Splitsider

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Talking to Marc Maron about WTF, the Guests He Hasn’t Been Able to Book, and His New Album This Has to Be Funny

The podcasting world is still very much in its Wild West days with a clear-cut way to monetize the medium yet to emerge, despite the glut of new shows that seem to constantly be springing up.  Since launching his show WTF in 2009, stand-up comedian Marc Maron has become one of the biggest players in the podcast game – and deservedly so. WTF allows regular listeners to gain an intimate connection to the host that few other podcasts can replicate. The program has become a must-listen for comedy fans and fans of human conversation, as well. In an era where our attention spans are dwindling and communication is being reduced to 140 characters or less, it’s refreshing to be able to listen to funny people participate in long conversations that are far more stimulating and engaging than the inane, pre-arranged banter that fills TV talk shows.

Marc Maron’s deep, probing interviews have changed the way we look at comedians, revealing many of them to be more complex and darker than they seem. Maron pulls the humanity out of each of his guests, no matter who they are, but these interviews aren’t all the show has to offer. Maron’s also a masterful storyteller who gives listeners an up-close, frank look at his life, sharing many of the thoughts and experiences that most people would be too afraid to express. I recently had the chance to talk to Marc Maron about the ins and outs of his podcast, his favorite comedians, and his new CD, This Has to Be Funny, on which he displays the prowess he’s developed from two-plus decades of stand-up experience.

Congratulations on 200 episodes. When you were first starting the podcast, did you ever think it would grow this successful or run this long?

No, I had no idea what to expect. All of this is beyond my expectations. No, I had no expectations whatsoever.

So, now that you've become a mainstream success and a lot more people know who you are, do you feel like you have to present a specific persona in your private life?

Am I a mainstream success? I mean, is that what you would say?

I think you're on the verge. You're pretty close if not already mainstream.

Well, I don't know what mainstream means now. I've found an audience of people that enjoy what I'm doing and that number is larger than it's been previously, I don't know if that's mainstream as much as it is I seem to have found my audience. It's still pretty selective in terms of how people come to my thing. Your question was, am I gonna change now? I don't think so, man. Whatever changes are gonna happen, they're gonna be relative to whatever I'm going through at a given moment. There's no new approach, if that's what you're asking.

I was just asking, since you feel like more people know who you are and have a sense of you personally, do you feel like you have to present yourself in a certain way in private?

The only real change that I can sense going on is that I have to be a little more careful with my time. I'm not a guy who has tremendous personal boundaries. Now, there's a lot more people who like what I'm doing, and they have a fairly intimate relationship with me if they listen to the podcast and definitely know my life and who I am. So, they approach me with a certain amount of familiarity, and then I want to be able to engage. But the more that happens, I find that I don't have as much time to give to individuals coming up to me or e-mailing me. It kind of makes me sad, but somehow the only real change is that I have to detach a little bit from e-mails. I can't respond to all of them, and I just have to figure out how to be giving to my fans because they are loyal and connected to me emotionally but without getting too emotionally drained myself. So, it's really a luxury problem. I don't want to piss anybody off. It's just figuring out how to not get too exhausted emotionally by dealing with people who dig what I'm doing.

Yeah. I gotcha. So, how did the experience of recording this latest album differ from previous ones?

I'm definitely more comfortable with myself and with my comedic voice than I've ever been. And being personal with my material in a very specific way is a really different approach. I feel a lot more connected to my material. I feel a lot more connected to my audience because there's a lot more people who know me and are coming to see me, and I can take different chances. Also, recording in an intimate venue with really great audiences was a great experience. I'm just glad that, not unlike my other records, there's stuff on the record that will probably never happen again. There were definitely moments in the taping that were unique to that taping, and I like when that kind of stuff happens. It seems like more people are aware of it. More people are aware of me, so more people are wanting to get the record. It's my first record with Comedy Central Records, so it's definitely out there in a bigger way than my other three CD's, which is exciting.

Do you feel like you've picked up a lot of new fans who haven't heard you do stand-up yet outside of the live WTF shows?

Oh, definitely. There are a lot of people who know me really well because of the podcast, and they have no idea whether or not I can even do stand-up. A lot of them have never been to a stand-up show. So, it's a whole new world. I've been doing this 25 years and people are just discovering my stand-up. I'm very grateful for that. Pretty exciting. It's interesting because they have that relationship from the podcast. They know a lot more about me than my stand-up in an hour would generally give them. It's really two different worlds. To listen to me twice a week in your head or in your car or on your treadmill, and then to come out with a group of people to see me do [stand-up] is a different experience, but they seem to like it.

You're talking into a microphone several times a week, but do you hold onto certain stories for the album so that your fans haven't already heard them?

Yeah, and sometimes when I talk on the mic, certain things are sparked. But crafting a story for the stage from something I sort of improvised in my garage, it's a different type of delivery. Maybe there's one or two things on the CD I've talked about in a general way on the podcast that have now become bits and are a little more specific. I've only got so much life to share, so much in my heart. There's a little bit of crossover but not much. They're two very different formats.

I really enjoy the Eddie Pepitone/Jim Earl one-two punch at the end of your live shows. How and when did you realize that these two counter each other so well?

