonald also contacted Midroll to rearrange some of the podcast's ad placements—they're booked through November—to make sure Maron's interview with Obama wouldn't have commercial interruptions. Midroll was able to secure Squarespace as an exclusive sponsor for the episode, and now the advertising network has referred to the episode as the "Super Bowl of Podcasting."

"His brand is totally linked to his ability to get people to talk in a way they haven't talked before," said Allen Adamson, North American chairman at brand consulting firm Landor Associates. "He's got a bit of an edge now. To get Obama to let down his guard—that's what makes a great interviewer."

Alison Burns, global client services director at JWT, noted that the interview works to Obama's advantage too. "I actually think the interview says more about Obama's brand," said Burns. "He has consistently demonstrated a confident, modern approach to the media that certainly few of his predecessors have had. Whether it's this interview or Between Two Ferns, Obama is at ease with the spontaneity and quick thinking required for today's media landscape, and its one of the many reasons he's renovated the image of the presidency and made it seem much more youthful."

For Maron, who was stunned that the president wanted to come to his home, being asked to interview him was an honor. "As an American, maybe the child in me or just being brought up in this country, the idea that the president of the United States asked to talk to me is just overwhelming," he said. "I don't know that I was thinking [about my brand], but now I'm a guy that's interviewed a president—the president, a sitting president."

Now, some things might have to change for future guests. "Bottom line is unless someone has a pretty good excuse, they've got to come to the house," Maron said.

President Obama's WTF Episode Helped Marc Maron Set a New Record

The latest installment of Marc Maron's podcast is already a blockbuster. But was it truly revealing?

Esquire     Read Full Article


There's nothing like the Presidential touch to legitimatize an emerging medium. Marc Maron's WTF podcast was already popular enough to command A-list talent (Jonah Hill,, Anna Kendrick, and Mick Jagger, to name a few) and send the host spinning off into other mediums (see: IFC's Maron), but the show reached a new milestone with Monday's President Obama interview. Statistics from Libsyn, the podcasting network that distributes Maron's show, indicate that the stunt was a success for all involved: Obama's WTF episode garnered more than 735,063 downloads in 24 hours, The New York Times reports. That's triple Maron's previous record for most downloads in a day's time.

But was it great radio? Typically, the WTF podcast is no holds barred. Maron's guests dedicate their lives to dredging up truths and twisting them into wisecracks. Famous actors and the like willingly submit themselves to the interviewer's deep dive questions to talk personal issues and behind-the-scenes bullshit. But Maron's interview with President Obama could only dive so deep. The President had his own motivations for joining Maron in the garage. WTF would still get the "real" Obama, but the President wasn't there to offer his worst college memory or a kooky White House anecdote. He was there to speak to the people, to make his mission as Commander-in-Chief a little more personal.

"I've spent a lot of time in the last six-and-a-half years [on policy]," Obama said. When he became President, the former Illinois Senator said there were a few pressing issues. He wanted to prevent that whole "next Great Depression" thing. But over time, Obama watched American political points-of-view fragment into gerrymandered, Super PAC-enabled, 24 hour news-gorging echo chambers. "That's part of the reason I'm here, I'll be honest with you," he told Maron. "How do we talk to folks who aren't so dug in into a particular way of thinking about politics? [How] can we create more space for people have a normal, ordinary conversation, one in which the draws aren't clearly drawn in black and white, a battle in a steel cage between one side and another?"

Obama's strategy made for lesser WTF—nothing tops Todd Glass' coming out episode in 2012—but a rewarding alternative to the annual State of the Union address. Clearly on his guard, Maron shut up and gave Obama the floor. Though his talking points were commonplace, the language was anything but. The President filtered go-to sound bites through a laid-back lexicon. He joked about black helicopter paranoia (they're real, by the way), took a jab at Fox News, scoffed at the Supreme Court's upcoming "Obamacare" decision, and referred to Los Angeles as "my old haunts, man," among the coolest expressions for one's old neighborhood.

It's easy to imagine a version of Obama's WTF episode that's even softer. The world outside the garage didn't allow it. Recorded two days after the Charleston shooting, WTF saw a President in raw form. Obama can keep a level head—being from Hawaii keeps him naturally chill, he said—but, as he told the host, there are breaking points. He couldn't hold back frustration when addressing the tragedy in South Carolina. When Maron asked him point blank about his moments of absolute disgust, his fight for climate change awareness, and a Senate meeting from this February immediately, came to mind. "It'd be a lot more helpful if we had some cooperation from Congress and if I didn't have [Sen. Jim Inhofe,] the chairman of the energy and environment committee in the Senate holding up a snowball, as if that was proof climate change wasn't happening."

Maron finally pushed a button by wondering if America had really come that far in its pursuit of racial equality. This set Obama off (or, as "off" as the calm, pointed speaker can get). "I always tell young people in particular: Do not say that nothing's changed when it comes to race in America, unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950s or '60s or '70s. It's incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly in my lifetime and yours. Opportunities have opened up. Attitudes have changed. That is a fact."

Still, Obama said, the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional discrimination casts a long shadow over our modern lives. "We're not cured of [racism]," he told Maron. "And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'nigger' in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 or 300 years prior." That sound you just heard was a million politically correct, overprotective heads popping.

By the end, Obama's WTF felt like a victory lap. Even his own missteps had silver linings. He's aware that people will take issue with him over something. For every LGBT rights milestone, there's a morally ambiguous drone warfare decision. He can only go off his own instincts and factual information. And based on his own self-reflection, he won't have too many regrets on what he has or has not accomplished.

The "real" Obama, at least the one who showed up in Maron's garage, is the nicest dad we know. He loves his wife, treasures his kids, and can't pronounce, despite enjoying, "Louis C.K." He had a "bad streak" involving leather jackets and cigarette smoking. At 53, harbors nostalgia of his basketball glory days. And when it comes to the deeply personal, he remains guarded. (A line of questions comparing and contrasting the President to his demonized father began with "for those who didn't read my book…" a.k.a. the nice way of saying "been there, done that.")

But for those of us living in the United States, he's the rare politician that comes off, through broad media spin or intimate one-on-ones, as a leader that's genuinely interested in helping the world. Reminding the general public once in awhile is a moral boost. In the WTF interview, Obama told Maron that the greatest lesson he's learned from his presidency isn't a lesson, but a confirmation. "The American people are overwhelmingly good, decent, generous people," he said. "Everyone I meet believes in a lot of the same things. Honesty, family, community, and looking out for one another … that always gives me hope."

And for the reverse opinion, we'll always have comedians. With very successful podcasts.

Podcaster in chief: How Marc Maron landed the Obama interview

LA Times     Read Full Article


Do you mind if I light a cigar?” Marc Maron asked. “I feel like I want one. I’ve been a little nervous.”

Well, yeah. Because this was the day the president of the United States had arrived via motorcade at Maron’s Highland Park home, walked into his 165-square-foot garage and sat for an interview on the comedian’s podcast, “WTF With Marc Maron.” And yes, that third letter stands for what you think it does.

