Transcript for Marc Maron on His Hit Comedy Podcast WTF

Marc Maron: I had been fired for the third time from a political talk radio/internet outlet and my career as a comic was pretty dried up. I was in the middle of a divorce. I was broke and I really just didn’t feel like I had many options. I had run out of choices. I was incredibly depressed. I was emotionally depleted and I was going broke rather rapidly.

Jim Fleming: That’s comedian and podcaster Marc Maron. You’d never know it from what you just heard but Maron found a way to resurrect himself from the ruins of his career as a failed stand up comic. In he says comedy saved his life. After he was fired from his most recent job, Maron decided to record some conversations with the people who knew best, comedians. The interview went on to become one of the top ranking comedy podcasts on iTunes, and averaged 400,000 downloads a week. It’s called WTF. These days Maron’s career is in high gear. His podcast is going strong and he’s back in the stand up circuit again. Steve Paulson asked Maron if his old reputation as an angry guy with an ax to grind made it hard for other comedians to open up to him.

Maron: Well you know comics are a unique bunch of people. We’re all sort of misfits and social outcasts and awkward and self involved I mean you know it takes a certain disposition to get into comedy and I think that emotionally we share a lot of things. You know some of us are angry. Some of us are depressed. Some of us are you know addictive personalities. Some of us are just megalomaniacal but it’s all sort of the same wheelhouse and I think that once the podcast started going they realized that they could have an honest conversation about who they are and what they do and I think that was attractive to comics and I think that despite the fact that I was angry, a lot of them knew me and a lot of them understood where I was at and had some respect for me.

Steve Paulson: And we should point out these comics are sitting down with you in your garage.

Maron: Yes, a lot of them...

Paulson: Is there something magical about the garage?

Maron: It’s starting to seem that way, isn’t it Steve?

Paulson: I mean this is not a fancy garage is it?

Maron: Well no it’s kind of this beat up garage out back. It’s a single car garage. I mean the house was built in probably 1924 and like I put a floor in there and all my books are out there. It’s pretty cozy. It’s something I’ve always wanted. I wanted it to become what it is. Not necessarily a studio but kind of like a I guess they’d call it a man cave. You know there is a magic quality to it. It’s pretty cozy.

Paulson: Now the episode that really put you on the map was your conversation with Robin Williams and this was not the usual Robin Williams that we’ve heard sort of that you know hyperdrive manic Robin Williams. He was actually pretty laid back and real. Can you tell me about that interview?

Maron: Well you know he’s a pretty sweet guy when you hang around. He was always oddly fairly accessible when you run into him at a comedy club or something and you sit and chat with him. If there’s not too many people around he’s almost shy and very sweet and I think that once he agreed to do it you know, I drove up to his place up in the bay area. It was 11 in the morning. It was at his home. There was no one there. It was just the two of us with two microphones and I don’t think that there was anyone really to perform for. And I think he was a point in his life where he had a relapse on alcohol. He had heart surgery. You know he was looking at some darkness and you know he had gone through a divorce and there was a vulnerability there that I certainly understood and I think that he was ready to talk about and to talk about it in a candid way.

[Excerpt from Robin Williams interview]

Maron: You know he had all this stuff and that there really is a certain degree of like it doesn’t matter.

Robin Willliams: Big time.

Maron: It just doesn’t matter.

Robin Williams: That’s the kind of the freedom, the ultimate freedom of letting go in a weird way. Like when you talk about all this stuff. I mean you know the [expletive] that they say about you. I know it’s out there and it used to be, it would immobilize me. And now…

Maron: It would hurt your feeling?

Williams: Oh it hurts everything. You just kind of go well I shouldn’t perform and I’m going no. You love performing. Go out and perform. People will say good things. People will say bad things. It’s the nature of the world. It’s like [unintelligible] It’s like Tina Fey once said if you’re ever feeling really good about yourself this thing called the internet. Now at this point in your life going on stage, being around people you have a good time with and seeing people like Pearl, seeing people like Overton and hanging out with friends and you go oh God and hanging with you even when were at the Comedy Cellar going upstairs and just riffing. That’s worth it to me more than worrying about oh how am I doing?

