Mic drop

Marc Maron, whose WTF podcast has be­come a cul­tural jug­ger­naut in the US and be­yond, on Louis CK (‘I think he will come back’), men’s be­hav­iour and the ghost in his garage

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - ED POWER - WORDS BY SHILPA GANATRA Mar­cMaron­playsVi­carStreet,Dubli­non Thurs­dayApril26th

Marc Maron on how to strike up a good con­ver­sa­tion

It’s the end of an era. The day af­ter we speak, Marc Maron is mov­ing out of the Los An­ge­les garage where nine years ago, as a re­ac­tion to los­ing his job with ra­dio net­work Air Amer­ica, he be­gan in­ter­view­ing his comic friends and post­ing the con­ver­sa­tions on the in­ter­net. Since then the garage has be­come world-fa­mous, and seen lu­mi­nar­ies such as Barack Obama, Robin Wil­liams and Jen­nifer Lawrence through its door for WTF with Marc Maron, one of the high­est-rated pod­casts going.

“A lot of peo­ple are wondering whether the podcast is going to be the same when it’s done from the new garage. I think some of what makes the podcast has to do with me – it can’t be all the struc­ture,” he says, speak­ing from his new digs, 10 min­utes away. “I’m try­ing to get out of the idea that I’m leav­ing this mag­i­cal rit­ual space.

“That said, there seems to be a ghost that’s liv­ing with us. It knocks things over. If it was mov­ing stuff I’d be con­cerned, but a few things fell over. I’m okay with ghosts as long as they’ll meet me half­way. If they want me out, it’s going to be a prob­lem.”

Maron (54), who is twice di­vorced and now in a re­la­tion­ship with artist Sarah Cain, is mov­ing with his much-loved cats, which seems to fit with the per­sona built through his pod­casts, self-ti­tled sit­com and stand-up com­edy: that of a can­tan­ker­ous but emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble cynic. Even his re­cent role as Sam Sylvia in GLOW, Net­flix’s women’s wrestling com­edy-drama, was a self-serv­ing direc­tor with a soft cen­tre. Pierce Bros­nan ex­plained it best when he said that the predica­ment of dark com­edy is “you have to bring the au­di­ence in and push them away at the same time”, and that’s os­ten­si­bly Maron’s gift. In each of his podcast episodes, he be­gins by talk­ing about his own life – any­thing that’s on his mind, from the dif­fi­culty of putting pod­casts to­gether to the hu­man con­di­tion. Then the time is given over to his guests, although he de­fi­antly re­mains as open as a book, so for bet­ter or worse, the in­ter­view be­comes a two-way process. The magic is that this dy­namic quickly gives a mea­sure of the guest.

“Be­cause of my style, I have a prob­lem if peo­ple don’t know to come in and con­verse,” Marc ad­mits. “When peo­ple wait to be asked ques­tions, that’s a chore for me. That’s when it be­comes a job. That’s rare, but it hap­pens. Most of the time, it even­tu­ally opens up into a con­ver­sa­tion, but you want that to hap­pen in the first half, not the last half. But you get what you can.”

Nat­u­ral­ly­compul­sive

Some episodes break the usual for­mat, like the one he recorded in Kilkenny while per­form­ing at the Cat Laughs fes­ti­val. It’s a favourite of his, though his up­com­ing re­turn to Ire­land is solely to Dublin as part of a larger Euro­pean tour.

“I don’t know much about Ire­land; I think it’s a beau­ti­ful place but that’s a purely mytho­log­i­cal ob­ses­sion,” he says. “I’ve never spent much time in Ire­land ex­cept Kilkenny, so I have no sense of Dublin or any­where else. So I’m ex­cited to come back. I’m plan­ning on spend­ing a few days ex­tra out there, and maybe take a train some­where ex­cit­ing, if we can fig­ure it out.”

While on tour, the podcast will, of course, go on. He has con­tin­ued it twice weekly since it be­gan, which he puts down to “be­ing a nat­u­rally com­pul­sive per­son”. Those fa­mil­iar with his back­ground know that he hit trou­bles with co­caine and al­co­hol on the stand-up cir­cuit be­fore reach­ing so­bri­ety in 1999, thanks to his sec­ond wife, Mishna Wolff.

It may be too re­duc­tive to say his ca­reer turned around af­ter­wards. But the fol­low­ing year he had a small part in Al­most Fa­mous (his line, “Lock the gates!” is a mo­tif in WTF) and made his one-man show de­but with Jerusalem Syn­drome. Three years af­ter that, while continuing on the com­edy cir­cuit, he landed his Air Amer­ica morn­ing show, which con­tin­ued un­til it didn’t. Thank the gods of pod­cast­ing for that, as it led to WTF, which now reg­u­larly gar­ners 16,000 lis­tens in the first few days of an episode and even­tu­ally gets more than a mil­lion streams via iTunes, Spo­tify, YouTube and other plat­forms. It has crit­i­cal ac­claim, too – it’s be­come the podcast that Hol­ly­wood’s celebri­ties want to do, and Amer­i­can dig­i­tal mag­a­zine Slate named the Louis CK two-part episode, where the peers laid their grievances bare, the great­est podcast of all time.

