On Set with Marc Maron
Most of the interviews I do for this site involve me wearing my pajamas, because most of them are done over the phone. Every once in a while, however, I put on real clothes and get to meet the awesome people I’m talking to in person. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t a little nervous when I rolled up to the quaint little LA home of Marc Maron or at least the house he calls “home” on his show.
I wasn’t nervous because he’s a famous comedian. I’ve talked to lots of famous people (guess what, they’re just like us!), but I think I was nervous because how do you interview the guy who interviews people? Those of you familiar with his podcast WTF, which is probably everyone reading this, know that Maron is the king of interviews. And those of you familiar with his personality know that he’s a bit of a curmudgeon. He’s at times brutally honest and yet somehow caring and vulnerable. The comedian who’s been in the business for over 25 years became the success that he is by being… well, himself. Now I was going to get to see him at work on the set of his popular IFC show Maron, as he was filming its third season.
The first thing I noticed was that he was just like the guy on the podcast that we hear on our morning commute. He’s got a million things going on and because he’s all about business and the show had to be filmed in such a short time, I literally interviewed him in between takes. Sitting in front of the monitors, I watched him do a couple takes, the director (Bobcat Goldthwait, incidentally) would call cut and Marc would step back into the room with me and continue answering the question he was in the middle of, right before he stepped in front of the camera. He didn’t miss a beat. His acting didn’t suffer, his responses were thoughtful and he genuinely seemed interested in speaking to me. A testament to the hard work he’s put in all these years, the man doesn’t stop.
Your producers were saying that you work twice as fast on set than most shows do.
Maron: Is that true?
Maron: I’ve never done another show, but I do know we work very fast. We usually shoot two episodes at a time, but this block we’re shooting three at a time. When we do two episodes at a time it’s usually six days, so this is pretty crazy.
Do you like the fast pace of it?
Maron: I don’t know any different, and I’m in every scene, because we don’t really have B stories, so it’s a little intense. I don’t know if everyone could do it. I’m fortunate that I have a knack for sort of memorizing lines.
Bobcat Goldthwait: He’s being really modest. He’s actually really great at it. He’s a really great actor. I was super impressed and relieved. Because I was a big fan of WTF the podcast and I was terrified when I watched the pilot that it was going to be, Paging Mr. Herman, that it was going to suck. But he’s a great actor and he does all the lifting. To me it’s impressive the amount of stuff he does throughout the day.
How many shows have you two done together?
Maron: He directed three or four the first season. He directed three or four the second season and three this season. We go way back. We’ve known each other for years as comedians.
What’s it like working with Bobcat as a director?
Maron: It’s great, because he gives a very specific sensibility that’s very complimentary to what we’re trying to do, so a lot of those episodes are pretty amazing.
Bobcat: I do think something we have in common is that at our age, I’m a little old…
Maron: He’s not that much older, but he started younger. He was twelve when he started doing standup.
Bobcat: Yeah, but I think it’s weird that as guys in our fifties that we’ve kind of come into our own in figuring out what does make us happy in this business.
Maron: And we’ve also figured out how do to what we want to do, you know, earning a living and stuff. We’re doing alright. We’re doing alright.
Bobcat: (Laughing) Yeah, that’s true, to do stuff that we’re actually proud of and not embarrassed of for a living and not trying to fit into anybody else’s…
Maron: Yeah, I don’t think we could do it any other way. I never really could. But the pace, to get back to the original question, it’s intense and I wonder what it’ll be like to have a little more money for another day, but we get it done. And because the people are so efficient, and because Bobby knows the show and helps create the show, you get sort of a flow going. And you know there’s an end to it. I know that it’s not going to be a year of this. So, when I do this I go home, I don’t do much at night. I go over the script. I wake up, I try to be as rested as possible and I just lock in. You know, people don’t really realize, regular people out in the world who aren’t in show business, that it’s very intense work and requires a tremendous amount of focus.
How much of the show do you actually write?
Maron: Well the way TV shows work, at least this one, is that since it’s drawn from my life, is that I have my writers, we sit around, I pitch a bunch of stories from my life. Some stories we make up. We get a board up. We put a three-act structure together. We all create that. We just spitball everything, try to put the stories together so they work, because an idea, an event is not necessarily a story, so you have to build off the stories. Then once we get the boards up and the three acts in place and fairly detailed, then people get assigned scripts, and then we all go over the outlines, and they make a first draft. Then it goes out to producers, network and the like.
The truth of the matter is, the way that works is we’re all very collaborative, but once the writing happens, the particular writer infuses their tone in it. Once these guys take their scripts or we all take our separate scripts, I can tell whose script is whose. But ultimately it’s can whatever I say come out of my mouth? Am I comfortable doing it? And is it close enough to the life we’ve built for me or my real life? No one’s saying, “Fuck you. We’re doing this one.” (laughing)
Do you like the more collaborative style of working or you working more as yourself and doing your standup?
Maron: No, it’s great. The whole process of writing and making the whole show is exciting, because my standup is very specific and it’s all coming from me. This is kind of coming from me, but a lot of it, I couldn’t think of this all by myself. There are stories that are just stories that we came up with. There’s no reason for me to do that in my standup. Right? Because then what would I be?… You can only do that on TV shows.
Okay, so you said some of the stories are made up. Season 2, the ejaculating on command yoga teacher episode, is that something you read can actually happen or did someone just make that up?
Maron: Oh no, I heard that about somebody, someone that William Burroughs talked about. I heard that a certain artist could do that. I figured it was something a tantric person could do.
Right. Maybe Sting can do it.
Maron: I tried to do it. I remember trying to do it in a cross-country road trip with my family when I was in Junior High.
How’d it go?
