In addition to shooting season three of his hit IFC TV series, Maron, comedian Marc Maron has been busy maintaining his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, which has consistently placed number one on the iTunes comedy charts, and filming a new interview show for Vice. Here he discusses improvisation, the therapy of casting actors to play his family members, and what we can expect in season three of Maron, which starts tonight on IFC.
WTF took your career to new levels. How does that make you feel?
Well, I’m very grateful that something born out of necessity and desperation caught on for a lot of different reasons and sort of somehow defined me. I was happy also that, you know, I’d put in a good 20 years of work doing standup and by the time I got that attention based on something that was born out of my garage, I was ready for whatever came after.
What would you say inspired your foray into TV with Maron?
I wanted to work as a standup comic and that’s what I set out to do when I was 20 or 21. Then, as time goes on, part of the deal is that you try to build a show around yourself. But by the time I had started podcasting I’d really given up on a lot of things because they just sort of crapped out on me. When I met with Apostle, the production company—just a general meeting with Jim Serpico over there—we started talking about the podcast. “Well, what can we do with the podcast?” I basically said, “Well, I got this great idea for a TV show about a guy who made a lot of mistakes in his life and now runs a show out of his garage where he talks to celebrities and tries to get his shit together.” (Jim) was like, “Well, that’s a good idea.”
The basic setup of the show could be compared to others, such as Louie, which was created by another comedian you know in your generation. What was your approach in creating original content in that vein, in order to make it stand out?
Well, at some point those comparisons start to not ring true and are a bit empty. I don’t think the format is limited to Louie. Certainly, my life is very different than his and I think what we chose to do was to showcase the podcast, to have people play themselves—which is really sort of, in this context, a little more like Larry Sander’s situation—and just honor my life. My life is much different than Louis (C.K.)’s.
Also, we stayed away from standup. The podcast affords us a more stream of consciousness way of presenting my creativity and my thoughts, but I think the big difference between a show like mine and Louie is that we’re really dealing with stories. Louie leans a lot on the sort of framing and the notion of a filmic device, and sometimes there are several things that happen in the show that are somewhat disconnected and are almost like short films. We really set out from the beginning to do a story-driven show. All of the Maron’s are pretty much a three-act story structure.
Maron features the comedy of things constantly backfiring in funny and dark, unexpected ways. Would you say that’s attributable to comedy in general or is that a particular brand you’re creating?
I think that how you’re going to generate comedy and what historically is funny, you know, the underdog struggling against seemingly his own obstacles is sort of what I’ve lived. It sort of evolved over the seasons to really feel out what this fictional Marc Maron can and will do in the context of these stories. I think that in the first season I was very hung up on authenticity around events in my life, or at least honoring specifically the emotional component of the people in my life. I think that paid off because this season, season three, is by far the funniest season. I think there’s a comfort level with the parameters of all the characters and the emotion of the Maron character. That was really the idea—you know, take from my act and from my natural personality and just figure what’s funny about that, both as a straight man and as the clown, you know—because I do both in the show.
How much of the show and the podcast are improvised? Have you thought about filming the interviews from the podcast for the purposes of the show, or would that be cheating the audience?
Maron is a scripted show and there are definitely moments that are improvised, but if there are improvised moments then it will happen in those podcast segments, with me talking solo, and also in the conversations with people on the mic. Those are very loosely structured and a lot of that is improvised. In real life, the podcasts—have I thought about filming them? Yeah. I mean, obviously that’s been brought up a lot and to me the audio experience is a lot more intimate, both for people listening and I think for people that are guests on the show. You know, once you put cameras on, even if they’re passive cameras, even if you can’t see them, it’ll add a self-consciousness to whomever my guest is, so I’ve just opted against it.
How much of what we see on Maron in terms of your relationships with other comics is heightened and how much is real because a lot of the episodes revolve around those relationships?
I mean, generally, the guys that are recurring characters—like me and Andy (Kindler), that’s pretty much like me and Andy. The Dave Anthony character in the show is a little sociopathic, and I don’t know that the real Dave Anthony is quite that sociopathic. I think he’s a little. Whitney Cummings is in this season and I think that dynamic between me and Whitney definitely honors our real relationship. When you see me and Patton (Oswalt), or you see me and Maria Bamford, or me and Mary Lynn Rajskub, in those moments that’s really our dynamic. But you know those are just sort of one-offs. They’re pretty true to life except that I don’t hang out with them as much in real life as I do on set.
Is there fun on your part and on theirs in playing with your real-life personas?
We have a lot of fun on set. It’s fun to work with people you know and I use an awful lot of comics on the show because I respect them and because I like working with them and because they make me comfortable. When I hired Dave Anthony to write on the show it was because I really wanted to have a real comic in the writer’s room. When I hired Jerry Stahl to write on the show I needed a guy who I respected, you know, his sense of darkness, and he could sort of help me navigate my own sense of darkness.
Along those same lines, what is it like for you to cast people to play your family members, to work those relationships out on camera?
It is a bit therapeutic, you know, but I think that I couldn’t have cast better in the sense that it was amazing to have Judd Hirsch play my father. Sally Kellerman is just terrific and she’s very much like my mother in some ways, so that worked out great. I think it is cathartic in the sense that a lot of times we don’t have a sense of humor about our parents, especially if they have annoyed us our whole lives, so to elevate them to comedic characters is a bit relieving. My brother…well, you know my brother character, Troy, it can become a little emotional. Certainly this season there’s an episode where I actually interview a character playing my ex-wife, who has just written a book, and I don’t think you guys saw that one, but that one was very… I directed and wrote that one, and that one was heavy, man. It actually did help me work through some stuff.
Would you say the show and the podcast and your work in comedy in general are ways for you to work through the kind of pain and the panic that you talked about so openly?
I guess it sort of functions like that, but that is not my intention. Isn’t any creative person working through something with their creativity? Probably. I mean, does it seem more like a personal process with me because I use my personal life as my material? Yes. Is it my intention? Like, am I saying as I write a bit or as we write a script am I doing it to work through it? No. That’s what I do. I do personal material based on my real life that is sometimes a bit emotionally jarring and challenging, but the intention is not to work through it. It’s to express myself in the way that I do it. Does it help my life? Do I work through stuff because of it? Yeah, but it’s always surprising to me. It was very surprising but it shouldn’t have been. Writing that script about the ex-wife, in my mind I think there were some unresolved things about the way we broke up. I never was able to have a conversation with her, so I think that scripting that conversation was obviously helpful.
The city of Los Angeles plays a character in your show in the same way that New York is a character for Louis C.K. or Woody Allen. What’s the intent behind that?
Well, it’s my neighborhood. I think maybe it’s selfish. It’s a very short commute to work for me to drive literally eight minutes to set. Also, I just don’t think that part of L.A. has been shot really. Highland Park is a transitioning neighborhood, for better or for worse. Also, it is an interesting neighborhood visually, I think.
What do we have to look forward to in season three of Maron?
What we set out to do, outside of create a few episodes that are really interesting and funny and are departures from my regular life in ways that are exciting, is that there is an undercurrent of being on the precipice of having a positive career moment. Because of a certain series of events, I don’t make the best of it. Let’s say that. The idea was, let’s talk about what could’ve happened. Let’s do a narrative arc of what could’ve happened but thank God didn’t.
What else do you have coming upon the horizon that you’re excited about?
I did a deal with the Vice Network to be a part of their programming on the new channel when that was announced. I’m doing Vice Portraits, which will be somewhat of an out-in-the-world, long-form interview show that I’m going to be doing eight to 10 episodes of, so I’m pretty excited about that.
Season 3 of Maron premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT on May 14th on IFC.
To watch clips from season three of Maron, click the play button below: