Ahead of his appearance at JFL42, the veteran stand-up comic talks about how his podcast saved him from obscurity.
If you were to glance at the iTunes comedy podcast section on any given day, there’s a good chance you’d find Marc Maron’s WTF, which he records mostly in his Los Angeles garage, somewhere near the top of the charts. His refreshing candour and his revealing discussions with fellow entertainers have helped him find a larger audience after three decades of persevering as a stand-up comic. While continuing to tour with his stand-up act, he has built on his success by writing a book, Attempting Normal, and by creating a largely autobiographical TV show on IFC, Maron.
Maron will be performing a couple of shows in Toronto on September 24th, as part of JFL42. We spoke with him about the unpredictable path his career has taken.
Torontoist: When you started the WTF podcast in 2009, what were your motivations?
Marc Maron: It was really sort of just desperation. I’d been kicking around for a long time and was doing a streaming video show at a radio outlet [called Air America]. I took a job there to get me out of a divorce. And within a year, they folded and they fired us. But they didn’t take our security cards or our office away. So we kind of broke into the studio and started doing the podcast. My comedy career was sort of dried up. I was sort of broke and out of ideas. And I knew a bunch of guys, I knew people who were doing podcasts. And we decided to kind of try it. And the show evolved into what it is now.
When and how did you begin noticing the show making an impact and connecting with people?
I think the Zach Galifianakis episode, episode 20, brought in some attention, and then I kept plowing along. I think that with comics it was starting to really get popular. I think Robin Williams brought a lot of people to the medium. That wasn’t until episode 67. Then I got some attention in the New York Times in January of 2011, which I think gave it a lot of credibility.
Now that you’ve done over 400 episodes, do any stand out as particularly memorable?
Yeah, I mean there are a lot of them. There are only a few I didn’t get something out of. The ones in my mind right now are the Mel Brooks episode. That episode was pretty amazing to me. And I had a great time interviewing Cheech and Chong.
On Twitter, you’ve reached out to people like Jim Carrey as potential guests. Is there anyone else you’d still love to have on?
Yeah, a lot of people. Albert Brooks. Will Ferrell. Steve Carell. Bob Newhart. There are all these people that I’m interested in. It’s just I get overwhelmed with trying to find them.
Are there any commonalities you find among all of the entertainers you interview?
If there’s any commonality, it’s that people are driven by passion and need. And if they have the talent to push through, they usually do, one way or another.
You’re very open about yourself on the podcast. Do you sense a bond with audiences when you go on tour?
People that listen to my show, they know me pretty well. They definitely have a relationship with me, and it’s fairly personal on their end. And I try to respect that and be as gracious as possible. I understand what’s happening. I remember, in my life, meeting people that you have a relationship with that’s one-sided because they do whatever they do, and you’re a fan of their work. It’s a little overwhelming, so I’m sensitive to that.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you learned doing stand-up?
You’re going to fight it out however you’re going to fight it out. You’re going to take your hits no matter what. There’s no way to avoid it. There’s nothing anyone’s going to tell you. There are no shortcuts. And you’re going to do what you’re going to do up there, depending on what you want out of it. If you just want laughs, you can figure out how to do that. Almost anyone can figure out how to get laughs in front of people. But you know, if you want more out of it, if you want it to be your outlet for creativity, if you want to go after something that is more than just laughter, or you want to put things together…
The great thing about stand-up—the only thing that I learned for myself over time—is that you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want to do up there. The only context is, you’re supposed to make people laugh, but even that’s a little dodgy early on.
Is there ever such a thing as a bad audience, though?
Absolutely. There’s an argument to be made that no matter how the audience is, you do your show, you do your act, that’s that. That’s sort of the old style, but there are a lot of guys that do that and there’s something to be said for that. If you’re up there and you’re not liking the audience and you make the next 45 minutes about how shitty they are in order to get them, I mean it could be an interesting show and I guess you’re doing your job. The problem with an audience that’s unruly is that if you do have people that are specifically there to see you and you’ve got a couple of people that don’t give a shit and they’re going to take the show down, they can do that if they’re not managed, if they’re not taken out of the audience. And that’s sort of a club phenomenon, so once you get into a theatrical environment, you hope that that isn’t there. You hope that all those people are there because they came to see you. I guess that’s the idea: you keep working and maybe you get enough of your own audience to show up that there won’t be any idiots in the room.
How did you go about adapting your comedy for your book, Attempting Normal?
It’s not really a book of bits, but there are some stories I’ve shared. You kind of draw them out. There’s a lot of stuff in there that no one’s ever heard before. Since I do a lot of my writing on stage, I don’t always know how those things are going to unfold. It’s just through repetition, and the timing that can occur from doing them in front of people. It was pretty exciting to write a book. I was very busy when I was writing it, but I think it came out pretty good. People seem to like it.
Have you been enjoying making the TV show Maron on IFC?
Yeah, definitely. It’s something I didn’t think would happen for me. I’d sort of given up on that. By the time I’d started the podcast, I’d pretty much honestly let go of most of my dreams in show business. I’d pretty much figured that I wasn’t going to be a big stand-up. I wasn’t really ever going to get the opportunity to do a TV show. It’s a lot of work, but I’m happy I got the opportunity before I shuffled off this mortal coil.
Any hints about the upcoming second season?
It’s sort of a continuation, in a way, but the thing that’s different tonally is you’re dealing with a Marc who’s trying to manage a little bit more success and see where that goes.
This interview has been edited and condensed.