Maron, 51,  took a big puff and reclined in his wooden desk chair.  He was dressed in the same outfit he’d worn to meet Barack Obama in his driveway that morning: a plaid shirt and blue jeans cuffed above a pair of motorcycle boots.

“I don’t really have a suit that fits properly,” he said with a shrug. “So it would have been awkward, and it would have been hot. He knew who I was. He didn’t wear a jacket.”

Indeed, Obama and his communications staff surely knew what they were after with Friday’s “WTF” appearance. If you’re trying to make the president look hip, “WTF” is a natural fit — in the same vein as Obama's appearances on Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” and Jimmy Fallon’s late-night shows, where the leader of the free world slow-jammed the news.

Maron's also really popular. According to “WTF” producer Brendan McDonald, the show gets more than 5 million downloads a month and averages 450,000 downloads per episode. The program’s success has raised Maron’s profile as a stand-up comic and also helped him land his own IFC comedy, “Maron,” about — wait for it — a twice-divorced recovering addict who records a podcast in his garage.

Known for his intimate, sometimes mercurial interview style, Maron can make guests so comfortable they sometimes share incredibly personal details. Last month, he got NPR's famously reserved “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross to reveal that she’d dropped out of college and hitchhiked across the country in the '80s. Four years before he committed suicide, Robin Williams told Maron about how he tried to “fill the hole” of depression with alcohol. Louis C.K. once started crying as he and Maron talked about their broken friendship.

What did Maron get Obama to say? At the moment the comedian will only give vague answers on that question — the podcast goes live Monday at 3 a.m. But reflecting on the interview, Maron did say he found Obama disarming and thought the two had formed an emotional connection.

Overall, the president seemed comfortable in the garage, Maron said, even joking about how many pictures of himself the comedian had as decoration.

“He also noticed the postcard I have of two cats having sex,” Maron said, “But said, ‘We can’t talk about that.’”

The White House first reached out to “WTF” a year ago, but only suggested the possibility of Obama appearing on the show in March. Eric Schultz, Obama’s principal deputy press secretary, noted it was “unique” for the president to be interviewed in a garage, but said to a pool reporter covering the president that he hoped the interview would allow Obama an opportunity "to take some time away from the sort of daily back-and-forth of what’s in the news on any particular day and really offer listeners the opportunity to have more insight into how he makes decisions, what his day-to-day lifestyle is like, what he’s thinking about in terms of his family, his past, his future — a lot of those sort of personal reflections.”

In May, the interview date was locked-in, and Maron began his preparation — reading Obama’s autobiography “Dreams From My Father” and looking up videos of him as a young man. Final logistical preparations fell on McDonald’s shoulders, as Maron was on a 10-day vacation in Hawaii for the two weeks leading up to the interview.

Last Sunday, the producer led Secret Service agents around Maron’s home and was told to start cleaning out the garage a bit so the president wouldn’t trip over anything.

By the time Maron returned from Hawaii on Wednesday evening, a tent was already being erected in his driveway. Soon, security dogs sniffed through his home — he had to lock his beloved cats in his bedroom — and a sniper was positioned on his neighbor’s roof.

“But it didn’t become real to me until he got here,” Maron said. “I was so busy cramming my head and figuring out a way to approach it. I didn’t want to do a fluff interview, but I didn’t want to do a political interview. I wanted to have a real conversation.”

Though he’s known for his comedy, Maron does in fact, have somewhat of a background in politics: He used to host a show called “Morning Sedition” for the left-leaning Air America.

“I used to be very involved in politics, and for personal reasons I decided I had deeper issues to deal with,” said Maron, his cigar reaching its end. “He said that the reason he came on my show is that he wants to engage people in politics, period. When it comes right down to it, the American people have the power to change if they engage. But we all get caught up in an aggressive political dialogue and we’ve become very cynical. I think Obama knows that.”

Still, Maron’s neighbors were excited to have the president in their hood, not far from Occidental College, which Obama attended. Dozens filled the sidewalks of the small residential neighborhood, including an actual clown wearing makeup and juggling.

Before Friday, many said they were unaware that celebrities regularly visit Maron’s garage for “WTF.”

"I've heard the initials," said Yolanda Lem, a poll inspector who lives nearby.

Her neighbor, Trish Escobedo, said she would go straight home and try to find the podcast website.

"That's the first thing I'm going to do," Escobedo said. "I really want to know what he has to say in that particular interview."

Maron moved into his two-bedroom home in 2004, paying $375,000 for it according to public records, before Highland Park’s York Boulevard became a haven for young artists and hipsters. Now, he gets Stumptown coffee at Cafe de Leche and even got in a fight with the owners of Town Pizza over the quality of their cheese pizza slices.

“I felt horrible I made the pizza place mad. But they’ve perfected their pie, finally,” he said. “When I bought my house, I didn’t know nothing about Highland Park either. It seemed very far away from everything. And yeah, it’s a nightmare to get to the Westside. I don’t ever want to go. Like, I gotta pack a tent. But I have immediate access to the Valley, downtown, Silverlake. I’m happy to be part of this community.”

Beyond a few of his neighbors discovering “WTF” because of the Obama appearance, Maron doesn’t think “this is gonna be great for the podcast or whatever.” He’ll be happy if it brings attention to the medium, since it’s free, and “offers an alternate space for people to express themselves on these mics outside of the corporate paradigm.”

And podcasts are having a moment. Last fall, the true-crime audio series “Serial” became a sensation; it was the fastest podcast in iTunes history to hit 5 million downloads and streams. “WTF” producer McDonald says that he’s noticed the effect; downloads of Maron's podcast have ticked up at a faster pace since the first season of “Serial” concluded in December.

“When it was over, people thought, ‘I’ve gotta find more of these,’” McDonald said. “It helped directly with listeners and legitimacy.”

Even so, "podcaster" is not the first word Maron would use to describe himself.

“I still have a hard time seeing myself as an interviewer,” he said. “I’m a stand-up comic. That’s my trade. I still see Terry [Gross] as an interviewer and me as a conversationalist. An interviewer is not supposed to put themselves first. I don’t want to deny anybody the work they’ve done, but I think what’s behind the work is more interesting. Some people would argue, who cares if he’s sad about his mom or the loss of that dog? But that might have defined his life. That’s what at the core of this stuff.”

Meanwhile, Maron's role as the day's interviewer of the president did yield at least one souvenir. Obama left his coffee cup embossed with the presidential seal on Maron’s desk. Hours after the President's departure Maron still hadn't touched it.

Marc Maron Discusses His Podcast Interview With President Obama

The New York Times     Read Full Article


In the nearly six years that Marc Maron has hosted his popular podcast, “WTF With Marc Maron,” this idiosyncratic, inquisitive and self-deprecating comedian has interviewed hundreds of celebrated stand-ups and entertainers, including Louis C.K., Bob Newhart, Lena Dunham and Amy Poehler.
But on Friday, Mr. Maron interviewed an altogether different guest who, while highly coveted, is not immediately known for his snappy observations on the absurdities of everyday life: President Obama.

