Marc Maron isn’t sneaking up on anyone anymore. Six years after he ducked into the Air America studios to record his first set of WTF podcasts after getting fired from the radio network, he’s one of the big names in the podcasting world. And the success in podcasting has led to the most prolific time of Maron’s 26-year career, in which he’s written two books, brought his stand-up act to larger venues, and created a comedy series appropriately entitled Maron. With the third season of the show underway, Maron talks to us about the line between life and TV (and getting closure on the former via the latter), the post-Serial world of podcasting, and the realities of comedy in a Twitter universe.
After a few seasons, the comic has settled into the routine of writing Maron with a team, better integrating events from his life to create compelling stories. “At some point, we got to depart from the real events of my life and move into possibility,” he tells us. “The emotional foundation and certainly some events are the source of some stories, but I don’t think we are following my real life in this season.”
As always, Maron needs to convince himself as much as anyone else that he’s not strip-mining his life for material. But listeners to WTF know that there has been a striking similarity between the content of his show-opening monologues and episodes of Maron.
“The character of Maron on TV is a little different than me,” he says. “He seems to live a little bigger life than I live, but it is a bit different.” He claims that the “emotional dynamics” from his life are there, but those are events, not stories. “So do we mine my life for events? Of course. Like when I couldn’t get my cable hooked up, or the cable company just gave me the runaround for the Wi-Fi, that became a very surreal episode of the show. And did I really go to anger management? Not in a while. It’s been years, but we thought that would be a good place to go, and one of my writers has experience with that.”
One of the emotional dynamics he explores in season three is his relationship with his ex-wife, and a breakthrough moment comes in an episode he directed, where the ex appears on the fictional version of WTF in order to promote a book. Maron, who discusses many aspects of his failed marriages and relationships in both the podcast and his stand-up, really felt that this episode provided some emotional relief that the real-life connection to his ex didn’t.
“There was a lot of stuff in there that was very raw and very real to me. There is a bit of a lack of closure for me in that relationship, and I was able to play it out,” he says. “It’s pretty emotionally heavy, but I think I did a good job with it, but it did provide me some emotional catharsis and closure by doing the episode.”
The episode required Maron to shave his now-signature mustache and beard to make him look like he did in the early 2000s, so he could do a flashback scene to the failed marriage. “It’s just a character, but the ex-wife stuff, it was just a little heavy, man. So even with the distance, going back into that place was not easy,” he says. “It was weird. It was definitely a little bizarre, but it was interesting. It was weird to see me get so emotional when I was editing the thing. Seeing the raw emotion and no beard and mustache was a little bit much.”
Touching the third rail of exes and family in the series has been a mixed blessing for Maron, whose platform on IFC is bigger than his stand-up career and even his podcast. His father, for instance, stopped talking to Maron after seeing how the show portrayed him; the character, played by Judd Hirsch, is a narcissistic womanizer who lives in an RV and only visits his son when he needs something.
“I was willing to take that chance [of upsetting him] because I don’t think that I characterized him that badly, and I don’t think that Judd played it in a way…it was elevated, and it was definitely disarmed, and what he was upset about was what anybody would get upset about, being a selfish person or having that experience seeing yourself fictionalized. Maybe you’re going to be flattered by it, or you’re going to be mad about it.” On the other hand, his mother loves the fictionalized version of her, played by Sally Kellerman, even though she doesn’t come off that well, either. “I guess it comes down to if it affects somebody that you love or loves you and you don’t want to cause them more pain, then you try to do the right thing,” he says.
Of course, WTF is still going strong, and six years after he began, Maron considers it his main job, He’s expanded the guest list beyond comedians over the past two years, talking to film directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and wrestlers like CM Punk. How did he feel last year, when it seemed like dozens of thinkpieces discussed the “new form” of podcasting amidst the success of Serial?
“Look, I would love to win a Peabody,” he says. “I would like to get the respect I’ve earned if it even exists, but you can’t necessarily be consumed with that shit. The truth of the matter is, Serial is a tremendous advertisement for the medium. It raised awareness of podcasting existing at all. It’s a natural transition for people, once they get adept at engaging with the technology, to look around, and maybe you’ll make it onto their little docket of podcasts if they lock into the medium.”
Maron will be trying a theater stand-up tour this summer, hoping that the popularity of his podcast and the series will fill the larger venues. What he doesn’t think will happen is one of his fans taking to Twitter to repeat something he said out of context or uploading videos of off-the-cuff tirades. “I don’t have a bunch of douchebag trolling idiots who are sitting there with cameras and go home and put stuff on YouTube,” he says. “I’ve got to be honest with you, no one has ever done that to me in my career. No one has ever shot me and then posted it. Hasn’t happened.”
As a veteran tweeter, he realizes that comedians like Trevor Noah have been taken to task for things they’ve tweeted in the past, but he feels safe because whatever he puts out there, on stage, on film or online, is always something he thinks he can stand behind.
“There is that weird area of determining how to use one’s freedom of speech. What’s necessary? What isn’t necessary? What is really a constitutional fight, or what is really just an insistence on using words that hurt the feelings of others? That’s a personal journey,” he says.
“I think that if you have your own shit in order, even if I go off on a tirade, I doubt I’ll ever say words that I’m not aware that I’m saying, and generally if I use words that would be offensive to people, I explain it, and I have a conversation with myself about the word right in front of people,” he says. “You’re primarily talking about ethnic slang, gender slang, transgender slang. I mean, it’s a pretty small pool of things, and then you get people that are like, ‘Well, why can’t I say that word?’ And the truth of the matter is you can say whatever you want. You just might find yourself alienated and only allowed to hang out with people that say that word. So I hope you want those people as your friends.”