Marc Maron talks career, creative process

Courtesy of Marc Maron

By Akshay Seth, Daily Arts Writer
and Erika Harwood, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 16, 2015

“Yeah, hold on a second,” comedian Marc Maron said. “I think maybe I’ll get a big bag of that litter.”

Marc Maron


Saturday, April 18th 2015
Royal Oak Music Theatre
$50


While running some errands, including stocking up on cat supplies for his two pets, Monkey and Lafonda, Maron squeezed in time for a phone conversation with The Michigan Daily. With strained instructions to a pet store employee serving as background music, Maron discussed his April 18 show at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, his groundbreaking podcast “WTF With Marc Maron,” which helped establish the medium’s relevance and, lastly, his recent interview with Mick Jagger.

“Then the next day, when Keith (Richards) called — you know, Keith’s really my guy,” Maron said. “With Keith, I definitely wanted to try to be cool and ask some of the right questions, to get him to connect with me. And with Mick, I just wanted him to be Mick. With Keith there was more at stake.”

Though Maron initially attracted attention at the height of the late ’80s, early ’90s comedy boom, that prominence quickly faded as the club circuit became oversaturated with lukewarm talent. With too many amateur stand-ups putting out a steady stream of lackluster material, career comedians like Maron fought to cut through the white noise. Other fledgling road comics of the time, including now-household names like Louis C.K. and Sarah Silverman, went on to find writing careers in sitcoms and late night shows as the ’90s wound down. Meanhwhile, Maron struggled.

“When things got really rough for comedians, after the (first) boom, when there was a lot of us out there, they just sought to lowball everybody because they knew we were desperate,” Maron said in a recent interview with Vulture, explaining his relationship with comedy club owners.

Maron’s troubles with alcoholism, depression and drug abuse further inhibited his ability to stay relevant. Listening to any one of the opening monologues in his 530 episodes as the host of “WTF,” there’s a vivid yet insulated window into some of the anger so visible in his early material. In “Thinky Pain,” Maron’s most recent Netflix special, he describes that technique as “grunting incoherently at the audience, giving someone the finger, then crying in a hotel room.”

“Previous to the era that we’re living now, I really couldn’t sell tickets so I would do club dates. As an unknown headliner there’s no reason for clubs to book you unless they believe in you, and I burned a lot of bridges,” he said. “People didn’t really give a shit about me ... so my experience for all those years previous to the podcast and the TV show, I was always a pretty respected comic, but I just didn’t have the draw.”

Broke and unable to book shows, and with little to no career prospects, Maron bottomed out. As he struggled to achieve the success he initially found as a stand-up, he saw an opportunity in trying to talk about his problems with other comics. The most intimate and economical format for this became a pre-recorded podcast that eventually grew into what is now considered one of the greatest podcasts of all time.

“You have to enjoy the process,” Maron said. “All that confidence that I didn’t have through most of my life, the self-esteem I didn’t have through most of my life was now actually occurring.”

The podcast’s success gave Maron’s career second wind, as did a more tempered and conversational tone in his standup. “Maron,” his television show on IFC, recently finished filming its third season, which will premiere this spring. As he continued maintaining his sobriety, “WTF” served as ongoing therapy with a network of peers, many of whom Maron had known since his start 30 years ago. In what is arguably the podcast’s best episode, Maron spends nearly two hours talking and eventually making amends with Louis C.K., with whom he had a falling out as their careers took opposite trajectories.

“I saw the podcast as a community service for a community of comics. These are my peers, this is my life, this is my community, this is my neighborhood,” Maron said. “The fact that comics were coming in and talking and ... were listening and catching up with other comics they hadn’t talked to in a while. It was very gratifying.”

Since the resurgence of his career, Maron’s approach to stand-up has become more methodical. Rather than just showing up on stage and bitterly screaming at audience members, Maron’s recent approach to performance has mellowed out. He spends the months leading up to tours writing and workshopping material at local Los Angeles venues, then chiseling it into shape on the road. The most discernible characteristic of his work, which will likely be apparent in Saturday’s show at Royal Oak, is openness with a sense of control.

As for what’s next, Maron doesn’t want to get stuck trying to understand where his career will guide him.

“I would like to figure out how to enjoy life,” said Maron. “That’s my goal.”