Marc Maron is nothing if not prolific.
Well, he’s that, as well as hilarious, brutally honest, insightful, and engagingly sincere. It’s that blend that keeps people coming back for more — in droves. The world of podcasting owes him a giant thanks. His WTF podcast, featuring the comedian conversing with guests in his garage, started back in 2009 and is responsible for making many people fans of the medium. Now boasting more than 700 episodes, WTF''s guest list has included a mix of interesting folks from such acting legends as Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams to musicians Neil Young and Joanna Newsom, and even a sit-down with President Barack Obama. The program’s download numbers hover in the realm of 6 million monthly. Meaning that WTF's fans, who he affectionately calls "what the fuckers," are legion.
His TV show Maron, which featured Maron playing a fictionalized version of himself, just aired its fourth and final season. It was another outlet for him to showcase his wicked wit and potent acting chops. He’s apparently pretty easy to work with, too. Maron writer and consulting producer Jerry Stahl says, “Working with Maron was never work. It was like getting paid to hang out with a pal — if your pal happens to be the Jimi Hendrux [sic] of Jew-pain. We had the same conversation in the room we had before there was a room. The only difference was, big chunks ended up on TV.”
The show ending has freed up some of Maron’s time, so now he’s traveling around to do some stand-up shows. A recovering addict himself, addiction was a portion of the TV show’s subject matter, and something Maron talks about on the regular. In advance of performing at Phoenix's Stand Up Live on Saturday, August 20, New Times caught up with the comedian for a chat on the day that also was his anniversary of sobriety.
Congratulations on your sober anniversary – 17 years is a big deal. The Twittersphere is buzzing.
Thanks! It is a big deal but it becomes less of one as the years go on. You don’t want it to consume your life, but you do want to acknowledge the big day. Seventeen years is a long time.
In sober years, that’s actually like 120 years or something, right?
[Laughs] For me, I feel like the obsession is gone. If things are hard, breaking that sobriety doesn’t really come up on the menu as the solution. It isn’t hard in that way anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time. That’s the true gift of sobriety: That the obsession leaves you.
In the Maron TV show, the last two seasons found the fictional you using prescription drugs. Being sober so long, how was the experience of recreating drug usage? When you got in that mindset, did it create any temptation?
No. I thought it was kinda fun. It did not feel attractive to me at all. I didn’t register it as something that I wanted to do. I just tried to do the best job that I could do acting it. It wasn’t a challenge in relation to sobriety, but it was kind of exciting to live the cautionary tale. I don’t know that I felt like I was experiencing the feeling of being on drugs, that sort of sad reality. I just wanted to make sure that I got the emotions right and didn’t trivialize sobriety or recovery.
Was it always in the plans for the show’s Maron to go the relapse route?
No. The way TV and basic cable work, you never know if you’re going to get to do another season. So at the end of season three, I was fine leaving it over, in terms of him just being fucked up. It would have been a sad ending, but I was okay with it. With television, you don’t know when it might be taken out from under you, so you’re always thinking in terms of endings. So, I wasn’t really into doing a fourth season, because I didn’t want it to become repetitive, but then I came up with the idea to do it in those sections — continuing the relapse and then into recovery and then the transitioning into a new life. When I thought of that, I was really excited about it, and everyone else was, too. I think it was the best season that we wrote, really.
Your social media is full of gratitude from people in various stages of recovery. How do you feel about having that impact?
It definitely resonates with some people, and that was unintentional. I could definitely not have seen, between the podcast, and then the show, how it would help people feel less alone, or help them cope, or drive them toward changing their life or toward recovery. I never anticipated that, and that’s pretty amazing to me. I’m really grateful for that. It helps my sobriety, and it makes me feel like I’m doing something positive in the world. I’m very open about my sobriety. I made a choice early on, even though I ride a line with the traditions of the 12-step program around public disclosure, that it was worth it and that I’m very clear to frame everything as my own experience. I think the message needs to get out and people need to know there’s an option. Obviously that particular form of recovery isn’t for everybody, so for a lot of people, that may not work, but what are you gonna do? That’s what I know, so that’s what I talk about, sometimes in a slightly coded way.
Maron handled the complex subject matter with such a perfect blend of authenticity and humor
When we were doing the show, it was important for me to make sure we got it right. I’ve been in rehab once in my life and Jerry [Stahl] certainly has been through the war of addiction. We’re both familiar with the program and with meetings, and drugs in general, so I really wanted it to ring true for people who have had an experience with it. That was the most important part of that section of the last season, that we honored both addiction and recovery. And we got a lot of amazing feedback.
You seem very responsive to your fans who share addiction battles with you. Does that ever feel like pressure to you?
Not at all. It’s not hard to talk about it. And usually if I get emails from people on that subject, I try to respond, at least a little, to share some of my experience. The 12-step program is a lot about boundaries, so you determine in those respective moments how far you’re willing to engage.
Did you personally select all the writers for the show, in order to have people involved who had pre-show real-life Maron insight?
