Comedy: Q & A with Marc Maron

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From the February 14, 2013 edition

Most of you came to know Marc Maron through his wildly popular podcast “WTF with Marc Maron,” where his in-depth interviews are second to none. But standup comedy is Maron’s first love, and he’s been a respected figure in the industry for decades. Maron spoke with Alive about his upcoming show, how he gets guest to open up on his podcast and his upcoming television series and book.

What can we expect at your show?

Well, they can expert my standup my friend. And thank god, we live in a world where people can just go look at it.

I guarantee it will be interesting and funny. Things will happen that have never happened before. And I’ll probably wear a pretty nice shirt. There’s a good chance I’ll be wearing Red Wing boots. So that’s all compelling. I’ve committed to a facial hair configuration that’s appealing. So there’s a lot of stuff going on outside of the comedy that should bring people in.

What are some of your favorite topics to discuss doing standup?

I spend a lot of time talking about myself, which I seem to find relentlessly interesting. And hopefully, a lot of people will relate to my struggles with relationships. Look, I’m a heady guy, but there are very few things that aren’t covered in my show. And I overthink all of them.

So you’re in for an evening of insane self-analysis and neurotic satirical explorations on everything from being on a plane that you think is going down, to thinking you have mouth cancer, to being a twice-divorced person who’s in a relationship with someone who’s, for the most part, too young for him. I know that sounds like a luxury, but believe me, it comes with its own baggage.

Why are you so good at getting people to open up on your podcast?

You just talk to them. I bring my life to the table and I get a sense of who I’m talking to — do a little bit of research, don’t script any questions really — and just start talking. I’m going to be sitting there for an hour and I just really want to connect with the person and see where it goes. I think just listening and being engaged, as opposed to worrying about what you’re going to get out of it or what questions you want answered. Don’t have any expectations and just feel it out. They’re here to talk, so talk.

Is it different interviewing someone you know versus someone you don’t?

Sometimes, but when you’re dealing with public personalities I generally have an idea in my mind of who that person is. Even people I’ve known for a long time, doesn’t mean I’ve sat down and talked with them for an hour. Who does that? You’re always going to be surprised. Most of the time they’re not going to be exactly who you thought they were, and you’re brining your understanding of who you thought they were to the table. One of the great things that can happen is that you’re just completely wrong about them. That becomes very exciting because it’s surprising and all of a sudden someone is revealed to me and the people listening.

What guest has surprised you the most?

I’m always pretty surprised, believe me. There’s very few that don’t surprise me somehow. But Norm McDonald completely threw me off in terms of how self-aware he was and how he was searching. I had a sense of him that was just completely based off on his public personality.

Stephen Wright was another guy — he was just sweet as hell and charming and funny. He loves to laugh. While I was interviewing him, he kept laughing off-mic and holding his mouth. I was like, “Dude do it on the mic so that people know you’re a full, well-rounded dude.”

They’re all pretty surprising but for different reasons. When Michael Keaton came over I didn’t know what to expect. Everything leading up to that was just very bizarre and quick, and then the next thing I know we’re in it. He’s Michael Keaton, and he was great. It’s always surprising because I never know what’s going to happen.

You also interview people outside of the comedy world. Is it different interviewing say, a musician, than a comedian?

Musicians are tricky because they’re musicians, they don’t really need to talk. They’re not always as forthcoming, so that’s been kind of challenging. But if I really like somebody and they’re going to bring their guitar over, I’m usually very excited about it. I approach them most of the time as a fan, just completely interested in their real life or who they are as a person. Music is very powerful, but you don’t always get to know who that person is.

Tell me about your upcoming projects.

They’re shooting for May for the TV show and late April for the book. The book is called “Attempting Normal” and the show is called “Maron.”[The book] is some familiar stories, some new stories. I’m pretty proud of it. It’s a hard process to write a book but I had a lot to draw from.

The TV series [airing on IFC] is wrapped too. It’s a unique show and it doesn’t look like anything else. It’s pretty earnest, pretty raw, pretty real and pretty funny.

It’s a show based on my life. This version was sort of a guy who was down on his luck and started a podcast in his garage where he’s interviewing celebrities. Certain celebrities are playing themselves for a few minutes in the garage. Some of them are part of the narrative. It’s really just my life as it was two-and-a-half years ago.

You’ve loved comedy almost your entire life. How does the recognition you’ve received the last few years feel?

It’s very rewarding. I spent my life as a pretty insecure guy and a pretty angry guy, but I didn’t know how to do it any other way. I’m pretty close to the surface — there’s not a hell of a lot of difference between me on the phone or making coffee or on the mic in my garage or me on the mic in the standup club. It’s just a different context and different expectations.

To be validated for being who you are is something that definitely changed my life and made 25 or 30 years of work at this thing, this dream or this passion, made it feel like it was worth it. Preforming for people who know me — I’m not Louis C.K. selling out 3,000 seaters or whatever — but I’m finding my people and it’s very exciting to perform for people who really know me. Some of them know me too well, but that’s fine. I like to be on the spot and be forced to find new things in the moment and feel supported in doing that. I can still do the job of a comedian, if I’m in a room full of people who don’t know me and I have to get them to know me. All in all, it’s been great, and my comedy has never been better in terms of how I see it.