Mr. Obama visited Mr. Maron’s studio in his home garage for about an hour during a visit to Los Angeles, for a podcast that will be posted on Monday. (An excerpt from the interview is here.)

This interview is surely a high-water mark in the career of Mr. Maron, a former Air America broadcaster and star of the IFC series “Maron,” though it is an offbeat choicefor Mr. Obama, who has previously popped up in such unexpected places as “Between Two Ferns,” the talk-show parody hosted by the comic actor Zach Galifianakis.

Mr. Maron spoke on Friday afternoon about the interview, including how it was arranged and what was discussed with Mr. Obama. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Q.

You finished speaking with the president a short while ago. How are you feeling? How did it go?

A.

I feel good. We had a lot to cover. I had to honor what I do, and I had to respect what he does. He’s the president, but I had to try to connect with him personally, in the way that I do with my interviews. I think all that happened. It was a very varied conversation. And of course, with the events of Wednesday, that had to be mentioned. It was respectful and the right thing to do.

Q.

Did you plan to approach the interview in a certain way, and then, in light of the Charleston killings, think, I need to approach this differently?

A.

Yes, in a way. At one point in my life, I used to be part of the political dialogue, as a radio commentator. I made a very conscious choice to take myself out of that. I just have not really been that attentive. I focused what I do along different lines entirely. I had to combat my old self, but engage in a conversation that would be worthy of the president. I was going to do it my way, engage in a personal way, but he knows all the tricks. He’s the president. I wasn’t going to put anything over on him by acting more comfortable than I was. But it was weird: He came over, he made me very comfortable very quickly. He was very engaged. He was looking forward to having a nice chat, and I think steamrolled into the conversation very intensely and very quickly, like I do sometimes. Especially when I’m a little nervous. But yeah, we were very conscious of what happened in Charleston, and that that would be weighing on him. I wanted to respect whatever he’s going through. He lost someone he knew that day.

Q.

How did this even come together? Have you been campaigning for the president to appear on your show?

A.

I never assumed I would talk to the president. Over time, conversations started happening, with my producer [Brendan McDonald], from the White House, about general ideas. There were people on his staff who like my show, and somebody within his staff thought it would be a fun thing for him to do. But we never thought it would happen. Then over the last month or so, it became very clear that it might happen. I’m like, “But where am I going to do it? Do I go to the Oval Office? Do I go to his hotel?” No, they wanted to come to the garage. Are you kidding me? Are you telling me the president’s going to come to my house?

Q.

So the motorcade pulled up in front of your house earlier today and he came into the garage?

A.

Dude. Yes. It was no simple process. Secret Service checked the parameters. Yesterday, they put a tent up that ran the length of my driveway, all the way behind my house to the garage. Today they came and put a tent over where the car was going to pull in. There were like 40 Secret Service people here. There were snipers on my neighbor’s roof. A sniper on my garage roof. They had L.A.P.D. all around the perimeter of the house. They have a protocol that occurs. And it was occurring in my house. Now everyone in the world knows where I live, O.K. And apparently the streets were lined with people for the motorcade. I was focusing on just dealing with the situation at hand and trying to have a personal conversation with the president in the midst of this.

Q.

Were you given any guidelines or restrictions about what you could discuss with him?

A.

None. No guidelines, no restrictions, and we had final edit.

Q.

How did you prepare for the interview?

A.

Well, I freaked out like I always do. And I became very self-conscious about my knowledge and nuanced sense of what is happening in the world, politically. I had to put that aside and figure out what I wanted to talk to him about, personally. I think it would be disrespectful if I didn’t engage him about his accomplishments and his policy. So I did a little homework and I got up to speed. I read his first book [“Dreams From My Father”] to get a sense of who he was, even before he had aspirations to the presidency.  A lot of what drove me is this idea of this self-made guy. That’s really how I approach my interviews. Who is this guy? And then I had to see if that matched up with the guy in front of me.

Q.

What did you talk about with him?

A.

We talked about racism. We talked about gun violence. We talked about the Affordable Care Act. His disappointments. The obstacles of his presidency. His family, a little bit. How he goes on, day to day, with the same determination and optimism that he’s had throughout his presidency. The disappointments of the left and the right. His successes.

Q.

People’s disappointments over what he didn’t accomplish? Or his own disappointments over what he didn’t do?

A.

I didn’t get a sense that he experiences disappointment in that way. I got a sense that he’s a guy that realizes that growth and progress in a democracy are slow. He looks at the big picture. Specifically, he knows that there’s always going to be those voices. Why didn’t you do this faster? How come you didn’t do that? Why are you doing that? That’s the nature of it. He just keeps moving though because of his commitment and his vision that he made this country a better place, incrementally.

Q.

Did you feel that you could be adversarial with him? Was there anything you challenged him on?

A.

A bit. I did refer to the president, on some level, as being middle management, between corporate interests and what can be done for the people. I did make reference to that, and he reframed it. I don’t think I angered him. I tried to be as respectful as possible. There was no time to really argue policy and have a well-rounded conversation. And I don’t know if I was the guy to do that. I had to accept that.

Q.

Did you talk to him about comedy?

A.

We did, towards the end. He said his favorites were Richard Pryor and Dick Gregory. He mentioned Seinfeld and said he likes Louis [C.K.]. He thinks Louis is a good-hearted guy, despite some of the subject matter.

Q.

Did “Saturday Night Live” come up?

A.

No. Once you get in a situation like this, it would have been funny for me to honor the show, in a way where I could have brought up Lorne Michaels. I don’t know if that should have been a bigger part of the conversation. But it wasn’t. I’m in it, and I’m sitting there with random scraps of paper and notes. And I’m sitting there with the president, watching the clock tick by. I’ve got an hour, and I’m like, “Oh God.” Moving towards that hour and letting him finish his thoughts, when necessary, my thoughts were not, I gotta get this Lorne Michaels thing in. I barely got comedy in. I was able to talk about his own sense of being a performer — there’s a craft to the presidency, not unlike there’s a craft to comedy.

Q.

Does it seem strange that he did this at all?

A.

Over time, we all have to adjust to a changing media landscape. Some of it is noise and some of it is small, but there’s a lot of it out there. There’s a lot of surprising outlets by which people can communicate and people want to be part of. I’ve been doing this out of my garage for years, and I’ve had plenty of people come up here, at the end of the first year, saying, “So this is where you do it?” Many times, I’ve walked people into my garage and said, “This is the future of media.” And as years went by, fewer people were like, “I can’t believe this – where the hell am I?” They knew exactly where they were.

Q.

This is an extremely fragile moment for the country, two days after the shootings in Charleston. Is there a part of you that thinks, maybe this isn’t the time for him to be appearing on this show?

A.

