Marc Maron is finally having fun.
Known throughout his nearly 30-year career as a decidedly angry and self-deprecating performer, Maron’s standup has evolved over the years and is noticeably more upbeat, even if it still has elements of self-aware nihilism. Rather than brooding over it, however, he’s laughing at it these days, as he did during his show at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena on July 3.
“My stand-up for the last couple years has been, if not upbeat, then pretty grounded and comfortable,” Maron, 52, recently told the Pasadena Weekly. “I’ve been on stage many times over the years kind of emotionally chaotic and ungrounded and aggravated and scared or angry, without having much control over it. And that’s an exciting thing to watch, but it’s a hard thing to make a career out of. There are some things that have gotten better in my life. I don’t know really how to deal with that, so I guess that’s my version of upbeat.”
As of the beginning of this month, his latest stand-up special, “More Later,” is available for digital download on iTunes. His other critically acclaimed comedy specials and records include “Thinky Pain,” “This Has to Be Funny,” “Final Engagement,” “Tickets Still Available” and “Not Sold Out.” He has also written two books, “Attempting Normal” and “The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah.”
And he’s still going strong. He’s been trying out new material on the road during his current nationwide tour that continues through December in preparation for his New York Comedy Festival gig on Nov. 4 at Carnegie Hall. And he continues to perform locally, with a show on Oct. 22 at Largo in Los Angeles and plans for another Ice House show in October as well.
His hard work is paying off. Maron’s stand-up, just like his social and political commentary and his work on his podcast “WTF with Marc Maron” and his TV show “Maron,” is nothing short of brilliant.
A longtime resident of Highland Park, Maron hosts the popular “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast out of his garage. Maron and his producer Brendan McDonald started the podcast in September 2009 in the basement of the Air America studios in New York after the beleaguered liberal radio station canceled four of his shows.
“WTF” quickly became and remains one of the most popular podcasts of all time. With about 6.5 million downloads per month, the show has racked up more than 700 episodes. Each features Maron interviewing a notable guest in his garage, including fellow comedians such as Louis CK and Robin Williams, actors such as Bryan Cranston and Alan Alda, musicians such as Fiona Apple and Thom Yorke, filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Werner Herzog and countless others. The show is well known as a place where very public personas go to open up about their struggles, their passions and their lives in a rare, brutally honest way. Some have called what Maron does journalism, though he considers himself a conversationalist rather than a journalist.
“It’s unsatisfying to me if I can’t engage with a person in a real way, conversationally, but some people just aren’t necessarily like that, so that can be a little tricky,” he said. “But when somebody engages, something different happens, and I can feel it happen. So that’s what I’m gunning for.”
The most prominent guest on “WTF” was President Obama, an interview Maron says he approached the same way he does his other guests, by engaging in a personal conversation.
“I read his first book, ‘Dreams of My Father,’ which was written before he had presidential aspirations and was a very genuine memoir of a guy struggling with his mission in life and with his own identity in ways,” said Maron. “I just figured that guy’s gotta be in there somewhere, and we kept it around that.”
White House staffers had reached out to McDonald to set up the interview with Obama, with the goal of getting young people more interested and involved in politics. On June 22, 2015, Marine One landed at the Rose Bowl and a presidential motorcade snaked its way through Pasadena, Eagle Rock and Highland Park. Secret Service snipers kept watch on Maron’s neighbor’s roof.
That interview garnered sensational headlines across the country when the president said a certain word while making a nuanced point about racism in America just five days after a young white supremacist gunned down nine African-American worshippers at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Racism, we are not cured of it,” Obama said on Maron’s podcast. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”
Maron said he didn’t expect the media to run with it the way they did, but that he was glad the president felt comfortable enough to be so candid on his show.
“That was an interesting choice for him,” said Maron. “The media was going to do what they were going to do. I wouldn’t address the idea of the N-word with the media without the context.”
The ‘John Coltrane of Jew-pain’
Last week it was announced that Maron will star in a new Netflix show called “G.L.O.W.,” inspired by the real story of a 1980s female wrestling league.
In July, Maron self-canceled his television show, “Maron,” which ran for four seasons on IFC. “Maron” was created and produced by Maron, who also directed and wrote several episodes. The first three seasons loosely resemble Maron’s real life, complete with his character interviewing celebrities on his podcast. At the end of the third season, his character relapses on drugs and alcohol and loses everything, although the real Maron has been sober for 17 years. The fourth season follows the arc of fictional Maron hitting rock bottom, struggling through rehab and recovering while trying to find the child he sired as a surrogate father for a lesbian couple.
Screenwriter and author Jerry Stahl, who wrote the 1995 memoir “Permanent Midnight” about his heroin addiction, was a consulting producer and writer on the show. Stahl is also the author of “Happy Mutant Baby Pills,” “I, Fatty” and several other books, and wrote the screenplays for “Bad Boys II,” “Hemingway & Gellhorn” and several episodes of “CSI,” “Alf” and “Twin Peaks.”
“Working with Maron was never work,” Stahl told the Weekly. “It was like getting paid to hang out with a pal — if your pal happens to be the John Coltrane of Jew-pain. We had the same conversation in the room we had before there was a room. The only difference was big chunks ended up on TV.”
Maron said he decided to end the show because he felt the story had been told.
“I thought we did a very adventurous and exciting fourth season, but I don’t know really what happens next,” he said. “Like, was there something to doing another season of me working at a bookstore in a small town co-parenting a baby with a lesbian? Yeah, I’ve never seen that before. But I mean, is it better just to leave it with, I’ve arrived at this different place and make it sort of touching and cryptic? If there was no creative incentive for me to continue, there was no reason to continue.”
The last shot of the show’s final episode pushes in on Maron finally holding his child in a park after trying so hard to get to spend time with him, when a look on his face indicates that he still isn’t happy, as Iron and Wine’s “Upward Over the Mountain” plays in the background.
“That last shot was very important to me, getting that right,” he said. “The end of ‘The Graduate’ was my inspiration for it, with Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross on the bus, after she had just run out of her wedding. Just that moment where he’s like … whoa. I liked that vibe.”
Maron said he had to fire the originally cast baby because he was African American.
“I am not racist in any way, and I’m sure it’s a good baby, but we needed it to be a specific baby. It’s always a stretch with babies, but you’re willing to forgive. But I didn’t want it to be a separate statement. Like Louis CK’s wives have changed ethnicity [on his TV show “Louie”], and that is an artistic decision that Todd Solondz made as well with ‘Palindromes,’ which is fine, but that was not what we were doing, so I didn’t want that to be an obstacle to the narrative. Again, I just want to make clear, I have nothing against brown babies,” Maron said with a smile.
For tour dates and more information, visit wtfpod.com.