Marc Maron: Fighting For Acceptance [Pt 1]
Nearly a quarter million people regularly listen to veteran funny man Marc Maron’s twice-a-week podcast, WTF. Maron had more appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien than any other comic, but its WTF—one of iTunes highest rated podcasts—that brought Maron’s career to the limelight. Less woe-is-me and more woe-is, WTF has racked up over 8.5 million downloads since the show’s September 2009 inception for the anxiety-ridden comedian. Maron talks to The Well Versed about the new medium, television, big breaks and meltdowns.
The Well Versed: What’s it like to be billed as Marc Maron from WTF rather than Marc Maron from Conan O’Brien and David Letterman?
Marc Maron: To be honest with you, not as many people knew me from those two things. More people know me from WTF. At first, I was sort of like, ‘Oh yeah, really? After 25 years, now my credit is the thing that I do in my garage.’ But it turns out that was the thing that fit me the best. It’s the thing that I had the most control ever in terms of what I can or can’t do. And I’m pretty proud of it. That shifted into, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m from WTF.’
TWV: As someone who is anxious in a lot of different ways, were you watching your numbers intently as the podcast was starting out?
MM: I did it for a while. Quite honestly, it was kind of unusual for me. I don’t really look at them at all anymore. The guy I work with, he looks at it sometimes. I’m a little obsessed with the iTunes rankings. That is really the least accurate of any of them. That is really based on a bunch of weird things that has nothing to do with the actual numbers of the podcast, but I like seeing myself up there in those rankings because they’re so visible. I don’t check the other stuff. I don’t get hung up on it.
TWV: Are you at the point where it’s daunting in reverse? When you start, no one is listening and now 8 million are listening.
MM: A little bit, but I try to keep my focus on the interview and stay in the actual making of the podcast. I try not to get hung up on things that would be…I sort of have to pick and choose what I’m freaking out about. There’s a fine line between expressing your aggravation or anger or self-doubts.
TWV: Was WTF a right place, right time deal?
MM: For me, when I started it, I had nothing. My career was in the toilet. I was broke from the divorce. It was sort of an act of desperation. Getting into podcasting…people were doing it a long time before I was. The thing started to build around why I got in. Why do people come around to it? I guess they like it. It has its positives and negatives, but for me, it definitely saved my ass.
TWV: Can you attribute the success of the podcast to it coming out of a breaking point and desperation?
MM: It’s possible. Certainly, over the arc of the podcast, I was definitely working thorugh stuff. There’s no doubt between what I’ve done and now—I haven’t necessarily become a better person but I’ve certainly pulled my shit together around a lot of personal and professional things that were falling apart. Yeah, I think that process has been sort of engaging for people. The fact that there actually is some progress is gratifying to me and my listeners.
I don’t think I should get too healthy or else they’ll get bored.
TWV: You kind of threw that notion under the bus recently. You said that you’re not going to be happy no matter how well the podcast goes because there’s still that tick inside of you.
MM: Well, there’s that. I think I might be able to get some peace of mind, but happiness is sort of a tall order, and frankly, a little ridiculous. It happens sometimes but you can’t really hold on to it because then you might be a little retarded.
TWV: Is that what’s liberating about the podcast is that you don’t have fear of being canceled like when working under a big company?
MM: It’s liberating in a lot of ways. In that particular form or in any form, it’s complete creative freedom. I do what I do with mine but people can do whatever they want with theirs. You can do all kinds of stuff. Really, nobody can tell you anything. It’s all up to you, it’s all on you, but with that comes a certain amount of responsibility to yourself. There’s always the follow up like whether or not you think you’re doing a good job. That can be daunting.
TWV: What’s the biggest responsibility you have to yourself?
MM: That it remains authentic. I don’t want to manufacture shit for my monologues or for my interviews. My biggest that you kind of level off. There’s a very fine distinction between a groove and a rut.
In some ways, a groove is just a rut that’s kind of fun. I don’t want it to be forced. I want to keep enjoying it and figure out ways to remain engaged in that way.
TWV: Would the show have been possible at any other time in your life?
MM: It certainly wouldn’t have been possible. My life, comedy and the radio that I did led up to this. I don’t think I would have had the chops to pull it off at another time in the way that I’m doing now.
TWV: You met your girlfriend via the podcast.
MM: I’ve met the last few via the podcast. It’s not the best way to meet people.
TWV: Did you feel the podcast is invading all aspects of your life now?
MM: The odd thing about that is the nature by which I enter the podcast, I try to be honest and share a lot, people coming at me who are familiar with the podcast have a pretty good sense of who I am. They know me on some level. They have a relationship with me in their head twice a week. The other side of that is I don’t know them at all.
Depending on how well my boundaries are holding up on any given day, if somebody comes at you with that much familiarity, its kind of hard to not go, ‘Well gee, all the ground work is done here.’ I have to be real careful with that because they also know my weaknesses. They know where I live. They know my cats’ names. It’s easy for me to forget that I don’t know them at all or their past or what they’re capable of and whether or not I’m gonna have to change the locks on my door.
TWV: Is that the distinction between your act and the podcast? At most, a few hundred people show up and see you then go home, but with the podcast, people can download it, they can take it work, they have you at all times.
MM: It’s a very intimate relationship but that’s the nature of the medium too and I know that. I’m aware of that. Quite honestly, I think one of the reasons now that you mention it that I don’t really pay attention to numbers is I don’t really think about how many people are listening when I get behind the mic. It’s not even in my head how many people are listening and I think I’ve got to keep it that way.
When you’re on the stand-up stage, you can see how many people are listening and you can gauge their responses by laughter very immediately. It’s all very present in that context. The relationship is very specific: you have a crowd of people that are expecting something. When I sit in my garage, I’m just talking to one person in my garage.
TWV: As a comedian, you’re off-putting—black comedy or whatever it is—so is that much-more rewarding when they come back to be along on the ride with you?
MM: Well, you know, I think my style has evolved a bit. I think I stopped going on stage with the force of a blunt object that is my emotional baggage. Really, the challenge is them accepting me. My honesty has become less defiant. I’m more comfortable with myself, but I’m still a pretty unique person that requires a bit of getting to know…The real great thing about the podcast is I think I’m enjoying myself, and that lends itself to more people enjoying my stand-up.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend.