We are all prisoners to our own vice, and comedians are particularly afflicted. Some of them hide it well, and others make it into one of the most successful podcasts ever.
Marc Maron is a veteran of comedy who has endured harrowing experiences en route to his current life, measured in coffee cups and stray cats. He recently released a book, Attempting Normal, where he tells the unvarnished truth about how he got to where he is today: making podcasts in his garage, and a critically acclaimed show on IFC.
I recently spoke with Marc Maron before he performed at Just For Laughs 42 in Toronto.
Karen Geier: We know you're not particularly religious, but is there coffee in heaven? How are they making it?
Marc Maron: Of course they serve coffee in heaven, and they make it exactly the way I like it, the same way, every day, without fail. It's so amazing, I get bored. I have to change the way I like my coffee just so I don't get bored.
KG: How do you like it?
MM: I'm not that particular. I'm always excited when I have exceptional coffee, and people send me a lot of coffee, and I have a coffee sponsor, but ocassionally, you'll come upon one that's just better than the other ones.
KG: In your book, you describe going all out when you prep Thanksgiving dinner at your mother's house. Is situational gluttony the only truly indulgent behavior you have left?
MM: One of them. Situational gluttony and varying degrees of compulsive masturbation. It's totally situational because if I go out of town to Austin, and I know there's barbecue there, so why not eat it all day long, for every meal? Why not drive miles for it? I have this problem with that. I'm getting old. I'm almost fifty. I've got to be careful of certain things. Just because I'm on the road and a situation presents itself to be gluttonous, it doesn't mean it's good for my heart. I like the idea of situational gluttony. Regional gluttony, also. I eat pretty healthy. I used to eat more healthy, I think. I go back and forth between dieting and not dieting, and when I do a diet that allows a cheat day, that encourages gluttony, not situational, but weekly.
KG: Do you go to the mat in that case?
MM: Yeah, because you're like "You're defying me. You want to see a cheat day? I might DIE today!"
KG: What's impossible to turn down in when that happens?
MM: I'm a sweets person and a salty person. I like ice cream a lot. If you can get me a pint of high-end ice cream, it's crazy. I'm a big meat guy, too. Ice cream and pork.
KG: You are extremely candid in your book about how you've let sex rule you over the years. Two hookers, 2 wives and one surprise live-in partner later, have you grown?
MM: The two wives, and after the wives there was a period where I went on a tear. Right now, I think I'm in the middle of a relationship that's falling apart, and I don't think I've learned how to have a relationship successfully. Sex I do OK with. I do think [with sex] if you take that, and run with it, and if you do get compulsive about it, it's tricky when you use sex as a drug. But emotions are tricky. Relationships are tricky. I still think I have things to learn and things to do to become a more mature emotional person. That's a sad thing.
KG: One of the most compelling threads in your book is how you're incredibly honest about your anger, even though it's a very ugly story. Do you think that more people actually experience rage than care to admit?
MM: It's hard with rage to understand. I don't think you every truly move on from it. When I broke the chair, it was really rather comedic. But, the rage is real. Most people that rage, I don't think it just happens once, and they say, "Oh, I'm never doing that again." It happens sporadically. Usually after it happens, you say, "What did I do? I really fucked things up!" But really, once you rage out, you feel great. It's like, "It's out of me." And then, there's a crying person. You've put it all on them. It's a trickier thing to solve. I think it requires a little more work, and people don't change easily. I do think a lot of people go through that shame from anger. I do think it's a horrible little secret.
KG: You seem to have a methodical, percolation method of creating your act. Is that hard when you came up through the ranks with guys who are wild men, or just write like fiends, and edit later?
MM: There's not too many wild men around anymore, and wild men require some craft in place to have the confidence to do what they do. I'm about half-wild these days. I don't have envy of people who contruct and write. I do know that part of the reason why I do it the way that I do it is a flaw, or an addictive thing. If I am marginally prepared, and I leave myself open for surprises on stage, then things will happen that have never happened before. There's an argument to be made that an act is an act, and people want to pay to see an hour, and it should all hit. I don't see it that way. I've been doing it a long time to become who I am. I will forego the discipline of a seamless hour to have something happen on stage that's a surprise, improvisationally, emotionally, and otherwise. In some ways, the laughs have become a byproduct. Innately, I know where I want the laughs to be, and usually they are, but something else needs to happen there.
KG: You've been pretty open on your podcast and on your television show about your professional jealousy of those who haven't put in the work, or maybe sold out. Do you ever wish you had had an opportunity to sell out?
MM: I have an innate protective device, and it's going to fuck up anything that's too far outside of what I can handle. I did sell out. I did a game show for VH1. And I was sick the whole time I did it, which often happens to me if I am nervous or feel weird about a project. All I've been gunning for is to get to me, so I can only do different variations of me. If it's me they want, then I can handle that. I regret not being more likable to more people, but sometimes, you can build it and people won't come. By the time I started the podcast, I had really given up on the idea that a professional opportunity like getting my own show. I was doing the podcast just to survive, really. Now, there's some people who don't want me to leave the garage.
KG: You describe the somewhat contentious ways your cats have entered your life in your book, yet there is a real pride in the way you talk about them, and your care and rehabilitation of them might be your best work. Do you agree?
MM: The cats I have tend to represent something to me. There are people who are ideologically motivated to save cats. For me, it was a case by case basis. Because of the struggle I've had with these cats, and the time period they came into my life, and what they represent, it becomes a metaphor for pushing on and change. I like cats because you have to earn their affection. The relationship is always sort of a fight.
KG: Your relationship is like a Woody Allen movie where you're Woody Allen, and your cats are the WASPy woman that you'll never get a handle on?
MM: Yeah, that's a good way of putting it. Unlike a Woody Allen movie, I'll never have an actual handle on it, but I can continue to feed them, and then I have a chance.