Marc Maron Seeking his Columbus Audience
About a month ago, I was turned onto Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast thanks to multiple recommendations right over here on the CU Messageboard. Thus far, I’ve only listened to eight episodes out of his massive collection of 360 (and growing) shows, which ranks me somewhere between “completely ignorant” and “infantile beginner” on the scale of Maron fandom. Still, I like what I’ve heard and plan to not only continue listening, but also plan to go see him live on Friday at the Capitol Theatre here in Columbus. (Tickets are still available if you want to join me).
So, Tuesday evening, I received an email asking if I’d like to do a phone interview with Marc the very next day. I agreed immediately, as this was an exciting and rare opportunity to interact with someone who has become a passive participant through my headphones on many of my recent attempts to jog in the winter. But my excitement turned to stress as I realized I had signed up to do something I probably wasn’t capable of doing proper justice. I didn’t want to just serve up the basic “Marc Maron 101” interview as a few other local media outlets have already completed, but I was also uncertain that I could ask the questions interesting enough to produce a piece that contained information that hasn’t already been said on his 400+ hours worth of podcast archives.
Then it hit me. Anxiety and skepticism and getting worked up about something like this is kind of the world that Marc’s comedy lives in. I realized I should just throw myself into it and attempt to just have a conversation with the man and see where it goes. It’s not typically my style or approach, but neither is interviewing famous non-local comedians… so why not just have some fun with it.
So without further ado, here’s the full transcript of my twenty minute conversation with Mister Marc Maron from earlier today. I hope that it’s enjoyable.
Walker Evans: Hey, how you doing?
Marc Maron: Good man, how are you?
WE: Pretty good! Well, I guess to start off, right off the top, I have to ask how many of these interviews start off with someone telling you that they’re a really big fan?
MM: More often than not, but there’s still some that don’t do that. I still do interviews where people are reading off some sort of wiki page or my bio on my website, so I’m always happy if people are fans. At least I know we’ll have a relatively good conversation.
WE: I saw a tweet yesterday that said that you were humbled by talking to somebody who knew absolutely nothing about you. So I was wondering what that ratio is like.
MM: It’s one of those things… you know, I’m not a big star by any means, but with a little research or a little interest you can pull something together. I’m not saying they didn’t try, but, by going over bios and wiki pages you end up doing history and speculating about things, and I just can’t stand doing those interviews where they just have no perspective of where I’m at. I’m not being arrogant or in any way a diva, it’s just that I can’t respond to “So you’re from New Jersey?” No, I’m not. I was born there and I don’t know where you’re going to go with that.
WE: Heh, right. So what was New Jersey like as a baby?
MM: It was great! I have fine memories of my grandma’s house and a few other ones. I could go through the memories that I have one by one if you’d like to make a list of my childhood memories from one to six years old.
WE: Nah, that’s ok. I will admit that I’m a little bit of a Marc Maron newbie. I got turned onto the podcast a few weeks ago so I’ve only made it through eight or nine episodes, and just finished up Mel Brooks yesterday. But I’m loving what I’ve listened to so far.
MM: Even that… as happy as I am that you jumped on board, in my mind I’ve done 352 episodes that you haven’t listened to.
WE: Well, I got this email last night at like 7:45pm asking if I wanted to interview you and I realized I didn’t have time to listen to the other 352 in 15 hours, but I’ll see what I can do.
MM: You want me to give you a couple hours so you can fast forward through at least 20 of them?
MM: Yeah, those are good times.
WE: Yeah, so I’ve probably got three years ahead of me to listen to the rest of them. So anyway, how’s the “Out of the Garage” tour going so far?
MM: It’s going good. We’ve have some good shows. There’s only been a couple shows. I mean, I did Albany and that was great and DC was great. Had to cancel Boston because of a snowstorm, so these shows coming up in Cincinnati and Columbus, I hope they’re good. I mean, I’ve got some fans coming out. There’s not a powerful Maron following in Central Ohio that I can tell, but there’s definitely going to be enough to have a good time. I think once people read this piece, that’s going to turn it around.
WE: Of course! The pressure is on now!
MM: Yeah, they’re going to have to turn people away probably.
WE: When you’re out on tour and travelling around do you get to spend much time in cities? Do you like being a tourist while you’re there or do you just hit the hotel, the show and then get on a plane and get back out of there?
MM: Sometimes I do. It depends. If I’m doing three nights or two nights I’ll do it, but these are sort of hit and runs. I’m flying into Columbus tomorrow because I’m a moron. I should have just flew out tonight, because I’ll have to get up at like 3 in the morning to get to Cincinnati by showtime. So I’m going to fly out in the morning and get a car in Columbus and drive to Cincinnati for the show and then drive back to Columbus the next day. So I’ll be seeing a bit of the countryside and perhaps eating some local food.
