comics talk to comics

Judd Apatow Talks to Marc Maron About Stand-up, Terror, and Sex Scenes

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photo by Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic and Kimberly White/Getty

With Maron’s third season premiering tonight on IFC, we had to ask ourselves: Who is the right person to interview Marc Maron, the man with over 600 podcast episodes under his belt? Judd Apatow, Maron’s friend and reigning emperor of comedy, was an obvious choice, what with him having a book of interviews with comedians, Sick in the Head, coming out next month. Because Maron is Maron, however, he couldn’t just sit back and be interviewed — he had to get some questions in — the result is a long, free-flowing conversation about stand-up, terror, sex scenes, and interviewing. (To make it easier to read, we gave each section italicized subheads.)

On terror and Judd Apatow’s need to be busy …

Judd Apatow: I guess it’s starting. We’ll consider this the start.
Marc Maron: I’m ready to start. I’m sitting in like a rotting stairwell in Wallingford, Washington, smoking a strong cigar, trying to decide where to eat. I’m in between three or four restaurants right next to a breakfast bar that I could go to, but I’ll put it on hold because of you and this cigar.

You’re still living a very glamorous comedy on-the-road life.
This is a real difference between you and me, and it’s something I think we need to talk about. You’re producing television shows, you’ve got a movie coming out, you’re working on stand-up, you’re doing showcases at Largo, you’re doing Pete Holmes’s podcast. I believe you still have a family at home, is that true?

There is still a family at home. Absolutely, they’re there. Yeah, I’m trying to do a lot of stuff.
Yeah I understand that, but is there a point, Judd, where we can relax? I’m not looking to you for these answers, I’m a little older than you, and I am looking for a way out of it all where I can just sit and look at water, maybe, or animals.

I go both ways. Sometimes I think it would be nice to relax, but truthfully, when nothing is happening, I go straight to terror. All I think about is how the universe is infinite. And then I want to put a bullet in my head. So it’s good for me to be making things. I have no spirituality, and I get nervous if I’m not in the process of accomplishing something. I don’t really care if anything succeeds anymore; I just like to be in the process of trying.
Really? Out of terror. Out of fear and terror.

I think so. More than I ever wanted to admit. I feel like my main purpose, in addition to having my wonderful family, is to make stuff. I can’t imagine not making stuff and just staring at the ocean. You know how you hear about people who retire and then two months later they’re dead? That’s my fear: My body says, Oh, you’re done? I guess we’re done. And then it just shuts it all down.
Do you think that terror is spiritual, or more connected to not being relevant or thought of on a day-to-day basis? Because there’s a lot of people I imagine that walk down the street and just out of nowhere they’re like, “Oh, Judd Apatow is still doing things.”

I don’t really have the terror of that just because I’m in the middle of working and because things are going okay. I don’t obsess on, Oh, no, is my career gonna crash? I’m in a place that if my career is gonna crash, it would be a slow crash, and it would take about 12 years to play out until it was really embarrassing, and then they’d just stop letting me do things.
Yeah, it’ll end with you sitting on a decaying stairwell in Wallingford, Washington, waiting to do stand-up.

It all ends Jake LaMotta–style.
You’re preparing for it by going back to stand-up. When everything else fails, you can always hit the road and do some of those B rooms.

If everything else fails, I can convince a pizza restaurant to let me put a mic in the corner, and I can book the club and hire myself as the emcee. That’s the endgame. I’d be completely happy.
I envy you. That would be the greatest end to Judd Apatow. The family has abandoned you, you’ve had some very public meltdowns about terror and spirituality, and no one knows what to do … Yeah, I fantasize about your end a lot.

On stand-up and Judd Apatow doing it again after many years away (and a little more terror) …

Yeah, I always say, “I have my Writers Guild pension.” I’m like OJ after the trial: He can live on the NFL pension. I can live on my Writers Guild pension and just work at the Cracker Barrel and do stand-up on Tuesdays.
After the trial, I like that addition. I’m happy to see you at the club, but knowing comics, you’d expect some resentment, like, “What is Judd Apatow doing here, aren’t things okay with him? Why does he need to do stand-up?” But then I started to realize that when people ask me about it, they’re pretty excited to see you do stand-up. How long did you do stand-up before you went off and made a billion dollars? How long was that?

