Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images
In September 2009, broke from a nasty divorce and having just been fired for the third time by Air America, comedian Marc Maron started interviewing other comedians about their woes for a fledgling Internet medium. Few others in comedy had podcasts at the time, and even for those who did, it was unclear whether anyone was listening. So from that vacuum, with nothing left to lose, Maron started having conversations with his peers, about craft and the punishing nature of the job, but also just about life and the shit that we endure along the way. Serving as a sympathetic sounding post (some would say “therapist,” but Maron hates that designation), he’s managed to talk to Robin Williams about drug addiction and hug it out on air with his former best friend Louis C.K. Now his podcast, “WTF With Marc Maron,” which he records most often from his garage in L.A., is regularly in the top ten on iTunes, with 400,000 downloads per week (even if many of those downloading skip right past his rant-y introductions and right to the interviews). Of late, he’s been branching out into musicians, too, like Jack White and Fiona Apple. Jada Yuan met with Maron for a magazine article before a Saturday night performance at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to turn the tables and talk about how he made a culture of failure into a raging success.
Where did you get the idea to do interviews and this podcast?
Look, I was a comic for a long time, always pretty respected, always around and doing TV and stuff. I never was really a huge comic. In 2004, I got approached by Janeane Garofalo and Lizz Winstead to audition to be part of Air America. I had just moved to L.A. at the time, just bought a house. It sounded like a good opportunity to help out on one level, and on another level to do a new medium and try to create something new. So I went to New York. We did “Morning Sedition,” which was a very original and funny radio show. I still get e-mails about it.
What do the e-mails say?
“I miss ‘Sedition.’” It was a weird situation there at Air America: Lizz, who created the original Daily Show, had sort of been contracted to put together this radio network. What she did was she instinctively hired almost a dozen comedy writers, ex–Daily Show guys, comics and whatever. They were just sort of around. When I got there, I’m like, “Let’s use everybody. Let’s make sure we have a fresh comedy every morning from one of these guys. Let’s create characters.” Most of them have done performing, have done stand-up. So we were overworking. We’d get there at like two-thirty, three in the morning. We were literally putting more work into creating a radio show than what’s ever necessary because we were doing original comedy, we were doing news, we were doing character stuff. It was spectacular. I think people really miss that.
Why didn’t it work out?
Well, it was political. I mean, Air America was in trouble from the get-go. They brought in a CEO, a guy from the record business, a big liberal money guy named Danny Goldberg. He got there and he’s like, “What is this show? It’s irreverent, it’s messy. It’s disrespectful. I’d like this to be more like NPR.” We were like, “There’s an NPR already. We’ve got a great thing going here.” It was brutal, because right at the time we were starting to pick up some ratings, Stern went off the air, and this schmuck Danny Goldberg came in and pushed us off just for personal reasons. Because he thought as a liberal we should be doing something else. So, he shut us down.
What do you mean “as a liberal” he thought you should be doing something else?
Well, that he thought there was a lofty purpose. Liberals aren’t known for their sense of humor. [Laughs.] So he shut us down. It was horrible. That was that. I went back to L.A.
Where you’d been living before Sedition.
Yeah. I bought the house. I was going back and forth and my marriage was disintegrating, for a lot of reasons, but that being one of them. Then I went back to L.A. and one of the factions within the Air America power struggle wanted to keep me in rotation. So they called in a favor to put “The Marc Maron Show” on, just to keep me in the family. I don’t know where the money was coming from, but I was being paid. They basically gave us this weird 10 p.m. spot to record a live show. But it was just awful. Then [Air America] were like, “We want you to come back to New York to do half a show.” By that time, I completely distrusted them. They shut down “The Marc Maron Show.” They refused to honor my contract. I’d been fired twice by Air America for different reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of show I was doing, just because of their fucked-up money issues. So I completely turned off by them. I didn’t want anything to do with them.
I was in L.A., then my wife left me and I was going broke fast because of her need to bankrupt me out of my house. She couldn’t get the house so she just decided to hire lawyers to destroy me financially. I was going down hard.
Why was the split so un-amicable?
Because she couldn’t get the house and she thought she deserved the house. I bought the house before we were married. Her name wasn’t on the deed and I didn’t put it there. She was always like, “Why don’t you put it there?” I’m like, “What difference does it make? We’re married, why should that be a problem?” Well, I found out … so, basically she left me.
Refusing to put her name on the deed sounds like something someone does when …
They’re preparing for a divorce. Yeah. Whatever. I was broke and my comedy career was in the toilet and I wasn’t on the radio and it was looking kind of grim. Then, again, Air America restructured, they got a new guy with money. And I got a call that said, “Look, we’ve got an opportunity here. Let’s do an Internet TV show. I think I can get these guys to pony up for it.” I said, “You’ve got to give me enough money to pay this woman off.”
The show was a webcast?