Well, I've known Jim and Eddie for a long time. I don't know if it's a pairing in my mind… These guys have been around a long time and they're very, very unique and inspired comedic voices that are always good for… you never know what's gonna happen. It’s just completely unique. It's more about how I love watching them work and I love engaging with them onstage. I just think they're so fucking special that it's fun to have them back every time because I enjoy it so much. They've just become regulars on those things.

Do you get tired of constantly being bombarded via Twitter and e-mail with fans requesting guests for your show or do you appreciate that people are enjoying the program?

It gets a little annoying because a lot of people don't know whether I've had somebody on, and also people think I can get whoever I want, which isn't really the case. I'm generally always trying to get people on the show. You know, some suggestions are good, but most of the people they suggest are on my radar. Some aren't. It just becomes a little annoying when it's one after the other. This bombardment of guest suggestions. I'm doing the best I can here, and I don't have access to everybody. I can only do what I've got.

Yeah, that's understandable. So, who are the comedians you've chased and been unable to get to appear on the show?

Albert Brooks, I have not been able to get on the show. Larry David, I can't really seem to get through to. Daniel Tosh, he doesn't want to do it, not in a hostile way. He just doesn't wanna go that deep and he likes where he's at, and he likes having control over how people see him. I can understand that. That’s completely understandable… There's so many. I haven't been able to get Will Ferrell on the show. I've been trying to get Jonah Hill. I'm sort of going back and forth with [him] over a long period of time and that doesn't seem to be really materializing. You know, people are busy and some people forget. I'm sure I'm low on their priorities. But I'd love to get Will Ferrell on. Steve Carell, I'd love to get on but I don't know really how to get a hold of him. I did Fallon recently. He was the other guest, but I don't want to impose on people. So, it's tricky.

Is there anyone you haven't been able to track down at all? You just don't know where they are, like maybe older comics from the past?

Yeah, some of them surface. Carl LaBove was kinda like that. Oddly, I ran into this very famous regional act who's been doing stand-up for like 30 years, and he goes under the name of Killer Beaz. He always around. When he started in the '80s, you'd always see his headshot in clubs, "Killer Beaz." He primarily does the South, but he's been around a long time. He's sort of like the Blue Collar guys, only before that. He's a Southern stand-up, old-style club stand-up. Killer Beaz. And this dude comes up to me in Montreal. He goes, (Southern accent) "You're Marc Maron? I really respect what you're doing. I just wanted to say hi and tell you how much I appreciate what you do." I said, "How you feeling? Who are you?" He says, "I'm Killer Beaz." And I'm like, "No fucking way! You're not Killer Beaz!" I'd never met him, you know? So, we're in touch. I think it'd be incredibly interesting to talk to him, and I said, "So, let's make this happen. Where are you located?" He goes, "Mobile, Alabama." And I'm like, "I don't know when I'm gonna be making it through there, but stay in touch. If you're out here or I am through there, let's sit down and talk." Brett Butler has been in touch with me a little bit. I'd like to track her down, but… she lives outside of Atlanta on a farm. There's some people that I'm very curious to talk to, but those two in particular are older names that I've been trying to figure out a way to get on.

Scott Aukerman and Chris Hardwick have launched their own podcasting networks made up of different shows. Have you ever considered branching out like that and helping other comedians you enjoy find a platform or do you want to continue doing the lone wolf thing?

I don't know. I have a very hard time compartmentalizing things, and I do not have an organizational mind. I'm up to my neck just doing what I'm doing. I can't even imagine the anxiety of creating anything like that. I'm just not constitutionally capable of doing that. It's not a selfish thing, I'm really doing all I can.

Have you and Tom Scharpling talked any further about collaborating on something? Maybe a monthly podcast between the two of you?

No, we sort of floated that idea. We work well together, and I certainly love that guy. I'd be open to be doing something, but no, we haven't talked about it at all really. It was just sort of a whimsical idea that didn't have legs, I guess.

Who do you consider to be today's most underrated stand-ups?

Well, I don't know who's rating. I'm definitely a big fan of Al Madrigal. I just was out with him last night. I think he's a great storyteller and a very funny guy, and I don't know that a lot of people know who he is. My buddy Ryan Singer is starting to come into something. I enjoy him. He's weird. I just don't know who is rated and who isn't rated. Some people are beginning to get their wave of attention. There are some guys that a lot of people don't know that are just starting to blossom into their own thing. In terms of guys from my generation who are underrated, there's always a few of those. Certainly Jim Earl and Eddie Pepitone are, but I do what I can to get them a higher rating. [Laughs] I think Andy Kindler is an underrated genius as a comedian. Maria Bamford seems to be highly rated. Jackie Kashian, I think is severely underrated and a great comic.

It seems like you've grown more respectful of sketch performers and improvisers since the podcast began. Have the interviews caused you to appreciate these other forms of comedy more or are you just hiding your resentment better?

My resentment usually just stems from feelings of exclusion that I generate in my head. I'm wildly impressed with improvisers who can get very deep into a character very quickly. I've always found that very fascinating on a character level. I'm more respectful because I think there's a lot of value to being able to work with other people in a creative way and generate things in collaboration. I never had a lot of opportunities to do that. It was never the way I was driven. I definitely have a lot of respect for it… I'm certainly seeing that a lot of great comedic minds and voices come out of that world and I appreciate it for that.

Marc Maron’s new comedy album, This Has to Be Funny, is in stores now and new episodes of his podcast WTF drop every Monday and Thursday on wtfpod.com.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.