As a man, a co­me­dian and a friend, Maron watched with vested in­ter­est in Novem­ber as Louis CK was ac­cused of and ad­mit­ted sex­ual mis­con­duct, lead­ing to the can­cel­la­tion of his film I Love You, Daddy and net­works such as Net­flix, FX and TBS cut­ting ties. Since then, for­mer podcast guest Aziz An­sari was also em­broiled, and from the out­side at least, the cul­ture of com­edy ap­pears to have shifted. Has he felt any tan­gi­ble re­sults of that?

“Louis’s not around any more – that’s the tan­gi­ble change,” he says. “It’s cer­tainly raised aware­ness and ev­ery­one’s con­scious of where women were at, what they were feel­ing and what was going on. And cer­tainly, men needed a les­son on how to be­have. Stand-up is a free-for-all, so there’s no HR per­son and no in­fra­struc­ture. It’s made most peo­ple aware of their own be­hav­iour and afraid for their past be­hav­iour, and also made them aware of be­hav­ing bet­ter, I be­lieve.”

Does he think Louis’s ab­sence is tem­po­rary?

I’m hop­ing that our coun­try still ex­ists and has enough free­doms that en­ables me to con­tinue do­ing the podcast. And I hope that the world is still in a con­di­tion where I can still func­tion

“If any­one’s going to be able to process it pub­licly, it will be him. It will be sad if he didn’t,” he says. “Tim­ing is a weird thing. Cer­tainly, he did get caught up in the swirl of ac­cu­sa­tions. It was at a cul­tural mo­ment where peo­ple had to be made ex­am­ples of. And peo­ple had to pub­licly pay for their trans­gres­sions to fa­cil­i­tate change, and that’s the way it goes. I can’t speak for him and we’re not really in touch much, but I think he will even­tu­ally come back.

“It’s tricky be­cause part of com­edy is deal­ing with the darker as­pects of hu­man na­ture, and about ex­press­ing truths that are un­com­fort­able,” he con­tin­ues. “If the con­ver­sa­tion doesn’t con­tinue and peo­ple are just afraid and an­gry, then at some point ev­ery­thing will get stuck in a mire of self-cen­sor­ship. And when a male ad­dresses any­thing of this sort at this time, you are un­der scru­tiny, by be­ing a male with a mouth that is mov­ing. Hav­ing these con­ver­sa­tions pub­licly is going to be in­ter­est­ing and provoca­tive.”

More act­ing

In the com­ing months, in ad­di­tion to Maron’s tour, we’ll see him along­side Al­i­son Brie and Betty Gilpin in the sec­ond sea­son of GLOW (Gor­geous Ladies of Wrestling), a part that earned him a Screen Ac­tors Guild nom­i­na­tion for best male ac­tor in a com­edy se­ries. It’s just one of the var­ied projects earned since the podcast kept his pro­file high: he’s also writ­ten books, had bit-parts in Girls and Louis CK’s se­ries Louie, and Maron, the se­ries based on a fic­tion­alised ver­sion of him­self, ran for four se­ries as a cult favourite.

“The core of ev­ery­thing I do is stand-up com­edy,” he says, ex­plain­ing his breadth. “And as a comic who chose not to write for other comics or take a job in tele­vi­sion early on – I’m not claim­ing in­tegrity – it’s easy to hold on to it when no one’s of­fer­ing to buy it out, and I did have a cer­tain some­thing that peo­ple didn’t want – it’s about where the op­por­tu­ni­ties come in.

“Act­ing in GLOW, with­out hav­ing to wear the writer or pro­ducer’s hat and not hav­ing to play me, was some­thing I wanted to try. I was for­tu­nate to have that op­por­tu­nity, and I was cer­tainly ready by the time the op­por­tu­nity came. Maybe I’d like to do some­thing good in movies next, so we’ll see if that hap­pens.” As a writer or an ac­tor? “As an ac­tor. I don’t have the pa­tience to write. I come from the Homeric, oral tra­di­tion of telling sto­ries un­til they stick in your brain. I’ve writ­ten some books, which was okay, and writ­ing scripts is okay. I’m half­way in cre­at­ing a story for a movie. Maybe I’ll do some writ­ing but it’s a pain in the ass.”

More in his com­fort zone, the 1,000th episode of the podcast will take place next year, which also marks a decade of pro­duc­tion. Is he plan­ning some­thing spe­cial?

“I’m hop­ing that our coun­try still ex­ists and has enough free­doms that en­ables me to con­tinue do­ing the podcast,” he says, a not-so-veiled ref­er­ence at the sit­ting pres­i­dent. “And I hope that the world is still in a con­di­tion where I can still func­tion. If we can man­age all of that, we’ll have some sort of cel­e­bra­tion. But we’re not plan­ning too far ahead, with the times we’re liv­ing in.”

For now, his fo­cus is purely on get­ting that garage clean, and mov­ing to the next stage of his ca­reer and, in­deed, his life.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MARCMEETSOBAMA.COM

Marc Maron’s podcast garage has be­come world-fa­mous, and seen lu­mi­nar­ies such as Barack Obama through its door.

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