Fiona Apple's father is a former Broadway/Hollywood actor turned profound and prolific author. His name is Brandon Maggart, and he's a dear friend of mine. Sometimes I bring pastrami sandwiches to his Venice home, and listen as he reads excerpts from his latest literary works. Venice Beach is only a few blocks away, but we never mention it. We'd rather sit inside, eat pastrami, and discuss all things artistic.
"Fiona is going to do Marc Maron's podcast," Brandon says.
"Who's Marc Maron?" I ask, as Fiona's older brother Bran walks in, looking at me like I'm too dumb to live.
A talented writer with a wonderfully scathing wit, Bran also functions as a combination of body guard/tour manager/guy-who-gets-things-done for Fiona Apple. Despite his brutish presence, I suspect there's a heart of gold in there somewhere, yet I always feel like there's a chance he's going to hit me.
"You don't know who Marc Maron is?" Bran asks, as if he's considering kicking me in the fucking head. "How?"
I leave Brandon Maggart's house, determined to learn everything about Marc Maron. He's clearly someone very special, and I'm feeling like a clueless putz for not knowing anything about him.
A year later, I finally get around to checking Maron out.
Marc Maron was a struggling standup comic, chemically addicted and saddled with an array of emotional ailments. He thought a lot about suicide, but started doing podcasts -- interviewing edgy comics and interesting actors -- from his Los Angeles garage. Fueled with fierce intelligence, funny thought patterns, and a willingness to shine a spotlight on his anxieties, neuroses, anger, and battered relationships, these podcasts -- featuring candid conversations with artists such as Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, Jeff Garlin and Louis C.K. -- became hugely popular and garnered Maron a massive following, launching him into the mainstream with his bestselling book Attempting Normal and his fabulous autobiographical IFC series Maron.
With Thinky Pain -- an intimate, no-frills standup comedy special currently available on Netflix -- and Season 2 of Maron on the way, Marc Maron has arrived, finally achieving the commercial success he's always deserved, but wasn't sure he'd receive.
Marc Maron is one of the most honest and affecting comedic voices of today. But, for those unfamiliar, don't expect the sensibilities of Jay Leno or Bill Cosby. With lines like "I don't know if someone loves me if I can't make them cry," he'll probably never host the Oscars, but I absolutely love this guy. He reminds me of myself, only smarter, more talented and able to order off a menu without checking prices. Come to think of it, aside from the crippling neuroses and emotional devastation, we're nothing alike.
As I begin my conversation with Marc Maron, he is getting dressed. His first words to me are, "Let me put a shirt on... fuck." Again, I love this guy.
I've been writing extremely personal blog posts lately, highlighting my relationship wreckage, insecurities, inferior feelings, hard times and broken coping mechanisms. A concerned relative reached out, wondering why I'm okay with showing this unpleasant side of myself, and why I allow myself to be seen in a negative light?
"You make yourself sound like a downer. Why are you doing this?" she asked.
I wasn't sure how to answer. I strung together a series of key words -- honesty, truth, humanity, relatability -- hoping to offer some semblance of an explanation, and wishing for the subject to change.
I tell Marc Maron about this concerned relative, and ask him -- as a self-examining and soul-baring artist -- how he'd answer this question?
"I know I'm not for everybody," Maron begins. "In terms of sadness or not appearing in a good light, we're all multidimensional people. Are we supposed to just function as one-dimensional people and avoid all the things that make us uncomfortable? I think that, if you let them, most things make us uncomfortable. I know some things are unfortunate, but that's just the way life is sometimes, and I choose to talk about my life in all its different aspects. I think there's catharsis, and common ground, and a lot of hope in that."
"Over time," Maron continues, "you write things out, you work them out, you talk them out, and they become framed in a way that you can handle them, and in a way that they're either poetically or humorously processed and presented to other people."
"This is perfect," I think to myself. Now the concerned relative can read this and have the answer I couldn't articulate. I move on to the next question, asking Maron what he gets out of interviewing fellow artists on his podcasts?
"It became like a compulsion or an addiction," he explains. "I didn't set out to be an interviewer. I considered myself somewhat of a self-centered guy, but when I first started doing the podcasts, I really needed to talk to people. When you're in trouble, you need to talk to people. I needed to reconnect. I needed the conversations, and through them I got more in touch with the kid I used to be, just fascinated and excited by people's stories and ability to make me laugh or move me in some way, and over time the interviews opened me back up to a non-cynical and more curious and excited way of living and seeing things. I need to talk to people. There's something about talking to people for an hour that's very important to the heart."
I saw Marc Maron's hilarious Thinky Pain on Netflix, and I loved it. I ask Marc what he hopes an audience will get from watching Thinky Pain and also from the highly anticipated Season 2 of Maron?
"I hope they get moved," he says. "And I hope they engage and identify with the stories. And I hope they laugh. The great thing about watching Thinky Pain on Netflix is that you can watch it in its entirety, and you can watch it whenever you want, and haters are less likely to watch something that they have to go out of their way to find. It's not dumped into their living room after they've just watched something else, making them feel attacked by my presence."
I thank Marc for putting out the brave and truthful work for which he's known. I tell him that he -- along with artists like David Sedaris and Jonathan Ames -- inspire other artists to take chances and go out farther towards the edge.
"It's very humbling and gratifying to me to have that kind of effect on people," he says. "That's something I never expected. Given the guy that I thought I was, I never thought I'd hear that I help inspire people or that I help them feel less alone or give them creative courage. These are things I never thought I would inspire in people. I'm glad I inspire people to take new chances and push the envelope creatively. We only live once, and once you hit 50, it becomes very clear."
As our interview concludes, I scramble to remember my final question. I only had a few questions prepared, so I didn't bother to write them down, and now I can't remember the last one. Shit. I have a petrifying fear of being afflicted with Alzheimer's in my old age, and moments like this don't help to curb it.
I decide to wing it, and ask Marc Maron what matters to him as a human being?
"Being as true to myself as possible," he replies. "What matters to me is that I find some sort of authentic voice. I just want to feel comfortable with who I am, and it's starting to happen. I think that was my whole journey with comedy to begin with. I never became a caricature of myself, though I'm starting to, and I'm sort of proud of that."
Later that day, I'm on my elliptical machine, doing 45 minutes of cardio. Endorphins flood into my brain, and I remember the last question I wanted to ask Maron: Has anyone in your personal life ever questioned your being so brutally honest about yourself in your art?
I wonder what he'd say.