What The Fuck?

by by Drew Dickerson

illustration by by Diane Zhou

in 2009, standup comedian Marc Maron was fired from the radio and media network Air America after it cancelled his political webcast “Breakroom Live with Maron & Seder.” The company forgot to take away his keys to the building. With the help of an ex-co-worker and without permission, Maron began work on a new project, a project over which he would have total creative control. So began “WTF with Marc Maron”—widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, comedy podcasts out there. In the years since, listeners have followed Maron in his move from New York to California, heard him kvetch from hotel rooms across the country, and seen him grow from a deep-cuts road comic to one of the industry’s leading figures. From his Los Angeles home (dubbed “The Cat Ranch” for its many rescues and strays), Maron has interviewed Conan O’Brien, Ben Stiller, Louis C.K., and many other stars in the field. He was also recently featured in Mike Birbiglia’s film Sleepwalk with Me, Sundance Film Festival darling and pet project of Ira Glass (B`82). Mr. Maron spoke to the Independent via phone.

The Independent: I know you have a show coming out with IFC relatively soon in which you highlight your podcast and play a “Marc Maron” character—correct?

Marc Maron: Yeah, we’re writing it. It’s coming out next year. But we’re in the process of finishing up ten scripts for ten episodes. We’re going to start shooting October 1st.

Indy: I was curious what the format was for that. Is it like a Dr. Katz-style show where you guys are highlighting lightly fictionalized versions of people in the comedy community or—

MM: No. No. It’s more of a single-camera half hour scripted comedy based on my life. I do do a podcast in my garage and I think we’re going to be using guests playing themselves in more of the way Larry Sanders used guests, as part of the texture of my life. Some of them will be engaged in narrative elements on a couple of episodes. But mostly it’s about me being a guy who’s brought back from failure and despair and a couple of marriages trying to manage the life that he’s put together for himself.

Indy: Yeah. Absolutely. I have to ask because I’m sort of weirdly fascinated by Brown in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, especially with people connected with the Semiotics department: how was working with Ira Glass?

MM: His interview with me was surprising and exciting for me. And I didn’t work with him too much on Sleepwalk With Me. He’s a sweet guy. You know, he’s championed my show, which I appreciate enormously. Because I never saw myself really integrating into the precious and delicate world of the NPR mindset. But I think that because of his support I was accepted in a way I never thought I would be. There are a couple radio channels that run “WTF” and we produce a series from the original show that’s re-edited a little bit for NPR. He’s an interesting guy, man. I’m just glad I got him to say “fuck” on my show. I think that my relationship with him has helped both of us in some weird way. There’s still some things I’m curious about—like what’s going on in there. Radio’s a very intimate medium so you really feel like you get to know somebody. With Ira, and I’m sure like with all of us, his public personality is very raw and real because of the medium. That makes him very interesting. Also he’s an incredibly hard worker and he’s very meticulous about the way he produces what he does, whereas I’m sort of the opposite in terms of preparation and delivery and how I handle interviews. Thank God I have the guy I work with who edits it and makes the show sound like a radio show.

Indy: It feels like—and correct me if I’m wrong—in the past two or three years there’s been an uptick in semi-auto-biographical material with things like Louie and Sleepwalk With Me. Is this due to a different conception or perception of what the comedic performer is these days?

MM: I don’t know if you could really make that argument. I think that because of the explosion in different avenues to go with film and with television, I think that people who at one time would have had a much more difficult time surfacing in mainstream culture are able to do it and find people that enjoy what they do. I think that if you look back at television, since the beginning of television there’s been comedian-driven sitcoms. It was a big thing. Like in the ‘70s where a comedian—the television networks found it compelling when they brought their own area and their own point of view and their own ability to do comedy. So I don’t know if that’s unique today. I think that the difference now is that people can do it almost exclusively on their own terms if they partner up with the right people or get the right support. And I think that is what’s different. Artists can now generate and find their audience. If they have what it takes or if they have what people want or they find the people that want them, they really have a certain type of creative control that I think is unprecedented.

Indy: Semi-related: I was looking at your keynote speech from the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival in 2011. It seems that—looking at both your speech and Patton Oswalt’s this past year—there’s a lot of volatility in the industry and that non-content-creators are in trouble. I was wondering: do you have an idea of what things are going to look like in even two years, when people my own age are probably going to start entering the field?

MM: I can’t tell the future. I certainly didn’t plan—in any way—what happened to me and what is happening to me, the results of my podcast, or anything else. It certainly had a certain amount of desperation and the timing was right and people enjoy what I do. Ultimately two things will rise to the top: talent that’s handled properly and things that people want. Now, obviously, they’re not always the same. I would expect that what people want, in all its ugly manifestations, will often dwarf talent in its ability to find its way. I guess what I’m saying is: sure. People that don’t generate content are probably doing themselves a disservice. But there’s still no guarantee that will yield a career or even the attention that that person wants. It’s just the way it is.

Indy: You spoke just now about who winds up being successful or what ends up rising to the top. Do you ever feel that you’re curating or vetting comics that the layman or non-comedy-nerd wouldn’t know otherwise? Do you feel that responsibility?

MM: No, I mean, I don’t think that my speech was really hung up on content. I think that Patton sort of celebrated the idea that everybody’s capable of expressing themselves because technology is so accessible. I think that really what I was talking about was the life choice of a comic and also the job of a comic. A comedian is very fleeting…there’s a fleeting success to it because relevance is sort of hard to hold on to. But I find that I’m interested in people that are interesting to me. And I’m glad that I’ve been able to interview a lot of younger comics despite the fact that I may reject them or feel threatened by them given my status as a veteran. But these are guys I think are funny generally, 99 percent of the time. I don’t feel like it’s part of my job helping them break out. I’m not Johnny Carson. Somebody that I talk to really has to be able to talk to me for an hour or so. And I’m thrilled that it sort of functions as a sort of way for newer comics to be heard and seen. But also it’s sort of a community bonding-device. A lot of comics listen to my show. And they get to listen to people that they may have never have heard talk before or they’re just able to get caught up with old friends. I like that element of it. Does that answer that question?