Marc Maron isn’t famous, but he should be. The stand-up comedian and ex-Albuquerquean has appeared on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” three-dozen times and “The Late Show With David Letterman” four times, and he’s had two of his own half-hour specials on Comedy Central. He was one of the voices behind the now-defunct “Morning Sedition” radio show on Air America. Plus, he was the irate promoter in Almost Famous (an appropriate title for Maron) who orders his minions to “Lock the gates!” on the protagonists’ hurtling tour bus.
Maron, who lived in Albuquerque from third grade through high school, has been in the old-school comedy game for more than 15 years. Playing clubs across the country, he paid his dues long ago. But chances are you still haven’t heard of him, even though he went bankrupt and was divorced twice (events he makes bitterly public in his comedy). A year and a half ago, he was “down for the count,” he says, and arrived at the decision that he should start a podcast.
Recorded twice a week in his garage, “WTF With Marc Maron” is doing for the comedian what guest spots on prime-time late-night real estate seemingly could not—teaching people his name. The podcast, which features interviews with the likes of Robin Williams, Judd Apatow and Ira Glass, is taking in an average of 230,000 listeners a week and regularly reaches the No. 1 slot on the iTunes comedy charts. It’s reinvigorated Maron, who’s in the process of pitching a TV show to FOX and submitting a second book proposal (you can find his first book, The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah, on Amazon.com) after recording material for a fourth CD earlier this year. At 47, Maron just might be getting famous.
Unlike so many people who give up on possibly outlandish dreams at some point in their careers, Maron says he’s never had a Plan B. “There was never any other option for me,” he says. “I chose a career that sort of enables you to be kind a perpetual adolescent and live like a goddamn gypsy. Fortunately for me, because of my brain, there was no American Dream that I wasn’t achieving. I never set out to have a wife and kids, I never set out to have a good job. All that I ever wanted was to be a comedian with a point of view.”
Because Maron never considered doing anything else (“Maybe that’s some sort of retardation,” he muses), he just continued doing what he loved without hesitation. “Early on, fear—it just wasn’t there, there was just the persistence. It was never like, Ah, that’s it, I’m going to law school, time to get a job,” he says. “I would rather have no money living on a friend’s couch. That was my default.”
Although Maron’s never been faced with the dilemma of having to reinvent his image as he gets older, as stand-ups with shticks often are (think Carrot Top), he has found an evolution in his work through the podcast. “With me, the struggle really, as it turns out, was always to sort of become myself in some respect,” he says. “I was never a guy who had a broad persona. Early on, I was fairly angry and I did a certain type of comedy, which was very aggressive and in your face and a bit heavy-handed. And I grew weary of it, and it didn’t necessarily work for me, so I needed to go deeper into who I was. ... It’s always been sort of a personal evolution.”
“I chose a career that sort of enables you to be kind a perpetual adolescent and live like a goddamn gypsy.”
Maron’s comedy dips into his personal life unflinchingly, and through the podcast that’s become even more pronounced. “What’s happened over the year, in me talking to my peers, and talking and expressing myself on the mic, is that I’ve started to sort of get through that, and kind of [talk] about a lot of the obstacles that I was in the middle of when I started and also just professionally and many other ways.”
Some of the feedback Maron’s gotten for the show has surprised him. Rather than people simply telling him, Thanks for the laugh, Maron says he’s heard from a number of fans who told him his honesty registered with them on a deeper level. Some even said they had been perched on the edge of suicide, but realizing they’re not alone brought them back. “It’s mind-blowing, the type of effect it’s having on certain people,” he says, “and it’s very humbling and gratifying in a way I never really imagined possible.”