It was a streaming video show on the Internet, not even on radio. So, I got some of the old guys together, but the deal was hinging on whether or not they could give me enough money up front to get this divorce done. They said, “Yeah.” So, I packed up my bags and went back to New York and spent a year doing this Internet TV show, which failed. Break Room Live. I did it with Sam Seder. It was ambitious. There were some mistakes made. I don’t need to drag anyone down.
Why was it so ambitious?
It just hadn’t really been done. How do you get people to go watch TV on the Internet with any consistency, an original show and specifically a political show? Sam and I were always fighting. It was a live show. They were paying a lot of money, which I needed. It just wasn’t feasible for them because they were going bankrupt again. They were mismanaged into the ground. They fired us, but we were on contract for another month or two. So they were like, “We’re pulling the show but you guys can stay in your office,” which just shows their naïveté. But ultimately, it was a gift because at that time I had nothing. My manager had hung me out to dry. I was not a viable comic and I was barely solvent after the divorce.
So, I knew guys were doing podcasts. I said to my producer, “Let’s do one while we’re here. We’ll just go into the studio late at night. We’ve still got our security cards. We know the night tech. He’ll let us in.” So we did that. The first probably ten or twelve episodes were just me and my producer going in, getting on the mikes. Sometimes we’d do phoners. We’d bring guests up on the freight elevator. I knew I was going to talk to comics. But we didn’t know what it was. We were just sort of feeling around.
This was September 2009. Was Adam Carolla already doing his podcast?
Yeah. Carolla had done it. Kevin Smith had been at it for a while. But Carolla came directly from radio, brought a great deal of audience with him. I didn’t really know what I would bring with me. I had no real expectation. It was just that I didn’t know what else to do and this seemed like something we should try. People were helpful. They put us in touch with the guys at iTunes who were thrilled when anybody that was professional was going to do a podcast. They sort of fast-tracked our getting it up, because we knew what we were doing. It didn’t really evolve into an interview show until I got to L.A. We did some bits. I tried a co-host a couple of times.
It sort of became an interview show out of necessity because it was just me out there. I didn’t want to do phoners because I think they sound bad. So, I just started calling up my peers and people I was interested in and having them come over and talking. It’s more about me connecting as a person. Professionally, it was not even on my horizon. I never anticipated that it would necessarily become anything. But people were starting to dig it.
How could you tell?
Well, when you have a server you know exactly how many people are listening. We could see the numbers growing.
What do you think are your seminal episodes?
The first episode that really made it a different game was probably [Zach] Galifianakis.
That’s when I first heard of you. Vulture did a post.
That was episode twenty. That’s when the numbers really started to change. I did that in his trailer with this unit that I have here. [Points to radio equipment on the table.]
What do you think it was about that episode?
Well, people like Zach.
He’d just done The Hangover.
He was shooting Due Date. He was big. But also, what happens, because I have a relationship or at least a camaraderie with a lot of these guys, is that when I talk to people I don’t know how to interview. In the beginning of this podcast, I was in trouble financially, emotionally, career-wise. On a very real level, I needed help on all those levels. I needed to connect with people. I needed to talk about myself. I needed to talk to other people about things. I needed to get out of my head. So, these conversations are very candid. I’m only really having conversations. I don’t have bullet points usually. I just want to talk. Zach, I did it in his trailer. I busted his balls a bit. I had my own problems with him at that time. He knows me a long time. I just think there was something unique about the exchange. Also, there were a lot of fans of his that were like, “Holy shit, I’ve never heard Zach like this.”
Robin Williams was big, too.
That was episode 67. That took a lot to do. He knows me a bit and he’s a nice guy, but I had to go up to his house [in San Francisco]. I was thrilled about it. That blew up on iTunes and it brought a lot of people to the medium in general. It kind of put this on the map. I got a conversation with him that no one had had. So then the influx of listeners was huge for that time.
Now even with Zach, other news sources were starting to listen to the show. They’re pulling quotes from the show. They’re getting information they wouldn’t have had. That was the first time that Vulture had picked up something because he had said something about Robert Downey’s mask-maker. But the Williams thing really broke it open.
Because the subject matter was so dark?
It’s only dark relative to how people see him publicly. I mean, he was really just a guy talking about open-heart surgery, divorce, relapse on drugs. Those are all real things in his life. I just don’t think anyone had heard him address that honestly. So, it’s dark. To me, it was just sort of honest.
How do you think you managed to get that conversation from him?
I’m a comic. I’ve got a lot of the same demons he does. I don’t have the greatest boundaries in the world. If I’m in a conversation with somebody I need to connect. As I did more interviews my cynicism started to diminish and my bitterness started to go away. I realized just how much I like to listen to other people and I like to laugh. I had to learn how to be emotionally present for these things, that it wasn’t always about me. But when I was with Robin, obviously, I was a little nervous. I drove to his house. It was eleven in the morning. There was no one else around. That’s very intimate. There’s no cameras. I knew I had to talk to him about certain things, joke stealing and stuff like that, just to honor the community.
