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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Marc Maron: Stand-Up "Was Always Life or Death for Me"

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2011 at 8:00 AM

  • Seth Olenick

Marc Maron's wildly successful What the Fuck? podcast -- which features Maron talking frankly with fellow comedians, writers, and others -- has increased his audience and earned him a wider reputation. Maron, who has been a comedian more than 25 years, is an intelligent, self-critical, and searching personality. Maron's fourth comedy album, This Has to Be Funny, was released to acclaim in August, and WTF has a dedicated YouTube channel.

A former resident of San Francisco, Maron spoke to us about the podcast, the ups and downs of his career, and the primacy of social media ahead of his appearances at the Punch Line Wednesday through Saturday.

How did WTF come to be?

I took this gig at Air America to do an Internet TV show, because they agreed to pay me enough money to settle my divorce. And then they pulled the plug about a year in, after we'd done an awful lot of work. We had a month left on our contract. They didn't kick us out or take our office away, and I had a close working relationship with the guy who had been producing me on the radio for several years.

So we said, "Let's try this podcast. We've got security cards. We know the night guy. Let's record some stuff and see what we can come up with." So that's how it started. We did the first 10 or 12 episodes like that.

How would you describe your approach to interviewing guests on WTF?

For me it's really about conversation. I bring a lot of baggage to my interviews, and because of that, I'm fairly open and I enjoy listening to people. It helps me. It gets me outside of myself. The idea really was about conversation -- that we're going to sit there for an hour and see what happens. I know most of the people I interview; we share a sort of brotherhood. But a lot of times I get into the garage [Maron's home studio], and I don't know if the person is going to talk. I don't know if it's going to be difficult. I don't necessarily know where to start. So I still don't really see them as interviews, per se.

Maron in his home studio - DMITRI VON KLEIN
  • Dmitri von Klein
  • Maron in his home studio

Has the podcast affected your stand-up career?

Absolutely. I've been around a while. And I've really not been able to get much traction, or be much of a draw, for one reason or another -- and I can speculate on what those reasons are. Most of my comedy has been somewhat tortured -- angry at times, neurotic at times, and sometimes not so consistent. I've evolved a lot. My voice has gotten older and more tempered. I was never a straight-up joke-telling guy. It was always life or death for me. And I don't know if that's everybody's idea of a night out.

But the people who listen to the podcast know me fairly intimately, so they know what they're getting into. I'm definitely getting more people to comedy shows, but some of those people have never even been to a comedy show and don't even know if I can do stand-up.

On WTF you spoke with Brian Posehn about having lived in San Francisco at the same time. When was that?

I lived in San Francisco from 1992 through 1994. It was another juncture in my career where I couldn't get work. I was having a hard time breaking into clubs in New York. I'd broken up with a girl. So I packed up my shit and drove to San Francisco.

It was an important time for me, because San Francisco is very indulgent in its creative community. At that time, I and Patton Oswalt and Blaine Capatch moved to San Francisco within weeks of each other. But most of the wave that had defined San Francisco comedy had left -- [Ellen] DeGeneres, [Kevin] Meaney, Dana Gould, Dana Carvey, Bobby Goldthwait. There were still a lot of comics around, but that was the vibe I got -- that a lot of the people who had established the comedy scene in San Francisco had gone to Los Angeles. There was a sense that it was resuscitating, though, and it was a great time for me.

You're very active on Twitter. Have you found social media to be effective in connecting with fans?

My primary outlet is the Internet, with the podcast. [Social media] keeps you in direct contact with people who like you. No one's going to do it for you anymore. What -- you're going to go play a club and expect them to put your gig on their website? Or an interview with the SF Weekly? Yeah, this will go on your website, but how much traction is that really going to get?

Print media is gone. It means nothing. Whether a club has a Twitter feed or Facebook page or even a website -- who gives a shit? Social media will define whether or not you can generate or maintain a bit of a following. It's the only way to keep people aware of where you're going to be, and to possibly get audiences in seats.

I'm going to get you more readers for this piece that you're going to get -- like, if I Tweet this, then my fans will be able to take a look at it. But if this was the only promotion I was doing for the Punch Line, what effect do you think it would really have?

I think about that kind of thing every day.

[Maron laughs.] It's a tough racket. Certainly things like SF Weekly, which people are going to rely on as far as what's going on this week, are important. But, as a personality, these papers are not what they used to be. The competition is brutal. It all counts, but that's the troubling reality.

Marc Maron appears Wednesday-Saturday (Nov. 2-5) with Nato Green and Sammy Obeid at the Punch Line, 444 Battery (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $17.50-$25.


Follow Casey Burchby and SF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog on Twitter.

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