Marc Maron defines what he does as “comedy of introspection and personal struggle.” He obsesses over other comics who get network shows or on the cover of magazines, where he feels he belongs. He describes himself as an “abusive, selfish, needy, angry a-hole” who is “bitter and misunderstood.” But with all his complaining, he’s doing very well. He travels the country doing stand-up. His half-million listeners make his WTF podcast one of the most successful on the Internet. His IFC show Maron is in its second year. He’s written a successful memoir, Attempting Normal. And he’s enormously popular with people in their late 20s and 30s who can relate to his rants.
The Saturday Evening Post: In your book you write that you grew up in an emotionally crippling household. Is that the fuel that fed your desire to become a stand-up comedian?
Marc Maron: My father was erratic and absent. My mother was self-consumed. She and I fought a lot. She was very obsessed with her appearance and with weight and her own place in life and who she was. A lot of that was projected onto me. Most of my concerns as a child were how fat I was getting and what pant size I was going to wear and how embarrassed I would be about my mother’s behavior, her peculiar eating habits, her weird vanity, her sexuality. She never did anything right — like pick me up on time. It was always embarrassing. So I often sought negative attention just to get attention. Humor was something I used when I wasn’t paralyzed with discomfort or not feeling like I fit in.
SEP: Your early career was a struggle. People didn’t “get” you. What made you continue on when it must have been so tough along the way?
MM: Once I started defining my comic personality, it was aggressive. I wanted to provoke, to make people uncomfortable. I believe life is fundamentally unfair. You reach almost daily, if you let yourself, a sense of futility. So raging against that was something I thought everyone could relate to. As it turned out, it’s a very fine line between raging and self-pity. And that’s not compelling. The struggle is to overcome that. Being self-effacing, on the other hand, is a popular comedic archetype: the shlub. But if you add anger and a sense of entitlement to that, it becomes repugnant. My curiosity, my humor, has always been driven by the fact that I was missing something. Or that someone else had figured something out that I hadn’t. Or why is it easier for that guy than for me? It really isn’t fundamentally easier for anybody — a lot of time luck or opportunity plays into it. Some people are luckier than other people. Some people deserve things other people don’t. It isn’t that complicated.
SEP: How did you eventually find your audience?
MM: What happened with me is I gave up. I had to assess who I was and realize that maybe I’m not going to be an important comic. Maybe I’m not going to get a TV show. That was heartbreaking. After being divorced twice and assessing the flaws that I had that hobbled me, I started thinking, Who the %$#& are you? So acknowledging that I had failed and not thinking of anything else I could do, I turned to this [making podcasts]. I can’t help but be raw and honest and this format lends itself beautifully to that. [The podcast] seems to have a profound effect on people. Ultimately, I wasn’t looking for money or to be a rock star, I was looking to be relevant and to be seen.