I did it for seven years, from ’85–’92.
And that’s what I tell people. It’s not like I have people coming up to me going, “Yo, what the hell is Judd doing?” But when I say in the club that it’s nice to see you, they say, “Really, is he doing stand-up? How is it?” I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but what I say, “Well, he always wanted to do stand-up, and he was doing stand-up for like seven or eight years and it’s almost like he took a break, and he’s coming back to it right at the point he left it at, with an innocence and a excitement of writing new jokes and taking chances.” It’s almost like you’re now in your eighth year of stand-up.

Oh, I totally agree, except that now I have a life and some more history to draw from. When I did it when I was 24, there was nothing to talk about. But now a lot has happened, so it’s much easier to write jokes. I realized something that I was trying to deny for a long time, which is that I’d much rather be identified as a comedian than a writer, director, or producer. Like being at the Comedy Cellar and having Jim Norton respect what I’m trying to do means way more than bumping into Michael Bay.
I love that. So you’ve specifically got that two ways, because you always identified yourself as a comic first, and now you’d like us to identify you as a comic.

Yeah, sometimes I think I only made all of the movies as a way to get booked on talk shows.
It’s challenging because you are who you are, you can do talk shows, you can do whatever you want, you have a lot to talk about, but how would you feel doing like a half-hour stand-up special?

Well, it’s just beginning to get decent, so I don’t want to give it away too fast. I’ve gotten to the place where I want, but we’re about to do a tour to promote Trainwreck, so Amy Schumer, Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, Vanessa Bayer, and Colin Quinn and I are going to do seven cities in June, and we’re going to play theaters doing stand-up to promote the movie and all the money to different charities of each city. It was always a dream of mine to do those types of shows. All I really want is, for when I’m onstage, the audience continues to think a comedian is onstage.
Theoretically, you’re basically telling me that you’re not happily into a stand-up career, you’re still kind of green, but you’ve got this great opportunity to open for some really good comics.

Oh, yes, absolutely. I’m happy to be the middle. I was a middle on the road, as a young man.
I guess I should ask you, then: I just added some dates, do you want to feature for me?

Believe me, if I had more free time, there’s nothing I’d like to do more on this Earth. I feel like I’m Michael Jordan playing baseball, but I’m not going to quit. [Laughs.] No matter how embarrassing it is, I’ll continue to do it.
But it’s a little more forgiving than baseball. You’re not going to fuck it up for the team. You can strike out and know you’re not going to lose your ranking.

Exactly, exactly. One of the reasons why Trainwreck came out so well is because I was doing stand-up every night. It put me in a great mood and woke up some sleeping part of my brain that was just about jokes and comedy and what’s funny.
Well, I’m happy you did it. I was thinking about terror and that spirituality thing, because you and I have talked about that before, and I was thinking, Well, I don’t know if I’d go right to terror, because I’m at this place where I’m like, I might die any second. I don’t know how it’ll go. If it happens quickly, I’ll be okay. So I’d go food first, before the terror. I’m literally hanging here in between a barbecue restaurant, a burrito place, and a ramen and pho place. You’re really sort of in a conundrum. It’s just a metaphor for my life. I’m smoking a cigar, which I shouldn’t, which is another step before the terror, and I’m just suspended here. I have a pen, I do have a piece of paper, so in my mind this is a nice, old-school way to prepare for my two shows tonight. That’s what I’m doing.

Also, you have some sort of eating disorder. See, my disorder is in that situation, I will eat, and if I’m by myself, I might eat at all of them. I think ultimately I don’t have the control to not do it.
I’ll eat one of them and feel bad. You need to eat it all just to get the self-loathing going.

Yeah, I will go like so far and get so stuffed that like blood goes to from my brain to my stomach and I get a weird high. It is like why people like to choke each other.

On Marc Maron’s acting and appearances on Girls …

Right, here’s the question: There is no reason I can’t be so shameless about this important conversation, as it’s going to be public — maybe I should be embarrassed, but I personally think that you and I, we’ve hung out, we’ve had conversations, we’ve helped each other in certain ways — I believe that a character in your next movie that I can work within would be a nice gesture.

You know, I am all for that, and don’t think I wasn’t a big proponent of your fine work on the TV show Girls.
Well, thank you very much. I’m very good at doing something within the range of me. That’s my skill set. I don’t know that would call myself an actor, but if it can be kind of Marc-like, I think I can rise to the occasion.

