This is weird for me, but I feel like I know Marc Maron. I discovered him this February because of his IFC show and decided to give his podcast WTF with Marc Maron a shot with his Lucinda Williams episode. I haven’t been the same since, in a really a good way.
Marc is a comic who’s been in the business for over 25 years, but he’s only started to see some very real and powerful success, and it’s all because of a podcast interview show he started in his garage in 2009 out of sheer terror and desperation. He was reeling from heartbreak and financial decimation from his second divorce, he didn’t have a job, and he had burned bridges with just about everyone he’d met in comedy and show business. He was sober, but had been a serious alcoholic in young adulthood, and suffers from anxiety, an eating disorder, and issues with his parents. I’ve listened a good deal of his early episodes, and it was obvious that when he started the podcast he was still harboring some serious anger and resentment.
Like in many cases, though, it turns out there is a soft, sensitive guy underneath the hostility and bitterness, and he’s also a funny guy, a brilliant guy, and a very honest guy. Honest in a way that he’s built a career out of articulating exactly how he’s feeling about a situation in the moment, whether it’s a comedy audience, or Iggy Pop, or laying it bare with Louis C.K., who was once his best friend. It can be slightly jarring; sometimes it’s jarring because he’s honestly telling someone that he resented their success, and other times it’s jarring because he’s showing a kind of sincere love that’s just not usually present on interview shows. There’s a lot of glossy praise, smoke blowing, and purposeful controversy in the Hollywood interview machine, and more serious interviewers usually conceal themselves completely in an attempt to seem neutral and unbiased. Marc Maron doesn’t conceal himself at all, and often he unnecessarily interjects himself and his own neurosis into interviews with highly successful people. During his 2011 interview with Conan O’Brien, when Marc asked Conan, “[In reference to Conan’s father] Was there that sense of competition though, where you felt that you had to do something more intelligent?” Conan replied “No. No, I didn’t have that. But clearly you’re working through some personal issues through me.”
I think this is the crux of the appeal of Marc Maron: his obsession with self and his own ego. His self-awareness, humor, and genuinely good spirit make all that self obsession palatable and relatable instead of grating and exhausting. I feel like I’m working out some of my own issues by listening to Marc try to work out some of his by talking to successful creative people, some with some big issues of their own. I’m learning a lot of about the history of comedy, about music, about people I’ve admired for years, and some I’m justing being introduced to. But I’m also learning a great deal about myself.
Marc originally started the podcast talking to the people who would still take his calls, and eventually he had a steady roster of comics giving great conversations and insights into their lives and careers. But there was another thread running through the early interviews: Marc seemed to always end up apologizing for some past slight. Because of this theme something very beautiful happens over the course of these interviews: the podcast itself is a tool of redemption for Marc. After hours of these types of engrossing, and humbling conversations, Marc changes before our ears from bitter to grateful. He’s still struggling with that ongoing battle with the self, that existential struggle that haunts us all, but he’s more relaxed, less critical, more humble, more appreciative.
Marc still frequently interviews titans of comedy, but he also sprinkles in some heavy hitters from music and even the culinary world. Some of his recent guests have been Nick Cave, Jonah Hill, Iggy Pop, Thom Yorke, John Cale, David Sedaris, Simon Pegg and chef Alex Guarnaschelli. He has a way of disarming almost anyone (except for Gallagher, but that interview is amazing to listen to for other reasons,) and making them feel comfortable to just be themselves for an hour. Listening to these interviews is like listening to private conversations. But as much as I like listening to these conversations, I think I may like listening to the intros even more; listening to him sort out his baggage a little, whether it’s the joys and fears of getting married again, bonding with a stray cat on it’s death bed, his difficult relationship with his father, his brief and ill-fated friendship with Sam Kinison and The Comedy Store at the height of his cocaine binge, or just about the delicious food he just ate that now makes him hate himself.
The second season of Marc’s IFC show Maron has been picked up, he’s been cast the movies Frank & Cindy and Flock of Dudes, and he keeps a pretty busy stand-up tour schedule, but hopefully despite all that he’ll be able to keep up with his twice-weekly podcast until the end of time, or at least until I die. Don’t die until I die, Marc, ok? I’m counting on you.