Marc Maron wants to have a conversation (possibly sponsored by a sex-toy dealer)
Tireless stand-up comedian Marc Maron’s cathartic, insightful routines have taken many forms throughout his career. Yet the outlet that’s most likely to make Maron a household name isn’t a late-night talk-show appearance, his time on talk radio, his one-man show The Jerusalem Syndrome, or an acting gig—it’s his DIY podcast, WTF With Marc Maron. Based around loose conversations between Maron and fellow comedians, WTF has become popular thanks, in part, to frank discussions with such polarizing members of the stand-up community as Robin Williams, Carlos Mencia, and Dane Cook, and now serves as inspiration for his stand-up. In anticipation of Friday’s Kramp & Adler Comedy Festival at Turner Hall—where Maron will be joined by Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman—the comedian spoke with The A.V. Club about circumventing censorship, pimping dildos, and the therapeutic benefits of operating in podcasting’s Wild West.
The A.V. Club: You’ve talked in the past about your one-man show helping you cope with the hardship of divorce—how does a podcast compare in terms of therapeutic value?
Marc Maron: I hear the word “therapy” a lot, but I think that this sort of honesty in any form is a different thing. Theater’s built to handle a full range of emotions, and there’s an element of acting. And podcasting as well, it’s a free form, which you sort of dictate with your own voice. With the podcast, I try not to get too deep or too dark; I try to keep things moving.
AVC: You’ve struck upon a medium conducive to your stream-of-consciousness approach to comedy.
MM: It’s been mind-blowing and freeing for me, because I do just sit there in my garage by myself and open up all the valves in the brain and see what happens, let it ride, and it’s been very creatively fulfilling. And also surprising, like when I don’t know what’s going to come out until it does, and it’s like “Wow, that’s pretty good; let’s go with that for a little bit.”
AVC: Do WTF sessions inspire your stand-up material?
MM: Absolutely, because there’s no filter on the podcast, there’s no expectation other than to have a conversation. There’s no audience sitting there—I’m just talking to one person on a treadmill, or in their car, or in their cubicle, so it’s sort of an intimate thing.
AVC: Do you think this format will finally replace the comedy record?
MM: I think that the audio side in general is blowing up, but I don’t think it’ll replace the comedy record altogether—though it depends what kind of podcast you’re doing. There are certain people that are doing comedy podcasts with different sketches and bits, so on that level you’re getting something similar to a comedy record. But my podcast is about the conversation and my stream of consciousness, and my stand-up is my stand-up.
AVC: Given the lack of time restraints, podcasting is reviving the art of the interview, rather than sound bites and rehearsed anecdotes that make up most talk-show conversation.
MM: Yeah, I stay away from that kind of thing—it’s really just about having a genuine conversation. I don’t necessarily care who it’s with, I just find that genuine conversation is compelling.
AVC: Ever run into guests who are hesitant to be that open and work without a net?
MM: Yeah, some people, I sort of gauge what they’re willing to talk about or where they’re willing to go. Sometimes people want to just be funny for a while, and that can be revealing too. I just find that if you keep the mics open for an hour, something happens.
AVC: Any plans or desire to go back to conventional radio, or are you over it, given the way it’s treated you?
MM: I don’t see the point in it. I don’t have to sit there and plow through to the commercial breaks, or be held to a certain code of language or topics. It’s not like there’s a lot of money there—or any, really—so I might as well just stay out here in the Wild West of podcasting, and see what becomes of it.
AVC: Of the media you’ve worked in—TV, podcasts, radio, and publishing—is there one you’ve found to be most restrictive?
MM: It’s restriction relative to sponsorship, and there are just rules you have to abide by within corporate-owned media. There’s a federally regulated censorship code when it comes to television or radio, or there are sponsor-specific requests, all of which are restrictive, until you get into the world of late-night shows—and even then there are certain expectations that are relative to each. But all of them have restrictions by virtue of federal law, or just the context of the show.
AVC: Are any of the sponsors who previously hampered your on-air freedom approaching you to get a piece of the podcast since it’s become a hit?
MM: Sponsors in and of themselves don’t necessarily censor—all they give a shit about is that the most people are listening. They just care about numbers, really, and they obviously don’t want to be affiliated with something that they think will work against their product. I’ve never had a real problem with sponsors on podcasts—I’ve never lost one, but the people who ask to sponsor the show are often interesting. For example, Sub Pop Records asked to sponsor when we had Judd Apatow on. They were primarily pushing David Cross’ new vinyl album, so I called him up and we did a plug, and they got a kick out of it. We do Adam And Eve, which is an adult site, so I get to pimp dildos. I think I’ve got a unique angle on it: I’m reaching out to women to replace their toys. Just from my own experience with women, they’ve all got one in the drawer, so maybe it’s time to update.