Talking to Marc Maron about His New Special ‘Thinky Pain’, ‘Maron’ Season 2, and Getting His Due

Marc Maron, who debuted a book and a TV show this past spring while still maintaining his wildly popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron, has had a more productive year than most. Amazingly, he’s also found the time to tape a new special — called Thinky Pain — released today on Netflix. Thinky Pain, shot at the intimate Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village, is Maron at his storytelling best: Perched atop a stool, he reminisces about performing with Bill Hicks, stresses about discovering Captain Beefheart years too late, and stages a riveting psychodrama in which he counsels “Fat Marc,” his Pee-Wee Little League self, through a humiliating ballgame.

I talked to Maron on the phone last week about his new special, the upcoming second season of Maron, and his hard-earned success. True to form, at the end of the interview, he asked, “Are we good?”

Happy belated birthday, by the way.

Thank you. That’s very nice of you.

How are you coping with turning 50?

The whole 50 thing, it doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. I don’t think I’m freaking out about it. I think some part of me thinks I’ve got to get things in order, but I don’t think I’m freaking out about it. Maybe I haven’t thought about it enough.

Things have kind of settled down for you now, right? I feel like this spring was really hectic with the book and the show coming out.

I guess things have settled down in that way, but I’m pretty busy. We’re right in the second season [of IFC’s Maron] now, and I’ve got this special coming out, and now I’ve got to start churning out new material. Some sort of new beginning has to happen, and that seems to be coming. My life is in turmoil. That always seems to provide me with problems to solve.

When did you even have time to tape a new special in April?

I don’t know, man. We just weaved it in one weekend. It just sort of happened. I just remember going to New York, choosing the venue for very specific reasons, and just doing it. I felt a little sick the night I did it, so that kind of bummed me out.

Why’d you choose such a small venue?

Because I wanted it to be as far away from a theater special as possible. I wanted it to feel like a real stage. I wanted it to feel like a club. And I only wanted a couple hundred people there. I think there’s an argument you can make that a comedy special is supposed to be sort of a big event, but I don’t know if that necessarily represents what I do. And an intimate space and a smallish crowd seemed to be really the place where I do what I do.

Also, it was the old basement showroom of The Village Gate. It’s no longer that; The Village Gate is gone — but that building, that structure, was fairly important to me in my past and when I was starting out in New York. So that was kind of an extra, added, historic, mystical element to the whole thing.

You performed there with Bill Hicks, right?

Yeah, there was one night, probably — boy, I don’t even know, maybe 1990. But yeah, it was me and Bill. I actually open the special with that story.

I actually got to watch the special. It felt super different from your old standup.

Yeah, the choice to sort of keep it intimate and not use audience shots — I think what I’ve become is somebody who sort of thrives on an intimacy and a sort of movement toward things that doesn’t seem overwrought or prepared. So I wanted to just create an environment where I could make that happen. And I feel pretty good about it.

How long did it take you to write the material?

Well, it’s hard to know because I don’t write like that. I don’t sort of go like, ‘All right, I’m going to throw everything away and write a new hour.’ I mean, there are stories in there that I’ve been kicking around inside me for years, and then there’s stuff that’s really new because of events in my life. So it’s sort of a mixed bag. I would say that anything that I write has taken me a lifetime to write.

One of my favorite parts is the “Fat Marc” psychodrama.

Oh, thank you. I’m so glad, because it took me a long time to figure that thing out. I think that night, fortunately, that really worked better than it ever had. It took me a long time to sort of try and figure out the beats of the conversation — they kind of have to happen naturally, but I needed it to sort of pop, and it took a long time to do that. And I don’t really do that bit regularly in clubs because it’s a fairly emotional bit, and depending on the audience situation, I don’t always feel comfortable doing it.

How did you come up with the idea for that bit?

I think the seed of really doing it as a comedy piece came from my conversation with John Oliver on the podcast. I always knew that story was there, but it just seemed to bring together a lot of things: my current state of mind, where I was brought up, the type of man I am.

You taped this hours after the Boston Marathon bombings, but didn’t mention them during your performance. What went into that decision?

Well, the information wasn’t in. There was nothing to say at that point, except, “Who did this? This is awful.” There was no way to frame it. It had literally happened that day, right? So I felt backstage that the best I could do was just sort of do the show I had planned because I didn’t feel like there was a way to talk about it with any sort of hindsight or anything. And I also knew in my mind that this was not just tonight; this was going to be on tape, and speculating or addressing something that was literally unfolding hours before. There was really nowhere to go with it, so I just decided to be a showman instead of a commentator.

Why did you go with Netflix for this special?

You know, they’re doing original programming and it seemed like a good place to go. I think Comedy Central was interested in doing the special, but when I really thought about it, if they do it, I have no control over when it airs, what commercials they’re going to put on during it, what’s going to come after, what’s going to come before. Netflix is the way people watch things, and it was also a way to keep the integrity of the thing complete. People can watch it when they want; it’s not interrupted. It’s a nice, long piece of performance, and I think that there’s a flow to it.

It seems like Netflix could actually help broaden your audience, too, right?

It’s a weird thing: when and how and if people find you. I spent a lot of years in my career thinking, ‘Look, I’ve done Conan all these times, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I’ve done all these things.’ But none of that necessarily did anything. The podcast has its own audience, the book has its own audience, my comedy has its own audience, and a lot of those are combined. But I just hope that the thing is good, and that the people that watch it enjoy it. That’s all I can really think about anymore. I don’t know how any of that other stuff works.

A lot of people are saying that you’re finally getting your due after being at this for 25 years. Do you feel like you deserve all your recent success?

All I know is that I’m happy that it happened the way it happened. I don’t know if I have some sort of PTSD from the last 10 years of my life, but I don’t find myself really thinking about what I deserve or what I don’t deserve. I do know that whatever’s happening for me now seems to be happening specifically because I am who I am. And that’s a good feeling. I can honestly say that I feel a little more comfortable with myself and a little less freaked out, and that what I’m doing is all in my control. And I always feel like I can do a little better, in terms of creativity and discipline and output. But do I deserve what I have? Yeah, I worked hard for a long time, and I had really sort of given up on any of this ever happening. So yeah, I’m very grateful that it has, and certainly I’ve worked hard for it.

What’s going on with Season 2 of Maron?

It’s coming along pretty good. We hired a couple of new writers, so there’s seven of us, me included. I have no experience whatsoever writing television, so breaking stories, to me, is the most daunting thing. The rest just goes the way it goes. But the stories are the most important thing, and we got them, so that made me happy. Now, we’re just sort of outlining and beginning our scripts, but I like the stories. I can tell you that.

How are the types of stories different from Season 1?

Well, I’m still me. The difference is that this is a me that’s slightly more successful than the last, so it’s me kind of dealing with that a bit. I think that there’s a lot of different types of stories in this one. Some of them are sort of similar emotionally to the first season, but they’re all sort of different because I’m a little different person.

What else are you working on?

I might be sort of thinking about a movie to write, and I might be trying to find a place where I can try to do an interview show on television. I’ve got this skill that I didn’t know I had in a particular medium, and it’d be sort of interesting to see if I can have the same effect in another medium.

Do you ultimately want to be remembered as a standup, an interviewer, a writer, an actor, or all four?

It would be nice to just be remembered for a while, however people want to do it.

Meera Jagannathan is a freelance writer and grad student living in Syracuse, N.Y.

Talking to Marc Maron about His New Special ‘Thinky […]