Not since the Simpsons has a piece of media consumed my time like WTF with Marc Maron.
When I found out that Maron was headlining the first Blue Bridge comedy
festival here in Victoria I had to reach out and try to score an
interview with the comedy legend. As soon as the interview was set, some
three weeks before our actual chat. the sweating started...
For the next three weeks nearly every waking moment with filled with anxious dread as thoughts of interviewing Maron moshed through my brain. I had been doing these interviews for over a year but this was reducing me to rubble, Really, I fell apart. There's no other way to say it. Listening back to the recording as I transcribe this for your reading pleasure I am reminded of all the overwhelming, and frankly new, feelings of terror and anxiety that overcame me as I talked to this disembodied voice that had spent so much time rattling around my head. But for all the shit and horrendous performance on my end of the phone, this interview forced me to turn a corner. I've been better since this.
Thank you Marc Maron, for making me better at the thing I love to do.
Rags Music: I know you’re a busy guy so I’ll just jump right into this. My first question is why am I so nervous to interview you?
Marc Maron: I don’t know, because you probably know me pretty well already if you listen to my show. You maybe are not sure exactly what you want to ask me. Certainly you know enough about me to know that it’s not hard to get me to talk.
RM: The tone to your comedy doesn’t seem to have taken any drastic turns, what do you think makes now the right time for what it is you do? You seem to be gaining this momentum and such…
MM: I have changed my tone in that I’m not, whether it’s noticeable or not, I’m not as angry or as frightened as I once was and I’ve learned how to talk to other people and listen to other people and that’s got to help in terms of audiences and in terms of interpersonal relationships. I think that I just, finally after 20-some-odd years of doing comedy and being in this world in 48 years of being alive, I think I’ve finally settled into my own skin and I’m okay with it, for the most part.
RM: Do you ever worry about the changes as you settle into your skin – that you might become unfunny?
MM: There’s no indication I’m ever going to be that settled but at least I can feel a little more comfortable with being unsettled, which can only help my comedy, right? If I’ve gotta be okay with being me, that struggle in itself has gotta be funny.
RM: As you get more popuar…oh no, I’ve lost my place. I’m incredibly nervous right now.
MM: Nothing to be nervous about.
RM: I keep telling myself that. You’re just a man. But, like you said, I know more about you than you could ever possibly know about me.
MM: Unless you really want to have a very long conversation and you do all talking, that’s probably true.
RM: Why do you lean towards personal comedy?
MM: If I’m honest about who I am at this point in my life, that’s a lot of what I’m thinking about. I don’t know if it’s a bad thing or a good thing or what. Right now I seem to be sort of caught up in my head versus what’s going on in the real world and dealing with my immediate reality. That gets a little limiting and I think that in time, when I find time, I’ll probably be engaging more in things that are not connected to me whatsoever but that comes and goes. It just seems to be where I’m going to now.
RM: Why do you think there are so few people able to do that kind of comedy?
MM: Because it requires real emotional risk to be truly revealing and to process that in a funny way in front of other human beings. A lot of people can’t even process it with themselves. There’s never been that many comics that have ever done it in a genuine way. The risk of failing, the risk of not being funny precludes or overshadows most people’s ability to take other risks deeper than that. You sort of build that in yourself. There’s plenty of people who talk about general elements of life and their life but not only are you risking failing, you’re taking the emotional risk that you could really embarrass yourself or hurt yourself or find yourself in an emotionally difficult position on stage. And also the idea that you have to entertain everyone is something that’s deep in the mind of most entertainers but that was never really what I saw myself as. I always assumed eventually everybody would come along because secretly they were just like me but at some point you have to realize, “Oh you know what? Maybe they’re not just like me and they might just laugh at my problems and that’s gonna have to be okay. And the people that are like me will feel some relief at not being alone in the world and that’s okay.” There’s just that risk that you’re going to talk about yourself and your biggest fear will come true, which is: You’re a freak and no one gets what the fuck you’re talking about.
RM: You do a lot of improv on stage, not improve, but you know what I mean…Have you ever said something and stop yourself and had a realization about yourself?
MM: Yes! Yeah, of course. A lot of times, not necessarily in the form of a realization, but in the form…A lot of times I start talking about something and I don’t have the end of it. A lot of times how I write is that I start talking about something and out of the ether, out of necessity, out of fear in that moment, I will find something funny to close it with or to sum it up with and sometimes that doesn’t count. Then I’m sitting there with this emotional story trying to find an ending and it doesn’t come, then in that moment I’m like “Well, this is just sad and now I’m just going to have to be okay with this not being finished and perhaps not funny yet.” Up in Montreal, I did a one man show up there, I started doing a show about my divorce during my divorce. I think a lot of people laughed at it because it made them very uncomfortable, how raw the emotions were, and then as time went on the laughter became a little more controlled by me because I processed this stuff. A lot of times when you’re talking about real shit the emotions that that stuff is loaded with aren’t going to enable you to be funny about it yet and I’m not real good about waiting. So I’ve been up there a lot and the biggest realization you can have in that moment is “Holy shit, I can’t make this funny yet.” Or “Maybe I should think this through a bit more” or just go very painful which means …(cellphone cut out)?
RM: Is it ever exhausting to exert so much emotion with your fans all the time? Your twitter, your comedy, your podcast…it’s all so personal. Do you ever just want to get away from being that personal.
MM: Well, yeah, I mean…Hold on a sec, I need to figure out where I’m going. Driving and talking AND doing something on my phone. Hold on a second…
(In this moment I am terrified that Maron will crash and I will be responsible for documenting the last words of one of the most renowned talkers around. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and my torture got to continue.)
MM: I don’t know if I get exhausted but I don’t feel like I have much time for myself. It becomes almost like a mania, I just feel too available. But I’m also sort of compelled by that. I like engaging. It’s more I get overwhelmed more than I get exhausted, almost like “I can’t do it anymore!” It’s not that I’m tired, it’s that there’s no end to it. I get overwhelmed. I might as well take advantage of that now. That shit doesn’t last forever.
RM: Yeah. I suppose people want to be around you so why not take the chance to connect?
MM: I don’t know if they want to be around me, they just want to connect and I have found a way to do that and be sort of present for them, because I do something where people have a very intimate relationship with me and they know me. And they really do but I don’t know them. They’re coming to me with a lot of familiarity and I can’t say what they know about me is disingenuine and it isn’t, it’s real. So I try to be there for what they need in that moment, connect with them and be grateful. Usually that goes both ways.
RM: Have their been instances where that personal interaction with fans maybe went a little awry and made you nervous with how personal it got?
MM: Sure. The woman who just moved into my house was a fan, so that can be very personal. <laughs> My second wife was a fan, that didn’t end well. Not usually because a lot of times people get excited and they’re nervous but ultimately once they relax they’re like “Okay…I’m gonna go.” It hasn’t really got weird. I do make myself available for the weirdness too. A lot of times when something gets weird you’re like “Okay, if this is what we’re going to do, okay, I’ll do it.” Hopefully if they don’t weird themselves out we can move on.
RM: As people get more excited to see you and you draw bigger crowds do you ever find that it makes the comedy easier? Do you worry that it might get to easy when people are there to see you?
MM: I just don’t want to disappoint them. I want to give them something they haven’t necessarily heard. I make sure I kind of do something I’ve never done before. I just don’t want them to be disappointed or be let down, that’s more what happens. I don’t think it’s going to get necessarily easy in my brain in that way. Certainly it’s easier for me to perform but I still want to them to have a unique experience of the show.
RM: You’re almost at episode 300 of WTF, you got the IFC show coming…Do you have anything else on the way? What should we be looking out for?
MM: I’m about to start working on the second draft of a book. That’s going to come out next year. We got the IFC show. That’s where I’m driving right now, to my writer’s house to work with them in Writersville. I’m going to be on John Oliver’s stand-up show in New York. Montreal Just-For-Laughs festival. You’re up there in Montreal right?
RM: Nah, I’m up in Victoria, BC.
MM: I’m coming up there, right? So I got that. That’s a lot. That’s enough.
RM: This seems like a strange question because I listen to your show and get a lot of advice already, but I ask everyone I interview this last question but do you have any life advice for my readers? Any words of wisdom?
MM: Don’t beat yourself up to the point where you’re missing the point.