“Was that a good interview? It might not be as funny as you need, but I’m a fairly serious guy.”
And with that, my long-awaited phone interview with Marc Maron had come to an end.
Early on in the life of this magazine, I got in the habit of ending my interviews with the question, “How do you keep it real?” I never thought much about it, just something I did because I thought it was funny when nerdy white guys like me poorly emulate hip-hop culture.
Some take the question seriously, some make jokes, some laugh it off, and a few have even expressed hostility. I’m always interested how someone is going to react, but never as much as I was with Maron. Maybe it was because I respect him so much, or maybe because he seems an outsider in a world that harbors outsiders – the comedy world.
Before beginning as a comic in the late 80’s, Maron was an “art department geek,” experimenting with photography, silk-screening, poetry, and guitar. Coming from that background, he brings a sense of artistry to standup, a form too often wrought with cheap jokes (hope I just didn’t get too coffee-shop on you).
“I always respected standup comics, so I never really thought about [why I choose to do it],” he said. “It was the perfect expression for me. I figured it would be a way to say whatever I wanted and solve some problems. I never deliberately looked at it as a business and designed my act, then I would have come up with a more popular personae. Well, I’m still alive and marginally popular, I guess.”
On his last Letterman appearance Maron commented on the difference between an American soldier serving in Iraq and a soldier that served in Vietnam. In the early 90’s, he used the same joke on “An Evening at the Improv” to describe the first Gulf War. Over ten years apart, both audiences responded boisterously. Is Maron just using the war as an excuse to dig up and Frankenstein dead jokes? No, he’s showing us that with all our innovations, technology, and perceived social progress, we’re actually right back where we were 15 years ago.
“I’ve been through so many different voices over my career,” he said. “As far as just being pure funny, I feel like I’ve never been as good as I am now. As far as my message, well, it’s always been my intention to aggravate audiences – put it up their fucking asses until they begrudgingly like me. A lot of things I’ve been trying to say for years, though, are coming out now. I don’t have to worry about trying to make the other side feel comfortable. At this level, I can deliver more to more people.”
His audience has grown steadily over the years and while he used to joke that he personally knows all of his fans, a hosting position on Air America’s “Morning Sedition” has enlarged his fan-base faster than Maron can shake hands or reply to emails.
“I don’t know whose listening,” he admitted. “I did the new Laugh Factory here in New York to good crowds and I imagine a lot of them are Air America listeners. I’m not a preachy person. I don’t pander to the audience. Now that I’m on the radio, people expect a certain thing. One night I did a filthy set where I just laid out all my nasty contentions. The new Laugh Factory is located right in the middle of where all the porn holes used to be. I must have been possessed by that and I went off on this long weird masturbatory jag. And I look out and there are these older women just looking horrified, wondering where all the liberal politics are. The left cause is good, but I’ve got to show people me.”
One can detect a number influences in Maron’s set. Early in his standup days he spent time with Sam Kinison at LA’s Comedy Store. The darkness often associated with Store comics and Kinison’s rebellion both crept in and set up shop in Maron’s head. However, he isn’t over-the-top with it, like the bloated caricature Kinison could be.
Well-versed in politics and an apt social satirist, he begs comparisons to Bill Hicks. However, where Hicks would sometimes get preachy, Maron takes things to conspiracy-theory levels and turns the joke back on his own tortured mind. Where Hicks had bravado, Maron has self-doubt. It doesn’t come off as self-deprecating, though, just more honest and makes his dead-on social and political observations that much sharper. Like Woody Allen, he has turned his idiosyncrasies and insecurities into an art-form. He uses all this with the alternative-comedy concept of the non-setup/punchline shtick.
“I have outlines before I go on stage with key words and triggers,” he said. “The liability of working like that is you lose a lot of jokes. But really I’ll have these chunks that I’ve had since I started about sex, politics, culture, whatever it is, then it’s just these revolving dialogues. I’ll just toss that out on stage, see a strand, and jump on it until I see another line of thought. Then I’ll try to add a new chunk, that’s the great thing about the nature of improvisation. You’re immediate in the moment, spontaneous.”
Maron started the original alternative comedy night “Eating It” at the Luna Lounge with Janeane Garofalo, but doesn’t feel the whole movement ever really “panned out.”
“Really, I’ve only viewed the alternative scene as a place to go work things out. All of the comics that I know who are associated with ‘alternative comedy’ started out in the regular standup clubs. I don’t really think you’re really a comic until you can do the clubs.”
Personally, I have a hard time understanding why Marc Maron isn’t more well-known. Maybe it’s just not in him or maybe the opening quote on his website sheds more light on it than I can: “Popcorn is a good analogy for show business. Every time you make popcorn, there are always those fluffy, white, happy popped pieces that are fun to eat and look at and everybody likes them. But there are also always those burnt, hard kernels at the bottom that don’t pop. You know why they don’t pop? They don’t pop because they have integrity.”
Marc Maron has never done just that, popped. Which is why I was so interested in what his answer would be to the keeping it real question. Does he keep it too real for mainstream?
“I don’t really have any choice but to keep it real. I live in Queens where right down the street I have the fish guy, the meat guy, a place where I buy vegetables. I’m into reading a lot. I’m fairly isolated, not a lot of friends. I keep it real by keeping close to people I trust, by breaking in my own pants, cooking my own food, and admitting my mistakes.”
2 Comments to “Marc Maron Interview”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.