What was interesting, though, with Robin was that I really wanted to get him, not just because he’s Robin Williams, but just because there was this sort of slow, weird anger in me that the newer generation comics would dismiss him. Whether or not I’m a huge fan or was when I was a kid or anything, that wasn’t the point. It was, Where do these young comics get off? It’s one thing for guys 40 to 50 years old to say Robin stole jokes. Whatever. But for this next generation to dismiss him as a hack, I found that upsetting. In my mind, it’s like this is a guy that did exactly what any comic wants to do — started out as a comic, got a television show, somehow had enough talent and momentum to get into movies and then sustain a career for 30 years. He did exactly what they want. He did comedy on his own terms, got all the opportunities and then maintained a career and these guys are like, “Oh, fuck that guy.” I’m like, “No. Fuck you.”
I wanted to go up there because I thought he deserved respect and an honest ear and just an opportunity to talk like a person. The situation lent itself to that. We were alone; there were no cameras. I was open with him and asking him questions about difficult things. He’s a very accessible guy. He’s a very sweet guy. That’s what happened. Also, at that time, I think no one knew what a podcast was, really. So a lot of times I got these interviews because people were like, “Maron’s doing this thing in his garage. I don’t know what Marc’s up to. He’s a good guy. I’ll talk to him.” I don’t think they had any idea that that many people would hear it, necessarily.
How did he react?
He loved it. He was great. He calls me occasionally just to say things. It’s weird. I mean, months go by and there’ll just be a message like, “Marc, it’s Robin. I really like that show that you did.”
The show that you did with him?
No. Not his show. Like, he called me about the Montreal speech, the Just for Laughs speech. He was like, “That’s great stuff. It was really honest and really good.” I generally don’t call him back because I don’t really know what my place is in their lives. But it’s always kind of mind-blowing to get a message from Robin Williams. Good times.
Carlos Mencia was another big show.
The Carlos Mencia ones were really big, especially with comedians. The Mencia ones were tricky because I went into it with the wrong intentions. I only knew about him and [Joe] Rogan and this fight [in which Rogan accused Mencia of joke-stealing]. My only question for him was, “What does it feel like to be the most hated guy in comedy?” I wasn’t trying to do an investigative report. I just wanted to know how he was carrying this burden. That was why I had him in, was to talk to that. I was going to touch on it, touch on the confrontation, the Rogan stealing, calling him out and the Bill Cosby bit. So, I do this interview and I clearly felt that he was steam-rolling me, that he was trying to reinvent himself. He was using me as a vehicle. I did an hour with him and I got done with it I’m like, “I can’t even put this up.” I made the mistake of tweeting that I was going to talk to him, so now everyone’s expecting this interview and I’ve got an hour that just gave him a platform to say, “I’m a different guy now,” without answering to anything. I was in trouble and I was panicking. I’m like, “I can’t put it up. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
I didn’t realize that his stealing was pathological, was widespread, and it was malignant. So I interviewed a Latino guy who used to open for him and a guy who started with him — again, not trying to indict him, just give me a sense of Carlos. They were fairly diplomatic. But now I had to call him and say, “I have to ask you some more direct questions because there are issues.” He literally was like, “I just landed. I’m at L.A.X. I’ll come over now.” I was nervous about it because I didn’t know that guy. I don’t know if he’s going to kick my ass or he’s pissed off or what. So that was what forced me into sort of a journalistic thing. That episode sort of redefined things, because I had to face-to-face confront him on stuff. Whether or not he concisely admitted to anything, what ended up happening was there was an unraveling of him. It was to the point where I kept wanting to end the show and I started to laugh uncomfortably because he sort of kept talking. That sort of was a fairly monumental episode, because then people were like [he’s] a journalist, and the comedy community is like, “What the fuck? That was insane.” But I think a lot of people were like, “He’s got problems.”
They felt empathy for him.
Right. I think that’s important. I was a little harder on Dane Cook, but I was cranky that day. But oddly, I interviewed Dane Cook, who was very well hated by comedians, for whatever reason. I was a little callus with him. Surprisingly, a lot of the e-mails I got were like, “I don’t even like Dane but you were a dick.” I’m like, “There you go. Now Dane’s a good guy.”
It’s interesting, because even though you’re interviewing comedians, you’re not doing much for comic effect on the show.
No. I’m not doing a comedy show. My belief was, isn’t there enough of that shit? How many people do you need on radio or on podcasts or over speakers just chasing bits down? Just blathering on to get laughs. It doesn’t interest me. I never saw myself as an entertainer. I’m not trying to lighten things up or do a song and dance number. I chose to get away from politics, specifically, because my own struggle got to be so much of a burden that it was undeniable and unavoidable in how I was living my life.
Were you seeing a shrink when you started the show?
I wonder if the show would be the same if you’d gotten therapy. It’s kind of like your therapy and therapy for your guests.
