One of the first things Marc Maron said to Indiewire when we sat down over coffee in his Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park was “I’m not freaking out about anything.”
And our half-hour conversation lived up to it — after decades in the business and much discussed ups and downs, Maron seems almost zen-like about the current state of his career, which includes the return of his IFC series “Maron” for a third season, a vibrant stand-up career and of course, his podcast “WTF,” which just crossed the 600-episode mark. Below, Maron reveals what Academy Award nominee he’d like to bring on as a “Maron” guest star, the Fox pilot idea that never happened, the primary reason why he’ll censor his podcast these days and the intricacies of balancing a TV show based on his life with real life.
When “Maron” first launched, did you expect to reach a third season?
No, I didn’t know what was going to happen, because of just basic cable in general. I didn’t know season-to-season whether or not it’s going to get picked up, but I think this one’s pretty strong, and there are rumors that they want to do another one, so maybe we’ll know earlier this year.
That’s good. It takes some of the pressure off?
I don’t know. There’s part of me that’s sort of like “How many more are there to do,” and then there’s another part of me that’s like “We left this season pretty much a cliffhanger, so we’ve got to do something.” I’m not freaking out about anything.
Was that cliffhanger a deliberate choice, or was it something where that felt naturally [like] where it should go?
It was definitely a deliberate choice. I don’t know if it was natural; we summoned it out of nowhere. But it’s good to take the character on a different journey than my specific life.
It’s interesting. I’m sure this is something you get into a lot, the idea of yourself as the character versus yourself as the creator. Do you feel a push to really heighten your persona on the show?
It was really just a matter of figuring out how it all worked. Once you start writing scripts and once I started getting comfortable with that over the seasons, we just kind of let the character — that part of me that is that guy on the show — kind of live a little bit and see what he can do. I just let it unfold. This season, I was more aware of making choices around comedy and acting, and I got more comfortable with a lot of the stuff.
So it just sort of evolved on its own more than–like what does this guy do? There was a little of that; you know, what are the parameters of this character comedically.
Is there like a list written down somewhere of things that real Marc would do, versus not-real Marc?
No, it’s all in the moment. Like when we write a script or we’re going over a script, “Oh I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to say that. I’m not going to do that, but maybe that guy would do that. I could do that.” Like, there are definitely choices made in the show that I necessarily wouldn’t do in my life, things I wouldn’t say.
Would you say Marc on the show is a better person?
No, not a better person. I think he’s a little more of a dick, a little more selfish than real-life Marc.
How is that for you to play?
Fine, I used to be that way. Not as direct — arguably I might still be that way, but I feel like I’m better.
That’s good. It’s such an interesting thing, because we’ve seen so much of it. The idea of comedians taking their real life but then tweaking with it. I think “Curb [Your Enthusiasm]” is a really common example, I’m sure.
Yup. “Curb” and “Louie,” and I guess “Seinfeld,” even.
Yeah, I think that’s one way to go. There was a whole bunch of shows early on where comedians would just create some job but they were still them. Like Ray Romano, what was he, a sportswriter? It didn’t even matter after a certain point, but to really specifically get into the life, like “This is my neighborhood,” and we see you in this place, it is a little more exciting. I think you can do that now with the budgets and the equipment that we have. You can really get gritty, so it’s good. Budgets being low…
When you have a nice low budget, that makes you that much more appealing to the network, I suppose.
It is, but it cuts both ways. You want more money to do some more things, like get different locations, maybe get different music, maybe another day of rehearsal, or any rehearsal. Maybe another day of writing, another week of writing, but once they know you can do it and come in under budget or come in at budgets they’re like “Wow, you got this nailed. You can do it at that budget.”
That’s something that I find really fascinating about the way comedy exists now in TV, which is something I think you touched on just then. In the ’80s, you would have your spot on “The Tonight Show,” and then the next morning the networks would call and they’d be like “Okay, we’re going to build a sitcom around you. What’s your random job?”
Yeah, kind of. I had a few of those deals. It was just trying to decide what the landscape would look like, what the world would look like. Development deals with different networks — a few over the years — that never even went to pilot, but there was three or four.
Was there anything you look back on where you’re like, “I’m really glad that didn’t happen”?
Yeah, I mean they all would have been a little off the mark. There was one that I liked that I did — I had a deal with Fox Studios at one time. The guy was an Oscar-winning short film director, and he’d just fucked his life up and he had to go back home and open a wedding video business. I liked the idea of an Oscar-winning wedding video director.
That’s something that could play now. Especially with digital technology.
Yeah, I thought it was pretty funny. It just never made it to air.
When you look back on it, do you see some consistent throughline for everything you wanted to do?
No, there was really just trying to figure out what I could fit into, and how I could fit into it. Because it’s what I’m doing, and it’s a unique sort of approach. The podcasting had not been done, and the podcasting element is a nice element. It adds a different tone to the show, enables me to be funny and serious. It couldn’t have happened before this, and I’m happy it didn’t because I don’t know that I would have been ready for it. It wouldn’t have been the right thing.
The podcast has been such an important part of everything that’s happened to you recently. Is it something where you see it really going on forever?
Yeah, it’s become a big part of my job so I look at it professionally. My business partner and producer is involved, and we have a pretty good machine going. I like doing it, there’s no reason not to do it, because it earns money. It’s not like some weird vanity pleasure project. He’s exclusively working for the show.
That’s great. How large is — do you have a staff or a team, or is it just you and your partner?
It’s me and him, and I have a part-time assistant usually. I’m in transition right now.