So you’re a Cary Grant–type actor. You’re always going to be a little Cary Grant.
It’s a more aggressive charm. Like one time I auditioned for a very small part in the Walter Mitty movie with Ben Stiller — maybe a two- or three-line part. Ben was laughing, and the casting director was laughing. I thought, This is tremendous. After they turned the camera off, Ben put his arm around me and said, “You should really do a movie where you can just be angry.” [Both laugh.] I think I might’ve interpreted it wrong.

I wouldn’t do that. I would go the other way. I wouldn’t make you the angry guy, I would go for the soft core, try to find that emotional point and see what’s there.
Okay, I’m in, when do you want me to read for it.

Okay, I’ll make an appointment. Just throw something together. Just indulge me. I know you’re not making this movie right now, but that’s fine. It would be nice just to go on camera.

And I know from Girls you’re not afraid to have a comb-over.
[Laughs.] That was my choice! Like I said to them, “Do you want me to shave my mustache? I don’t want to, but I could lose the facial hair to make this guy just this average guy,” and they were like, “No, don’t do that.” “I know you’re going to give me clothes and glasses,” so I was justified and happy that my hair is such that when I combed it over like that it did look like I was bald up top. That was a Method decision on my part. Are they bringing me back?

I don’t know what the long-term plan is there. I’m going to check into it, though. Once, you’re in the world of it, anything can happen. I’d like to see you have sex with somebody on the show at some point.
If one of the characters was in enough shame, which is obviously very possible, then they would fuck my character. That could happen, but it shouldn’t be a successful sex. It should be me, you know, angrily masturbating because I can’t get it up for one of them.

There is nothing funny about successful sex. Only the terrible is humorous. Successful sex is just pornography. Now, let me ask you a question because you’ve had sex scenes and had to kiss people on your TV show. How has that been for you?
I had never done it before, so I had to ask, “Do we use tongue? Are we opening mouths? How does it work? I’m new to this, and I’ll go for whatever you want.” And she said, “We’ll see what happens.” Then it came down to the fact that she clearly had no sexual attraction to me whatsoever. I could feel that even in the performance, but we did open our mouths, but nothing went back and forth. I thought it was okay. I did suggest that perhaps we should make out in earnest before we were on camera to see if we had any sort of chemistry, but she declined that. That was the right thing to do, but I didn’t know better; I was new at it.

The lawsuit for that should be coming any day now.
What? No! It was very appropriate. I said, “When you make out with somebody on camera, do you usually try it before?” I wasn’t being predatorial or sexual. I didn’t know that you just get right into it. And as soon as she said, “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” I said, “Okay, you’re probably right.” And we did it in front of people and it was completely professional and it came off well.

You could have called me. I could have told you all the etiquette. I could have completely prepped you. If you had called me and said, “Judd, when you have sex on camera, do you insert?” I would have said, “Marc, no! You don’t insert! Why would you think you would insert?” This is how you would understand how show busiess works.
I should have called you. I’ll be honest with you, when we were having fake sex — we had clothes on, obviously, and I stuffed my penis between my legs — I didn’t really do that — but we were dressed and we were grinding away, pretending to have sex, and I was told by the actors, “You might get a hard-on, it happens, don’t worry about it,” and bottom line is I did not get a hard-on, and afterwards I felt like I failed sexually. [Laughs.]

I got asked to act in something last year and I’m not an actor at all, by any stretch of the imagination. When I was a young man and tried to act — I couldn’t even get an Arby’s commercial. It was a love scene and a very good funny project, and I thought, There’s literally no scenario where I can walk on the set and do a love scene. I just am not emotionally prepared for that.
I’ve done a couple in the previous seasons and in the new season, but not as many. I think that people didn’t believe that I got as much pussy as I did in the first season. I don’t know why people assume that a man my age doesn’t have game with the ladies.

On Marc Maron’s podcast and upcoming Vice TV show, Vice Portraits …

You’re having all these new experiences, and now you have another show for Vice! What is that show you’re going to do?
That’s a show I’m just trying to do before you do it. We’re on a similar trajectory with you in your midlife crisis, you deciding to do fucking everything.

I do have a book coming out. Let me plug it. It’s called Sick in the Head, you can buy it now on Amazon. All the money goes to a literacy charity. It’s all the interviews I’ve ever done with comedians since I was 15. I interviewed comedians for my high-school radio station when I was 15. They call me the original podcaster.
Love your book. It’s great that you’re doing all these things. You’re brilliant for doing everything for charity because no one can fucking judge you, and I respect that.

