Comedian Marc Maron Promises Fans Can Expect 'An Entertaining Evening'

click to enlarge Comedian Marc Maron Promises Fans Can Expect 'An Entertaining Evening'
David Broach
Marc Maron will be back in Cleveland on June 5 for a night of standup at the Ohio Theatre. By default, the gig will be a nice warm-up for the two shows in Chicago the following night that will be filmed for Maron’s next one-hour comedy special that will air at a future date on EPIX. As he told us in a phone conversation earlier this week, he’d love to map out some vacation time after his current commitments are wrapped up.

Certainly, the veteran comedian has earned a little bit of time off to go and see the sights. His popular WTF podcast has logged over 600 episodes since its renegade debut in 2009. (Maron and his business partner, producer Brendan McDonald, taped the first few episodes of the podcast in the studios of the progressive talk network Air America Radio not long after both had been let go by the company.)

He’s also added a regular television gig to his resume with Maron, now in its third season on IFC with past episodes streaming on Netflix and similar platforms. During our chat, Maron revealed that there’s more TV time on the way for him thanks to a recently inked deal with the forthcoming VICE television channel.

Fans coming out to the Playhouse Square gig can look forward to 75 to 90 minutes of unfiltered thoughts from Maron, who tells us that thanks to regular touring over the past few months, he’s really on his game. “Well, I’ve been pretty fuckin’ funny and most of the people, I would assume, know some version of me whether it’s my podcast or the TV show or my comedy show,” Maron says. “They can expect me being me and all of the material is new and from my experience, it’s been very funny. I’m in pretty good form lately. So that’s what they can expect. An entertaining evening!”

At home at his California residence (“The Cat Ranch,” where he records many of the WTF episodes), Maron takes out the trash out midway through our interview and puts things on pause so he can greet a neighbor and say hello to the neighbor’s grandson, who’s transfixed by the approaching garbage truck.

It’s moments like these that Maron would probably like to enjoy more of — and as regular listeners of the podcast know, he’s a big vinyl guy, so time off would also give him the chance to enjoy more of that, although as he notes, there’s no shortage of that happening, even now, “The vinyl keeps spinning over here, man.” Here's what he had to say.

I know you got a chance to see the Stones the other night in San Diego. What did you think?

I thought they were great, man. You know, I hadn’t seen them in like 35 years and I didn’t know what to expect and I kind of regretted not seeing them more along the way because they’re the Stones and they’re amazing and this idea that people get old and they get less…, it’s always my assumption that it might be a little sad, but it’s not. It’s actually very touching in a strange way. These guys are the best at what they do and the age just gives them a little more vulnerability. They’re a little more fragile, but it adds a whole other element to it and they really pulled it off. It was pretty great.

I saw from your Twitter feed that you got the new Jonathan Richman vinyl. We’ve been pretty excited about that recently, since that was put out here in Cleveland by Blue Arrow Records and also pressed locally by Gotta Groove Records.

I just got the single, man. I’ve always loved him. He’s another guy though, I just don’t know where he’s at or what age has done to him. You know, he seems to be sort of eternal and very committed to his particular mission. I just wonder if he’s okay with that. What do you think?

I think he’s probably okay with where he’s at from what I know about him and what I’ve seen.

Oh good. Yeah, I’d love to talk to him and meet him. It’s a sweet record. All his records are pretty sweet.

When I saw your tweet about wanting to talk to Jonathan, I was kind of surprised that you hadn’t already talked with him. Six hundred episodes into the podcast, it seems like you would have talked to him by now. It’s surprising to know how many folks are still out there that you haven’t gotten to at this point.

Well yeah, there’s always people that come up and that you know in one form or another, whether they’re actors or writers or directors or comics or people that do other things. There always seems to be people that interest me. You know, I don’t always know who they are. But [the albums] show up. I mean, someone just sent me a download code for Richard Thompson’s new record — I’d like to talk to him. There’s still a lot of comedic people that I haven’t talked to, like Lily Tomlin and Albert Brooks. There’s this never-ending number of people that interest me.

Who would you say that is top of your list of folks that you’d love to have a conversation with that you haven’t been able to get to?

I don’t know. [Besides] Lily Tomlin and Albert Brooks, who I mentioned, [film director] David O Russell, I’d like to talk to him. It’s like, I can’t tell you which are the best episodes and I also can’t tell you who I’d most like to talk to the most anymore. You know, there’s a lot of people out there that I just haven’t been able to make it happen or that might not want to do the show. Don Rickles [is another one], but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. There’s a lot of people.

You haven’t talked to Steve Martin for the podcast, have you?

No, but I don’t get the sense that I ever will.