Brendan and I never really believed [the interview] was going to happen until it happened. We knew at some point that, if it didn’t happen, it was going to be because there’s a problem in the country or a problem in the world. Something horrible happened. As that news broke on Wednesday night, we were like, It’s probably not going to happen. The next day, he made his statement and it became clear he was going to move on with his plans. He’s the president, and he manages a lot of stuff.

Marc Maron On Closure Via Sitcom, the Rise of the Podcast, and Being a Comedian on Twitter

The podcast pioneer talks about the difference between Maron and Maron, and comedy in a social world. "The truth of the matter is you can say whatever (word) you want. You just might find yourself alienated and only allowed to hang out with people that say that word. So I hope you want those people as your friends."

Fast Company     Read Full Article


Marc Maron isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Six years after he ducked into the Air America studios to record his first set of WTF podcasts after getting fired from the radio network, he's one of the big names in the podcasting world. And the success in podcasting has led to the most prolific time of Maron's 26-year career, in which he's written two books, brought his stand-up act to larger venues, and created a comedy series appropriately entitled Maron. With the third season of the show underway, Maron talks to us about the line between life and TV (and getting closure on the former via the latter), the post-Serial world of podcasting, and the realities of comedy in a Twitter universe.

Marc Maron isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Six years after he ducked into the Air America studios to record his first set of WTF podcasts after getting fired from the radio network, he's one of the big names in the podcasting world. And the success in podcasting has led to the most prolific time of Maron's 26-year career, in which he's written two books, brought his stand-up act to larger venues, and created a comedy series appropriately entitled Maron. With the third season of the show underway, Maron talks to us about the line between life and TV (and getting closure on the former via the latter), the post-Serial world of podcasting, and the realities of comedy in a Twitter universe.
Turning Live Events into Sitcom Stories

After a few seasons, the comic has settled into the routine of writing Maron with a team, better integrating events from his life to create compelling stories. "At some point, we got to depart from the real events of my life and move into possibility," he tells us. "The emotional foundation and certainly some events are the source of some stories, but I don't think we are following my real life in this season."

As always, Maron needs to convince himself as much as anyone else that he's not strip-mining his life for material. But listeners to WTF know that there has been a striking similarity between the content of his show-opening monologues and episodes of Maron.

"The character of Maron on TV is a little different than me," he says. "He seems to live a little bigger life than I live, but it is a bit different." He claims that the "emotional dynamics" from his life are there, but those are events, not stories. "So do we mine my life for events? Of course. Like when I couldn't get my cable hooked up, or the cable company just gave me the runaround for the Wi-Fi, that became a very surreal episode of the show. And did I really go to anger management? Not in a while. It’s been years, but we thought that would be a good place to go, and one of my writers has experience with that."

Marc Maron isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Six years after he ducked into the Air America studios to record his first set of WTF podcasts after getting fired from the radio network, he's one of the big names in the podcasting world. And the success in podcasting has led to the most prolific time of Maron's 26-year career, in which he's written two books, brought his stand-up act to larger venues, and created a comedy series appropriately entitled Maron. With the third season of the show underway, Maron talks to us about the line between life and TV (and getting closure on the former via the latter), the post-Serial world of podcasting, and the realities of comedy in a Twitter universe.
Turning Live Events into Sitcom Stories

After a few seasons, the comic has settled into the routine of writing Maron with a team, better integrating events from his life to create compelling stories. "At some point, we got to depart from the real events of my life and move into possibility," he tells us. "The emotional foundation and certainly some events are the source of some stories, but I don't think we are following my real life in this season."

As always, Maron needs to convince himself as much as anyone else that he's not strip-mining his life for material. But listeners to WTF know that there has been a striking similarity between the content of his show-opening monologues and episodes of Maron.

"The character of Maron on TV is a little different than me," he says. "He seems to live a little bigger life than I live, but it is a bit different." He claims that the "emotional dynamics" from his life are there, but those are events, not stories. "So do we mine my life for events? Of course. Like when I couldn't get my cable hooked up, or the cable company just gave me the runaround for the Wi-Fi, that became a very surreal episode of the show. And did I really go to anger management? Not in a while. It’s been years, but we thought that would be a good place to go, and one of my writers has experience with that."
Photo: Trae Patton, courtesy of IFC
Finding Closure on Your Show

One of the emotional dynamics he explores in season three is his relationship with his ex-wife, and a breakthrough moment comes in an episode he directed, where the ex appears on the fictional version of WTF in order to promote a book. Maron, who discusses many aspects of his failed marriages and relationships in both the podcast and his stand-up, really felt that this episode provided some emotional relief that the real-life connection to his ex didn't.

"There was a lot of stuff in there that was very raw and very real to me. There is a bit of a lack of closure for me in that relationship, and I was able to play it out," he says. "It’s pretty emotionally heavy, but I think I did a good job with it, but it did provide me some emotional catharsis and closure by doing the episode."

The episode required Maron to shave his now-signature mustache and beard to make him look like he did in the early 2000s, so he could do a flashback scene to the failed marriage. "It’s just a character, but the ex-wife stuff, it was just a little heavy, man. So even with the distance, going back into that place was not easy," he says. "It was weird. It was definitely a little bizarre, but it was interesting. It was weird to see me get so emotional when I was editing the thing. Seeing the raw emotion and no beard and mustache was a little bit much."

Dealing With the Aftermath of Writing About Family

Touching the third rail of exes and family in the series has been a mixed blessing for Maron, whose platform on IFC is bigger than his stand-up career and even his podcast. His father, for instance, stopped talking to Maron after seeing how the show portrayed him; the character, played by Judd Hirsch, is a narcissistic womanizer who lives in an RV and only visits his son when he needs something.

"I was willing to take that chance [of upsetting him] because I don’t think that I characterized him that badly, and I don’t think that Judd played it in a way...it was elevated, and it was definitely disarmed, and what he was upset about was what anybody would get upset about, being a selfish person or having that experience seeing yourself fictionalized. Maybe you’re going to be flattered by it, or you’re going to be mad about it." On the other hand, his mother loves the fictionalized version of her, played by Sally Kellerman, even though she doesn't come off that well, either. "I guess it comes down to if it affects somebody that you love or loves you and you don’t want to cause them more pain, then you try to do the right thing," he says.

On "Serial" and Podcasting's Newfound Popularity

Of course, WTF is still going strong, and six years after he began, Maron considers it his main job, He's expanded the guest list beyond comedians over the past two years, talking to film directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and wrestlers like CM Punk. How did he feel last year, when it seemed like dozens of thinkpieces discussed the "new form" of podcasting amidst the success of Serial?

"Look, I would love to win a Peabody," he says. "I would like to get the respect I’ve earned if it even exists, but you can’t necessarily be consumed with that shit. The truth of the matter is, Serial is a tremendous advertisement for the medium. It raised awareness of podcasting existing at all. It’s a natural transition for people, once they get adept at engaging with the technology, to look around, and maybe you’ll make it onto their little docket of podcasts if they lock into the medium."

