Sat April 2, 2011
Monkey See

Marc Maron, On Talking To Comics And Soothing With His 'Neurotic Rage'

Comedian Marc Maron's popular podcast, called WTF, gets roughly 200,000 downloads a week — or it did. But that number seems to be growing. Maron tells All Things Considered host Guy Raz on Saturday's show that in the first half of March, he'd already had a million downloads.

Maron's podcast is deceptively simple in format: He talks for a while about whatever is on his mind, and then he sits down with a guest, often another comic, for an hour. Maybe a little longer. Maybe a lot longer. A lot of these people, he's known for years. Some of them hated him for a long time. Some of them were dear friends from whom he was estranged, and some of those bonds are still strained. Sometimes, there's a discussion that goes something like, "Oh, you hated me 20 years ago? Yeah, I hated you too!"

He talks to currently hot properties like Patton Oswalt and Louis CK, but he also brings around less currently hip guests, like Robin Williams and Gallagher. (The Gallagher interview ... that one didn't end so well, though it sure was exciting.) He even talks to people who aren't comics at all, like This American Life host Ira Glass, who opened up to Maron about how he relates to audiences on the radio and people in real life.

Some of these interviews leave impressions that are absolutely indelible: Janeane Garofalo once told Maron a story about being so stung by criticism that she literally flew cross-country with a coat over her head so no one would see her crying.

It's hard to miss how many of Maron's guests, most from the world of comedy, have a lot of anger, or hurt feelings, or broken relationships — not necessarily more tragedy than most people, he says, but a way of paying attention to it and exposing it in a way that a lot of people don't.

It's important, though, not to make it sound like these are somber, unhappy affairs. Maron and his guests are also experienced, able specialists who also spend a massive amount of time on the mechanics of comedy. They talk about venues, audiences, kinds of comedy, kinds of jokes, good and bad writing ... you can get a lot of unfiltered shop talk here in the loose format that podcasting allows.

What makes WTF so unusual is that Maron's interviews, despite the fact that they're often very funny and they're never mawkish, are bracingly candid in a way that feels almost accidental. Maron says this himself, that it's as if people somehow forget they're being interviewed if you talk to them long enough.

And it's talking — just talking — that he thinks is in short supply. Asked whether he feels like these long, searching discussions qualify as therapeutic, he hesitates to classify them as such — at least for the guest: "One of the things that has been lost in this culture is the ability for people to sit and talk for real, you know, for an hour. When was the last time you just sat and talked to someone for an hour? It's something that people can do. Is that therapy, or is that just some sort of human pastime that has become lost?"

He does say, though, that the project has changed things about his own perspective. "I feel like I'm living more in the present," he says. "I have more humility ... so if it's been therapy for anybody, it's probably for me."

At any rate, Maron hears from listeners who find his openness about his own troubles refreshing. "'Your neurotic rage, your neurotic rants relax me,'" is the sort of thing he hears. "I'm having a Ritalin effect on introspective, neurotic people, and I couldn't have hoped for that, and it's very gratifying. It's very moving to me."

At the top of the post, you'll find the interview as it's airing on Saturday's All Things Considered. But if you want to hear more, the Weekend All Things Considered podcast this week features a much longer version of Guy Raz's interview with Maron. In the longer version, Maron explains how he gets big names on his show, his time as a doorman at The Comedy Store, his relationships with Sam Kinison and Louis CK, and more. You can hear it below. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


GUY RAZ, host:

When it comes to connecting with other members of his generation, one guy who does not struggle is comedian Marc Maron. He puts out a podcast that's called WTF - guess what that stands for? And it's one of the most popular ones out there. Here's how he describes it.

Mr. MARC MARON (Comedian): I basically talk in my garage, alone, for about 10 minutes about whatever's on my mind. And then I'll have a peer or a comedian or a writer, or somebody I kind of know, come to my garage and sit down and talk to me - usually for around an hour.

RAZ: Now, if you're not quite hearing the appeal, all I can say is just give the show a listen. Plenty of influential people in the entertainment industry do, and that's because a lot of the big names that Maron has on - people like Robin Williams or Ray Romano - they really open up to him about their depression or their drug use, things they don't normally talk about in public.

Filmmaker Judd Apatow says Maron's guests open up to him because they feel like he might lose the tape on the way home - or that maybe no one's listening. But more than 200,000 people download the podcast each week. And why?

Mr. MARON: Because I think that I show up for the interview. A lot of times, if you listen to somebody, you no longer really know that their mike's there. And people want to be heard. They want to share this stuff. So much of what we experience in a very real emotional way, we don't let out because all of our energy goes into getting by. And these are inner dialogues and feelings that just get stuffed. And comics want to talk about it.

RAZ: What do you consider the kind of like, the best moment with a guest - like, a breakthrough?

Mr. MARON: What I like is that I've known a lot of these people for 20 years, and I swear to you, I've never had more than a 10-minute conversation with them. A lot of those things happen on the podcast - where, you know, I literally find out things about people, and I'm surprised. Like Bob Odenkirk, I had no idea, you know, how much, you know, rage he carried inside him, and how personal he got about that.

Robin Williams, you know, even Ira Glass. I mean, I only knew him from "This American Life," but I felt like I knew him. And then you talk to them and you're like, oh, my God. It was great getting to know you. And I'm sorry you had to go through that, or thanks for sharing that or, wow, you know, we're both different people now that we've had that conversation.

RAZ: You found out that Ira was a very violent guy, actually.

Mr. MARON: He almost killed me.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. MARON: I mean, he chased me out of there with a mike stand, yelling. And I'm in the street; I didn't know whether to call the police - very surprising.

RAZ: He's a street fighter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: It sounds almost like you're kind of a therapist, in a way, for some of these people.

Mr. MARON: And for myself. I don't know. You know, I've been thinking a lot about that assessment of what I'm doing. And what I think, honestly, is that one of the things that has been lost in this culture is the ability for people to sit and talk for real - you know, for an hour. I mean, really, when was the last time you just sat and talked to someone for an hour? I mean, it's something that people can do.

Is that therapy, or is it just some sort of human pastime that has become lost? I don't know. But I think that what's happened to me personally, from listening and talking to my peers, I feel like I'm living more in the present. You know, I have more humility about myself and my problems, in terms of finding that they're not unusual.

So if it's been therapy for anybody, it's probably for me.

RAZ: You go to some pretty dark places with these really well-known comics. And I guess I'm wondering - it's like the perennial question. Like, why - do you think that you have to have some of that to be a good comic?

Mr. MARON: I think that the better comics have a certain courage and depth around their pain. I would say ye, on some level. I would say there are plenty of comics that don't have difficult or horrendous pasts. But there's something there, if they're good.

RAZ: Describe where you were in your life when you decided to do the podcast.

Mr. MARON: I was in trouble. I was in the middle of a divorce. I was, you know, close to broke. You know, my manager at the time said that I was unbookable, and nobody wanted to represent me. And I'd just been, you know, fired for a third time from Air America - who was, once again, having money problems. I had gone back there.

What happened was, they didn't take our security cards away from us. And we said look - you know - let's just come in late at night, you know, hijack the studio when no one's here, and let's see what we come up with. And that was the beginning of it.

RAZ: Does the appeal of the podcast surprise you? I mean, 200,000 downloads a week is a lot of downloads.

Mr. MARON: Yeah. And I think it's even more now. In this month, I mean, in the first half of the month, we've had a million downloads already.

RAZ: Wow.

Mr. MARON: And I don't really think about it that much. You know, in my mind, I'm still going out to my garage, and I'm still dealing with myself on the mike, and with having a conversation with somebody. I've decided that the struggles that people deal with in their lives - and in their minds, more importantly - are really the most important thing, and the thing that needs to be addressed.

And I get more emails from people, literally saying - from people, saying: I was going to kill myself. And now, I don't feel alone anymore. You know, I thought I was the only one that had these feelings, you know? Your neurotic rage - or your neurotic rants relax me. I'm having some sort of - what's the drug they give to hyperactive people?

RAZ: Ritalin.

Mr. MARON: Yeah. I'm having a Ritalin effect on introspective, neurotic people. And I couldn't have hoped for that. And it's very gratifying; it's very moving to me. And I feel like I have a freedom of mind. And I'm finally sort of, you know, living in my own body, and grateful to be doing what I'm doing.

RAZ: That's Marc Maron. You can find his podcast at iTunes, or at WTFpod.com.

Marc Maron, thank you.

Mr. MARON: Great to be here. Thanks.

RAZ: You can hear an extended version of this interview at our podcast this week. It's also on iTunes, or at npr.org/weekendatc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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