Comedian Marc Maron's career is about connecting with anyone who's willing to connect with him. He says he wants to engage with celebrities, with listeners, with everyone.
Maron's currently doing everything from a stand-up tour to podcasting to unleashing a new season of his IFC show "Maron" upon the world.
"All those things are not in a day, obviously," Maron says. "That would be a hell of a day, if that were a day. Days are filled — this morning I met with a friend at the coffee shop to talk personal stuff. Now, I'm going to talk relatively personal stuff with you. Then I'm going to go back to my house and do a short interview with Richard Lewis to help him promote what he's got going on."
What makes a WTF interview?
When it comes to what makes the cut for a guest booking on his "WTF" podcast, Maron says it's about desire.
"Am I interested? I don't know everybody. A lot of times people have to say, 'Do you know this guy?'"
The first few years of "WTF" guests were largely people Maron knew, though he's also worked with bookers to get larger celebrities. He doesn't do press junket interviews because that's not what his show is about, but he's willing to get someone during a junket if that'll make the interview happen.
"The point of the interview primarily with me is to connect with a new person," Maron says. "If you listen to the first 200, it's just me having celebrities in the garage to help me with my problems. I mean, they may not have known that, but I think they did. That's how the whole thing evolved, is I have a sort of innate need to connect, and over time I've grown a broader ability to empathize and engage and listen in an emotional way that I don't think was possible at the very beginning."
Maron says that his own needs have changed over the years, but that he finds he's moved by people's stories and enjoys the process of conversation. The pursuit of conversation means there isn't much prep that goes into a "WTF" interview.
"I generally don't do thorough research. I do not make a list of questions, because then I'm hinged to them, and I will know too much going in."
Maron says he doesn't believe in the old saying that, in an interview, you should know the answer before you ask the question.
"The only times where I've regretted not having questions is when people do not play along with the conversation, or they do not engage in conversation. Then you sort of think, 'It'd be helpful if I had some questions,' because I'd like to follow the conversation wherever it goes organically."
Maron tries to get a sense of who someone is, he says, and if they've had a broad career or are there to promote something, he's sensitive to that.
"I generally focus on where they come from, what their life might have looked like, what their journey was professionally, doing vague research — the type of research almost anyone could do."
Interviewing musicians and filmmakers
He says it's a little tricker with musicians than other types of guests.
"When you like a musician, it's like, I like those two records. And then all of a sudden you look them up, and they've done 90 records. So are you going to sit and listen to 90 records? I have, I've done that. It doesn't necessarily change the interview at all, but I do want to have respect."
One of those instances: When he had on Maynard James Keenan from Tool.
"I listened to all the Tool records — which, you've really got to be a fairly angry teenage boy to engage with — but I was doing it a couple years ago. But we ended up talking about parrots."
Maron says he worries with filmmakers that he'll end up having missed a movie and that it'll hurt the conversation, but when he had Paul Thomas Anderson on, he ended up having an engaging conversation about how he felt about Anderson's films.
"So it's really from my personal knowledge, and just maybe bolstering that a little bit with getting a sense of who I think they are, and then a lot of times, they diminish that sense."
'Maron' on TV
The IFC show is a heightened, alternate look at the real life of Marc Maron, but he says that there's still truth in it. "It's all the actual story," even when it isn't literally true, Maron says.
One of the most popular episodes of his show was "Radio Cowboy," which shifted from Maron to largely focus on the character of Phil Hendrie. Maron says it explored something he doesn't think has been explored much: The paradigm shift from away from people listening to traditional radio, the kind with morning zoo crews and wacky sound effects.
"I have a lot of respect for real radio people, and to see somebody work a board ... efficiently, especially alone, is pretty phenomenal," Maron says. "And it's silly, it's ridiculous, it's tedious, it's annoying, but it's an amazing skill set — it just doesn't have relevance that much anymore."
Watch Maron talking about morning radio in his stand-up (warning: contains adult language):
Over time, Maron says that he's getting better as an actor — he looks back at the first season and sees himself being a little tight, but by the third season, he's become comfortable in the role of himself. Maron says he didn't realize the first season that he needed to define the TV version of himself.
"Because it's not based on a life — these are 22-minute stories. They're teleplays, they're little movies. They're not based on a 24-hour life cycle, or even perhaps the full emotional range of me within a particular situation."
Maron says that certain parts of his personality make it into the show, including a certain "curmudgeonliness" that he says isn't necessarily who he is 24 hours a day, but that provides something for the show to base itself around.
How everything could go wrong
The new season of "Maron's" through line is his character pursuing bigger opportunity, he says, following him as he develops a talk show. But there's more than that.
"What this season really explores is 'What if the worst that could happen, happens?'" Maron says. "The career trajectory stuff takes a real turn — but not an impossible turn. So it departs from my real life, but not emotionally, because everyone who knows me and knows the character knows that what happens this season is possible, but you hope it doesn't happen. I hope it doesn't happen."