Marc Maron isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Six years after he ducked into the Air America studios to record his first set of WTF podcasts after getting fired from the radio network, he's one of the big names in the podcasting world. And the success in podcasting has led to the most prolific time of Maron's 26-year career, in which he's written two books, brought his stand-up act to larger venues, and created a comedy series appropriately entitled Maron. With the third season of the show underway, Maron talks to us about the line between life and TV (and getting closure on the former via the latter), the post-Serial world of podcasting, and the realities of comedy in a Twitter universe.

Turning Live Events into Sitcom Stories

After a few seasons, the comic has settled into the routine of writing Maron with a team, better integrating events from his life to create compelling stories. "At some point, we got to depart from the real events of my life and move into possibility," he tells us. "The emotional foundation and certainly some events are the source of some stories, but I don't think we are following my real life in this season."

As always, Maron needs to convince himself as much as anyone else that he's not strip-mining his life for material. But listeners to WTF know that there has been a striking similarity between the content of his show-opening monologues and episodes of Maron.

"The character of Maron on TV is a little different than me," he says. "He seems to live a little bigger life than I live, but it is a bit different." He claims that the "emotional dynamics" from his life are there, but those are events, not stories. "So do we mine my life for events? Of course. Like when I couldn't get my cable hooked up, or the cable company just gave me the runaround for the Wi-Fi, that became a very surreal episode of the show. And did I really go to anger management? Not in a while. It’s been years, but we thought that would be a good place to go, and one of my writers has experience with that."

Finding Closure on Your Show

One of the emotional dynamics he explores in season three is his relationship with his ex-wife, and a breakthrough moment comes in an episode he directed, where the ex appears on the fictional version of WTF in order to promote a book. Maron, who discusses many aspects of his failed marriages and relationships in both the podcast and his stand-up, really felt that this episode provided some emotional relief that the real-life connection to his ex didn't.

"There was a lot of stuff in there that was very raw and very real to me. There is a bit of a lack of closure for me in that relationship, and I was able to play it out," he says. "It’s pretty emotionally heavy, but I think I did a good job with it, but it did provide me some emotional catharsis and closure by doing the episode."

The episode required Maron to shave his now-signature mustache and beard to make him look like he did in the early 2000s, so he could do a flashback scene to the failed marriage. "It’s just a character, but the ex-wife stuff, it was just a little heavy, man. So even with the distance, going back into that place was not easy," he says. "It was weird. It was definitely a little bizarre, but it was interesting. It was weird to see me get so emotional when I was editing the thing. Seeing the raw emotion and no beard and mustache was a little bit much."

Dealing With the Aftermath of Writing About Family

Touching the third rail of exes and family in the series has been a mixed blessing for Maron, whose platform on IFC is bigger than his stand-up career and even his podcast. His father, for instance, stopped talking to Maron after seeing how the show portrayed him; the character, played by Judd Hirsch, is a narcissistic womanizer who lives in an RV and only visits his son when he needs something.

"I was willing to take that chance [of upsetting him] because I don’t think that I characterized him that badly, and I don’t think that Judd played it in a way...it was elevated, and it was definitely disarmed, and what he was upset about was what anybody would get upset about, being a selfish person or having that experience seeing yourself fictionalized. Maybe you’re going to be flattered by it, or you’re going to be mad about it." On the other hand, his mother loves the fictionalized version of her, played by Sally Kellerman, even though she doesn't come off that well, either. "I guess it comes down to if it affects somebody that you love or loves you and you don’t want to cause them more pain, then you try to do the right thing," he says.

On "Serial" and Podcasting's Newfound Popularity

Of course, WTF is still going strong, and six years after he began, Maron considers it his main job, He's expanded the guest list beyond comedians over the past two years, talking to film directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and wrestlers like CM Punk. How did he feel last year, when it seemed like dozens of thinkpieces discussed the "new form" of podcasting amidst the success of Serial?

"Look, I would love to win a Peabody," he says. "I would like to get the respect I’ve earned if it even exists, but you can’t necessarily be consumed with that shit. The truth of the matter is, Serial is a tremendous advertisement for the medium. It raised awareness of podcasting existing at all. It’s a natural transition for people, once they get adept at engaging with the technology, to look around, and maybe you’ll make it onto their little docket of podcasts if they lock into the medium."

On Standing Behind Your Tweets and Tirades

Maron will be trying a theater stand-up tour this summer, hoping that the popularity of his podcast and the series will fill the larger venues. What he doesn't think will happen is one of his fans taking to Twitter to repeat something he said out of context or uploading videos of off-the-cuff tirades. "I don’t have a bunch of douchebag trolling idiots who are sitting there with cameras and go home and put stuff on YouTube," he says. "I've got to be honest with you, no one has ever done that to me in my career. No one has ever shot me and then posted it. Hasn’t happened."

As a veteran tweeter, he realizes that comedians like Trevor Noah have been taken to task for things they've tweeted in the past, but he feels safe because whatever he puts out there, on stage, on film or online, is always something he thinks he can stand behind.

"There is that weird area of determining how to use one’s freedom of speech. What’s necessary? What isn’t necessary? What is really a constitutional fight, or what is really just an insistence on using words that hurt the feelings of others? That’s a personal journey," he says.

"I think that if you have your own shit in order, even if I go off on a tirade, I doubt I’ll ever say words that I’m not aware that I’m saying, and generally if I use words that would be offensive to people, I explain it, and I have a conversation with myself about the word right in front of people," he says. "You’re primarily talking about ethnic slang, gender slang, transgender slang. I mean, it’s a pretty small pool of things, and then you get people that are like, 'Well, why can’t I say that word?' And the truth of the matter is you can say whatever you want. You just might find yourself alienated and only allowed to hang out with people that say that word. So I hope you want those people as your friends."

No Bullshit: Marc Maron Interviews Terry Gross

The New Yorker     Read Full Article


At BAM last week, as part of the “RadioLoveFest” series, Marc Maron, the comedian and podcast host, interviewed Terry Gross, the veteran interviewer and host of “Fresh Air,” on NPR. For decades, Gross has been the voice of car-radio and kitchen intellectualism; in the past few years, Maron has revolutionized the podcast and made his own essential listening. On it, he does what Gross might do if she had a tortured, aggressive personality, a long history with the comedy crowd, and the freedom to swear. The event was being recorded for use on both shows.

They are very different. “WTF” begins with several traditions: a stream of F-bomb endearments (“How are you, What the Fuckers, What the Fuckbuddies, What the Fuckaneers, What the Fuckaholics, What the Fuckleberry Finns?”); a clip of Maron yelling, “Lock the gates!,” from his role as Angry Promoter in “Almost Famous”; an amiable tirade full of funny, close observations about his life; and ads for his various sponsors, in which he promotes things like chocolate-covered strawberries and printing your own stamps. He’s self-aware about how funny he is—crazy and witty both. (A recent episode featured this segue: “Obviously I’m in a hotel room, and obviously I’m not eating well, and obviously I don’t know if I have allergies or cancer, and obviously there are problems. But! It is almost Mother’s Day, people. There’s still time to send the moms in your life a beautiful rose bouquet from 1-800-FLOWERS.com.”) Maron has the stance of someone who’s known failure and success, and has gotta be him, and is glad to have sponsors, even though he now has many other remunerative projects. He has the tone of someone raging his way toward enlightenment. He records in the garage at his house in Los Angeles, which he calls the Cat Ranch, because of his menagerie of beloved feral cats.

