“It’s based on the life I’m living now, or maybe a couple years ago,” says Marc Maron of his new IFC show, Maron. It’s in this slightly alternate universe that Maron exists; his podcast is picking up steam, he’s adjusting to life after his second divorce, and he’s learning from the famous comedians who stop by his garage to share their wisdom. The show features an excellent collection of his celebrity comedian pals, including the always amazing Dave Foley as an inebriated version of himself in the pilot. I recently got the chance to talk to Maron about playing himself, finding closure, and helping out the next generation of comics.
In watching the first three episodes, I was wondering who you think the show is for, podcast listeners or people who have never heard WTF?
I don’t know that I think in terms of that. I think it has to work for both. So I think people that listen to the podcast will enjoy it, and I hope that people that have never seen me before will also find a way in. It’s a weird thing with that. A lot of people listen to my podcast, but I don’t know how many people necessarily listen to my monologue. And a lot of times people came into the podcast already two hundred episodes in and have not listened to all of them, so it’s tricky. You don’t want to just do it for the podcast, because that always changes. So I just made it for anybody who wants to watch it. Hopefully they’ll take to it.
And you had other writers for the show, right?
Well most of the stories came from me. There are only four of us, and everybody sort of sits around, you kick the story around, you get it into shape, and then somebody goes off and writes it based on the outline that everybody came up with, and then they come back and you kick it around some more. But I definitely had a part in everything.
I just imagine that it’s weird to play a version of yourself that’s been written by someone else.
Well, like I said, I was part of every level of this. As these scripts come up, and we’re reading the draft, I look at the line, I said it out loud, and if I don’t think it can come out my mouth, then I’ll say, “That’s not gonna happen.” And we make it something that can come out of my mouth. So that was always part of this process. There was never really a point where I’m on set, and I’m like, “What is this?” There were moments on set where I’m like, “We should rethink this exchange.” There was actually some scenes that we re-wrote day of because I didn’t feel that they were organic, but being part of the process at every level of the writing, enabled me to not be in a position where it was like, “How do I this?” And I certainly had the power to say, “This ain’t gonna work.” So it wasn’t that weird. It was just, the whole opportunity itself was weird. I’d never done this much acting, I’ve never done this much writing, I’ve never played myself on a television show, I’ve never worked with other people in this capacity. I’ve never had to go through a shoot like this. There were a lot of things that were exciting and challenging, but having to say lines that someone wrote for me is not at the top of that list.
What was it about doing a show like this that appealed to you? It’s so much more collaborative and in some ways traditional than what you’ve done over the past few years.
Well as a comic, when you start out, part of what you do is you want to be the best comic you can be, and you want to find your voice up there. I never really set out to do television like that, but you always have a thought in your head as a comic like, if I could base a show on my life, that’d be a great opportunity. And I’ve been through it a couple different periods in my life and my career where I’ve had deals to do sitcoms or at least get a script done, and nothing really went. So the fact that this came about after I’d sort of given up on having that opportunity ever again, and then pitching the life that I was living now as a possibility for a world that a show could live in, it was surprising. I didn’t think I’d ever get to do that. It was something I’d wanted to do.
And you have a lot of comics on the show playing themselves. Why did you decide to do that?
I mean, you know, it’s my community, man. I’ve been with these guys for 25 years. And I like comics. Andy [Kindler]’s my friend in a couple episodes, and I have comics on like [Jeff] Garlin and Bobby Slayton and [Denis] Leary. There’s an episode where there’s a comedy festival, and [Anthony] Jeselnik’s there and Ryan Singer. Dave Anthony plays my friend in one. These are guys I have relationships with, why wouldn’t I bring some of the juice from that relationship onto the screen?
In the pilot, I felt like Dave Foley got all the best lines, which I thought was very generous of you.
Well, you know, you gotta be able to do that. You got to be able to play a straight man, in the name of the show. Beause I know I’m a frazzled sort of character and I know I run kind of hot and I’m a little heady. I am what I am and he is what he is, so that playing together, most of the laughs we got were at my expense. I think that’s a laugh for everybody, that’s a laugh for the show. You can’t be too hung up on line-for-line who gets the laugh. I mean, I wanted him to be funny.
And he is! I felt like all of the episodes had more or less a happy ending, and I don’t always think of you as a happy endings kind of guy. Why do that? It was your show, you didn’t have to.
