Marc Maron, in most respects, is far BEYOND the BR!NK. As a stand-up comedian, he performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien over forty times and recently made his debut on Conan’s new TBS show. He’s been featured on Comedy Central Presents and HBO as a stand-up, and on Air America (the short-lived but influential progressive talk radio network) as a personality and a writer. And furthermore, he’s toured far and wide to entertain thousands in comedy venues (large or tiny, clean or seedy) for over twenty years. The man is quite the successful entertainer, to put it lightly. So, why are we featuring him? Here’s our answer in three little letters: W. T. F.
In 2009, Maron began recording a radio show of his own – a podcast, aptly named: WTF. The episodes feature interviews that Maron conducts with various guests – typically, fellow comedians and entertainers – following an opening few minutes, solo, of stories, musings, and often piss-your-pants-funny responses to fan email. Not even two years old, the show now has 440,000 downloads a week and is consistently one of iTunes’ ten most popular podcasts. Last month, both the New York Times and Rolling Stone recognized Maron as one of the best (and funniest) of his class; the NYT article cites his uncanny ability to uncover a sense of “vulnerability” in his guests, and it is exactly this quality that makes his approach to podcasting unique, and quite revolutionary. You certainly don’t need to be a comedian to listen to the WTF podcast; to relate with the content is to relate with anyone else who is trying to self-realize by connecting with others.
Maron invited Daily BR!NK to the infamous garage of the Cat Ranch, where – after meeting Boomer and Monkey face to face – we sat down to speak with the man himself (sort of, he remained mostly standing as he answered our questions – sometimes adjusting papers or shelved books). Below are a few excerpts from the interview, but alongside our traditional transcript, we’ve decided to remain true to WTF style and post the entire audio interview. Excuse the quality – it was recorded on an iPad, and you can oftentimes witness Maron riffling through papers on his desk, hear his cell phone beep, and, once, listen to a garbage truck roll by. It’s no WTF Pod, but we hope you enjoy our interview with Marc Maron – his honesty and candor are models of what you’ll find on his revolutionary and BR!NK-worthy podcast.
I’m curious about the inception of the podcast, where the idea came from, what made you decide to do it, how it developed, and if there are any podcasts you were listening to at the time.
In 2004 I had an opportunity to do lefty talk radio on Air America. I had no radio experience, and I ended up being the driver of their morning show, which was a comedy heavy show, but it was definitely political stuff. Then it was too funny. So when the snooty CEOs fired me, it was very dramatic. Everyone loved the radio show. Then some other executives gave me another radio show out here as sort of a placeholder, and then they fired me from that. I hated them. I hated all of them.
But then I was in the middle of a divorce, and I was trying to hold on to the cat ranch here. There was another opportunity at a new incarnation of Air America, a video Internet show, an Internet TV show. So, I went and did that for a year, which was okay. It was just difficult. And then they ran out of money again and fired us. When I went back the last time, I wanted nothing to do with political commentary. I just didn’t want to do it any more. I just hated it. It was making me hate everything.
They didn’t take our security cards away. They left us in an office for a month because of our contracts. So we were breaking into the studio, basically, is what we were doing. We would go into the studio late at night, after hours. We knew the night guy, the tech, and he would let us in, and we’d bring guests up from the street on the freight elevator. That’s basically the story.
The first eight or ten episodes we did, kind of after hours in a guerrilla way, but with really good equipment. We didn’t know what it was going to be. I wasn’t listening to any podcasts. I knew it existed. I knew that people did it. It was an option to sort of free yourself from the constraints of corporate media and also have the complete freedom of creativity and expression… So, I came out here, bought these microphones, bought that. I had some buddies, like Jesse Thorn and Jimmy Dore. There were some other podcasters early on that were very nice. I don’t know how to work any of this shit. I have a rough understanding. I can record and talk.
So, the first episodes that are released are the ones that were recorded in the old studio.
Yeah, in the Air America studios, which I imagine are completely dismantled and gone. I wonder what happened to all of that equipment, aside from the stuff that I stole.
Which is in here somewhere.
So you always knew you were going to interview comedians.
I don’t know. I interviewed a lot of people on Air America, a lot of different people because I didn’t like doing politics then and so I kind of mixed it up. I’ve known comedians. This community has been my community for 25 years. So, I mean, one way or the other, we have an understanding. It’s all kinds of comedians. I didn’t know how long that would last or whether it would run out, but I’ve interviewed a few writers.
Yeah, you interviewed a porn star too, right?
Dana DeArmond. That was sort of an experiment. I was sort of mixing it up, and I had some questions. Yeah, I interviewed a porn star, a sex worker, some writers.
Ira Glass, yeah. A musician once or twice. I’m open to doing other stuff, and I want to do other stuff. The theme of the thing just evolved into what it is, which is really just having good, authentic conversations with people about whatever comes up. I mean, that was really what it became. It was comics because I like comics. I’m at a point in my life where I can sort of appreciate my peers, and I like listening to people. It wasn’t always like that.
One of the ways that you have revolutionized the podcast is the way people interact with your content, because they go for the humor and then they go for the stories. But they’ve also started going for you and going almost – this kind of sounds silly – but almost for themselves because of the way you include the listener in the podcast. How has your interaction been with people because of the podcast?
I get a lot of e-mails from people that are really helped by the show, just by the rawness of it and the honesty of it. It makes them feel less alone. It makes them feel less crazy. It provokes conversations. It instigates creativity in people who have gotten stagnant.
…I think there are some things that I’m trying to work through, so the dialogue that I have with my audience is about working through them.
Dave Foley recently tweeted, “I just listened to Marc Maron’s “WTF” with me. I never listen to interviews that I do, but I really enjoyed talking with Marc. He’s great at this.” A lot of people say this about your interviews. Why do you think when you sit down to talk with these people, you get such interesting interviews?
I don’t know. I’m pretty straightforward, and I think that I’m… despite my own selfishness and whatever, I come from a very self-absorbed upbringing. I’m sort of wired to listen in a weird way and engage emotionally very quickly. I get very emotionally invested. Dave Foley’s podcast, by the end, it was fairly heartbreaking. I just feel like, despite all my insanity and despite how self-absorbed I am, I’m very emotionally available to a fault, in the moment. I thrive on the immediacy of conversation and that type of engagement. I think that because I’m forthcoming, they are as well.
One thing you talk about on the show a lot is how you are developing and changing as a person. I’m wondering how you have changed because of the podcast, and how much of how you are changing and how you address it is because of what you’re doing now.
Just by talking to people, I started to find myself really listening, getting laughs, being interested, getting emotionally involved in people’s narrative. It was like me returning back to who I was when I was a kid where my own self-obsession and fears were no longer an obstacle to me engaging in the world and having that sense of joy. And also, I’m one of these people that like everything . . . I don’t know if I’m an old Jewish man or I’ve always been one. But there’s something about like, wait, where are we going to go. Someone invited me to a play, and I’m like, “Oh, the theatre. We’ve got to drive to Santa Monica. It’s probably going to be bad.” Like I’ll talk myself out of most shit. But I went and I was like, “Oh my God, I forgot how great this could be. Look at all these people doing this beautiful art and making me cry.”
If anything, the podcasts, outside of me trying to deal with problems, I think I’m doing okay, aside from the relationship world part. It’s gotten me re-engaged with being excited and interested and listening and open-hearted a little more.
So what can Daily BR!NK do to help you out? Do you need a technician? Do you need an assistant? Do you need…
[thinks] Sure. If you can find me a dude that knows about radio production that I can talk to occasionally, if I’m in trouble, that’d be good.