WE: Have you been to Columbus before?
MM: It’s been a long time, man. I did a comedy club there at some point… in a mall… I think I saw some free movies.
WE: That club is still there, but I’m glad you’re doing the show Downtown this time around. Should be a little more fun.
MM: I hope so. You know I think Columbus is actually selling pretty good. There’ll be a nice crowd there. I think it’s going to be pretty good. Part of me thinks I should just do one big Ohio show and invite the entire state.
WE: Of course, if you did that we would have a snowstorm and no one would drive anywhere.
MM: That’s my fault. That’s what I bring. That’s my karma.
WE: Well, as someone who is a fellow internet entrepreneur, you know, you’re making a living doing something you love on the internet and you’ve been doing that for awhile now, but I have to ask if is there a part of you that thinks that seems weird? Do people still ask you how that works?
MM: Weird in what way?
WE: I think some people don’t fully comprehend that doing something on the internet is a real job.
MM: Hey dude, I mean, whatever they want to think. A lot of people don’t understand how to download a podcast. A lot of people don’t understand a lot of things. You know, I hope they like their job. So yeah, over time we figured out a way to generate some income through the podcast and we do ok with it. Hopefully the market for the medium will grow and you know, it has to be heading that direction. Radio is sort of dying and this is sort of the new frontier. We do alright. I dunno, whoever thinks putting up your own podcast on the internet with your own format and your own site and selling advertising spots to people and selling merch and having an app and touring and also selling premium content… if they don’t think that’s a real job, I guess they can go fuck themselves. Right?
WE: Right, that’s a great answer. I guess I find myself having to explain what I do to an elderly aunt who doesn’t really understand what’s going on. I wasn’t sure if that was something you encounter from anyone.
MM: Well, elderly people, some are proficient at these things and some aren’t. What do they think a real job is? Ask your aunt for that list and I guarantee there’s only ten things on it and nine of them are not something you want to do, or are even available jobs anymore.
WE: True. Well, like I said, I’ve been listening to a few episodes and your interview style seems really intriguing. It seems really well researched but also really conversational at the same time. What you do think makes a good interview style?
MM: I dunno. I don’t really research that much. I sort of just want to engage in a conversation and follow where that goes. If I have some place I want to go, I just kind of get a sense of the emotional flow or the content flow of a conversation and just follow it. I do want to know a few things. If I don’t know a lot about a person I’ll sort of brief myself on what their life looks like in the material that I can dig up. But usually I just follow the flow of the conversation and hope that it gets going. You know what I mean?
WE: Yeah. Just see what direction it takes.
MM: Yeah, and I’ll try and guide it a bit if it seems like we’re going into an interesting place.
WE: From the stand-up bits I’ve seen of yours online, it seems like a lot of your comedy is based in anxiety and mental anguish and maybe some mild neurosis. But when I listen to your podcasts you sound like a really personable guy who makes pretty authentic sounding connections with people when you talk to them. I don’t know if that classifies as irony, but is there some sort of walking contradiction going on there?
MM: I don’t know. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. You know, a guy alone with his mind is different than a guy connecting with another person. A lot of times, people like me relax when you can sort of be interested in somebody else and what they’re saying. I don’t think there’s any mutual exclusivity to any of that. I do bring a lot of that stuff to my conversations as well. I think that a lot of my material is very experience-based and is just generally my thoughts about things. I guess I have mental anguish but I’m certainly not as angry as I used to be. I think it’s more driven by personal experience and my reaction to things. Yeah, most of those things you say are true, but I think that probably makes me more able to connect with other people because I want to, to get out of myself.
WE: You said your comedy used to be more anger-based, and I’ve heard you say that on the show a few times. If you could go back, or send a message to your younger self, would you say not to do that stuff, that it’s not the right direction, or would just leave it alone because it’s a part of growing up and wising up?
MM: What, the anger?
MM: I dunno man, it’s like, life is short and weird and for the most part difficult for everybody. So, you have to figure out what you’re angry about and how much of it is self-pity and how much of it righteous and how much of it is disconcerting and off-putting. I dunno, I think there’s a lot of angry people around, but you can drive yourself crazy and not have a very good life if you think you’ve been jilted. Bitter anger is very unappealing. It’s really just some sort of amplified self-pity. There’s just no time for that shit. But you know, there’s no reason not to be angry, usually, if you really think about things. It just depends on how much you want to live there, you know?
WE: Being a tech guy and a business guy, I’m a little interested in the workings of the podcast itself. Do you have a team of people that you work with on research or post-production, or is this really a one-man show?
MM: I have a guy in New York that I’ve worked with for years, and I’ve got a part-time assistant that helps me with booking and this and that. But in terms of research and who I want to talk to and how I talk to them, that’s all me. It’s just me and whoever I’m talking to in the garage usually. I’m working the knobs on the mixer and hitting stop and record. My partner in business does all of the editing and tightening and hacking the show up and uploading it. He also deals with advertisers and most of the business end. It’s really a two-and-a-half person operation.