Gross begins her shows with “This is ‘Fresh Air.’ ” The smoothness of her voice and the ease of her intelligence are a key part of what defines public radio. Her interviewees experience her presence much the way we do: as a beautiful, all-knowing disembodied voice. When she interviews her subjects, from her studio at WHYY in Philadelphia, they are almost always alone in a studio at an NPR affiliate in their own city, and Gross’s voice comes through their headphones. She prepares diligently and asks probing, respectful questions. She has a sense of humor, but her interviews are animated more by curiosity than by personality. Maron’s curiosity seems to come from existential restlessness.

They have great respect for each other. At BAM, a long way from the garage at the Cat Ranch, a playful how-will-this-go feeling hovered in the air, onstage and off. Gross came onstage alone, in a shiny black jacket. She is small, with short hair, eyeglasses, and a thoughtful expression. The crowd, two thousand maniacal radioheads, cheered as if for a rock star. When she sat down, we heard Maron’s voice over the loudspeakers, like the voice of God.

“I’d like to thank everyone for coming,” the voice said. “Let me start by describing the situation to the audience.” Maron went full “Fresh Air,” gently overexplaining, clearly enjoying himself. “What’s happening right now is what it’s like for almost every guest that Terry talks to. You are sitting alone in a studio. Then you hear a voice in your headphones, and it’s Terry. So I thought she might like to know what it feels like. Hello, Terry,” Maron said.

“Hello, Marc.”

“This is Marc Maron, and I’ll be doing the interview with you,” Maron said. “We’re recording, so if you start talking, and then think of a better way of saying something, just back up and say it again. Be sure you start at the beginning of a sentence and continue it to the end.” It was an extreme radio lovefest: this bit of teasing brought the house down. “If I get a fact wrong, Terry, just interrupt and correct me. If I stray into territory that’s too personal, just tell me and I’ll edit it out.” He encouraged her not to walk out on the interview entirely. Then he came onstage.

“I stole your pre-show shtick!” Maron said. They talked about her early life. Gross grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Gross said that her parents, a milliner and a secretary, were very private—“Why the hat shame?” Maron asked—so she found it ironic that she became an interviewer. “What I do for a living is try to help people share things about themselves that might be of value to other people,” she said. Much of the difference between their communication styles was generational: her parents were shaped by “anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, McCarthyism”; she was shaped by coming of age in the sixties.

“So, how are you with joy?” Maron asked. “I became an interviewer for reasons that had nothing to do with interviewing. Do you get something out of it emotionally? Because I find that in my life I’m capable of almost deeper intimacy with interviews.”

Gross said that she had wanted to ask him that.

“Well, I asked you first,” Maron said.

“I learn a lot about myself and people in general by asking very personal things,” Gross said. She described a domestic life full of cultural pleasures—exactly, as Maron pointed out, what her listeners might have imagined. She and her husband, the jazz writer Francis Davis, have been together since 1978, and they live in a house full of books and music. (“Does he say, ‘Terry, come in here and dig this swing?’ ”) On Saturday mornings, they eat breakfast and choose a record to listen to. During the week, they get up early, work all day, and go out to eat every night. (“Does he shop, at least? What’s he doing all day?”) They have a happy life, she said, and no children. “That’s intentional,” she said. This drew a couple of “whoo”s and a smattering of applause.

“Growing up in Brooklyn, all the women I knew were full-time mothers or they did one of the few professions that were available to women at the time: secretary, clerk, working in your husband’s office, teacher. I wanted out. I wanted out of the neighborhood, I wanted out of that life. I wanted to fall in love with work and I wanted to fall in love with a person.”

“Was your husband your first love?”

“Now that I really know what love is, I would say yes.”

Maron looked at her, intrigued. “What was the other thing?” he asked. This got huge laughs. It was a perfectly Maron moment. All night, before and after this question, Gross had her usual earnest tone, and Maron was either engaging in mild mischief or trying to restrain himself from it. You could feel him choosing whether to deploy humor; he is funny, and Gross can seem like a straight woman, a comic foil. But Maron also wanted to show respect and not be unkind. The story about the “other thing” turned the conversation “WTF”-ward: it went somewhere unexpected.

Gross explained that in 1969, she had dropped out of college and hitchhiked across the country with her then boyfriend. “My parents were upset,” she said.

“I’m upset now!” Maron said.

“It was totally against character,” Gross said. “I’m intellectually adventurous. I’m not a physically adventurous person.” But there she was, in the back of a truck with axes and migrant workers and a person who might have had tuberculosis. “We had some pretty spooky rides,” she said. They ended up in an S.R.O. in San Francisco that one might describe as a bad scene.

“I’m amazed at how vivid your memories are of this major event in your life that you were perfectly willing to toss aside a moment ago,” Maron said. “We weren’t going to be hitchhiking. That’s good. I feel like I’m getting somewhere.”

Gross said that it broke her heart to upset her parents so much, but she had to do it. “I had to cut the string,” she said. It was one of the best decisions she ever made. “I met people I never would have met; I had conversations I never would have had; I got exposed to things.” After the road-trip era, she and her boyfriend got married, and they lived communally with a group of people. She thought about being a writer; she tried teaching. Then she began volunteering at a local radio station. (There was an opening at the feminist show because one of the producers was moving to the lesbian feminist show.) After a few years of marriage, she moved out of her house (Maron imagined that this involved “what I assume got to be pretty predictable cooking and behavior” and a “good-looking guy who was sort of the leader”) and left her husband. “At some point, I realized I needed to be alone,” she said. She needed to figure out who she was and what she wanted; it was also the “renaissance of the women’s movement.”

In 1975, she moved to Philadelphia to produce and host “Fresh Air,” which started as a local show. A decade later, it went national.

“You are home to most people,” Maron said. “Your voice is more comforting than probably any voice in their lives. I don’t know why I’m tearing up! Jesus Christ.”

Gross said that she loved and admired Maron’s work. “You’re no bullshit in your comedy, and you’re no bullshit when you’re talking to people,” she said.

“I don’t think you are either, Terry Gross,” Maron said. Everybody spontaneously clapped. Later, during an audience Q. & A., Maron asked Gross whether, if she had a podcast and could speak freely, she’d swear—say “bullshit,” for example. She reminded him that she’d just said it. He was flabbergasted. “I was so busy being nervous and taking your compliment that I missed the amazing Terry Gross cussing moment,” he said.

‘WTF’ Comedian Marc Maron, Success on His Own Terms


You can never say the name of comedian Marc Maron’s show on the radio, and maybe that’s the point. He doesn’t need the public airwaves.

