Marc Maron, comedian
Try to understand your personal limitations and try to know that disappointment and heartbreak are part of life and that they don’t have to derail you personally...
As one of the most recognisable and respected voices in comedy, Marc Maron has enjoyed a career of wild success. Known for his unique brand of thought-provoking comedy, Marc has been fortunate enough to dabble in a variety of media throughout his career. His biggest claim to fame is his iconic WTF Podcast, which is hailed as one of the most popular podcasts in the world. Regularly hitting #1 on the iTunes charts since its beginning in 2009, Marc has interviewed a who’s who of important figures and celebrities from Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Judd Apatow and even the President of the United State, Barack Obama. We caught up with Marc ahead of his whirlwind Maronation Tour this month.
When it comes to entertaining, you’ve dabbled and excelled in a variety of media. How do you approach trying something new?
Usually I just throw myself into it without thinking about it too much and seeing what happens. Most of what I do happens in fairly accelerated and compulsive – sometimes desperate – break. The podcast was born out of this desperation and hitting a wall but at the core of everything I do, at least at this point, I enter with an open mind. I stay open to other people’s input and to the experience itself and not pretend to know things I don’t or not to be a jerk about it. I’m relatively fearless in terms of what I am doing these days but I don’t know everything and when I am doing something new, which usually involves other people, I try to learn and be myself and listen to what the other people are looking for and what they want to do.
You were listed as one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential People. When that was announced how did you react?
Well, let’s be honest – I didn’t make the Top 100, I was an honourable mention. I didn’t quite make the cut but I thought that was fine, that was good enough. I don’t really get hung up on how many people are listening, I like that the podcast is doing well but I don’t feed my ego too directly that way. On a day-to-day basis I’m still pacing around my house wondering what the hell I am going to talk about with whoever is coming over. I’m still running around doing whatever is in front of me, going out and doing the comedy. I haven’t changed my life much in light of the success, I’ve detached from a lot of the feedback that happens in the bigger media universe and I save my money – I haven’t bought a new house, I haven’t changed the garage at all. I just bought a new car but I just got another Camry. I just try to keep things as stable as I can in my environment to detriment at some point, because my house is falling apart and I get anxious about fixing it.
In your podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, what is your thought process behind drawing out enlightening and insightful conversation with your podcast guests?
Well, I don’t know where things are going to start really – I tend to get a sense of who I’m having over and at least be respectful. I try to get a sense of what they’ve done and where they come from – who they are in my mind – and then I think about what would be rich for conversation and see what unfolds as it happens. I don’t know how it’s gonna start, there is no real device that I have other than following the conversation and moving in places and feeling it out. I’m not really an interviewer, I’m just a guy that talks to people. I’m not looking for any information necessarily other than what reveals itself as we talk and over time I’ve become a little more intuitive about what to pursue and where to go with it. I try to stay open to the curiosity factor and listening carefully and taking cues as the conversation unfolds. You want to find an area that they are excited about, where the conversation feels organic, that’s where I’m looking to go.
Have there been conversations where you’ve come away affected and enlightened by what your guests had to say?
Most of them! With public people that you can do research on, you put together something in your head of who you think they are – that’s how the brain works. Sort of like ‘I got this, I got an angle on this guy’. 99 percent of the time I’m completely surprised by parts of people’s lives that I know nothing about and there is a humanity to people that you would never assume. You only know who they are because you see them as they are on paper or what they’ve accomplished. I’m always very surprised, there have been a few big lessons here and there in terms of how people handle things but more often than not I take something profound away – at least I have an experience with a person that is very emotionally nourishing. The most intimate conversations I have in my life are with these people that are generally strangers, who I sit with in my garage for an hour and a half. I have an amazing relationship with them for that short time.
We’re very excited to have you Down Under for your stand-up comedy tour, is there anything you can tell us about your show and what you’ve got prepared for us?
I’ve been working on this set for a long time, and I just recorded it in Chicago for a special that will be out in December. It’s stuff that I talk about – dealing with anger, dealing with coffee, dealing with hipsters, dealing with cats, dealing with relationships, dealing with sex, dealing with ice-cream, trying to understand Jesus. There are a lot of things that are going to happen, but there will probably be some things I can’t anticipate.
Your stage shows are described as being relentless in the way you describe yourself and your relationships with others. Is it therapeutic to get these stories into the open or is it tough to relive these thoughts in front of strangers?
No, I think that these things that affect our lives over time sort of evolve and change their meaning and by sharing them, hearing other people react to them and having people understand them in their own lives is therapeutic for everybody. A certain thing that happens in your life as you get older and you revisit things, they take on a whole different meaning. I think these things are constantly shifting their position in our minds and our hearts. Things that were once horrible become manageable and provocative and things that were amazing become further away – you get nostalgic about them. And things that are hilarious, you hope they stay hilarious. That’s the weird thing, as a comic you have to make it hilarious every time if you can. I try to keep it as hilarious as possible without losing any depth to it.
Has your approach to stand-up comedy changed as you’ve expanded your repertoire in other media? Are there things you are more aware of now that you weren’t when you started out as a comic?
I think I have more outlets now. I always moved through material in real time on stage, as in I’ve always made outlines and impulsively talked about things that were on my mind. Most of my material has created itself on stage through repetition and trial and error. With the monologue on the podcast I speak improvisationallly and think out loud, now that has become an outlet where build it out and go deeper with that. The TV show is its own thing, it’s a more fictionalised, controlled experience where it’s written with me and five other guys and it’s a much bigger undertaking. Between the podcast and the comedy, they certainly feed each other.
From your point of view, what are the most important things you’ve learned as you’ve become an adult and your career has taken off?
Try to understand your personal limitations and try to know that disappointment and heartbreak are part of life and that they don’t have to derail you personally.
What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career to date?
I think its undeniably amazing that the President of the United States wanted to talk to me. The fact that the President reached out and wanted to come over to talk to me for an hour is amazing, considering five or six years ago I didn’t know if I even wanted to live anymore. Everything I had worked for seemed to not be panning out and then six years later the President is sitting in my garage. It’s crazy dude, crazy.
Your career trajectory and accomplishments might be considered inspiring to a lot of young comics. Are there any words of wisdom that could apply to anyone that is trying to achieve excellence in their field?
Look man, either you are going to get the opportunity or you’re not. You can work and work to get opportunities and maybe little ones will come and maybe they wont. Who the hell knows, especially in the creative field? I think that the one thing that happened for me through cosmic timing and perseverance, when the opportunities did come I was ready to show up for them. A lot of times we want opportunities and we strive to get them and we might not really be ready for those opportunities. Sometimes that can do a disservice to us and sometimes you’ll plow through it and figure it out – but it’s good to know that you’re ready. There are so many wildcards with everything, really the most you can do is – and this is a stupid cliché – you can only do what you can do. As much as we compare ourselves to other people it’s ultimately going to come down to that. It took me years to accept myself, but if you can accept who you are you are going to enter things with a clearer mind.
What keeps you driven? Is the possibility of doing more inspiring to you?
No, no, no – my fantasy is to not do anything. (laughs) My fantasy is when I can stop. What drives me? Well I’m fairly compulsive, I’m hard on myself and everything is very immediate to me. I’m not a big planner, I’m not good at keeping track of things. I like to live my life like that – I go on stage and it’s immediate, I like something new to happen when I’m up there. I talk to people in my garage – I don’t know what’s going to happen. I thrive on that but it is a little exhausting. What keeps me going is a weird mixture of compulsive curiosity and self-loathing.