WE: Nice. I read that you’ve also got your show coming out on IFC this spring and I read what little was out there about it, and I have to ask a very important question that will dictate whether or not I will personally watch it… is it more of a documentary, or more of a reality show?
MM: It’s not either. It’s a scripted half hour comedy, single-camera style.
WE: Good, TV needs more scripted shows.
MM: Are you being serious?
WE: Very serious, I’m not a reality show guy at all.
MM: Well, it’s definitely not that.
WE: Well, how has that gone? Was that a fun experience to shoot that stuff and write that stuff?
MM: Yeah, it was amazing. You know, I had given up that any of that stuff was going to happen for me and for it to happen in the way that it did with the freedom that we had and the support of IFC, and just being that outlet, it was great. I think we did really good job. I hope people dig it. It should come out in May. Beginning of May.
WE: I’ll check it out then. Well, you mentioned that tomorrow, Thursday, you’ll be in Cincinnati… do you have any romantic plans for Valentine’s Day in Cincinnati?
MM: No, because my girlfriend’s here [in LA], and I just hope that Valentine’s Day is as unimportant as she claims it is, which I always find to be somewhat of a lie. So we’ll see. I think my romantic plans are to convince my girlfriend that everything’s ok and I’ll take her out to dinner when I come back.
WE: Nice. So just delayed plans.
MM: Yeah, I think that’s that best plan right now.
WE: Cool. So then, you’ll be here in Columbus on Friday. What kind of material are you going to be hitting us with during your show?
MM: I will talk about the things I talk about. And people who are coming to the show who know me — that is, if you don’t know me, go online and poke around and go look at my Conan appearances, go look at my Craig Ferguson appearances. If you go to Conan’s site, there’s like three bits there and you can get a good idea of that stuff.
WE: Well, one last thing… can I share a little personal story with you real quick?
WE: So I’ve been listening to your show a little bit and I’ve noticed that one of the reoccuring areas of discussion that you seem to delve into — and I don’t know if this is the entire history of the show, or just the ones I’ve picked out — but you seem to talk a lot about the idea of in your formative teenage years having some sort of guru or some sort of slightly older person to help open your mind to culture in different ways…
WE: Listening to that has given me a lot of time to reflect upon my own upbringing. I grew up in a little town, and I’ve always been a computer geek, and we had this little computer repair shop run by three guys, and one of them named Jamie Kurtz was this older guy — he was 32 or 33, I was 16 at the time — this was in the mid-90s and my friend TJ and I would hang out there at the computer shop all summer long. Jamie was kind of our cultural guru who opened up our minds. You know, in the mid 90s I had long hair and wore flannel and listened to Smashing Pumpkins.
WE: So Jamie introduced me to Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads and DEVO as well. He actually grew up in Akron and went to the same high school as the Mothersbaugh brothers, but I think they were a few years older than him. But he had all of these world experiences that just blew us away. And you know, I haven’t talked to him in awhile, and kind of lost track because he moved back to northeast Ohio, but I’ve enjoyed listening to your show and having it take me down some of those memory paths, which has been really sort of interesting and fun. So I wanted to say thank you for that.
MM: That’s great to hear, man. Those are important people. And if you really look, as an adult, and look at how you structure your life and your sense of culture and your particular taste, you can usually trace it back to those guys.
WE: Yeah, even though I haven’t talked to the guy in 15 years, he still has an effect the way I look at film and music and everything.
MM: Yeah. Oh yeah. When your brain is hungry and being introduced to its own ability to be intelligent and critical when you’re a teenager, I mean, that’s when you fill it up, you know?
MM: Well that’s cool, man. So have you talked to that guy or what?
WE: I talked to him maybe five or six years ago on Facebook really briefly. He’s up in the Canton-Akron area, so I really need to make it up there and reconnect. I have a wife and kids, and he has a wife and kids, so it can be a little tricky to schedule something. But I’m definitely going to make an effort.
MM: Yeah, I mean who knows what’ll happen. But sometimes maybe its just better to…
WE: Leave it alone?
MM: Yeah, yeah, just send a message on Facebook. Because he might be the same guy that you left when you were a teenager, you know?
WE: Ha! Well, thanks again for taking the time today, and I’ll see you Friday.
MM: Ok, buddy. Bye-bye.
For more info on Marc Maron and the WTF podcast, visit (and subscribe!) at www.wtfpod.com.
To purchase tickets to see Marc Maron’s live stand up comedy show at the Capitol Theatre on Friday, February 15th at 8:00pm, visit concerts.livenation.com.
Photo by Brian Kelly.