“I’m glad to be part of the war on sadness. I’m a part time employee of the illusion that keeps people stupid.” –Marc Maron. I was nervous about interviewing Marc. I’ve been listening to his extremely popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron (the show averages 230,000 downloads per week) for the past year on a regular basis. His honesty, insecurities, and utter brilliance are just intimidating. On more than one occasion his podcast has evoked deep emotions from me, he makes you feel connected on such a personal level. Hearing comedians that I love being interviewed by Marc, is like going home to visit your family, and that magical, rare moment occurs where you and your Dad stay up later than everyone else, have a few more glasses than everyone else, and just talk. You find out things you never knew, you actually have a real conversation. Maron has always been a mainstay in alternative comedy. From being a frequent guest on David Letterman, to making 44 appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, to playing the “angry promoter” in Cameron Crowes Almost Famous, to awkward auditions for Saturday Night Live, to hitting rock bottom and digging his way out each time. He seems to have finally found his home with WTF (which literally is recorded in his garage). I truly hope that you enjoy this interview with Marc, but what I really hope is that if you aren’t familiar with him, you familiarize yourself quickly. Watch some of his stand-up, subscribe to his free podcast, just become a fan, because being a fan of Marc Maron is a roller coaster ride of it’s own.
Serial Optimist: Would describing you as an “Iggy Pop Woody Allen” blend still be a good description of you as a stand-up?
Marc Maron: Not really. I sit down a lot and my vulnerability is not as aggressively raw and hungry as it used to be.
SO: The New York Times recently did a great write-up about you. One of the things I found really interesting was the idea that you’re not a journalist, you’re a comedian, but have somewhat taken on a journalistic role. You are the Barbra Walters of comedian interviews! When listening to your podcast, you just know you are listening to something special, something you wouldn’t hear on any other podcast/show/interview. Your guests open up, in a way they don’t with anyone else, in such an honest way. Why?
MM: It doesn’t always happen but if I am in a groove with the person and the talk is real and present that’s great. It’s really about authentic conversation. That’s all I want to have. When it does happen its because I open up and they feel comfortable and want to meet me there. Some of them prepare to open up and do a detached, mentally rehearsed revealing of themselves. That has only happened a few times and it was with people I would’ve rather not talked to but felt that I should try.
SO: I don’t want this question to come out the wrong way, because I’m not at all saying any of what you do is an act, but how much of you being neurotic, angry, jealous, bitter, on such a strong level, is you? Do you amp that up at all for your stand-up and podcast, or are you always being yourself?
MM: I am always being myself. The aperture is adjustable but it is always me. If something I am saying or doing doesn’t represent me anymore I try to move past it, lose it or at the very least, change the tone of how I say it.
SO: In a recent interview with Andy Kindler, you were brought up. I said: “It seems as if Marc thinks that if a comedian didn’t suffer a horrible upbringing, or just suffer through life in general, than they can’t be a real comedian.” Andy replied with: “I don’t think Marc actually thinks that, that is just part of his persona.” Many times on your podcast it seems you act shocked if one of the comedians your interviewing had somewhat of a normal childhood, or not divorced parents, etc. Do you believe a comedian, a good one, has to go through constant hardships throughout their life to really be good?
MM: I wouldn’t say constant hardships or even a traumatic childhood. I think that for whatever reason good comics have an extraordinary sensitivity that has at some point become a burden whether they are aware of it or not. Their sense of humor protects them from being crushed by the weight of that burden. The heavier the weight, the deeper the funny.
SO: What was your youth like? Where did you grow up and can you tell us a little about your upbringing and family?
MM: That’s like asking me to write a book here. Utterly self-absorbed parents equals emotionally starved, angry, needy me. Born in New Jersey. Grew up in Albuquerque NM. Jews.
SO: I hope one day you write another book, so take that question as me actually asking you to.
SO: Do you have a particular WTF episode that stands out to you as one of your favorites? When you think of all the episodes you have done, all the interviews, which one (or two or three) do you cherish the most?
MM: –Louis CK
SO: What does “Serial Optimist” mean to you?
MM: Blind and annoying.
SO: You know this interview is for Serial Optimist? I like the honesty. I’m sure many people see it that way, actually. Sometimes I worry people confuse “Serial Optimist” with “Chipper, Smiles, Bunnies!” So it goes.
SO: Is there a time in your professional life, or since you started doing stand-up, that at that current moment, you wish you could have frozen? Like a moment in your life that was so good, you might not have even known it at the time, but looking back, you wish you had held on to a little tighter?
MM: There’s really no way to hold on to any of them but the ones I think of are the ones when there was the timeless elation of no self consciousness only engagement in whatever was happening in that moment. They are small things and I am usually laughing and filled with an undeniable joy, which I am wired to deny, so there was that element of surprise that I am truly alive.
Actually, there are many I can hold on to now because they are recorded on the podcast.
SO: When was the last time you laughed really hard, really loud, and why?
SO: When was the last time you cried? And why?
MM: Assuming crying during movies and almost crying doesn’t count, it was during a fight with my girlfriend Jessica. I just didn’t know what to do anymore.
SO: Would you say, right now, overall, you are at a place where you are happy? Is this the most happy you have ever been both personally and professionally?
MM: Yes. Wait, it went away. It’s back. Yes.
SO: What little things in life make you smile?
MM: -Eating something amazing.
-My cat Boomer’s meow.
-Just seeing someone I think is really funny and that feeling of expectation.
-Jessica picking onions off of anything.
SO: “Jessica picking onions off of anything.” So great that you see that, appreciate that. Those are the kinds of things that will kill you thinking about it after a relationship ends. Hard.
SO: What little things in life irritate the shit out of you?
MM: -Waiting in line.
-When more than two things fall on the floor and/or break in the course of a day and I decide it’s a pattern.
-Uninspired people who are really confident.
SO: If I asked you in 1995 where you would be in 15-20 years, what would your answer have been?
MM: Hosting a talk show or dead.
SO: You get tons of really cool shit from your fans: food, art, music, etc. What is the most interesting thing you have ever been given from a fan?
MM: A homemade distortion pedal, paintings and drawings of me, Cat shaped cookies, heartfelt letters of gratitude, a bunch of actual mixed cassette tapes with artwork on them, WTF guitar picks, homemade cat toys, hand knitted hats, socks and wrist warmers, home canned pickles and jams, a hand thrown ceramic WTF mug, homemade comics, etc….
SO: I love each of those things, especially that your fans keep Boomer in the mix. And some of the food you describe that you get, literally makes me salivate just thinking about it. Thanks Marc for taking the time, you are truly the tops.
SO Note: Follow Marc on Twitter @MarcMaron, and follow the podcast @WTFpod. Also go to wtfpod.com for all kinds of cool shit, and marcmaron.com for even more cool shit. Most importantly though, go to iTunes and subscribe to WTF with Marc Maron, it truly is the best podcast, it’s so good on so many levels, and it’s FREE. If you don’t do it, I question you as a person.