Photo by Larry Hirshowitz
UPDATE: Marc Maron on Fresh Air
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Marc Maron pretty much wrote the book on how not to write the book — the book on how to win friends and influence people, how to succeed in showbiz without really trying, how to enjoy harmless recreational drugs like cocaine responsibly. Whatever his books about those topics (in truth, there are no books like that, but stick with me I’m going somewhere with this) tell you to do, do the exact opposite. Unless you want to find yourself on the far side of 40, bottomed out in Lotus Land, with little more than a couple ex-wives, a couple stints in rehab, almost zero career prospects, and a pair of rescued stray cats to show for your trouble. Because then you would have to start a podcast called WTF, even though you have no idea a podcast is, where you interview your comedy friends — Ben Stiller, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Conan O’Brien, Robin Williams, Garry Shandling, Judd Apatow and the always awesome Patton Oswalt — in your garage and get them to confess painful personal truths with brutal but utterly refreshing honesty. And then the podcast would blow up big and eventually become the No. 1 download on iTunes, and this would revive your comedy career, and bring a book deal and a new TV show based on your life that airs next year on IFC. So don’t do it.
PHAWKER: So much of your career seems doomed by missed opportunities, bad attitude, drug problems, and unwillingness to compromise creatively. I can actually really relate to this. I’m wondering if your earlier heroes might have had something to do with this; Keith Richards, Hunter Thompson and William Burroughs. All brilliant cultural figures but they’re all the original “I’m not a role model” type role models, wouldn’t you agree?
MARC MARON: Oh no, no doubt. It was definitely a way to figure out my own reasons for why I was the way I was , which was driven by respect for the commitment to authenticity.
PHAWKER: You auditioned for Saturday Night Live in 1995 but you didn’t get the gig which you attributed to an awkward first meeting with Lorne Michaels.
MARC MARON: Everything that happened in that room was something…I had no idea what the real machinations or the reason for bringing me in there or why I wasn’t asked to be on the show. The meeting was very uncomfortable, I don’t think that was unusual. There was a little tension between him and I. But I’m sure he doesn’t have any recollection of it or register it as an important part of his life. It certainly was part of mine. I do think, looking back on it, I was a little standoffish and I was a little high. I don’t think I can completely blame myself because I think there was politics in it. It’s safe to say [the meeting] probably didn’t go well.
PHAWKER: Your tenure at Air America was just as doomed as Air America was. Why can’t the left get it together to make talk radio an effective megaphone for their perspectives the way the right has?
MARC MARON: Because they are not narrow in their scope. They’re not all on the same page, it’s a broad spectrum of ideas; ranging from very progressive to centrist Democrat. The right are very narrow-minded in their scope and shameless about their disposition. Which is also narrow. It’s a lot easier to be focused and angry and sort of misleading in the way they lead. Whereas the left, at their best, is all over the place. There is no single throughline like there is on the right.
PHAWKER: You don’t see that changing any time soon?
MARC MARON: Well I mean, what do we have to do to change that? The truth of the matter is that it will be on the people in terms of how much shit they will take. Whether the class issues become bad enough to the point where people actually find a way to fight back. The left is a very vague concept right now and it’s a shame. I think there are plenty of lefty talk radio people that are very good, it’s just that the left isn’t so easily led. In order for things to be popular, people have to usually be led, don’t they?
PHAWKER: What is your take on Barack Obama: the lesser of two evils or potentially a truly great president like a Lincoln or an FDR?
PHAWKER: That is a lot more forgiving than I thought you would be. I hear you just finished writing a book of essays about drugs and cats and….
MARC MARON: Wait, I’m more forgiving that you thought? I have my issues with my leader. One of the reasons I got out of political talk radio is because I didn’t want to carry water for either side. I felt misled. I felt disillusioned. The more I learned about the system, having gotten into it pretty green about how politics works. But being a reactionary thinker, its very hard not to get disillusioned by the process itself and what it takes for anything to happen in the American political system, which is really just a money laundering operation for the corporations. Do I think Obama will dismantle what stops the government from really representing the people instead of the special interests? I don’t know what kind of leader it would take to do that, or if it’s even possible at this juncture. [Obama] is on the payroll just like anybody, I just think that some things he has done — like health insurance coverage for people who nobody would insure — is monumental.
PHAWKER: You are working on a book of essays? Is that correct?
MARC MARON: Yeah, I’m in the second draft phase of the memoir, essay collection that will be out next fall or somewhere around that, not sure.
PHAWKER: What can you tell me about drugs that I don’t know?