I don’t use it as therapy because I think that word is thrown around a lot by people who are condescendingly contextualizing the active conversation about real shit. The bottom line is, people don’t talk to each other in person. They don’t talk about real things because they’re afraid of how they’ll be judged. They don’t think that other people have the capacity to carry their burden. If they want to put that burden out in the world they think that it’s either a show of weakness or that they’re going to be a burden. But all that stuff that people were dismissing as the world of pathology and problems is essentially what makes us fucking human and the only thing that makes being human interesting. How we got away from that, I don’t know. There’s a lot of things you can blame. But we’re built to deal with shit. We’re built to deal with death, disease, failure, struggle, sickness, problems. That’s why we’re different than other animals. Some other animals are actually better at it than we are. We are too proud to reveal ourselves to each other anymore.
My editor described you as having a misery vortex you’re able to drag other people into. Do you think that’s the case?
I don’t really ever see myself as miserable. I don’t know how other people take me. I do see myself as having anxiety. I overthink and I ruminate. I’m obsessive. My brain is constantly trying to figure things out or figure out a way to understand something. But I don’t think I’m unhappy. I just think that’s the way my brain works. I have anger, but I have a real problem with the term “naval gazing.” When people dismiss things it’s like, “That’s naval gazing.” It’s like, “What else are we supposed to do here?” It’s so condescending, when people say “naval gazing.” You mean someone who just thinks a lot about things? It’s the same with the therapy thing. It’s like, what’s wrong with you? Why would someone say that? Is it therapy or is it just talking about being human? “Naval gazing” — you mean, trying to figure things out for yourself?
I don’t know if it’s a misery vortex. I do think that because my personal boundaries are fairly porous and I am pretty intense and I really want relief — I don’t think that wanting relief from yourself necessarily means you’re miserable. It just means I’d like to feel a little better.
Well, even if you don’t see yourself as miserable, there’s something about how candid you are about struggle that you bring that out in other people.
Right. I show up with my baggage. Most people are carrying around some shit. They’re dealing with it or not. They’re not sharing it. So, sharing shit is something people can do. They just don’t because either they dealt with it or they don’t want to go there or whatever. But those are life-defining things. I mean, you could talk about someone’s accomplishments. I could talk to Molly Shannon about SNL, how she started. But when she starts talking about her mother being killed in a car accident, then a car that she was in that was being driven by her father, that she’s dealt with emotionally and willing to talk about, then all of a sudden it’s like, that is a whole other emotional area of this incredibly talented woman. You’re like, “Oh my God,” when you hear that and see where she’s gone and who she is now, I mean, that’s incredibly empowering and it provides an amazing amount of inspiration and relief for a person listening or someone who may not know her or someone who’s respected her. All of a sudden they’re like, “I had no idea.” It gives people hope. I mean, that’s what we’re supposed to get from each other. Like, we’re going to be okay.
Do you ever sense that you made people go places they weren’t expecting?
I sense it a lot. You know, the garage is very cozy and there’s no cameras.
The garage is kind of dank. How do you pitch it to people to come over there?
I was usually dealing with people I knew or kind of knew. People started coming and then people started listening. They start expecting the “WTF” interview. After Mencia and a couple other ones, I had Ben Stiller in. I got e-mails like, “You went a little easy on Ben Stiller.” I’m like, “I’m not talking to war criminals here. I’m not looking to indict.” My prime motivation to talk to Stiller was really driven by Tropic Thunder. I think he’s an incredibly gifted comic actor physically. That is a very rare and tricky thing to do, to be an adept physical comedian. But also, I thought that Tropic Thunder was a very intelligent satire that I don’t think anyone had really discussed.
So, I mean, some of these interviews don’t go to those places. But, look, if the conversation is good, I don’t care. I mean, some people are just funny. I’ve had plenty of funny interviews. Tom Lennon was very bubbly, but we talked a lot about the business and stuff. I don’t have expectations out of it. I just hope that we talk. My biggest fear is that we’re not going to be able to talk.
That somebody will shut down?
Or that they just don’t know how to have a conversation. I mean, I’m dealing with comics. Some of them are not social people, really. Like, I interviewed Norm McDonald. I had no idea what that guy is like. I met him once. I know his public persona, but I don’t know if I can talk to that for an hour. That turned out to be one of the best interviews I’ve done.
When you get someone you don’t know, what are you going for?
I kind of just kick the mikes on and all I have is career points. Hopefully right away it just becomes something else. A lot of times I’ll start with me. “This happened. I don’t know what the hell to do about it.” Or, “I was just looking at that book or this book.” You know, people’s reaction to the garage. “What is that? This is wild.” Just start there. Stephen Wright, the same thing. I was thrilled to talk to him, but I don’t know if he can have a conversation. How would you assume that from his stage personality? How can you talk to that for an hour? He turned out to be the sweetest guy in the world. He laughed and was amazing. A lot of times when I’m nervous about an interview they turn out to be the best.
Your garage is super-cluttered. Do you put things in there just for people to react to?
No. It’s just my shit. I have a two-bedroom house. There’s no room for my shit. I’ve got a lot of books and a lot of things. I’m sort of a borderline hoarder with my own nostalgia. I started putting things up on the wall and stuff. There’s a lot of shit in there. I have a lot of people send me stuff now.