Well when you do scripted, you get an opportunity to figure out how you’re gonna close those things up. I mean the character, who is me in real life and also on television, has got to be a guy that sets out to do something, it doesn’t go the way he wants to, but it doesn’t mean to get fucked at the end of every show. I think that you have to be about the evolution of the character. This guy’s got to learn something. And I’m just trying to think about the episodes, if I’d call them all happy endings. I think the struggle of me, as a character, to be a better person or to behave better is a noble pursuit. And I don’t think that’s ever lost when you have either an emotional button at the end or maybe a little closure. I don’t think you get to the end of any of those episodes and really think that everything’s okay. There’s closure at the end of each episode, but I don’t know if you would say that it’s running off into the sunset.
Maybe happy endings is strong, but there is that closure. You do feel a bit better at the end.
Well, yeah, but I don’t have a problem with that. [Laughs] I mean, there were discussions around that. How are you gonna do this? And you know, I’m a fairly sensitive emotional guy. If I can have a little bit of closure on my TV show, that makes real life a little better, doesn’t it?
Yes. And you also have a book coming out, Attempting Normal?
Yeah, it’s a bunch of memoir-style essays.
Are these stories that you’ve told in other place or are these things you’ve saved?
A couple. There’s a few that are fleshed out a little more but have been sort of dealt with. I find that in every kind of like medium, it’s just different. When I talk about something on the podcast, it’s usually improvised, very immediate to me, and then if something that I’ve talked about on the podcast builds, if I want to make it a stage piece, you have to sort of rebuild and put it together differently and things need to be added to it. The same with writing them out. It’s a really different experience. I’ve only got so much life to go around. A lot of them are new, and within each one, there’s a lot of different stuff. But yeah, some of them, I would say, will be familiar but certainly not the same.
So, I was talking to Nate Bargatze recently about doing standup on late night, and he said doing your podcast was a bigger deal for him than doing Conan.
And I was just wondering how that feels to you. For a young comic, getting to be a part of your podcast is a huge milestone. You’re almost a gatekeeper in that sense.
Well, that seems to be like a powerful position that I didn’t necessarily set out to have and I’m not sure that I do have it. I’m flattered that he thinks that. I’m a big fan of his, that guy is one of the funniest guys working in my opinion, and I’m happy if it helps him out in any way. I don’t know if that’s true, but if he feels that way, that’s very nice, and I’m glad to help out in any way I can. I still have a hard time believing that in a real way. I like when comics tell me that they get a lot of new people who are coming to their shows and stuff because of my podcast. It’s a great thing. It’s hard to find a voice in this world, and there’s a lot of great comics out there that nobody knows about and if I can raise awareness of them, I’m happy to do it.
It’s something I feel like a lot of young comics really aspire to do. WTF is the at the top of the podcast chain.
Well, that’s nice. That makes me proud. Look, I like comics and there are some guys I really take to. I love talking to theem. I hope there’s a day to get to all these guys that want to do it. I’m just thrilled when I see somebody that I think is really funny. It’s a very exciting thing, to be able to laugh. Towards the beginning of the podcast, I’m not sure that I was able to do that anymore, and as time went on I kind of reconnected with the fact that I love comedy. When somebody like Nate or Al Madrigal or Big Jay Oakerson or [Kyle] Kinane or [Tom] Segura; there are certain people that really get me laughing, and I certainly like that feeling, so I’ll reach out to them.
You talk a lot about how much the podcast has helped your career, but it’s almost on this next level where it’s helping other people’s careers. It’s an amazing journey in only about four years.
I don’t register it as much. I don’t feel like I’m like a powerful person or that I have any real sway. When somebody tells me what you’re telling me or people want to do the show, obviously I’m doing a good job with what I’m doing. But I don’t really see it as some sort of thing that can necessarily make a difference in someone’s career. When I started doing the podcast, I just realized that there were some guys that I had known for 20 years or more, that I thought that I knew well or that at least were all in the same community. But you really think about, I mean, when are you gonna talk to somebody for an hour or more? You know, when does that happen? And there were guys that I’ve known forever that I’d not ever really talked to in a real way about their life and their struggles or anything else. If I had had, as a young comic, some way to listen to Dave Attell talk for an hour, it would have been mind-blowing. And also I started to find that a lot of comics were catching up with people that they hadn’t seen in a long time or only knew a little bit by listening to my podcast. I really like that if sort of functions as a community bonder, that people are catching up with people or learning things about comics that they love for the first time. And that makes me very proud.