During his tenure at Air America, comedian Marc Maron bolstered his reputation for delivering keen political commentary by hosting such shows as Morning Sedition, The Marc Maron Show, and Breakroom Live. Much to Maron's frustration, the liberal radio network would eventually cancel all three shows—but, with Air America folding earlier this year, it would appear as if Maron has had the last laugh. Now Maron is regularly joined by big names in comedy for his popular podcast, WTF With Marc Maron. Prior to his March 22 performance at The Black Cat, Maron spoke with The A.V. Club about his feelings on the late-night wars, the demise of Air America, and his unique joke-writing process.
The A.V. Club: In interviews you mention that you write your jokes onstage. How does that work?
Marc Maron: I write all kinds of things down—on pieces of paper, on napkins, on notebooks. Generally it's just fragments of ideas or things I want to talk about or mathematical equations that make sense to me. What happens is that I go through these periods where I get sick of what I'm talking about so I have to kind of push myself out there and start talking about something else. Usually that process is where the jokes come from. My feeling is that if you're a naturally funny person and you put yourself in a situation where you're cornered, then you're going to find something funny to say, to break the tension in the room. So, that's sort of how I write. That moment where I put myself out there onstage and I don't really know where it's going, that natural terror of finding something funny to say in that moment, that's my process. I don't recommend it because it's taxing and it's not always consistent.
AVC: So, you basically have to scare yourself into writing new material.
MM: Basically. Anger and fear. That's what drives me.
AVC: You had a complicated relationship with Air America. What are your feelings on the radio station's recent demise?
MM: They died for me a long time ago. I really saw it coming. By the time I had gone back there for the last time it was ultimately out of desperation because I was in the middle of a bad divorce and all of a sudden I had the opportunity to do something new. But, I didn't have much faith in the power structure. The power structure there caused me a lot of trouble. It was always just a matter of time. I was just surprised about what Air America was when I got there compared to what it was when I left—there was just nothing to it. They didn't have any radio shows, there was no momentum, it was pretty pathetic. When I finally heard it was gone, there was really nothing there anymore besides some people working on the website. There was a little bit of "about fucking time"-ish-ness.
AVC: What on your WTF podcast can you get away with that you were never able to on your Air America shows?
MM: I can get away with whatever I want, but the funny thing is that all I ever really wanted to get away with was being me.
AVC: Your podcast poses the phrase "What the fuck?" as a profound philosophical question? What makes it so?
MM: Given the fact that we're inundated constantly by so many different factors: the media, advertising, baffling scientific evidence—you know, just weirdness at every turn. American culture has just become a tidal wave of bullshit that the primal scream is just, "What the fuck?" There's no real answer, but I think that the relief of asking it is the essence that you do have some voice in the whole thing.
AVC: You were on Late Night With Conan O'Brien more that 40 times. Where do you stand on him losing the The Tonight Show to Jay Leno?
MM: A lot of people are losing their jobs right now. The economy's bad. My feelings are, on a selfish level, I never liked Jay Leno and I never did The Tonight Show With Jay Leno because I never wanted to. I was very excited to make my Tonight Show debut with Conan because I had a history with Conan and that didn't happen. On a selfish level, I'm upset that he lost his job. In a broader sense, I think that he was in a bad position from the beginning and it was sort of set up for him to fail. Obviously, I'm upset that he lost his job, but if it says anything it's that show business is show business and the decision was based on the bottom line.
AVC: What is it about Jay Leno that you don't like?
MM: I just have very little respect for the show and it just seems like a tacky, classless event. The thing about Conan was that I thought he brought a little bit of class back to that spot just by the fact that it was better, the band sounded great, he was dressed well. I usually end up watching Letterman because he runs a classy show. It's in a theater, he's got a great broadcaster, he's got a great sense of dignity and timing. I don't watch many of the shows anyway, but if I do, I watch Letterman, or actually, I watch Jimmy Fallon. When I watch Jimmy Fallon, there's a certain electricity and energy. They seem to be getting away with what they want to get away with in their sketches and in some of the bits. Fallon genuinely seems like he's having a good time, and you just don't fucking see that on television. He actually seems like he's enjoying himself and there's something kind of warm about it. It seems like they're just inventing the show for themselves and having a good time of it and there's something to be said for that. I'm not saying he's the greatest interviewer in the world, I'm just saying that when you watch it, you're seeing a guy who's having a good time.
AVC: You toured the country in 2008 covering the election. What was your favorite highlight from that trip?
MM: My favorite moment was going to a Palin/McCain rally and I was doing it for The Guardian. And when a woman saw a British tag she was like, "He's from The Guardian! He's one of them!" Then there were these condescending Christian Republicans who were like "So, you're a liberal, well, that's okay"—and then they'd start to tell me where I was wrong. But I really liked being there. It was great to be one of "them." I didn't feel like my life was in danger or anything. It was kind of exciting to see Palin come out and walk the runway. I think Hank Williams Jr. played a song. It was all very American but very nauseating at the same time.