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Nothing to Offer but Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat
Marc Maron is like a comedic David Frost. He’s become known for his
WTF with Marc Maron
podcast interviews, he gleans wisdom and life stories from famous figures in music, film, and comedy—and does it all so effortlessly. Maron rarely pushes, but instead makes a connection with his subjects—emotionally, mentally, momentarily—by offering up private information about himself. Though he has stated he is foremost a stand-up comic, since starting the podcast in 2009 Maron has interviewed Mel Brooks, Louis C.K., Robin Williams, Conan O’Brien, Amy Poehler, Carl Reiner, and 500 other notable creatives. Last year he released a book,
, and is in the second season of his eponymous IFC show.
In any case, you can see why, in the moment I walk into my interview with Maron (while he’s being photographed for this very feature) I’m nervous and sweating; I’m interviewing the interviewer. The shoot is at a loft in downtown L.A., and as I walk in there are comments from someone on set about my perspiration.
“Is it that hot out there?”
“Yes, but growing up in Texas, this is all built-in,” I say, referring to my finely tuned sweat glands.
In this moment, everyone in the room is listening—the stylist, Maron’s publicist, Maron himself, the photographer, and other inordinate viewers.
“Don’t tell me you’re from the Heroin Capital of Texas.”
I freeze. I am in fact from the Heroin Capital of Texas, or rather, the city right next to it. [This is significant, because in my mind, all I can think about is Maron’s well-known past addiction with drugs and alcohol; he discusses it much on his podcast, and he recently celebrated 15 years of sobriety. I am 30 seconds into the same room with him, and heroin is the subject.]
“I am,” I reply.
I'm a raincloud at this point. But I make my way over to introduce myself to my subject.
Maron says, “Are you the interviewer guy?”
“I am,” I echo.
Maron sharply says, “Okay,” as he turns his eyes away. The publicist giggles to cut the tension. But, I might as well be dead. Now the scene is set for the interview with Marc Maron. [Spoiler: It was all fine in the end and we bond over music for the bulk of our time.]
Who’s grinded out a career, in your eyes? Well, I think anyone who survives whatever it is that they’ve set out to do in their life and lands somewhere, is a good indicator of the benefits of the grind.
The book, podcast, stand-up, TV show, and even your Twitter—how do you view your separate projects in relation to yourself? Well, I engage with all of them differently. I set out to be myself and true to myself, so then it becomes medium and the context that we’re dealing with. With scripted television… Over the course of the first season of Maron, it was something I’ve never really done before, so there was a big learning curve. I was prepared to do it and I showed up for it. I can only learn by going through it. With the second season, I think you saw a more defined version of myself. We start to figure out—I start to figure out—what part of me is appropriate for the character because it is sort of limited. So you’re like, “How is this guy going to react? What is the right implication of my real self?” That’s going to be “this guy,” and I think we’ve sort of landed on that.
Most of the stand-up is built through improvising, I don’t write that much. I outline and think through things, and through repetition it becomes crafted.
With the book, I started that stuff in transcripts of monologues that I did on the podcast, these were improvised and then you build out from there. The advantage of the book—or the disadvantage—is that you can dig a little deeper through writing. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about framing for my life. By taking the piece that I might have improvised and then exploring where it comes from, what it means, and how I relate to it.
The podcast is about me in relation to others, in a very immediate and hopefully authentic way. All I really set out to do is connect and have a genuine conversation. In the opening I just go through stream of consciousness. A lot of my thinking happens out loud, so whether it’s with somebody else or whether I’m sitting there by myself, it’s happening in the moment and I’m surprised at my ability to put things together—like even right now.
Do you think being genuine, being yourself when you’re interviewing someone is what opens people up? I genuinely have a need to connect with people, emotionally, or as quickly as possible. I feel like I understand them or that I’m being understood. That’s something that’s just a core element of who I am. Sometimes I fight it. Sometimes I fight people. Sometimes I connect to people that may not feel connected to me or sometimes I lack boundaries and that provokes something. I think the entertainers and people that are creative want to talk and feel and go deeper, whether they know it or not, and they want to connect as well. So by offering myself up and by being as intent on listening and engaging with their story, I have the innate ability to be co-dependent pretty quickly, within minutes. I have an assumption of who I think people are that’s based on a snap judgment or appreciation of somebody’s work. Either they’re going to prove me wrong or they’re going to sort of expand and become much more than I ever anticipated.
Who grinded out a career in music? I don’t know that anybody who finds any success, that’s lasting in any form, hasn’t grinded. Because if somebody is going to surface as an original voice in any way, it takes time to get there. And there are some people who get it too early and then have to figure out how to…
…how to sustain it.
Photographer: Yoshino at YoshinoPhoto.com. Stylist: Juliet Vo at Julietvo.com. Groomer: Brendan Robertson for therexagency.com. Producer: Adam Browne at SixWolves.com.