A fan made you the “WTF” ring you’re wearing now.
Yeah. A fan made me the ring, someone brought me some corn muffins last night. Someone brought me sunglasses. A lot of art. That’s the most gratifying. A lot of creative people get a lot out of the show. Hearing creative people talk about being creative is very nourishing for people who may or may not have lived their dream.
What kind of artwork have you gotten?
Paintings of me. I got a mosaic of me. I got a picture done in beads of me. I got a wood burning of me.
What do you do with them?
Put them in the garage or hang them up. It gets a little much. My girlfriend’s like, “Could we take down the gallery of Marc? Could we move that to the garage?” Some woman did a sculpture based on a bit of mine. Some guy carved me some candles with his teeth. Some woman came to the show last night. She’s a nail artist. She put all my cats and my face on her nails.
Do you see the show as a social good?
The social good part — I just know the e-mails come in. I get a lot of people want to try comedy and they’re like, “I finally did it.” The [The Onion editor] Todd Hanson episode [where he talked about his suicide attempt], that was huge. A lot of e-mail from people who had family members who either tried to kill themselves or did kill themselves who have never really fully understood what that family member was going through. How could someone do that? We just got an e-mail from someone who wants to add [the Hanson episode] to the syllabus for clinicians for talking to patients.
Yeah. A lot of people who really related to it. Hundreds of e-mails on that one.
But beyond the public who get something out of it, do you see it as a good thing for your guests, to talk this way?
Yeah. Absolutely. There were a lot of discussions Todd and I had leading up to that about getting the courage to do it. I interviewed Hanson completely coincidentally in the hotel that he attempted suicide in. I was just in Brooklyn doing a live “WTF.” I wanted to get him on because I’ve always loved him. I had him come over to the hotel. He walked in and he goes, “I’ve been here before.” I’m like, “Really?” He says, “Yeah. But when I checked in I wasn’t going to check out.” Then he told me what happened. I’m like, are we talking about this? He’s like, “I don’t know. I told my therapist I was coming back to the hotel and I told her that you were going to be the guy that was here and I felt comfortable with you. This is a big step for me, so let’s just see what happens.” We just talked for an hour and it didn’t come up. Then when we turned the mikes off I’m like, “That’s cool.” He’s like, “Yeah. I just couldn’t do it yet.” I’m like, “All right. I don’t have to put this up right away. If you feel like you want to talk about it let me know when. If I haven’t put this up yet, maybe we can just add it on.” A few weeks later, maybe a month, he called me up and he’s like, “I think I want to talk about it.”
I went to his apartment and he walked me through it. We just made it one episode. But he had to sign off on it. I wanted him to go over it. I always give guests an opportunity to retract anything or ask me not to do that. I’ll honor that.
You talked about how some people see you as a journalist, but that’s something a journalist would never do, give approval.
Yeah. I never set out to be a journalist.
How do you feel about success? You’ve managed to build a successful career on this culture of being a failed comic.
I don’t know if I ever was a failure because I always was in the game. But I was not building an audience is what it came down to. I never really saw myself as a failure. I did see that getting to the age I was getting at and not having an audience that I was headed for trouble, that I didn’t know what was going to sustain me. I never really tried to write for other people or be in production or on the other side of the camera or any of that shit. I’m a comic. So, that was scary. So, success relative to this [podcast], I mean it’s fascinating that we have figured out a few ways to make money at it and no one really figured that out and we’ve sort of started to figure it out. I never knew what it was like to be a businessperson. I never really cared about money. When I had some, I’d store it.
How did you monetize?
Well, initially we started with donations. We did sort of a public radio model where we were basically like, “Look, if you like the show, send us some money, if it’s in your heart.” And then we figured out, like, a swag tier where if you did a $10 a month automatic donation, you’d get a T-shirt and some stuff. And then we made a $50 one, and then we had a $250 onetime donation for three T-shirts, four CDs, stickers — all kinds of stuff. And that works pretty well. And then we started to get some advertisers through our servers. Then we also have the apps. The most recent 50 are always available to everybody for free, but if you want before that you have to get the premium app, and that’s done very well for us.
Are you staying afloat or making a living?
We do all right. We’re making a living off of this.
I mean, you’re going to get your own TV show, so that is a definite measure of success.
Right. Yeah. But it’s weird. Oddly, in my brain, given that I had to start from dollar zero at 47, there’s still part of me that’s like, “Am I going to have enough to save some? Am I going to be able to ever in my life stop working so hard without being afraid of not having money?” But the TV show is great primarily because I’ve had a lot of opportunities I just wasn’t ready for and they weren’t followed through on. I’ve had TV deals. I just wasn’t ready for them. It’s probably better off they didn’t really manifest.
When you say you weren’t ready for them, was that because you were still addicted to drugs?
