34. Marc Maron

The Neurotic Conversationalist

Marc Maron struggled for years to break through as a stand-up comic--until 2009, when he recorded interviews with a few comedian pals and put them online. Now, more than 75 million downloads later, the 49-year-old has his own IFC show, Maron, a fictionalized version of his life as a comedian and podcaster.

Maron, a sharp interviewer, has a knack for creating great conversations. Here, his six essential rules:

Lean In To Your Neuroses

“This podcast was a surprising thing. It just synched up with my need to talk to people. I was broke. I had just gone through my second divorce; my comedy career was stalled. Just to vent I started the podcast. I knew I needed to talk to my peers for a lot of reasons. I’d been humbled by show business and love. Once the show started evolving as a conversation show, those conversations were essential to me. The best conversations I had were things I needed to talk about.”

Prepare

“Generally for prep I’ll go to Wikipedia and get hung up on where people are born. I blast through their life and get a feeling for what they might have gone through as a kid. I picture their high school. I glean some sense of who they are.”

Listen Closely

“I can’t really detach. When I’m not talking [during the interview], I’m way in it. I got J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. to talk, and apparently he never talks. The fact that I got him to talk about how he has a father called 'the singing dentist' … how do you beat that?”

Let Dialogue Evolve On Its Own

“I don’t make a list of questions. Ever. I think a lot of my interviews are driven by my need to feel connection. You listen and when you hear intonations, you hear feelings. It’s just feeling where there’s something more, getting them to a place that they’re not usually. I had Bryan Cranston in there for a fucking hour, and I wanted him to be Walter White. I’m so impressed by Walter White, I forgot to bring up Albuquerque--and I’m from fucking Albuquerque.”

Know When To Provoke

"Norm Macdonald was surprising, because I had no sense of that guy before. He was totally different from my perception of him. If you’re dealing with someone you don't already know, who you’ve experienced only by their work, you have a one-sided relationship. A lot of times what I do is I impose my idea of them and let them fight it."

Stay Honest

“I had John Cale in. He helped define modern music. I hadn’t listened to his new record, so I spent an hour talking about his old stuff with Velvet Underground. Finally he was like, ‘Are we going to talk about my new record?’ So either I’m going to pretend or walk into this awkwardness. I admitted it, and it worked out. It was better than being dishonest. People know.”

[Portrait illustration by Denise Nestor]

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