MARC MARON: You mean recreational drugs? If you need them it doesn’t end well.
MARC MARON: Yeah I have cats. I am a cat person by default. I ended up haphazardly rescuing a bunch of cats in the garbage in an alley of New York, you know, wild cats. I grew up with dogs primarily but I have two cats. I was given a cat by a women. Then like, I don’t know, it started to happen. Like I saved those cats and I ended up bringing two of them out here and I already had one out here. But I like cats because they are very difficult and you never quite feel that you have that foothold there. I think I like that in all relationships.
PHAWKER: Apparently you are the only left-of-center man in America that doesn’t adore Jon Stewart, can you explain that?
MARC MARON: I don’t know if I can say that we actively don’t get along. There was tension when we were younger. I thought that because I was a new guy now and I publicly aired my contrition process and my humbling, that perhaps he and I could [make peace] but he was not in that place. He did not want to do that with me and I clearly had some effect on him when we were younger, it was not positive. He told me that he doesn’t think about it much but when he does…there is not a lot of love there. I’m sure he gave me a half-enthusiastic invitation to sitting down over coffee at some point but that hasn’t happened.
PHAWKER: Were there professional jealousies or something like that?
MARC MARON: On my part? Sure. I guess I was what you’d call his bete noire, I had a seething bitterness and jealousy of him that I would speak at him when we were younger men.
PHAWKER: You have a new TV series for IFC that starts next year, can you tell me a little about that?
MARC MARON: Yeah it’s a half-hour scripted comedy based on my life at this juncture. I’m a guy who, his career sort of crapped out and now does a podcast out of his garage. So it’s about me and my relationship with the show and there is some stuff going on with my father, with relationships, with friends and the celebrities playing themselves. Basically, a story-driven show based on me.
PHAWKER: Who are some of the celebrities?
MARC MARON: Who was on the show that I can tell? Dave Foley, Jeff Garland, Dennis Leary, Adam Scott, Aubrey Plaza. You know, that’s up to you.
PHAWKER: Nice. It’s my understanding Ed Asner is playing your father?
MARC MARON: No he’s not. He played my father in the trial presentation. Judd Hirsch played my father in two episodes of the actual series.
PHAWKER: That’s a pretty good replacement. How awesome is Ed Asner?
MARC MARON: He is … he is so, soooo amazing. He’s great, he is really great. He showed up and he’d be like [cranky old man voice] ‘What are we doing? Alright, where do I stand? Wait, can I have coffee?’ He is a smart and cranky, tough old Jew, man. He is still fighting the fight. It was great to spend time with him, he just wasn’t available to do the show.
PHAWKER: I ask this question a lot, but I’m pretty sure you will have a number of good answers for this. If you could do anything over in your life differently what would it be?
MARC MARON: The general regret, I would have…I just wish I had a sketch of how things work. [laughs] You know what I mean? That’s a vague answer. I’ve gone through life flying by the seat of my pants, trying to sort of find a voice for myself and do what I wanted to do. But I never realized, I never knew to be nice to people, to thank people, or understand that there are social politics. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking, I used to say, ‘It took me a long time to realize that Hollywood wasn’t my parents.’ I think in a general way, it would be to have a little more foresight. I don’t think I would have done things that much differently, I just wish I would have known. I never had a game plan. I just only wanted to be a comedian and that I was all I knew. I never had an angle, I was just kind of flying by the seat of my spiteful pants. I think in retrospect, I wish I would have had a sense of how things worked a little better and handled it better.
PHAWKER: You said it yourself, let the work speak for itself, I don’t need to suck up, I don’t need to kiss ass….
MARC MARON: The difference between sucking up and kissing ass and just fucking maintaining relationships.
PHAWKER: Being gracious, sure.
MARC MARON: You know what I mean? Yeah, I definitely didn’t like to suck up and I was definitely a proactively hostile person and very proud and very defensive. But there are plenty of those personalities in show business. At some point you really realize, it’s really a game … in any business there is a group of young guys that are lone rebels a bit. Then relationships are built and that level goes up to the next level. That’s how shit works. It’s not just politics, it’s anything, it’s publishing, it’s show business … whatever it is. When you are younger there is no sucking up or kissing ass if you just align yourself with the talented people in your generation, that will eventually serve you. It’s politics. I had no sense of any of that, I was like ‘Fuck you, I’m going to go do stand-up.’ Ultimately your talent will persevere sometimes, but I was also an unruly talent that was un-packageable. There was no way that I could change that. So given that I had no sense of social politics and I was a bit unruly, I hit a double whammy that got me exiled.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview first published on Phawker in May of 2013