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'Maron' Season Two: Marc Maron on Accidental Joke Theft, His Directorial Debut and Finally Getting It Together as a Performer

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Claire Danes just departed the garage studio of his WTF with Marc Maron. He sold out a recent series of evenings at Hollywood's Trepany House promising nothing more than the development of new material. His second book, Attempting Normal, hit paperback in May; October special Thinky Pain arrives on double vinyl and CD May 6. And Maron's eponymous IFC series returns for a second season May 8 at 10 p.m., with guests including Conan O'Brien, Sarah Silverman, Ray Romano, David Cross, Karen Kilgariff, Rob Riggle, Wyatt Cenac, Bill Burr, Nate Bargatze, Caroline Rhea, Eddie Pepitone, Michael Ian Black, Chris Hardwick and more...

Last night's material seemed pretty far along for a show where you were just working stuff out.

Well, I think that is a testament to being comfortable in that room and the audience knowing exactly what they were getting into. A lot of that stuff last night I'd never done before, but I would hope that at this point in my career and as long as I've been doing this, that I do have my shit together onstage, no matter how developed the material is. I would hope that would be true.

After putting all the material together, are you looking to record again in the near future? It hasn't been that long since Thinky Pain.

I don't know. I guess I need to keep working as a comic, and I want to tour in the fall. I can't really tour on Thinky Pain much anymore, and a lot of the stuff that I do--because I can do sort of what's in the moment--a lot of the stuff on Thinky Pain is just out of my mind now, so it would be hard to really tour on that. And I think that people want to see something new. So I think more than anything else, I'm preparing to tour. That's the plan.

You had a full headlining show ready to go at the Moontower Comedy Festival. And the reactions were really positive.

I'm pretty new to sort of touring at the level I'm touring at now. I can't do huge theaters, but in some markets I can sell 1,000 tickets. That reality is still very new to me, so it really is about figuring out what my legs are in standing in front of 1,000 people regularly; if that's going to be where it's going to go. Most of my career has been in comedy clubs and small venues. I mean, obviously I have the skill set, but I'm pretty conversational anyway; that's my style. If it seems pretty together, it's because I'm pretty together as a performer, finally.

But I have a compulsion to show up with a nice hour-ten, hour-fifteen that's got a little bit of an arc, a little structure, and I know the shit works, as opposed to seeming like I'm working something out, although that's part of my process. I do like things to happen for the first time as much as possible, so that's always going to be there. I know that the Austin show was pretty exciting and it went really well, but when I'm doing these bigger room, I want to make sure I've got plenty of new stuff, and that people get a show that's proportionate to the venue, you know?

You mentioned "if" your careers is going to go in this direction, doing the bigger venues. Is that something you want to work towards, or do you prefer the intimacy of smaller ones?

Well, it really comes down to economy and energy. I just did Hilarities in Cleveland; I last weekend did Goodnights in Raleigh in North Carolina, and I go up to Bloomington and I do the Comedy Attic. I still do those shows; I like doing those shows. But that's when you're doing four or five shows over a three-day period, and you're still dealing sometimes with people wandering in for a general comedy show. I'm not at the level of celebrity where everyone knows me. I love doing those kind of shows: they keep me on my toes and they keep me in shape and I like to getting back to the clubs that supported me over the years.

But after a certain point, to have a roomful of people that have come out really specifically to see you--there's no one just wandering in 'cause it's a bachelorette party--it's a different experience. So I certainly like doing comedy clubs, but in the markets that I can do a venue that would enable me to do one or two shows for people that just want to see me, there's a feeling like, "Well, that's great! That's the payoff!"

Of course a lot of that has to do with people who are fans of the podcast and the show. What's the learning curve been from season one to two?

Going into season one, I'd never done anything I was doing. I'd never written for television, I'd never produced television, I'd not really acted much in my life. But I knew I was ready for it because I'd given up the idea that any of that was going to happen for me. So I was pretty relaxed. And I feel pretty comfortable with who I am right now, so the only thing I really knew going into season one is that I could handle what was happening. I was very open to working with other people. The collaboration was really supportive for me. I was just showing up with an open heart and an open mind in a very new environment for me, and I think we did really well.

And then going into season two, I knew some things that I wanted done differently. I knew that I wanted to have all the scripts written when we started shooting so I wouldn't have to do rewrites and film. I knew that I had to get out 13 episodes; I just didn't know how big my life was, or whether or not we could come up with 13 episodes, 13 stories, because I'd never had an experience with doing television like that. My writers were always very confident, but for some reason I was like, "Well what if I don't have that big a life?" But the world we created--that is based on the world that I live in--it was sort of renewable, and there were enough events in my life we could build stories out of. So we very quickly wrote the stories, we got the scripts done in time for shooting, and I knew that watching season one I really wanted to assess "What is [character] Marc versus the reality of Marc? What were the strong points comedically and on performances levels, and what resonated with me, and what worked and didn't work?"