So you’ve made the approach.

On Twitter. You know, it’s just like, there’s some guys, I mean, what do they need to do it for? Larry David is another guy. There’s just some people that they just don’t need to do it. They don’t see any relevance or importance in doing it. David Letterman. Yeah, I mean, I’ve tried. But you know, I don’t have any magical power of getting people. A lot of people still don’t know what the show is or who I am and some people don’t see any point in doing it. Sometimes that’s just the reality there. But I don’t get the sense that Steve Martin has any interest.

With the podcast, how do you strike the balance between hanging out and being conversational while still delivering a proper interview?

I don’t know what a proper interview is. You know, I know that a lot of times after I talk to somebody for an hour that I feel like I should have brought something else up or whatever. It’s a feeling of conversation that the conversation goes and then it sort of has an arc somewhere maybe two-thirds of the way in and then it seems reasonable to end it. There are points that I want to make sure I cover a bit or at least hopefully bring them out in conversation, but I don’t know what a proper interview is. You know, I do keep people in the conversation for hopefully an hour. If I can’t get an hour, you know, I’m in trouble, because that means I’m not that interested or I’m bored or they have to go. But usually, it’s just a matter of when a conversation feels full. More often than not, I end conversations and I’m like, “Ahhh, I could have brought that up” or “I could have brought this up,” but I think that’s the same with anyone who talks to people for a living or does interviews.

It seems like your podcast is a forum where people often feel free to talk about things that they might not otherwise discuss, because you’re someone that is also in the business. They’ve got their guard down a bit more than they might with a journalist. Is that something you recognized at some point as you were having these conversations?

At the beginning, it was more about me than them a lot of times. I needed to talk to people for personal reasons and then that’s sort of what I do. I don’t know if it’s because I’m in the same business necessarily, I just tend to offer up a lot of my life and I think that kind of pushes people to sort of meet you somewhere in the middle there. It just evolved out of a real need for me to connect with people. But I do realize that sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

You interviewed Brian Koppelman recently and as you know, his podcast, The Moment with Brian Koppelman, focuses in on key moments that people have in their careers. When you look at your own career, your time at Air America Radio seems like a pretty important moment for you. Do you think the podcast would have happened if you hadn’t put in the time at Air America? Because I wondered how much experience you had prior to that being a host and doing interviews and stuff like that. It seems like your time at Air America helped to give you a lot of that experience.

Yeah, I don’t think…..none of it would [have happened]. It was all due to gaining that few years of radio experience that led to it. And literally, the podcast [began] in the studios of Air America after being cancelled for the third or fourth time there. So yeah, it was invaluable to me. I learned how to be on the radio mic at Air America. That was my hands-on training. In terms of hosting, I had done a few other things where I hosted, but again, what I learned more at Air America was that I could drive a show and that whatever it was that is compelling about people in that medium, I had that. It was a good medium for me, by no virtue of skill. I mean, I don’t claim to be a radio veteran. But sometimes people can come through and transcend that medium. It was a good fit for me and it led to the podcast certainly.

From what you’ve said on the podcast, I know that you were in a bad place at that point, and Air America provided an important bridge that kind of got you out of all of that.

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, starting the podcast was sort of a Hail Mary pass. My career was in a difficult place and I didn’t know what was going to happen and whether I was going to be able to continue with comedy. So doing the podcast was sort of a last ditch effort to do something. I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. I was broke and heartbroken and sort of in the shitter in a lot of ways. Doing the podcast and committing to it and being disciplined about it and creating a schedule for it and letting it evolve into the show it is now, as that happened, my life sort of changed and got better and everything turned around. Certainly, I had no idea that would be the thing that would do it, but it turns out it was and for once I had pretty good cosmic timing and I seemed to find the medium that really gave me the ability to explore all elements of my point of view and voice, both comedically and otherwise. Because of it, it’s made my comedy 100% better. I don’t think I’ve ever done better comedy. Everything kind of came together through the podcast. So yeah, it was an incredible gift and I’m very grateful that it panned out this way.

What do you think it was about all of that which made what you do on the comedy side of things better?

It just….you know, to improvise with other people and be talking to other people and then to take the time at the beginning of the podcast to sort of speak freely off the top of my head and think out loud. You know, thinking out loud for me is where comedy comes from. So I have to do that at least twice a week without an audience and then I can sort of sort through things that I think might work well with an audience and then build them out that way. It’s almost like my notebook, you know, what you hear at the beginning of each podcast, is kind of like my living notebook.

I can see that. When you got into the podcast, that might have been one of those life events that kind of forced you to change up the playbook you use for other stuff and go into something that was out of your comfort zone.

