Did you hear the one about the comedian whose podcast grew so big he got to interview the president? That’s the week Marc Maron is having, after President Obama decided to stop by “WTF” for a long talk on Friday about politics, comedy, and Wednesday’s shooting at a church in Charleston. (The interview will go online Monday.) A few hours after the most powerful man in the world left his garage, Maron spoke to Vulture on the phone to discuss how it went.
How are you feeling right now?
It felt good. I feel like I feel about a lot of my interviews. I hope people like it. I felt good about it; it was exciting while it was happening. I think we covered a lot of stuff. I think there’s probably a little news in there, a little insight into him that you may not have had before. So we got a lot of stuff.
What kind of news?
I think he said some things that he hasn’t said before about some politics, and at least it felt that way to me and it wasn’t really what I was looking for. It’s not necessarily the type of interview I do.
Did you get what you were looking for?
I think I did. I believe that we had a very varied conversation. We talked about social issues, about his experience as president, family, comedy a little bit, theater, parents, guns, race. We talked about struggle and how he maintains his optimism. There’s a lot there.
You tend to find personal ways to relate to your guests. Did you try to do that with him?
I don’t know that I was able to think that I would do that. In some part of my brain, it would be maybe a little disrespectful if I compared myself to him or tried to use that entry point. What we talked about was, a bit near the beginning, him having lived in my neighborhood. But also we had to address the events of Wednesday. So talking a little bit about how he was feeling after losing someone he knew in that church in Charleston. I didn’t plan to have that, but I thought it would be respectful to do, so that sort of gave me entry into the varying emotional states that he has to maintain simultaneously and how he handles that.
How long has this been in the works, and how did it come together?
It was someone’s idea in the White House to do this, a fan of my show who was on his staff. It was many months ago, and I never assumed I could interview a president. For one, I don’t really do politics anymore at all, and I would imagine the president had better things to do than talk to me in my garage. And it sort of became a conversation many months ago. I’m not sure exactly what Brendan, my producer, was talking to them about. But when he told me I said, “Yeah, okay, the president.” And then when it got closer and he said I think this might happen, I said, “Okay, where do I gotta go?” And he told me they said he wants to do it in the garage. I said, “Are you serious? That’s ridiculous, he’s gonna come to my house! He’s the president. I drove across town to talk to Judd Apatow. I can travel for the president.” And they’re like, “No, he wants to do it here.”
Because he used to live around there when he went to Occidental College?
I don’t know if he wanted to do it there, or the experience of doing it there. It is where I do the show and they thought it might be fun for him, and it was for me.
Were there any no-go questions or plans for how the conversation would go?
But did you feel you were censoring yourself at all?
Well, I had a set amount of time, and the way he’s going to talk about politics is well known. He’s gonna start somewhere and take it all the way around to get there. So I wasn’t going to argue with the president. I didn’t feel that I needed to do that. I did feel I expressed some points of view that I think were provocative to him. But ultimately, how much can we get into his time? Because if he starts defending policy, you don’t know exactly how long it’s gonna be; you can get into the weeds with that stuff. But he spoke in broad terms about a good deal of stuff. I felt satisfied with what he chose to say. He knew he didn’t want to get in the weeds and he chose to keep it — not necessarily light, but moving.
Did you get a sense of his real personality, do you think?
I do think so. He’s a focused guy. The idea in the back of my mind is, is he disappointed, frustrated, ashamed of what he sees in the world? And really, he’s a guy that says, “If I can look at my day, look at my work, and know I’ve made the country even incrementally better, then I’m doing my job and there’s hope, and I’m optimistic.” You know, he doesn’t seem like a man that’s festering and angry. He has confidence in his ideas and wishes that things could be as collaborative as he’d like it to be — but knowing that’s not the way it’s gonna be, certainly in the situation he’s been in politically for the last eight years. He looks at any sort of progress as positive, and in the big picture, in the long term, as having an impact.
How did you prepare for this?
I freaked out, you know. I don’t generally prepare a lot because I want it to be real. But I felt like I needed to get up on some policy, and recent events, and I read his first book to really get a sense of him personally. It framed a lot of my instincts around that first book, about his father, you know …
Dreams From My Father?
Dreams From My Father, right. Yeah, I read that when I was on vacation a few days before I did the interview to get a sense of him as a younger man who was not really planning on being the president, but clearly planning on being a writer.
So when did you know this was definitely going to happen?
We knew it for a few weeks, but we always knew that it could always go away, but as it got closer, we knew that the only way it could go away is if the country was in trouble or there was a crisis of large proportion. On Wednesday [after the shooting], we were like, okay, we’ll understand if this doesn’t happen. But after he did the press conference and addressed it, and he said he was making the trip to California, we thought, well, it might happen. And he chose to do it, and the reason was — he told me directly — that he needed to let law enforcement do its job.
How does he rank among your interviews?
It was great. I could have talked to him for a long time, and if I’d have talked for three hours, I would have probably exhausted him, and America would have seen the annoyed Obama.