That's a relatively new sensation for the longtime standup comic for whom self-loathing and merciless introspection seem as vital as breathing.“It's an exciting time,” he said. “I've been doing this a long time and nothing ever really fully clicked. There's a great pride in something that's clicking and something I have complete control over.”
He's talking about “WTF with Marc Maron,” the biweekly podcast in which Maron sits down for lengthy talks with comedians, actors and other showbiz types. Among the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes, it has become required listening for comedy geeks and anyone else with an interest in candid, stripped-down interviews. A parade of marquee names in comedy — Conan O'Brien, Ben Stiller, Louis C.K., Russell Brand and many more — have made the pilgrimage to be interviewed by Maron in the garage of his Los Anglees home.
“Who would've known the way I would be brought to the public's attention would be me working in my garage?” he said.
These are heady times for the 48-year-old Maron, who performs Saturday at the City Arts Center. In the wake of the “WTF” success, he's basking in the glow of a critically acclaimed comedy album, “This Has to Be Funny,” and even has a potential show in the works for IFC.
Maron concedes he was “not in a good place” when he launched “WTF” back in 2009. “I had just gone through a miserable divorce, and I was pretty broke,” he recalled. “ I wasn't a big draw on the road. My manager had given up on me, and I was in trouble.”
Then things got worse. Air America canned him after a stint hosting a radio show.
“But we kinda kept our security card. We started going into the studio at night and doing these [podcast] shows. They didn't kick us out of the building.”
Somewhere along the way, Maron left New York for L.A. But that podcast, “WTF,” endured. He invested in some electronics equipment and set up shop in his garage. A particularly revealing interview with Robin Williams helped spark interest in the show. Other milestones followed, including the time Gallagher angrily stormed out of an interview after Maron challenged him over potentially anti-Semitic remarks.
“I've become a pretty good listener,” Maron said by way of explaining his success as an interviewer. “I'm definitely not afraid to volunteer my own stuff, and I think that helps a lot. If I talk about myself, then people will bring in their stuff. I think it's just a nature of the long conversation without a lot of structure and also my need to emotionally connect with people.”
Maron credits the show with doing more than reviving simply his career.
“I was in trouble in a lot of ways when I started the podcast: career-wise, emotionally, psychologically,” he said. “By literally talking to people twice a week and reaching out to people — not just in a 'show' way, but in a personal way although it was public — it enabled me to reintegrate myself in the comedy community, to learn new things about myself. The arc of personal growth is profound.”
Not that the self-loathing has completely disappeared.
“That doesn't seem to really go away,” he said. “Certainly, it's one of those psychological traps that when shit gets bad, it can come back.”
Photo by Larry Hirshowitz