Comic podcasts into mainstream

Marc Maron tells how popular talker led to IFC show

Comedian Marc Maron has been in movies, on television, written a book and made dozens of appearances as a latenight guest, particularly with Conan O’Brien. Yet after 15 years in showbiz, Maron hadn’t yet found his launchpad until he started podcast “WTF” in his garage in 2009, inviting fellow comedians to talk about anything. Guests have included Joel McHale, Craig Ferguson, Chelseas Handler, Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Jimmy Kimmel, Paul Feig, Chris Rock, Bill Maher, Patton Oswalt and just about anyone who has deliver jokes at the Comedy Store or humped it in a TV writers’ room. Now, “WTF” has crossed over into public radio, Maron has a 10-episode order for a tentatively self-titled TV show on IFC, and he’s working on a new book of essays. He spoke with Randee Dawn about finally getting traction in the industry, the meaning of the podcast, and the mellowing effects of getting older.

RD: Was it strange to turn the tables on Conan O’Brien and have him on your show?

MM: I never thought he’d come over here; we have a very on-air relationship. And all of a sudden he’s in my garage and in my house. A good “WTF” episode works as a portrait of the person. I don’t prepare questions, I just try to get a sense of who the person is and embark on a random conversation. There are really very few people I haven’t been profoundly surprised by.

RD: Does it surprise you that you’ve become this psychological sounding board for comedians with “WTF”?

MM: Something we’ve lost with the evolution of the culture is that people are very capable of talking with others for prolonged periods of time. It’s a lost art of listening and talking and being emotionally present. I don’t know what the alchemy of it is; me bringing my own baggage to it, or my garage is a little disarming and comfortable. I’m just talking about things that are important to me, and then we get into emotional issues. Sometimes we’re lighthearted, though.

RD: You’re particularly visible lately. Do you feel like things have kicked into a higher gear?

MM: Without a doubt. As long as everything doesn’t happen at once, you can get the work done and focus on everything. I once did morning radio, and that’s a different type of busy — waking up at 3:30 a.m. and get on the air at 6. I think this is the busiest I’ve ever been.

RD: “Maron” is set to be a fictionalized version of your life, which worked for comics like Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld. Why do comedians do well on shows that riff on their personal lives?

MM: That’s what we’re good at. We’re not Shakespearean actors. Our biggest performance is about comedic persona and caricature. Comedians spend their lives building the clown. And once the clown is built, you have to put it out there and see what happens.

RD: You seem like a guy people love to hire, or at least you get a lot of opportunities. But things don’t always seem to pan out.

MM: There’s really no indication that people love to hire me. I’m flattered you think that. My point of view has evolved and changed over the years depending on the level of intensity and anger in my life. I’m lucky that I got to this point where I can do 10 episodes for IFC. I did all right when I needed to do all right, just to hang on. But this is the first big opportunity I’ve had in many years.

RD: So has the world changed or have you mellowed?

MM: Obviously the world has changed, but certainly I’ve changed too. I’ve had lots of opportunities to get mainstream attention, but it never happened. But when I hit the streets again and was completely marginalized, the outlet that was available was the podcast. That wasn’t available to me before. Also, I’ve become a little less angry and cynical. Before, in my mind, entertaining people was not my primary objective, and socially and politically I was no wizard in building relationships with clubs. I had respect in the community, but it didn’t mean I was getting any work.

RD: You’re 48 now. Where did you think you’d be by now when you were 28? And where do you hope to be at 68?

MM: The answer to the second one is I hope I’m alive and not broke and have health insurance. It’s weird how your priorities shift when you get older. When I was 28, I don’t know that I had a clear idea of what I wanted other than to be a great comedian with his own point of view. And I do think I’ve gotten there. The 28-year-old Marc thought he’d be bigger — but maybe it’ll still happen.