Maron says that the way things could go awry was driven home to him when a fan came up to him on the street.
"This guy's like, 'Oh my God, Marc Maron, I love you man! I love everything you do! I've been with you since the beginning, man. I'm so behind everything you're doing, I'm really rooting for you, you're great. It's such a thrill to meet you. How's it going?' And I go, 'Well, everything's all right. I'm just hoping I don't screw everything up.' He's like, 'You will! You will! But we'll be there for you! We'll support you still. We're looking forward to it,' almost."
Leaving behind resentment
Maron's grown a lot from the beginning of his show, when the sense of resentment was palpable (as Maron himself openly acknowledges).
"Some of those resentments have gone away, definitely. But some of them — there's still a way that any individual, no matter what they do in their life, no matter what success they achieve — and I'm not saying this is for everybody — but they're always going to judge themselves against another," Maron says. "It takes a sort of discipline for the type of person that experiences this to say that person's success has nothing to do with you, and to believe that. It does not imply anything about you. That might just imply an inability to enjoy one's own life."
Maron says he's achieved a life with more self-acceptance and that he's thrilled to be making a living in show business and selling tickets to his shows, as well as generating creative material.
"I'm a little tired. There's part of my brain that's sort of like, 'All right, so I did everything that I wanted to do — can I stop now? When do I stop?'"
The resentment issues in Maron's life have become more about why he's not even more successful than he already is.
"It's just this feeling of, well, why don't more people really — why am I not for everybody? And I don't even want to be for everybody — I'm barely for me. So I'm thrilled that I have this audience, but there's still part of me that's like, 'Why am I not Kanye?' I don't understand why I don't have that notoriety and that popularity."
Maron says he's trying to remind himself to understand not to be driven by insecurity and competition.
"There's no real winning, there's no game, other than being content with who you are and having peace of mind."
A world where podcasts didn't exist
Maron says that things like self-acceptance and success wouldn't be quite so possible without podcasting having lifted his profile.
"I would be scrambling. By the time I started doing the podcast, I didn't know how anything was going to turn around, because traditional TV was not really happening for me; stand-up comedy, I was not selling tickets."
At the time, other opportunities just weren't working out for Maron.
"It's a sad sort of fantasy. I probably, knowing the relative cowardice I have about making dramatic changes, would just be plugging away miserably, doing stand-up for a limited number of people."
The Maron family
One place where the TV show gives a real intimacy is in its depiction of Maron's family. He says that the show gives him a chance to not just rewrite history, but to project theoretical situations that will never happen.
In one scene about his family, he says that it looks a lot like how he'd think things would be like if it were possible for his family to be together in a similar way in real life.
"A lot of this stuff is founded in real emotional dynamics. And I think that Sally Kellerman as my mother did a brilliant job. I think she is my mother. I think Judd Hirsch, once he focused on the type of depressive and personality, emotionally, that my father has, that all locked in."
He says that that projection continues in the next season with how he deals with his ex-wife.
"[The show is] a way to resolve things. I'm not sure my father saw it the same way in terms of how he was characterized. My mother was very thrilled, even though her character seems a little nutty too, but I think my father felt a little bit betrayed by it, or that it was too personal."
Maron says that he tried explaining his point of view on the show to his dad.
"I say, 'Well look, this is my life. You're part of my life. If I'm going to experience or use my life as a place of exploration or creativity, this is the way I see it.' And I don't know that he necessarily even was arguing with the depiction. He was arguing with the necessity of it."
What motivates Maron now
Through all of it, Maron's learned how to tell when he's doing a good job.
"I know when I'm doing a podcast and I'm having a great conversation. Like if I feel engaged and something amazing is happening, I feel it, and I'll call my producer Brendan. I'll say, 'This is good. And I'm excited to put it up.' And that happens a lot."
Maron says that, with the show, knowing that he's doing well has come with watching his evolution as an actor and seeing the show's stories come together.
"And actually, for me, just having the feeling of watching something I've made without going, 'I can't even watch it! This is killing me!' I used to not even be able to watch myself do stand-up."
Maron says it's still difficult. He's been recording sets he's doing on the road in order to turn them into a new hour of material — around 20 sets so far — and he still hasn't listened to them. Still, he finds joy in doing stand-up.
"The moments I like about stand-up is when something happens that is completely unplanned, by anybody, me especially," Maron says. He works out new material on stage, so, "My process protects me from being consistent."
Maron knows there's a certain danger when you put yourself on stage in front of people, or online.
"Everybody's just one tweet away from having to leave the country, disappear, go into Twitter Protection Program."
In the end, he wants people to laugh. While recording his interview with the Frame, he kept looking over to the producer booth.
"I'm looking to see if I'm getting laughs!"
Maron says he actually likes having the tables turned and doing interviews of his own — especially when interviewers get away from the usual to ask him things he hasn't been asked or thought about before. So next time you run into him in the street, try to ask him something new rather than telling him you know he'll fail.
"Maron" returns on IFC on Thursday, May 14.