So entering season two I was a little more confident as an actor. I brought Dave Anthony in as a writer, and I also trusted his judgment of my performance. I went out of my way to make sure the show-runners and Dave were watching my performance, because when you're shooting not only within the budget and the time constrictions, really the priority is getting coverage to cut from. I wanted to make sure someone was watching my comedic choices and working with me in how to make choices in a particular scene that were as funny as they could be. So there was a lot more attention paid to honing the strengths of the show from what we learned in season one. I'm just dealing with being a little more confident about making those kind of decisions.

You made your directorial debut this season with an episode partially shot at the Comedy Store. How did it go?

It was a great experience. I don't know what it would be like if I wasn't in every scene, because we still had to maintain the pace we were going at. I had to have a lot of trust in my DP--which I do--because there wasn't a lot of time for playback, and I was in every scene. But as somebody who was in every scene and part of the writing at every level, you're always kind of directing. But just to make sure we got the coverage and to be in the editing room to do the first pass on the episode I directed is really exciting. And to be in there making the choices of what needs to go, what can stay, what we have; it seems like a lot of directing is really about having something to choose from in the edits. And that episode was very important to me. It's a very comic-centric episode about a very loaded topic, and I wanted to make sure it was handled properly, and I was glad that was the one I chose to do.

It's called "The Joke," and it's about me, while doing panel on Conan, doing a line that immediately after I did it, I felt weird about it. I was just like, "I don't know if that's my line." I've had that feeling that a lot of comics have sometimes, where you wonder, "It seems like it might not be my joke." Then I have Bill Burr on my podcast. He's like, "What's going on?" I say, "Well I did this joke..." He goes, "You feel like it might not be your joke, or what?" I go, "Yeah, kinda." And then I tell him the joke and he goes, "Oh my God, yeah. That's what's-his-name's joke, you know," the character I conceived of for Joey Diaz. And I'm like, "Oh my God! What's up with that guy? Where is he?" "Oh, he just got out of jail." So the whole story is really about me innocently and accidentally doing this line, and Joey plays this kind of beat-up road comic whose joke it was that I took, and the story sort of unfolds from that premise.

Even years after the Carlos Mencia/Joe Rogan thing, it's still a timely topic, something that's always coming up on the Internet.

Well, it's every comedian's biggest fear. And in a culture of Internet trolls and shit-starters, part of your job as a comic--there are thousands of us out there; we're all living in the same world--the vigilance necessary to try to protect your brain from doing someone else's joke by accident or doing something you may have heard is sort of extraordinary, given the culture we live in. There's definitely a difference between someone who steals material pathologically and somebody who accidentally does something. And it's one of the liabilities and possibilities of being a comic, that it could happen. And it could happen completely by accident, and it could happen to somebody who has never stolen a joke in their life. I just wanted to try to explore the human side of that. And that's what that was sort of in reaction to.

I'm happy with it. I'd like to try directing again when I have a little more time, a little more distance on it. But again, it's like last season versus this season, which is something I've never done before. And now, sure, I'd like to try it again. After the baptism by fire, you're kinda like, "Yeah, okay, that wasn't so scary. Now I'd like to try it with a little more confidence."

Have you given thought to season three and beyond, what you'd like to achieve long-term with the show?

It's one of these things where, having been in the business long enough and having not really had a tremendous amount of experience with where I'm at now, I'm very happy that we've done what we've done. I do have complete confidence that there are more seasons of Maron that can be done. But I have no control over whether or not IFC decides to do more of them. I'd be thrilled to do more; I do believe that we can still evolve the character roughly in parallel to my life. But I have to sort of stay in the present, because I'm excited to see how people respond to this season. I'm proud of it, and yeah, if they wanted to do more, I'd be thrilled to do more, but you just don't know. There are so many things that are completely out of my control, and I don't want to hang my hopes on it, you know what I mean?

I'm just happy that the work I've done on it so far is something I'm proud of and that we were able to work with a network that gave us a lot of freedom, and were very easy to work with and great collaborators. I think that's a rare experience in television, generally speaking, from what I've heard. So it's just nice to be proud of the work that's been done. I'm not thinking, "Oh my God, I would do it so differently!" like, "I just need one more season to really nail it!" I think we did great, and I think it's just really great that we were given the opportunity.

And how about the podcast? You're closing in on 500 episodes; is that something you still see doing indefinitely?

Oh yeah, the podcast keeps going. There's no reason to stop.