Paulson: And there’s another kind of conversation that you sometimes have where you’re basically, you start out apologizing to your guest because you’ve had trouble with this person in the past and you sort of you know are up front about it. You’re kind of laying it all out there.

Maron: Well I have to do that. I don’t know. A lot of times when I do that there are a lot of people that I’ve had problems with in the past. A lot of people that I felt like I owed apologies for but you have to understand that sometimes I will hold on to one meeting you know that happened 15 years ago that I still remember and it’s me being a bastard of some kind and sometimes people remember it, and sometimes they don’t, but there are deeper difficulties. I mean like with me and Louis C.K.

Paulson: I was gonna ask about that.

Maron: Well that was a strange relationship for a long time. You know I love the guy. We’ve got a lot of….

Paulson: And you go way back to him and you both sort of started out as comics together right?

Maron: Yeah, yeah I’ve known him a long time and I always had a pretty deep emotional connection to him and I think he to me and we always were able to lock in when necessary and walk each other through things but we sort of lost touch and my envy got the best of me and I, we just didn’t talk to each other and it was difficult so when I did those interviews that was some pretty real stuff to try to kind of re-navigate or try to navigate and renegotiate a friendship to try to save a friendship.

[Excerpt from Louis C.K. interview]

Louis C.K.: You know we had a, we had a our friendship faded away at some point and I had time when I was writing you emails.

Maron: Yeah.

C.K: To connect with you personally.

Maron: Yeah.

C.K.: And you were ignoring me.

Maron: Really?

C.K.: Yeah for a long time. For I don’t know over a year.

Maron: Really?

C.K.: Longer than that. Yeah.

Maron: Ugh.

C.K.: You just wouldn’t answer me and I would write emails that said I’m not sure why you’re not writing me back but I’m gonna persist because our friendship goes back far enough that I think it’s worth saving.

Maron: Right I remember that. Yeah.

C.K.: You just wouldn’t answer me.

Maron: What the [expletive] was my problem?

C.K.: And at some point I caught you on the phone and you said that you felt like when we talk it’s just about me and I don’t really listen to you that I’m very self-centered.

Maron: Right.

C.K.: And I took that to heart but I also thought well I felt like it was unfair.

Paulson: You know it almost sounds like some of these podcasts kind of function like therapy. You know people getting stuff off their chest and for some reason telling it to the world at least those people who follow you gets rid of something out of their deep black box.

Maron: Sometimes. There have been times where people come to it with different expectations. Some people are willing to talk. Some people want to talk. But a lot of times like I said, these are thoughtful people. The Todd Hanson episode around this type of conversation that you and I are having was really the most profound as an event, and I think a lot of times these things….

Paulson: Tell me about that.

Maron: Well you know Todd Hanson was really the original head writer of The Onion for most practical purposes. He was there at the ground floor you know comes from up in your area.

Paulson: Right.

Maron: I’d known him for years and I’d always liked him. We didn’t talk much but like we’re all in the same circle and I had scheduled an interview with him in New York. I was there for a few days doing a live WTF in Brooklyn and I said look let’s do an interview. Let’s do this. Why don’t you meet me at my hotel. So Todd comes over to the hotel and he basically says yeah I’ve been to this hotel before. And this is off mike and I said what do you mean. I came here and I checked in and I had no intention of checking out. So off mike I said well what are gonna do here? Are we gonna talk about this or what do you want to do? And he goes I don’t know. I don’t know what, I don’t know. So we did the interview and we talked for an hour about The Onion, about it’s impact, about you know where it came from, where he came from and at the end he just said look maybe we have more to talk about another time but I really appreciate you know whatever he said I’m paraphrasing. So that was the end of that interview. And I just kind of held on to it. I said look, you know if you want to talk about this, the other thing, we can do a second part to this. He’s like, ok, I’ll think about it. So I didn’t put up that first interview. I just held on to it and a few months later you know he said I think I think I can talk about it. So I said ok. So I met him at his apartment and he you know he walked me through that day and those feelings and the repercussions of taking that action and how it affected him and others and how he felt now and I posted those two together.

