My interview with Marc Maron!

They say you should never meet your heroes.  I’ve found that to be untrue.  When I was 18, I met and became friends with Dave Brockie, better known as Oderus Urungus lead singer of Gwar.  He took me under his wing for a few years and helped direct me onto my journey as a professional entertainer.

As an adult, my hero is Marc Maron.   He’s a master of his craft and a truly unique voice.  He’s said in the past that young comics tell him that they want to be “real” and he responds by telling them to work on being funny first.  Marc is both real and really funny.

I wish I ran the recorder the entire week.  We had so many great conversations and Marc offered so much brilliant insight and shared a lot of wisdom.  It’s so hard to interview a person who is so open both in his act and the 160 plus episodes of his super popular WTF podcast.  My challenge was trying to ask Marc Maron questions that even a super fan like me didn’t already know the answers to.  I’m hoping that I’ve accomplished that in this piece.

I keep forgetting to ask you about the music for the show.  It’s an original song that someone wrote just for the show, right?


Is it available anywhere?

He’s going to make it available on his website.  John Montagna is his name.  He’s a bass player.

That’s why I love it.  I’m a bass guy and love a great bass line.

Yeah, he’s great.  He did that music for us.  He just did a bunch of new bumper music for us.

That would be great premium content for the premium WTF Application.

That’s true.

Is there an episode of WTF that you’re particularly proud of?

Most of them I love.  The Louis CK episode is great.  I love the Maria Bamford episode.  Ira Glass I like a lot.  I like the Odenkirk a lot.

I love in the Odenkirk how the tone changes completely half way through after he gets that business call.

I know!  That’s the first one that surprised the fuck out of me, where I was just like, “Hang in there man!”  In my mind I was like, “Let him have his time in this moment.”  He’s very intense.  I never felt any malice, but he’s always been very stern and weird and tense.

You’re very candid when you do the interviews.  Like in the Louis interview he kept saying that you could edit parts of it out, but obviously you don’t.    How important do you think it is that you’re unabashedly honest in order to get the people you interview to really open up?

I don’t know.  I don’t really listen to them after.  That probably helps me in the big picture because I just do these conversations and then they’re gone.  I think if I started listening to them…like I just heard a section of that Louis one on an interview of me and they were playing it back to me and I was like, “Holy shit!”  It was just me stuttering!  “But, but.”   And I’m like, “It’s alright dude.”  I’m willing to risk that.  I know it’s a lot to put out there, but people react in a very emotional way and it tends to move them so that’s good.

I have friends in 12 step programs and I know that one of the steps is apologizing and making amends.  Is it a happy accident that the podcast enables you to do that?

Absolutely and I’m very aware of that.   I can listen, take responsibility for stuff, apologize and also give back to the community that I come from.   It’s great.  It’s a great human undertaking and it’s made me a better person.

It’s odd too because I can’t imagine what that Marc Maron was like.  I guess I’m very lucky that the Marc Maron I got to meet has this clarity.  You’ve been super nice to me.

I was just offensive.  It’s a little over dramatized, but I was very intense.  People misunderstood it as arrogance or aloofness, but I was just very guarded and very preemptively defensive and stand offish.  I didn’t have a lot of close friends.   I always kept a distance, but then I’d go home and say, “I don’t understand why they don’t call me.”   I wasn’t dangerous; I was just intensely hostile and defensive.  People had misconceptions of me and I knew it, but I didn’t know what to do about it.  I couldn’t decide not to put off the vibe, but it seems to have gone away.

My wife has a favorite expression being “You’re so far behind, you think you’re first.”  After the three of us drove home from Just Coffee today she commented to me that you’re the exact opposite of that expression.  You seem surprised by the huge impact you have on comedy and comedians and she said that you’re actually so far ahead that you don’t realize you’re winning.  Do you think that’s accurate?

I definitely see it, but I’m still self involved.  Even though with all this positive stuff coming back to me, it makes me grateful and it’s moving, but I keep moving forward.  I don’t know if I’m taking it in as much as I should or really acknowledge it.  But I try to be present for people who are showing gratitude and give them whatever they out of that moment.  I understand on that level, but it still feels very one on one to me.

To go with the Jon Hamm thing where you managed to have that private moment where you were able to jump up and down and get excited, I sent you the e-mail in advance where I got my gushing out of the way.  I still had three restless nights leading up to this experience thinking about the old adage about how you should never meet your heroes.  And even though I’ve met you twice before, this was my first time working with you.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!  You did a good job.  I have a concern about that too.  I wouldn’t have been mean to you, but I might have been sort of an asshole or said something weird and had to explain myself.

Like when I got off stage Friday and you said, “That was loud!  I mean good job.”

That’s just my own insecurity.  Like, “What’s he doing up there?”

Yesterday I asked you about the importance of Twitter.  You were saying that it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you’re the only person who’s going to promote yourself.

I can’t tell you how many times I put things on Twitter, on Facebook and send out an e-mail blast and I’ll do a gig and someone will go, “I didn’t know you were going to be in Madison.”  What do I have to do, call you?  Everyone is getting their information from different places.  So all you can do is amass your people into a place where you can communicate with them.  They’re not going to look at the paper.  It’s not the day of age anymore where people are like, “I wonder who’s at the comedy club.”  And you don’t want those people to come anyway because they probably don’t know who you are.  It’s just seems necessary.  It’s a necessary evil.  Now whether or not you get addicted to it and your life is consumed with it that’s a whole other thing.  I have to check my Twitter now.