Maron broadcasts his “WTF” podcast out of a homemade studio in his garage twice a week, sitting down with some of the biggest names in comedy — Danny McBride, Judd Apatow, Conan O’Brien, Robin Williams, just to name a few.

“[Robin Williams] is a very sweet man,” Maron said. “He’s a very giving man. He’s actually shy in a way.”

Maron is regularly one of the top 10 podcasts on iTunes, with about 700,000 downloads a week. In fact, he recently posted his 300th episode.

His show is so successful, he put out a box set of his first 100 interviews in April and he sold a scripted show based on his life to the Independent Film channel, which will debut next year. He also guest starred on an episode of “Louie,” comedian Louie C.K’s dark comedy show on FX.

“I had no expectations,” he said. “I just knew I was pretty good on a radio mic and that I could really be who I am.”

As a stand-up comic, Maron started doing open mics in the ’80s, developing a style that’s been described as “somewhere between Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce.”

“I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for half my life,” he said. “I did my graduate work in chopping line of cocaine for Sam Kineson, and I was spit out by Los Angeles. I had gotten all screwed up on drugs.”

Maron brings these highs and lows to his interviews.

“I don’t call myself a therapist. I don’t call myself a journalist, but I’ve had to do that at times,” he said.

In one episode of “WTF,” Maron confronted comedian Carlos Mancia about allegations of joke stealing.

“This guy was vilianized for joke stealing and I had to be journalistic in that one and be more aggressive in my questioning,” Maron said. “That set a precedent. People will be like, ‘you kind of went easy on Ben Stiller,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not interviewing war criminals here.’”

At other times, Maron seems more of a father confessor.  Norm Macdonald told him about his struggles with gambling addiction. Rainn Wilson, who made a name for himself playing Dwight Schrute on “The Office,” talked about his beliefs in the Ba’hai religion.

“Todd Glass came out on my show and that was phenomenal,” Maron said. “He asked me, he wanted to do it on my show, and I said, ‘I’m honored and that would be great.’”

In 1995, Maron shared a magazine cover spread with Louie C.K., Dave Attell and Sarah Silverman, up and comers all at the time. They went on to big things. Maron didn’t. He never got the sitcom, or the movie deal or the Vegas gig.

“The podcast… wasn’t a Plan B,” he said. “It was a last-ditch effort to do something. I ran out of Plan B’s.”

Now, 25 years later, Maron has become an overnight success and his podcast has reinvigorated his career on his own terms.

“I feel like I’ve created something that I have control over which is rare in the system and I’ve done that out of the system,” he said. “I would like to be in a movie. I would like to be on television, but I think I’m more well-known now for what I’m doing in my garage, which is fine. It’s good. I’m happy that people like it and yeah, I don’t know, I’m selling tickets.”

WTF Podcaster Marc Maron on Being the Comedians’ Therapist

Vulture     Read Full Article


“All my career was driven by spite,” Marc Maron confessed, not for the first time, a couple of weeks ago on WTF, his wildly popular (and mesmerizingly intimate) podcast talk show. “Why the fuck was that guy [successful]? How come I’m not?”

Among the many signs that Maron is, improbably, at age 48, finally as likely to be the object of such spite as its incubator is the decidedly non-shitty hotel room I’m meeting him in on the second night of a weekend headlining gig at New Jersey’s Stress Factory Comedy Club. It’s not good, the hotel room, just non-shitty. This is comedy, after all.

“I haven’t done solo [gigs] in a long time. I have ghosts. I was nervous last night,” he says of his two shows the night before we met. “I haven’t been to this club in ten years. I was like, ‘These people aren’t going to like me.’ ”

As we talk, his eyes keep drifting toward the hotel window, which offers a lovely sixth-floor view of New Brunswick—just high enough to see other rooftops and bits of Rutgers University and pretty much nothing else. Ants feast on the crumbs of homemade corn muffins a fan gave him after Friday night’s shows. This is what it looks like to “make it” in comedy. His distraction, he says, is because he just learned that this is the same hotel his friend Greg Giraldo had been staying in when he overdosed on prescription drugs and died two Septembers ago, after headlining the same club where Maron is performing this weekend.

“It’s heavy. It’s horrible, man,” says Maron. “Drug addiction is a horrible fucking thing. He was a bright guy, sweet guy. Smart guy. But if you’ve got that bug in your brain, none of that shit matters. Most people don’t get out, whether it kills them or not.”

That he sounds like a therapist, even in casual conversation, is no surprise—after two decades of self-laceration, onstage and off, Maron has reinvented himself on WTF as the comedy world’s been-there-done-that guidance counselor. And he’s been there, having developed a “little coke habit” while majoring in English at Boston University that grew into an addiction when he moved to L.A. and fell in with the hard-rolling Sam Kinison. “It wasn’t just coke,” he says. “You drink, you do coke, you smoke weed. You’re a comic. Eventually, I coked myself into psychosis and got highly paranoid and mystically minded. It took about a year and a half to get my brain back.”

In a WTF interview with Robin Williams—one of the show’s most candid and frequently ­downloaded—Maron said he realized he had a problem when his dealer cut him off, while Williams admitted to taking a break from sobriety on a lonely movie shoot in Alaska seven years ago. As with most of Maron’s guests, they weren’t exactly friends before the interview and still aren’t, but ever since their chat, Williams will call him randomly and leave voice-mails. “Months go by, and there’ll just be a message like, ‘Marc, it’s Robin. I really like that show that you did.’ ” Maron never calls him back, “because I don’t know what my place is in their lives.”

The podcast itself was an act of desperate self-help—after getting fired twice from Air America, where he’d been doing political comedy, and going through a costly divorce (his second), he says, “I had nothing. My manager had hung me out to dry. I was barely solvent. It was sort of like, How do I not die broke?”

He called a few friends in the biz, like Jeffrey Ross, WTF’s first guest, and interviewed them in the office that Air America had not yet kicked him out of. The podcast’s download count is now 53 million—400,000 downloads a week. It’s consistently in iTunes’ Top Ten, owing to Maron’s uncanny ability to persuade A-list guests like Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, and Chris Rock to delve deep into their hearts of darkness—helping paint a collective portrait of comedy as an obstacle course so plotted with failure and misery that not even fame can provide escape.

Maron himself has extensively aired his own baggage on four comedy albums and just released a boxed set compiling the first 100 episodes of WTF. And like Louis C.K. (with whom he had an on-air heart-to-heart about why they stopped being best friends) he’s working on a TV show based on his life. IFC just ordered ten episodes for 2013. It’ll be about a down-and-out comic whose life turns around when he starts taping a podcast in his garage. But what happens to a man who’s made a second career out of his own failure when he finally becomes a success?