You know, everything’s sort of out of my comfort zone. Everything kind of came together finally because of the podcast. You know, I’ve been doing comedy over half of my life. So whether I like it or not or whether I know it or not, I live on the comedy stage. It’s what I set out to do and now I’m very excited to be up there. There’s no fear anymore and there’s no sort of second-guessing. I have a lot of freedom of mind and I’m fairly comfortable with who I am and I know who I am. All of that sort of happened in the last five years, so I’m glad it happened at all. You know, you don’t want to wander your entire life feeling irrelevant or incomplete. But fortunately, the forces of the world kind of came together for me. You know, it’s kind of a miracle but that’s what happens.

Did you see yourself doing a TV show the way you’re doing one now with Maron? That was probably another surprising development.

No, by the time I started the podcast, I had sort of let go of the idea of being a relevant comic or having a TV show or doing anything anymore. It was definitely a pretty low bottom. So all of this stuff happened after I gave up expecting it to happen. So in that way, it was a surprise. But on the other side of that, because I had let a lot of it go, I was very excited to do it and also, you know, ready to do it. That’s the weird thing about getting opportunities, if I had had them when I was younger and not ready for them, you know, you might not be able to show up for them completely or with the confidence or skill set necessary to make the best of them. You know, that happened to me in my life at different times. But the one thing I know now because of what I’ve been through and also because I’d let a lot of it go is that I was very ready for all of this to happen and I’m more than prepared. And also, I’m able to enjoy it and be creative in all of these different forms because I’m okay with things. I’ve been doing it a long time, man.

You have a lot of different things going on. What do you want to do now? Do you see the podcast as your main thing? What does your visual landscape look like when you look at that stuff?

Well, I mean, soon I’d like to take a vacation. The podcast, after all is said and done, it’s always a job in the sense that I do that twice a week and we put them up twice a week. I’m in business with my business partner Brendan McDonald, who is my producer and [then there’s also] the standup. So once I run through these dates and shoot this special, I want to take a little rest and kind of reflect and see where I’m at. I’ll obviously continue doing the podcast. I [also] have this VICE show. VICE is starting a television network and I’m doing a bunch of interview shows for them. I’m doing a show called VICE Portraits with Marc Maron. I’m going to be doing some interviews in the television medium [for that], so I’m going to be trying that. And then we’ll see if we’re doing another season of the [Maron] show [on IFC]. So I’m still busy with that stuff. But it’s the same thing, I’d like to know what the hell I like to do, so I’m always trying to discover those things. I’m at a point in my life where it’s sort of like, I should be enjoying things. What does that list look like? I’ll let you know.

What do you still want to do at this point? What’s on your personal list?

Well, you know, I’ve been enjoying playing guitar a lot and I’d like to play more with other people. I’d like to travel a bit. You know, my house is falling apart — I should probably do a little work on it but it makes me anxious, just to think about working on the house or having somebody do the work. But I really need to. Some of it’s falling apart. So you know, that kind of stuff. I should get a new car. My Camry is pretty beat up — it got hit. But these things make me anxious. You know, I don’t know what car to get, I don’t know who to hire to fix my house. So that’s what my brain gets concerned with. Maybe it will all come together.

I think owning a house makes you understand why people rent.

Yeah. No, definitely. I’ve got a mortgage — maybe I should pay the house down, maybe I should get a new house, like all of these things, you see, right now I’m getting exhausted thinking about this shit.

Vinyl. What have you been spinning? What’s been the stuff that’s made you happy recently?

The dude over at Gimme Gimme Records, he turns me onto all kinds of weird shit, man. There’s all of these interesting reissues out and smaller records that I wouldn’t have really known about. That’s sort of the cool thing about vinyl. You know, I get the classic records that I grew up with. But then there’s these [other bands], like, I never heard of Simply Saucer and the album is called Cyborgs Revisited. They’re a Canadian rock band [from the ‘70s] and it’s kind of a cool proto-punk record. And then I’ve been listening to…..the woman [Terri Wahl] who was in the Red Aunts, she owns a restaurant [Auntie Em’s Kitchen] down the street from me and they used to be a pretty big kind of girl punk band. I just got their record, she sent that [Come Up for A Closer Look, a recent compilation issued on vinyl] to me and I’ve been listening to that. I picked up some old Lucinda Williams, Link Wray….somebody sent me this Little Richard reissue. I mean, there’s no shortage of records being spun here in the house. I like the Magnolia Electric Co. album from Jason Molina. Songs: Ohia was his other project. He died not too long ago, but man, it’s pretty beautiful stuff. So yeah, the vinyl keeps spinning over here, man.
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