“I’ve been on Conan O’Brien like 47 times, and you don’t know who I am, right?”
Marc Maron says this to his veterinarian the opening moments of the first episode of Maron—premiering on IFC tonight at 10 p.m.—in an attempt to impress her as she takes a look at his cat. However, this statement isn’t a fictionalized or even exaggerated part of his new scripted show; Maron has been on O’Brien’s shows more than any other comedian. A veteran in the comedy game, he’s performed stand-up around the country and has recorded specials for HBO and Comedy Central Presents. With a strong cult following backing his popular podcast, a new TV show based on his life, and a memoir, Attempting Normal, released earlier this week, it’s safe to say Maron isn’t an unknown.
The comedian, 49, has turned his once-tumultuous life around since he launched his homegrown twice-a-week podcast, WTF With Marc Maron, in September 2009. Maron currently holds the impressive second place title in iTunes’s top comedy podcasts—in the same list as comedic heavyweights like Joe Rogan and Adam Carolla. The show, recorded in his Los Angeles home garage, follows a regular format where Maron speaks candidly on his life—anything from daily gripes to his cherished cats, ex-wives, or reflections on his past alcohol and drug addiction—and then jumps into longform and in-depth interviews with celebrities, musicians, and comedians. He’s created nearly 400 episodes, with a notable roster of guests including Ben Stiller (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation).
The podcast interviews are raw, revealing, honest, and thought-provoking and occasionally get heated. Over his career, Maron has been vocal about his opinions on comedians, and naturally, it doesn’t always bode well with his peers. He duked it out with Louis C.K. (Louie) on a two-part WTF episode discussing their once close friendship and how it fell apart, even later approaching the topic again in an episode of the third season of FX’s Louie. In another podcast that ran in January 2011, Maron told watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher about how he found his jokes homophobic and offensive, and the talk angered Gallagher so much that he stormed out in the middle of the interview—out of Maron’s garage.
“I was going a little hard on him,” Maron told The Daily Beast in an interview last month. “I wanted to be fair with him, but I think I started picking at him about some of his jokes—sort of weirdly offensive to gay people and to immigrants and whatnot. I think he thought I was just trying to sandbag him, but he’s kind of nutty in that he sort of thinks he invented comedy. I just wasn’t really buying his bullshit.”
Maron first and foremost sees himself as a comedian and naturally has strong opinions about his industry. He knew he wanted to be a comic at the young age of 11 and described his younger self as the “sensitive” and “overly insecure, cocky kid.” During his college days at Boston University, he decided to dedicate his life to comedy. “It’s what I am,” Maron said. “It’s what I set out to do. It’s what I’ve always done in my adult life, so if I don’t do it, I definitely get squirrely. [If] I don’t do a stand-up set for a couple of weeks—even though I have all this other stuff going on—I start to lose the sense of who I am ... It’s a love, and it’s something that defines me in a great, deep way.”
He later landed a couple of gigs at Air America, a progressive talk-radio station. In between his shows, his life “fell apart”—his wife had left him, he was going bankrupt, was about to lose his house, and his comedy work had “dried up.” Since Maron was still under contract at Air America and had a security card to the building, he would sneak guests up the freight elevator after hours and recorded the first dozen episodes of WTF there before transitioning over to his home garage.
Die-hard fans will be happy to see that the episodes are filmed in a similar home garage in Maron. The humor in the show is refreshingly dry-witted, speaks to an indie culture, and bears a close resemblance to Maron’s real life—from run-ins with his ex-wives to the recording of his podcast. In the first couple of episodes, he interviews Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall) and Denis Leary (Rescue Me)—who is an executive producer on the show—and then gets into some hijinks with them. However, Maron doesn’t actually hang out with Foley or Leary in real life.
“I don’t hang out with a lot of people,” Maron said. “Obviously, a lot of people come out on my show, and a lot of times I know them, but when you really think about your life, who do you really hang out with, especially if you have a girlfriend or a wife or a husband? I don’t think we realize how small our lives really are.”
An interesting aspect of Maron is that some of the stories are based on real events, but amplified for drama. In the first episode of his IFC show, Maron encounters an Internet troll who is critical of his podcast. He becomes so obsessed with this anonymous troll that he digs around to uncover his true identity, and then confronts the teenage boy in person. The interaction was based on a real situation; however, the troll was not a teen, but someone Maron describes as an “aggravated grown man.” Although they never really met in person, Maron did do some detective work to find him and tried to “straighten him out” on Facebook. Over a yearlong period, they worked out some sense of understanding each other.
When Maron isn’t spending his time engaging with fans and trolls online—he has over 224,000 Twitter followers—he focuses on shredding a mean guitar, a hobby he’s held since he was 11 or 12. His taste in music varies from rock to jazz and blues, and he occasionally jams with fellow comedians Bill Burr and Greg Behrendt. His latest music obsessions include LCD Soundsystem, Peter Green (from Fleetwood Mac), and Iggy Pop. “Guitar for me is sort of like a meditative thing,” he said. “It’s one of the few things I can do to sort of get me out of my head and kind of get grounded and lose myself a little bit.”
Fans of Maron can get more inside of his head with Attempting Normal, a book revealing humorous and touching stories on his colorful life. In an interview on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon recently, he promised that the book would contain details on his comedy career, marriage, divorce, porn, Viagra, guitars, and even a chapter on buying pants.
“I’m very excited about both the book and the show—these are things I never thought would have happened for me,” said Maron. “And it’s because of a little podcast I did in my garage with absolutely no expectations. It seems to be going OK right now, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”