Maybe success isn’t quite what you’d call it. At Stress Factory, Maron worked the merch table himself, a wad of cash in one hand and his dinner, fan-baked pecan pralines, in the other. When not on the road, he lives a “hoarderish” existence in L.A.’s Highland Park, in a cabinlike two-bedroom with three official cats, Monkey, Boomer, and LaFonda, and enough strays that he’s nicknamed his place the Cat Ranch. His girlfriend, Jessica Sanchez, just moved in, too. He got together with the 28-year-old, a behavioral specialist who works with autistic children, when she e-mailed him and “said she thought I was hot and wanted to sleep with me,” says Maron. “So I said, ‘Okay. When and where?’ And I met her in Portland, and we had sex for three days.” He recalls with affection how, when he walked into her hotel room, “she had been there literally since that morning, and it looked like she had been living there a month. The clutter was amazing. It was like, My God, if this is what’s on the outside, what’s inside has got to be pretty exciting.”

The attraction is obvious for a guy clearly drawn to high-stakes personal drama. “The bottom line is, people don’t talk about real things because they don’t think that other people have the capacity to carry their burden,” he says. “But all that stuff is essentially what makes us fucking human. We’re built to deal with death, disease, failure, struggle, sickness, problems. But we are too proud to reveal ourselves to each other anymore.”

Tonight, Maron’s dressing room is decidedly shitty (some parts of comedy never change), but his set killed (the crowd included at least one whooping bachelorette party). “Look,” he says before going onstage, “I just want to get out of here unscathed. I just want to leave here still thinking that I did the right thing with my life. That’s my only goal, to have a check that doesn’t bounce and still believe I’m on the right path.”

The Comic Who Explores Comedy’s Darkest Side

New York Times     Read Full Article


HERE’S a riposte you’re not likely to hear in an interview by Jay Leno or Charlie Rose: “You’ve got to have rage, man. Because I see the posture — your posture is built for rage.” That’s Marc Maron talking to Dane Cook, the popular but bland comedian, on an episode of Mr. Maron’s twice-weekly podcast.

On his show, whose title includes an exclamation that can’t be printed here, Mr. Maron, a stand-up comic by trade, has cast himself as an unlikely celebrity interviewer — one who is angry, probing, neurotic and a vulnerable recovering addict. And somehow he’s able to elicit from his guests, mostly other comedians like Sarah Silverman and Ben Stiller, the same level of vulnerability.

The interviews, usually taped in his garage in Los Angeles, often end up feeling more like therapy sessions. Take, for example, Robin Williams talking to Mr. Maron about the dark side of dealing with audiences: “I guess it’s that fear that they’ll recognize — as you know — how insecure are we really? How desperately insecure that made us do this for a living?”

Thanks to moments like these the podcast has, over the last year or so, become a cult hit and a must-listen in show business and comedy circles. The success of the show has everything to do with its perceptive, prickly host and his ability to coax surprisingly revealing things from his guests.

Comedians, Mr. Maron said, are temperamentally complicated — otherwise they probably wouldn’t be comedians.

“Most of them live difficult lives,” he said. “So that was always more in the forefront than ‘Let’s talk about the business of comedy.’ ”

Each hourlong episode begins with Mr. Maron riffing in the style that has characterized his comedy over the years: unscripted banter layered with humor, narcissism and anger, directed both outward and inward. But after about 10 or 15 minutes he turns to a long-form interview. And that’s when the show really takes off.

“People say stuff to him that you can’t imagine them saying to anyone else,” said Ira Glass, host of the public radio show (and podcast) “This American Life,” and a recent guest of Mr. Maron’s. “And they offer it. They want to give it to him. Because he is so bare, he calls it forward.”

After the show goes up on Mondays and Thursdays, it regularly appears on the iTunes Top 10 podcasts list. According to Brendan McDonald, the producer of the podcast, which is free, the show averages 230,000 downloads a week from iTunes and the podcast’s Web site.

In a recent interview in New York City, where he was performing a series of stand-up shows and recording interviews for his podcast, Mr. Maron talked in his usual manner: candidly, verbosely, intensely. At 47 he is lean (though he obsesses over his weight and eating habits) and sports ever-changing facial hair. (He obsesses over that too, theorizing that the lack of a consistent look has held his career back. “I don’t think Jon Stewart’s changed his hair in 25 years,” he said.) He lives in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles — just across town from Hollywood, but a world away — and has three cats. He calls his house “the cat ranch.”

Many of the comedians he came up with have passed him by. In 1995 he shared a photo spread in New York magazine with Dave Attell, Louis C. K. and Ms. Silverman, all of whom went on to have TV projects. He never got that sitcom, those major movie roles, a spot on “Saturday Night Live.” (He famously showed up stoned to an interview with Lorne Michaels; he didn’t get the gig.)

His personal life was — and still is — tumultuous. He has battled addictions to alcohol, cocaine and nicotine. He’s twice divorced, and has consistently included details about his relationships in his stand-up and on the podcast. During the first of four shows last month at Union Hall in Brooklyn, which were being recorded for a CD, he talked about changing the locks on his house because of a fight with a girlfriend.

Over the years he’s also struggled with jealousy and hostility toward other comics. Many of the podcasts begin with an apology from Mr. Maron — or at least a half-hearted attempt at one. And conflicts that have developed over the years crop up regularly, most notably during a recent two-hour interview with Louis C. K.

The two had drifted apart in the last few years, and Mr. Maron expressed envy — though also enormous respect — toward his old friend, who has his own show on FX. “If you see me doing something, and you’re having a hard time coming to terms with it ’cause of your feeling about your own life,” Louis C. K. said toward the end of the interview, “what’s really happening is you’re letting me down as a friend.”

Mr. Maron began doing comedy in the early 1980s as a student at Boston University. Over the next decade or so he performed at small clubs. He moved between the East and West Coasts in these years before settling in New York in 1993. There he helped lay the groundwork for what became known as the alt-comedy scene (a term he says he’s never really understood), alongside Louis C. K., Mr. Stewart, Janeane Garofalo and others.

“He really was the real deal,” said Mr. Attell, who began sharing stages with Mr. Maron more than 15 years ago in New York. “He truly did hate himself.”

But Mr. Attell added: “He turned it into gold. Nobody does angry and bitter better than him.”

Mr. Maron had a few short-lived TV jobs, including comedy specials. He had a minor role in the film “Almost Famous.” In 2000 he had a modestly successful one-man show, “The Jerusalem Syndrome,” Off Off Broadway. He appeared several times on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and more than 40 times on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

But, as he put it, “America didn’t notice.”

In 2004 he found a temporary home at Air America, the left-leaning radio network that went off the air last January. It didn’t work out. “I really began to believe that the struggles of most people are existential, not political,” he said, “and my biggest struggles were existential.”

He was canceled by Air America — twice.

A third project with the network, a Web-based show with the comedian Sam Seder, also failed. In September 2009, after that show was canceled, he and Mr. McDonald began to sneak into the Air America studios after hours to record his podcast, bringing guests up in the freight elevator. Soon, he moved from Astoria, Queens, to Los Angeles, where he had spent time on the comedy circuit. And so his garage became the new home of the podcast.