I’ve noticed you’re on your Twitter a lot!  Do you think aside from the podcast, Twitter is the second most effective marketing tool for you?

I don’t really know what results it yields.  I don’t the percentage of people who come from that.  I’ve got the podcast and it helps.  For someone like me, I have to go out and fight to keep my people in the loop because a lot of my people aren’t necessarily comedy people.  A lot of the people who listen to the podcast aren’t comedy fans per se.

It surprises me that you say that.  I became a fan of yours first through the podcast, but then I immediately went on iTunes and downloaded all of the albums.  You don’t think that happens all the time?

No.  I don’t necessarily think so because I see what the album sales are and I know the numbers from the podcast.    There’s just no fucking way.  If I sold as many records as people listen to the podcast, I’d be a rich man.  So that’s not necessarily happening.  It’s a different mode.  They come out.  Some people get a TV show or they catch on in a huge way.  I’m still not catching on in a huge way, but I’m catching on in a niche way, which is fine if I can keep feeding that monster.  I don’t have a network television show.  I do a show out of my garage.  I know how many people listen to it.  It’s a great number.  It’s a huge number for me, but it’s not like two million or three million people.  It’s not a sitcom.  I’m not doing a theater tour, but I’m still fighting in the trenches to raise awareness that I do comedy and get people to the shows.

Marc on Conan from the TeamCoco website

But even though it’s not a sitcom, you’ve done 44 Conans.

Yeah, but that didn’t yield anything.  That was a hard lesson to learn.  You can’t manufacture lightening in a bottle.  I used to think America doesn’t want me.  It just didn’t have any profound effect.  Somehow or another I wasn’t aligned right.  Whatever my talent is wasn’t manifesting itself in a whole way in those different phases.  Also the way I approach stand up is a little different emotionally.  I’m just glad that I stayed in it long enough to have this happen.  I didn’t see this coming.  Even with the half hour specials on Comedy Central and the Conans and the Lettermans it didn’t matter.  I wasn’t selling tickets.   It just wasn’t happening.  I was obscure.  And I still am to some degree.  Now I’m not obscure to people who run in our world.

Madison is kind of an interesting city because it’s so political and progressive.  You had people like the ladies who own the art store Anthology at the show who know you exclusively from Air America.  How often does that happen where you have people who don’t know you as a comedian come out?  You’ve sort of reinvented yourself.

I don’t know if there was reinvention.  It was just me doing jobs and me trying to manufacture opportunities because I didn’t necessarily have a narrow point of view.  I’m not a caricature of myself.  I’m not a specific type of comedy.  I’m just myself.  So the political thing was difficult for me because I worked really hard to stay up to speed on politics to do political radio and to fight the good fight against the Bush administration.  It was not my nature.  I did some political material, but I was never a pundit or a lefty spokesperson.  Now all of a sudden I was in that position.  People came to have their politics honored and to pitch in.  It became a burden for me because I didn’t want to have to stay in that world specifically even though I gave a voice to a lot of stuff that people were really grateful for.  Once I stopped doing radio and once Bush was out of office I didn’t want that to be my wheelhouse so I had to make a hard choice to honor my feelings and what was interesting to me as opposed to continue to work that angle to that audience because I just found that there are better people who do it with more passion for it.   Even my leftiness in some respects around certain things isn’t as left as people would like.  It’s not that I’m conservative, but I don’t believe in certain applications of political correctness.  I’m definitely not there to champion every liberal cause.  I’m a comedian for Christ sake.  You can’t be a comedian and do that.

Now what you do is very introspective and you’ve managed to find the humor in what I imagine had to have been pretty emotionally crippling events in your life.

There’s definitely an element of that sadness to comedy ratio.  There were a lot of things I’d talk about that people would laugh out of pain or discomfort.  It was not structured in a way that was innately comedy.   It was just the revelation that was so raw.  I still do some of that.  I can access a tremendous amount of sadness and manifest it fairly quickly.

There are a lot of moments that are so specific and real in your act that are relatable.  Like, for example during the trial separation piece where she comes back and you’re begging to just look at her ass.  I’ve been there.

I realized that divorces are nuanced.  There are two sides to it and everyone has got their part.  So if you’re just going to be the guy that’s like, “Fucking bitch”, then I’d be the doing myself a disservice being disingenuous.  So owning my part saying that I was emotionally abusive, and then you’re no longer a sympathetic character.  It’s a difficult road to walk because people want you to be angry at something specific.  So if you’re going to do both sides of it then it’s a little more nuanced and you risk more.

In my book the risk is paying off.  Not only is Marc Maron experiencing a rebirth in clubs across the country, but WTF should be essential listening to every comedian out there.  It is the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” of comedy.   You know what, I take that back.  WTF should be essential listening to everybody regardless of being a comedian or not.  I really believe that if Marc hadn’t found his calling as an entertainer he would’ve made an excellent therapist.  I know I picked up moments in different interviews where he was guiding his subjects to moments of self discovery.  Maybe they figure it out during the interview or maybe certain revelations don’t hit them until they’re driving home from the Cat Ranch.  I know now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on my week, whether intentional or not, Marc taught me some pretty valuable life lessons.

Also, if you only know Marc through his podcast, next time you’re on iTunes, spend the money and download his three comedy albums.  They’re pretty phenomenal. His fourth one will be available soon.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Marc and I’m anxiously waiting for the next time I get to work with him.


About Mike Bobbitt

Sometimes professional storyteller.

Posted on April 5, 2011, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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