So I’m curious. At this point, what kind of pushback do you get in terms of critiques of the show? Critiques of the podcast?
I don’t know. People who listen all the time, there’s not that much. There’s a couple people that get aggravated with me for dumb reasons — they don’t think the guest is interesting, or whatever. But those people, they’re listening all the time. I’m not getting a lot of pushback, it’s usually nitpicky things here and there, but nothing too steady.
I mean, I say this as someone who’s done a little podcasting. There’s always that terror in the back of my head that I’m going to say something really stupid or blurt out a racial slur, I don’t know what. Is that something you still experience?
What, in conversation?
In the conversation and your lead-up to it.
I mean that’s all editable.
I mean, I try not to cut much. I don’t have that much fear when I’m talking on the mike. I don’t censor myself. I’m pretty aware that I’m not going to do anything too stupid, and if I do I take it out!
Do guests ever get intense with you about stuff they’d like out?
Not too much. I mean it’s only happened a few times. It’s usually when they throw someone else under the bus or say something negative about someone else.
That’s interesting, because it seems like one key to the comedy community is that people don’t publicly talk smack about each other a lot.
Yeah, it’s tricky. I’ve gotten myself into trouble about that, because it is a community but we’re also, you should be able to critique other people. But it becomes a little delicate, especially now, with everything so interconnected.
I mean, it’s just everybody hears about everything everyone else is saying, and it’s hard to be constructively critical and say “Well I don’t like that — I like that guy, but I don’t like his work,” or whatever. It can be kind of tricky, because people see that as shitting on people you work with. It’s a fine line between cultural criticism and personal attack when you know the person that you’re talking about.
I guess it becomes a personal attack because it’s all so personal.
Yeah, I guess. It is, yeah. If you do it, you’re going to have to take the hit. You just have to own it.
I mean, you’re really open in a lot respects about feuds you’ve gotten into and so forth. I feel like that was something that first caught my attention about the podcast, because I was not used to hearing comedians talk frankly about having problems with other comedians.
Yeah, I don’t hang out at enough open mikes, I guess.
Yeah, or comedy clubs, right. It’s just a lifetime of knowing people. Things come up and things get ruined, and there’s difficult times. It’s my job, so I’ve worked around a lot of these guys for almost 30 years. So there’s going to be beefs and things. And yeah, I wanted to resolve some of those.
And it feels like you have actually been able to.
Yeah, there’s not a lot of outstanding problems left that I know of. I’m sure they’ll come up.
Is it weird for you, knowing just how much about yourself you’ve put out there?
Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes I don’t remember doing it. Sometimes people come up to me and they ask me questions and I’m like, “Wait how’d you know that?” And then I’m like oh yeah, I talked about it. I’ve gotten a little more diplomatic and a little more protective of some parts of my life, just because I’ve got to keep something for myself. I try not to talk too much about relationships or if I’m in a relationship. Not too much kissing and telling anymore, that gets me into trouble.
That’s interesting, especially with the show where the relationships are such a big part of it. You start off Season 3 single.
I’m with a woman, but I leave her, yeah.
Yeah. How does that change the show for you?
Well, they never wanted a relationship show. It was never supposed to be a relationship show, and I think after the first season Jen got pushed out, and the real-life relationship that was based on also ended. So the second season was a little more dating and sex, and this season not so much. A little bit, but I am generally single. I’m seeing somebody now, but [“Maron”] was never intended to be a relationship show.
What was it intended to be?
A show about my life. But if I would have stayed with Jen — it’s very hard to avoid having that tone if you are in one, so we made a conscious decision that coincided with my real-life relationship ending.
So even if you guys had stayed together, the character on the show would have gone away?
Probably. We had to move away from my life a little bit because my life is not that eventful. It’s a very small world. This season, there’s a lot of departures. Like there are events from my life in the show, but a lot of the stories are fictional. It’s nice to use your imagination that way, and kind of push out a little bit, you know?
Who is someone that you would really like to get, maybe for Season 4?
I don’t know, maybe Albert Brooks or somebody. I’d like to get Albert Brooks.
Yeah, it’s been awhile since Albert did something onscreen.
He does movies, mostly. He doesn’t want to do TV, I know that.
Oh really? So getting him would be a big deal, then.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of people that I would like to get on that could play themselves and do that kind of stuff.
It’s interesting, nowadays the narrative is people are all about TV. TV’s the new film and all that. It’s interesting to hear that bias still exists for some people.
Right. What, to do film over TV and stuff?
Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, if you could just do movies, why wouldn’t you just do movies?
Well, people are liking TV.
Yeah there’s some great TV on, I think that’s a good point. But you see a lot of film actors that do TV now as well.
Yeah. If you had the choice between doing movies and TV would you do only movies?
I don’t know. Like I never really did either. The only TV I’ve really done is my TV show, so I haven’t really done much of anything.
One last question…In everything about your life right now, what has you the most excited?
Well, I’m going to be doing this new “Vice” TV show which is going to be on the Vice Network, their TV network, when that comes together. I’m going to be attempting to do interviews out in the world, trying to do the type of interviews I do in the podcast on television. It’ll be interesting to see how that comes together and how that works.
I’m pretty excited about my standup. I’m very excited to see how people respond to the new season, because I think it’s the funniest one we’ve done, and I’m also excited to take a vacation when I can figure out how and when to do that.
What’s your vacation spot?
I usually go to Hawaii.
That’s a good choice.
Yeah, it’s very reliable. Hawaii delivers.
“Maron” airs Thursdays on IFC.