Definitely. I hired everybody, and I was in the room every day. I was basically the head writer and everyone else was my hire, my idea. The network gave us a lot of creative freedom. It was rare and very exciting to have that opportunity.
Will there be more TV in your future?
Yes. I would like to do some acting where I don’t have to worry about all the parts first, though. And then, eventually figure out what to do next in that medium. The media landscape has become so fragmented and so over-flooded that you have to be pretty passionate about your idea, because it can get pretty discouraging in that you’re up against so much garbage and so many diversified media possibilities. You have to start out the project with that passion.
Is this current stand-up tour a way to fill the TV show void?
Not at all. I really wanted to take time off, but I was offered Carnegie Hall at the upcoming NY Comedy Festival in November and I couldn’t really turn that down. It is such an exciting opportunity, and I really wanted to do it, so I realized I needed to write some new material and get that tight and up on its feet. So, I’m doing a handful of dates here and there.
What’s the focus of the current live show?
I think a lot of it is about my life now. Some of it includes thinking about my life now in terms of having struggled for so long and now having a peace of mind that I never did before; and about how much time I have left and what I really want to do. There’s that, there’s some stuff about relationships, a little bit of politics, there’s some of my standard topics — philosophical things, existential things, cats. There’s not a big shift in topics from what I usually discuss in general, but more so how they’re all evolving in my life.
So given that newfound peace, what do you think you might want to explore?
I’m still doing the podcast. I’d like to do some acting, and continue to work on the stand-up a little more at my own pace, which I guess I’m always doing in a way. It’s been great getting back in it again at this level. I’d like to figure out how to have a good time, that would be nice.
What do you think that might entail?
I don’t know. I’m overly practical and a little bit anxious, so I don’t really spend much money, I don’t really adventure out a lot because I talk myself out of it. I would like to travel a little more, play music with some people, maybe do some work on my house.
You play guitar, right?
I have, for a long time. I don’t play with people but I practice a lot. I play along with records, and play in the garage, and a lot of times at the very end of the podcast.
Maybe do a band?
Not an official band, but I think I’d like to get together and play with other people. I would like to make that happen. I usually get so consumed with bullshit that I don’t make time for it. I need to learn to make time, because ultimately, you don’t know how much time you’ve got. Maybe just find a space and play. It was never an active dream of mine to play music, I never pursued that, which is nice. It leaves my hobby pretty clean of expectations. My hobby doesn’t represent failure in any way.
Do you get out to see a lot of live music?
When I don’t talk myself out of going out. Once I arrive somewhere, I’m usually fine. Recently I saw the Stones, I saw Ty Segall. I saw Richard Thompson in Ireland. I don’t make it as much a part of my life as I should, though.
Is it more of a general anxiety, or do you worry about being bombarded by fans?
My fame is pretty limited and comfortable, and my fans are generally really respectful. It’s the whole driving, parking, the aggravation of getting somewhere stresses me out. Once I’m there, it’s fine, but there’s a dread regarding actually doing it. Sometimes I’ll go see a band or musician. Everything’s pretty good, though — I think I can get a handle on that anxiety. There’s part of me that doesn’t really want to do anything. I’m having a hard time in my brain understanding why I don’t pursue that. But I like doing the podcast and I like talking to people. I love doing stand-up, I’m a comic, I have been all my life. Often I’m doing the stand-up and the podcast, a few different jobs at a time, so that’s also a factor in doing other things. I’d like to figure out how to manage my time better.
You’ve had more than 700 guests on the WTF podcast. How are you selecting them lately? Do you have an active wish list?
These days, we do have some bookers that we work with that keep us up on who’s out in the world doing things, but there are always people I’d like to talk to. There are a few people I haven’t been able to get for whatever reason — comedy people like Lily Tomlin, and Albert Brooks. We do get pitches, too, and often that’s interesting options for me to choose from. For instance, today I’m interviewing Werner Herzog, so when I get off the phone I have to get my head into that.
Yes! But also nerve-wracking!
Have you ever had a moment on the podcast where you absolutely can’t connect with someone?
Yeah, sure. I plow through though, because the podcast isn’t dictated by anything. There’s nothing that I have to do, no end goal. So at that point, I just kinda hang in there and wait for the conversation to click and then use that as a portal into continuing. I usually sit with someone for an hour, and at some point, it gives. I don’t really have questions, so it’s just about a conversation happening, and that’s frustrating if it’s going a while and that’s not happening, but usually something breaks and gives way.
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Are most guests different than you expect?
They’re always different than I thought they would be; never is it what I think. That’s the weird trick of public personalities. You have this weird relationship with them from what they put out in the world, but you don’t know them, so your assumptions are usually wrong.
What else, Marc Maron?
I’m pretty funny! The new material is pretty good and I’m excited to be performing.
Marc Maron performs at Stand Up Live in downtown Phoenix at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 20. Admission to the 21-and-over shows is $25, with a two-drink minimum. For details, visit the Stand Up Live website or call 480-719-6100.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version to clarify that WTF has around 6 million subscribers monthly.