No. It wasn’t so much the drugs. It was really just that I was driven by spite and sort of like a weird, angry ambition. I’d get an opportunity and then we’d make a pilot or we’d write script but they wouldn’t make a show. In retrospect, I was so wracked with panic and anxiety and fear that I don’t know how they would have really flowed out. I was weird with other people. I was very paranoid that I was failing and this, that, and the other thing. So when I look back it’s like, I don’t know if I could have handled that because I wasn’t grounded and I wasn’t in control of my talent. I had no real confidence.
What’s the show going to be, exactly?
It’s a half-hour scripted, single-camera-type of show based on my life. A fictionalized or scripted version of my life with the podcasts.
You’re going to be writing the scripts?
Yeah. I’m going to be co-writing them with a guy and a showrunner. A lot of things have to happen. We have to do some casting.
It seems like it’ll have some kinship with Louie.
Maybe. I mean, Louie basically, it’s not episodic and ours will be. His isn’t like, “This happened last week, let’s continue the story.” I mean Louis [C.K.] is a genius and I love him. But he basically makes short films of whatever he wants to make them on and integrates his stand-up into them. I think we’re going to be working more with a narrative structure that has a steady set of characters that works episodically with an ongoing story. I don’t believe at this point I have a plan to integrate my stand-up into it. But we will integrate sort of versions of podcast guests and that kind of stuff.
It’ll basically be your life as a comic hosting a podcast out of his garage?
Right. Exactly. If you would have pitched that show ten years ago, they would be like, “This is ridiculous.”
What do you want to happen in the show, situationally?
Look, we’re at IFC. That means we’ve got a lot of support with IFC to do something interesting. I want to challenge myself as an actor and as a writer. Also, I want to get people involved who are going to bring a different point of view than me, so they can bring their funny to it. We’ve got ten episodes to make.
It’s funny to pitch your life now, because you’re actually doing much better than you were when you started the podcast. Do you run out of material if you’re not dealing with divorce and having your frustrations fueling it?
Well, I mean situation comedy is situation comedy. It doesn’t have to be loaded with life or death and emotional turmoil. I think it’s been pretty well-proven that you can do a half-hour of television comedy about almost nothing at all. Once you establish the characters, I don’t think I’ll run out of things. I don’t think.
But I guess I’m wondering if your material is changing because now you actually have a lot of stuff going for you.
Right. I think if you framed it at another time, outside of being frustrated career-wise and going through a divorce, you’d probably say I had a lot going for me there. I just wasn’t really materializing it. I mean, there’s no risk of me moving into Beverly Hills or all of a sudden having a swimming pool and dealing with gardener problems. The truth of the matter is, I’ve got a lot going for me but I’m going out with a woman that’s twenty years younger than me. I’m my own worst enemy. I’m constantly struggling with this or that. I mean, whatever I have going for me, I’m making a living, but the man remains relatively the same. A little more comfortable with myself.
Will your girlfriend be in it?
How did you guys meet?
She e-mailed me.
I met her briefly at a book event in San Francisco and then she e-mailed me and said she thought I was hot and wanted to sleep with me. So, I said, “Okay. When and where?”
Ha! Is that really true? And then that was just it?
Well, it’s had its ups and downs.
Did you take her out on a date?
No. I met her in Portland and we had sex for three days. Then a few weeks later she moved to L.A., supposedly not for me, just because she moved from San Francisco to L.A..
And moved in?
No. I got creeped out and it was all very touch and go for a while. It got pretty hairy. We broke up for a few months. Then I decided the feelings were real. Now we’ve leveled off and we’re doing all right. She just moved in.
How long have you been together?
A couple years. Her name’s Jessica Sanchez. You can’t fight love.
How old is she?
What does she do?
She is a behavior specialist. She works with autistic kids and severely emotionally disturbed children, so it’s sort of perfect for me, because I kind of have that, right? I don’t want it to sound like she was just this chick I had sex with in a hotel room. She actually shadows an autistic girl every day. She has to get up and go to school with this girl. That’s, like, her job. It’s gnarly.
What was it like when Jessica moved in?
Well, she was basically living there anyways, and I just didn’t know if I was emotionally ready, so it took a while to get to that point. And then when we finally decided it, you know, in terms of her presence in my life, it wasn’t that different, but in terms of the presence of her stuff in my life, that changed.
Well, there’s more.
In your hoarder environment?
Uh-huh. It’s funny, you know, we had to create space for her to have her own shit. It’s only two bedrooms, so the second one I just made the entire wall a closet.
How did you get emotionally ready for her to move in?
Well, after a certain point it’s sort of unfair to have someone basically living there, to have her basically keeping this apartment, just as some sort of safety net, you know, for me.
You seem so unfazed.
No, no. I mean, I’m kind of excited. She’s happy and it makes things easier. You know, it’s a big leap. She was nervous about it; I was nervous about it. But we’re doing pretty good.
How does she feel about you talking about her?
If I don’t say mean shit, she’s fine.
I’m impressed with how bold she was, e-mailing you. And that it worked.