[Excerpt from Todd Hanson interview]

Maron: Now what we talked about though that you wanted to make sure that we we talked about…

Todd Hanson: I just wanted to say I’m sorry to all those people. I mean….

Maron: About the selfishness?

Hanson: Yeah. I mean you know like I talked about this a little bit that I had left this note saying oh you know I’m really sorry. But that wasn’t good enough you know. It was, it’s a selfish thing to do to take people’s love and not give it back you know, and if you abandon them then all of the investment of love that they gave you is, you just transmute it into pain and it’s not fair to them. So I mean not only do I thank all of those people but I also apologize to them. I mean I have, I’ve said this to all of them many times and they are sick and tired of hearing it to be honest but I just thought it was important to say not only thank you but I’m sorry and it will not happen again.

Maron: And that, that had a profound effect on me and hundreds and hundreds of listeners who sent emails who had dealt with that, those feelings themselves or had family members that they could never understand how that family member could do that or try to do that and it just shed a lot of light in a very intimate way on a profound horrible reality that is completely selfish and mysterious to people that don’t have those kind of feelings.

Paulson: Now we started out by talking about where you were when you first created WTF. I mean you know your life was a wreck at that point and things have totally changed. I mean the podcast is a huge hit. You do a lot of stand up comedy. I know you’ve had negotiations about a TV show. Is it far to say that comedy has saved your life again?

Maron: Absolutely, absolutely. It saved my life in a very unusual way in that I did it. No one you know gave me an opportunity. No one hung any sort of expectation on me. No one said well we’re gonna run this guy up the pole and see if anyone takes, like it was not I’m the top of the food chain here. You know the pride that comes from creating something successful really with your own hands and your own mind and taking some risks and earning a little money from it is something I never have experienced before and it feels, I’m very grateful for it but it just, to feel like you’ve earned your money and that you’ve earned your success is something I never thought I would feel you know just by virtue of how my brain is built. But it’s more that I could ever ask for and it just blows my mind cause I was, I was washed up buddy, and that’s a reality.

Paulson: So given what you’ve been through over the last oh five years or so, I’m wondering if you have any advice for people comic or not whose life has bottomed out about how to climb out of that pit.

Maron: Well you know and I’m in a different position than a lot of people because of whoever I am and whatever problems I have you know I am two divorces into life. I have no children. The dependent issue was a lot less than a lot of other people who were having trouble and they have certain responsibilities. But I do know that you have to fight through that pride and through that sense of failure. You have to somehow manage to get past that cycle of self criticism and self abuse for whatever you think went wrong in your life and put it aside and try to do what’s in front of you and do whatever you have to do to live your life and get back up on some sort of level ground and I know it’s hard for people right now. My brother is great example. He’s having a tremendous amount of difficulty because of the market, because of jobs. He’s got a large family and I don’t really know what to say to him other than it’s happening to a lot of people and we all had expectations about how our life was going to turn out or how we wanted it to turn out or what we were entitled to but a lot of that isn’t happening for a lot of people. And it’s really not their fault. And you just have to adapt to what’s going on right now for you and for the country and just realize that you can be disappointed but what’s important is that you’re alive, you’re healthy, you’ve got people that love you and depend on you is to not ruin all that because you think you failed, because that’s the stuff that’s gonna get you through this.

Fleming: Comedian Marc Maron talking about how to bounce back from failure and his hit comedy podcast WTF. Steve Paulson spoke with him.


Comments for this interview

I really like what he has to (anne, 08/17/2014 - 4:35pm)

I really like what he has to say at the very end. Very real and very helpful.

Marc Maron, Robin Williams interview (Lets Get Real pod, 08/12/2014 - 3:06am)

Robin Williams' conversation with Marc revealed so much about the hidden humanity in our Public figures. It went to several dark places. The podcast format is an amazing and connecting medium. Thank you Marc, for sharing the gift of honesty through your conversations with interesting people.