Maron: I couldn’t make it happen. I tried, but it was an awkward situation. It was in the back of a station wagon with my parents, “What’s going on?” I just tried to pinch myself. I didn’t really think that through, so unfortunately it didn’t happen.
Do you think it’s harder now for up-and-comers to “make it” then it was for you when you were still aspiring?
Maron: I don’t know. I didn’t make it when I was still aspiring. I mean, it took me until I was what, my late 40s?
Are you happy about that though? Do you appreciate it?
Maron: Absolutely. I appreciate it everyday. When I started the podcast I was in a pretty desperate situation and it was not a good situation. I didn’t really see any alternative. Things turned around in such a dramatic way and in such a way that really honors who I am, because it’s all sort of built on the podcast, which is all me. No one really dictates what happens other than me and my business partner Brendan. I’ve been at this a long time, so there’s no fear in it and I feel pretty ready to do this. I mean, even when we started doing this show I knew it would take me a bit to get on my feet as an actor and understand how writing works. I just never had any of these (laughing) opportunities previously, so I knew there would be a learning curve and I was able to live with that. I’m not sure I could’ve handled any of it earlier.
Did you sort of “chase” this next opportunity of having your own show or did it come to you organically?
Maron: Not really. There was never a chase. As a comic, if you continue to stay in the game and you continue to evolve your material, every couple years you’re gonna wanna go out and take meetings and pitch your life. I mean, that’s the traditional way a sitcom works. It’s like, “I’m a comic. I have a life and a point of view. Why don’t we try to make it work as this?” I don’t really write for other people. I don’t have any grand ideas that don’t depart much from my life. So, when Jim Serpico from Apostle brought me into his office, he was really just a fan of the podcast. He was like, “Is there something we can do with this idea.” I was like, “Yeah, how about we try to do a TV show about a guy whose career hit the skids and he started doing interviews in his garage and it sort of turned his life around.” And he’s like, “Well that sounds interesting.” I’m like, “Well that’s the life I’m living.”
There was no desperation to it or compulsion to it. I didn’t really have any expectations out of anything, but I wanted to, you know, make a living. Then we were able to get some money from FOX to do a pilot, because Jim had a relationship with FOX studios. We shot a thing that was a little longer than we anticipated. It couldn’t really become an episode, but it was close. We shopped that around and IFC responded to it and they’ve been very supportive and amazingly diplomatic about the show and we’ve been able to make the show we want to make.
What have you learned each season? What’s different this round than maybe the first couple?
Maron: Well, the first one I was really hung up on making it as close to my life as possible, so the thing was rooted in my reality. There’s obviously amplification and some editing and some fictionalization in all the stories, but the first season was pretty close to home. Second season was pretty close to home, but we took a little more liberties and this season, because I’ve kind of figured out who I am as a character and we’ve figured out what the world is and we’ve established my emotions and my flaws, so now we’re taking a little more liberties in terms of what we do. This season, it’s kind of like, “What’s the worst thing that can happen to this guy?” We’re exploring that a little bit, so I don’t do it in real life.
There are some stories that are not necessarily that, but are dealing with my views about being childless at this point in my life. There’s stuff that’s dealing with race a little bit, the one we’re shooting now. There’s stuff dealing with my brother and the other world with people with jobs. There’s an episode loosely, well not really based on, but my one of my buddies is a professor in college and there’s an episode where I go visit my professor friend who in my mind is living the life, the high road. You know, like if I would’ve had more discipline over my intellect, I would’ve become a professor… so there’s a thing that takes place at a college with him and I. That’s played by Adam Goldberg, sort of brilliantly. It’s great. He’s great. We did this one where I have a panic anxiety issue and have to maybe go and get on medication. There’s one where I’m kind of losing my mind, because I quit nicotine lozenges and I end up getting CM Punk to train me. That doesn’t go well.
Do you ever regret being such an open book? Are there things that are off limits?
Maron: Yeah, I mean you know, my father got very offended and felt betrayed by my book and by the show, but I think in some ways it was a little reactive. What are you going to do? It seems to be what I do. This season we’re actually doing an episode where my ex-wife is going to do the podcast, because she has a book out and it sort of based on truth. In my mind though, I’m always making myself look like the dummy or the bad guy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not going to get upset about it. So, it happens. It happens less now, because I think I’ve dealt with most of it.
Let’s talk about non-show biz stuff. What do you like to do for fun? What do you watch on TV? What podcast do you listen to outside of research?
Maron: I enjoy playing guitar and lately I seem to be amassing records. I do a lot of vinyl these days. And because I talk about it so much people send me vinyls, so there’s this ongoing vinyl ecosystem happening. I’ve been cooking again. I’m trying exercise more. I listen to NPR usually and music. I don’t really listen to other podcasts. I haven’t read too many great books lately. I haven’t been reading much, been busy. I try not to waste too much of my free time in Twitter fights.
Do you ever just do things that are relaxing like lighting candles and taking a bath?
Maron: I did take a bath the other day for the first time in a long while. I had been dating this girl that seemed to think I have a great bathtub. I don’t think it’s that great, I just think hers is shitty, but I ended up taking a bath and that was okay. Sometimes I’ll light some incense, occasionally, just to have it. But relaxing is not… I’m not great at it. But playing guitar is relaxing to me, so I’ll sit around with that.
Do you have anything coming up that you’re excited about?
Maron: I’ve got a tour starting, the “Maronation Tour.” I’ve got like 17 dates, see what’s going on for me out there. I’ve got a new hour that’s getting a little dusty, because of the shoot, but I’ll get it out and figure out what’s really great about it. I’m looking forward to putting that together. And then I’m looking forward to retirement, which should by at the end of the year. I’m just kidding. (laughing)
Season Three of Maron Premieres May 14 at 10:00 pm ET/PT On IFC