Eh, well, you know, I was sort of dating aggressively at that time anyways, because I was single and angry. And, uh, I don’t think either of us knew it would lead to anything.
Did you make her send pictures?
No, she doesn’t have a Facebook page. She’s just now starting to get active on Twitter. There was nothing available.
You just thought you’d take a chance?
Yeah. We met in Portland. She said she was planning on going anyways to the Comedy Festival. I kind of remembered her from that night where I met her briefly, but I didn’t quite register, so I wasn’t completely sure. So that was kind of exciting.
It sounds like a great three days.
It was. It was. I was amazed at just how much … When I got there, she had been there literally since that morning and I walk into her hotel room and it looked like she had been living there a month, just the amount of clothing and everything. And I was like, “Oh my God.” So that’s why I’m building her a closet.
“Oh my God” in that she was a kindred spirit?
Well, she’s got a lot of stuff. It’s a little more than me. She’d argue that.
You found it charming?
It was just the clutter. The clutter was amazing. How has this just happened?
I like the idea of wooing someone out of clutter.
It worked on you.
Sure. My God, if this is what’s on the outside, what’s inside has got to be pretty exciting.
Tell me about being back in New Jersey. You were born here, right? I’m from New Mexico, outside of Santa Fe. You grew up around there, right?
That’s wild. I was just there last weekend. My dad’s still in Albuquerque. Me and Jess went to Santa Fe. We went to 10,000 Waves for a couple days. Then we saw my dad on Friday. I’ve still got a few friends around.
Your mom’s in Florida, right? I know you said you don’t see yourself as miserable, but there’s a bit you do about your parents in your stand-up that blew my mind, the one about your dad being a depressive and your mom saying …
Oh, “I just didn’t know how to love you.”
And that you became a comic because you were the only one who could make your dad laugh.
Well, I mean, that’s a sort of rendering down of it. The truth is, is that my parents were very self-involved. My dad was a doctor, so he had a good living. Everything was provided for me, but they just were not great at parenting because they had so much insecurity. I was sort of left to my own devices to sort of build this sense of self. There was not much discipline. There was sort of random spurts of attention and stuff. I’ve always felt like I wasn’t quite a whole person. I was always sort of looking for that guidance or for people to kind of take me under their wing or let me be part of a group so I could define myself. It’s weird. I didn’t make the right picks a lot of times in terms of father figures, girlfriends, and stuff.
Like Sam Kinison. You took up with him when you first moved to L.A.
Yeah. But it turned out to be pretty great. I’ve always been a guy who, you act fearless, get yourself into shitty situations, and live through them. That’s how you learn. I don’t know if that’s completely true. Sometimes I think that what we learn from mistakes is that we’ll repeat them over and over and over again until we realize we’ve got other problems. But I do think that despite my propensity towards dangerous people, I did get a lot out of that. I definitely know where my limits are.
You mean you know what your limits are in terms of drugs?
Everything. I’ve been in awkward, shitty situations emotionally and physically, mentally. I pushed myself about as far out as I can go. So, you’re sort of like, “All right, I did that. I know I don’t want to be there again.”
You went to L.A. knowing you were going to work at the Comedy Store. That was a goal, right?
Later. I mean, when I got to L.A. I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. I already had a little coke habit from college. I wanted to be a comic. I didn’t know anything about that place. I didn’t necessarily really like Kinison that much as a comic. I auditioned. I got a job as a doorman. You’ve got to be a comic to be a doorman. Then I just got swept up in the mythology of the place and swept up in his world. That was something.
That’s where the coke habit ballooned?
Yeah. It wasn’t just coke. You drink, you do coke, you smoke weed. You’re a comic. I’m living in a house that the woman who owned the Comedy Store owned. You’re just dealing with dudes with a lot of money and a lot of fucking freaks and pirates hanging around. You’d be up for three days talking about shit, doing coke, people getting in car accidents, people falling off the sanity edge. Eventually, I coked myself into psychosis and got highly paranoid and very mystically minded. It took a long time to shake that shit. It took about a year and a half to get my brain back. But I always kept working through it and I always tried to understand it. I thought that was tapped into something. That eventually subsided. I still had a vengeance. I always wanted to be a regular at the Comedy Store. I never made it to that point. I was still this non-paid, regular doorman guy. In 2003, I got my name on the wall there.
From ’87 to 2003 you were trying to be a regular?
Yeah. I ran into Mitzy I think in ’95, the owner of the Comedy Store. I’m like, “Do you remember me?” She’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “Can I be a regular?” She’s like, “Yeah.” But I still didn’t get my name on the wall until 2003.
What’s your relationship with your ex-wives now?
Nothing. The second one, nothing. I reached out to her to try to … I don’t know what. I loved her, but I fucked it up. She won’t talk to me because she’s afraid I’ll talk about it. Now I’ve got this book coming out. I don’t know.
I know about the TV show. What’s the book?
