WTF, Indeed

John Bolster

Originally published in Penthouse

In both his podcast and his potential new show for Comedy Central, Marc Maron poses the central question of our age.

The title of comedian Marc Maron’s recently launched podcast, WTF, pretty much sums up not only Maron’s worldview, but also his style of comedy, and, quite possibly, his core audience’s take on why he isn’t more famous among mainstream fans. Maron’s bristly comedy may not be for everyone, but if you caught one of his 44 appearances on Conan O’Brien (more than any other comic), chances are you laughed and remember his face, if not his name. The predominant mood is anger, and the subjects range from politics to life’s everyday moments of aggravation.

In September 2009, after stints as a talk-radio host on Air America and on L.A. station KTLK, Maron decided to go it alone, launching his no-holdsbarred podcast, which he records in his garage. He’s interviewed top comics, such as Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, and Bill Burr, as well as such offbeat guests as porn star (and occasional Penthouse model) Dana DeArmond. The new venture found an audience almost instantly, and currently pulls in an average of 30 to 40 thousand listeners each episode. It was named the No. 3 podcast on iTunes’ Best of 2009 “Rewind.”

Maron talked to Penthouse recently about WTF (both the podcast and the pilot of the same name that he’s developing for Comedy Central), porn, and some war stories from his early days in the comedy biz.

How does the pilot you’re pitching to Comedy Central differ from your podcast? They both have the same name.
Yeah, I hope that doesn’t become an issue. The theme of the pilot is what the fuck?, but it’s more of a fast-moving, joke-driven show with some correspondence-type pieces and a panel of comics at the end. It’s cohosted by comedian Chelsea Peretti. For the pilot I went out and did a correspondence piece.

What did you cover?
It was about Dumpster-diving with “freegans,” to find out what’s happening to all the food we throw away.

Ha—freegans. That’s a new one to me, but I don’t get out much. Though I can guess what it means.
Yeah, they’re living off the garbage, and spreading their local food around. They were very interesting, and kind of cute—it was a couple. But I did end up getting a face full of garbage juice in the Dumpster, which was heinous.

What happened?
It was disgusting, dude. I stepped the wrong way, and because it had been raining there was, like, three or four inches of Dumpster juice at the bottom, and I stepped in and the juice splashed up, into my eyes and face, and it was disgusting. I asked the freegans, “Has that ever happened to you?” Because it got in my eyes, so I’m thinking now I’ve got worms, or something. They said no, it’d never happened to them.

In your podcast, you interview a lot of comics, some of whom rose through the ranks with you. What’s your best story from the struggling, early days of your career?
I was working at a chichi coffee place in Harvard Square when I started doing [comedy] road work. At the time, there were a few different agencies that contracted out comedy nights at bars and hotels within the entire New England region—like five or six states. So you would sometimes drive hundreds of miles to open for another act. One time I drove nine and a half hours to Machias, Maine, the furthest point east in Maine. And I was opening for an R-rated hypnotist named Frank Santos. That’s a lot of fucking miles to reflect on your career decision.

Speaking of adult ratings, you also spoke to porn star and Penthouse model Dana DeArmond. What surprised you most about her?
I was surprised that she came to my house without a handler, or a boyfriend to watch her back. She drove up in a Prius. She didn’t dress filthy; she dressed sort of alt-cute. I also think it was interesting how she separated the idea of sex and the idea that, you know, this is what I do, this is my job, and it’s a difficult job, and I’m good at it. And it takes a lot to do what I do. And I also have a life. She was definitely on her game. She knows what she’s up to.

You have ambivalent feelings about porn, and were introduced to it in a pretty dramatic fashion. Can you tell us about that?
There was this nasty porno theater on Route 66 in Albuquerque called the Pyramid Theater. My friends and I got in with fake IDs when we were 15. We went in and there were people up front, arched back in their chairs, you know, mostly guys—it was just nasty. But the porno—I had seen pictures of sex before, and cartoons, but this was my first real motion-picture representation of sex, so it just burned its way into my brain: Some guy ends up in a hotel room with a girl. They start fucking on the bed, and she’s got this huge tattoo of Satan’s head on her stomach—and the mouth and beard is her pussy. As he’s fucking her, she keeps saying, “Fuck me! Fuck the devil! Fuck me! Fuck the devil!” You know, in retrospect, I probably could have started with something a little lighter than that.