I’m going to start doing my movies for charity so I can’t be judged. A huge Judd Apatow movie, brought to you by the American Cancer Association. [Both laugh.]
The Vice show is me going out into the world interviewing people, long-form, in environments that either mean something to them emotionally, not in their home. I’m pretty excited about it.

Who are your dream guests?
I always wanted to interview Albert Brooks, but he doesn’t seem to want to do it. I’d like to interview Lily Tomlin. Beck, Steve Carell, Martin Scorsese, and people I don’t really know, like Kendrick Lamar — people I’m interested in and are maybe off my radar a little bit. I’d like to interview some poets or an architect of some kind. Do you ever look at buildings? Somebody had to put that on paper and put it all up. The World Trade Center: It’s fascinating. The architecture. The memorial. I almost interviewed the guy that designed the new memorial at the World Trade Center.

I love shows like that. I always love Charlie Rose. I love the podcast format. I love the idea of you doing a show like that. I like feeling like I’m your third booker of your show.
You are. I did a great interview with David Byrne that is going to come out soon.

Oh my gosh, Bill Hader and I had dinner with David Byrne a couple years ago, and it was one of the great thrills of my life. He couldn’t be more interesting. Do you remember the movie he made, True Stories?
Yeah, of course, I was a big fan and I remain a big fan, so I was very nervous and flattered. I was hoping he’d want to talk about the entire history of that, and I got him there and we had a very nice conversation and it was great, but now I feel weird about telling you that because you might go do it and get it out in some format quicker than me.

I’m going to have to move on that. When does your David Byrne interview air?
Well, now it’s going to air next weekend.

Okay, mine, went up 15 minutes ago.
Goddammit! [Laughs.] Why don’t you give me a break?!

But I don’t have a podcast. It’s shocking that I haven’t gotten into that field.
Great, now you say that, now every podcast network is going to call you and say, “We’ll make it very easy for you, Judd. Just come in whenever you want, we’ll have it all set up.”

Can you make a lucrative living making podcasts?
All the money goes to charity. [Laughs.] Yeah, the podcast is doing very well. At the beginning there was no real model, but over time we figured it out. It was just a timing thing that much of the advertising that was dedicated to the radio is now moving over, and we do okay. We could make a good living just off the podcast, but I’m enjoying doing other things now that I have the opportunity to do. My comedy has never been better, and the show this season is very funny — it’s a lot funnier. It’s all very exciting.

A little more on stand-up …

I appreciate you, Marc. I’m thrilled for your success. I’m thrilled that everything went so well for you over the last few years, but I must tell you something, that the only person who makes me nervous when they’re in the crowd when I’m doing stand-up is you! I have my worst sets in front of you. I respect other people. When Chris Rock is in the crowd, I don’t get nervous. But when you’re in the crowd, I get shaken up a little bit. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know, but I’m extremely flattered by that. I used to feel that way around guys I respected a lot. I would tell David Attell to leave the room when I started doing comedy at the Cellar because I couldn’t handle it. I would tell Louis [C.K.] to leave the room. It was a great personal victory for me recently where I was onstage at the Comedy Store, in the original room, and I asked who was next and they gave me a piece of paper and I opened it up and it was Louis C.K. I got cocky. I was like, “Yeah, I know this guy.” I actually went over [my time]. Years ago, just the knowledge that he would have seen half my set would have retroactively derailed me. I would have gotten off and been self-conscious forever. When you respect somebody, you want them to think your shit is good. But I like your jokes and I’m very happy that you’re doing new material, because in the long run, I think it’s going to save your marriage.

[Laughs.] In a weird way, it does force you to be in the moment, and it forces you to like yourself. I used to think that people did stand-up because they hated themselves and they needed someone’s approval, but now I think it’s an expression of thinking you have value. It has been very helpful to my levels of insecurity.
I absolutely agree with that. I never agreed that comedy was therapy in any conscious way. For me, I always felt like that was the place I could speak my mind and work through my creativity, and hopefully connect with people and say something that is relevant to them and helps them see something differently.

Good luck on everything, my friend.
You too, Judd. I’ll talk to you soon.

Judd Apatow Interviews Marc Maron