I just turned in the first draft of a book of memoir-ish essays. That was rough. I’d written a book before and I had no desire to write a book. It’s a taxing, draining process. I don’t really consider myself a writer. It’s just a lot of work for not that much.
Was writing the essays rough?
It was. This was the busiest year of my life. I didn’t want to do another book. But again, the podcast wasn’t making money. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had this book agent. So I pitched this book to him; I put together a proposal for these essays about things, divorce and this and that.
Whether I like writing books or not, the money was there. So, I did the deal and then I was panicked for a year and a few months trying to get this first draft. Basically what I did was, I talk about everything on the podcast. I have a relatively obsessed fan who transcribes every one of those monologues. So, I have a lot of raw material to sort of see where my brain is. Then I wrote a bunch of new essays and some thoughts and I pulled some stuff from notebooks. My editor needed 60,000 words. Come the deadline, I had 90,000. I said, “Great. He can cut 30,000 words.” I just sent him the shit. I said, “There are titles but there’s no order. Knock yourself out.”
You sound like a nightmare for an editor.
I thought that’s what real editors are supposed to do. I wrote one essay at the very beginning. I sent it to my editor and he sent back notes. I’m like, “I can’t do this. I’m never going to be able to have the confidence to finish.” I just chose to not talk to him for a year, basically, and then just give him all this stuff. But he likes it. We’re going to start molding the shit now. He said, “Look, I’m probably going to cut about a quarter of this.” I’m like, “Great. That’s exactly what we planned. You’re going to cut about 30,000 words out of the 90.”
What’s your life been like on this road trip?
Oh, I flew in here yesterday. Usually, I just dump all my shit out.
You tweeted a lot about loving New Jersey.
Yeah. It’s weird coming home. It’s weird, this trip, because I did come from here. My people are definitely from here. I have a lot of memories about New Jersey, not New Brunswick specifically. Also, my friend Greg Giraldo died in this hotel.
It was this hotel?
He was performing at that club.
Stress Factory, where you’re performing. Did you talk about it in Friday night’s shows?
I didn’t actually. I should have. I talked about it with the club owner last night, the geography of it and what happened really.
What did you find out?
That it happened here. You know, this is where they found him and revived him and took him to the hospital. He missed his shows on Saturday night. It happened Saturday. It’s heavy. He’s a good guy.
You talked about him in that great keynote speech at the Montreal Comedy Festival.
Yeah. I did a eulogy for him, too, on another episode. It’s horrible, man. Drug addiction is a horrible fucking thing. Very misunderstood. He’s a bright guy, sweet guy, smart guy. But if you’ve got that bug in your brain, none of that shit matters.
But you somehow got out of it.
Yeah. But I’m the minority. Most people don’t get out of it, whether it kills them or not. Some people can manage it an extraordinarily long time if they don’t push the envelope too far. I do all right on a day-to-day basis. I don’t feel the compulsion. I try to stay on top of my recovery as best as I can. [Pops a Nicorette.]
When did you quit smoking?
Like eleven years ago.
But you still have to use Nicorette?
Well, I don’t have to. For me, I have anxiety problems and I seem to be medicating with that stuff. I don’t feel like getting on a pharmaceutical. So, I use the Nicorette. It seems better than smoking, I can feel its effect, it keeps me from getting too tweaked. I should probably get off. I don’t know. I drink a lot of coffee and I chew a lot of Nicorette. But I tend to think that I’m medicating a fairly real anxiety problem.
It would seem that coffee and nicotine would not help with the anxiety.
Nicotine does. The nicotine levels you off. Then you sort of play with the caffeine content, depending on how much juice you want. I’m very drug-minded still.
I was going to ask how many cups of coffee you’d already had today. In that “Day in the Life” episode you did, coffee was one of the primary focuses of your day. I’m surprised you’re not drinking it.
I am. I just poured one. I drink a lot of coffee. It’s stupid. I think I’m going to get off everything and see what I look like, see what the baseline is doing.
But in terms of this tour …
It’s not really a tour. I go out and do dates. It’s not an organized tour. I just go do comedy clubs, sometimes a little theater.
Why do you want to do stand-up dates?
It’s my job. I’m a comedian.
But you could not do it. You could just do your podcasts.
No. I have to do it. I’ve earned it. All I ever wanted to be was a comedian. For years, I couldn’t even get work at comedy clubs. Now I can. Now people want to see me, so that’s a great time.
Why are you doing shows in New Jersey instead of New York?
Well, [Stress Factory’s owner Vinnie Brand] asked me if I wanted to work there. I was like, “I don’t know if it’s going to work out.” He’s like, “Come on. I’ll give you this much money.” I’m like, “All right.” Like, I haven’t done a lot of “WTF” in New York in a while. I’ve never done a solo stand-up show in New York.
That seems crazy to me.
I don’t know. In terms of just doing a club or a theater, a solo, I haven’t done it in a long time. I have ghosts. I was nervous last night. I haven’t been to this club in ten years. I was like, These people aren’t going to like me. We’ll see what happens.