For comedy voyeurs like me, one of the most intriguing aspects of Barack Obama’s recent appearance on WTF was that Jon Stewart might have to mention Marc Maron on his show (as it turns out, there was just one passing reference by Larry Wilmore at the end). Throughout their decades of knowing each other, Marc Maron and Jon Stewart have had a notoriously rocky relationship. In a recent conversation on WTF, Judd Apatow alluded to it, saying, “I commend Jon Stewart as the greatest genius of all time, even though he doesn’t like you for some reason.”
“There’s a reason,” replied Maron.
This enmity has fascinated me ever since I learned of it. Jon Stewart has never spoken about it publicly, and Maron only occasionally, which increases the intrigue. What is the reason for the dislike?
Jon Stewart and Marc Maron are strikingly similar comedians. Both are excellent interviewers. Both have a strong sense of justice and believe in speaking truth to power. Both are skilled at articulating rage into comedy. Both hosted Short Attention Span Theater on Comedy Central. Not long ago, Richard Lewis used the same line on WTF and The Daily Show, joking if he’d fucked someone at Woodstock, Maron and Stewart, respectively, could have been his sons. Perhaps because of their similarities, they’ve always had something of a rivalry.
Actually, “rivalry” is maybe not the right word. While Maron and Stewart came up together, Stewart shot quickly to stardom. For those familiar with his podcast, it shouldn’t be surprising that a young Marc Maron felt slighted by his peer’s success. He told Rolling Stone, “In my mind, I was a rebel, and he was just a fuckin’ phony. One time in Boston he walked in when I was onstage and I was like, ‘Look, it’s Jon Stewart, host of MTV’s Spring Break. How’s it feel to have sucked Satan’s cock?’ I was just relentlessly envious and angry at him.” In a 2009 set on the subject of envy for the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Marc Maron joked, “Jesus Christ, how much Jon Stewart does this planet need? I’m funnier and smarter and better looking than this Jewish pander-monkey. How much do they need?”
Maron addressed that set and his relationship with Stewart on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. “I’ve got to resolve that Jon Stewart thing,” he noted. “When you’re a bitter person, or a jealous person, you’re going to have that one dude – he represents everything you could have been…and there was a period of time in New York and in the world when you couldn’t avoid Jon Stewart.”
As Maron told Stroumboulopoulos, he contacted Stewart so he could apologize to him on his podcast. “I called his office and he called me back – and he doesn’t call people – and he’s like, ‘hey… I don’t know if you remember, you know, what a dick you were to me back in the day…there’s no love here, man.’” At most, Stewart suggested he’d be open to getting a cup of coffee.
Even that coffee has not happened. As Maron admitted to Brian Koppleman on the Grantland Podcast, he never followed up with Stewart. The reason? “I don’t know. I don’t know. Pride, maybe,” said Maron. “He has no interest in befriending me, or helping me…he’s also a guy who said to me in that same conversation, ‘look, I’m sure what you’re doing is very creative.’” (“’I’ve always thought you were very creative, and I’m sure whatever you’re doing is nice,’” he told Rolling Stone). While Maron appears very contrite on the Stroumboulopoulos show, from this interview it’s clear his resentment is not wholly in the past. Koppleman pushed him to get coffee with Stewart anyway.
It’s hard not to fantasize about how engaging and illuminating a Jon Stewart episode of WTF could be. The shared history and seething tension between the pair recalls some of Maron’s best installments, like his conversations with Louis CK and Michael Ian Black. His relationship with Stewart would be fertile ground for the circling, reckoning, and eventual catharsis that makes Maron’s podcast uniquely charged. And because he and Stewart are so similar – sharp and spiky and taking no shit – it would be particularly electric. Even more than famous white whale Lorne Michaels, Jon Stewart is the platonic ideal of a WTF guest.
Though it will probably never happen, hope springs eternal. Hostility can fade over time—Stewart has buried the hatchet with other comedians like Seth MacFarlane. His decisions to direct Rosewater and leave The Daily Show both suggest a move towards the personal. And there’s nothing more personal than WTF. It’s an opportunity or him to share a glimpse into his semi-cloistered personal life in a way his handful of other interviews haven’t.
Beyond that, Maron’s stock is always on the rise: he’s spoken to late night staples Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, Craig Ferguson, and John Oliver, not to mention notables like Dick Van Dyke, P. T. Anderson, and Barack Obama. With WTF as a cultural institution, there’s not the same sense that Stewart would just be doing Maron a favor by appearing on it. It would be a monumental chance for them to meet as peers, to hash things out and potentially make amends. All that stands in the way is decades of bitterness.
Matt Crowley is a writer and comic living in Los Angeles.