Culture Shock: Marc Maron's Homecoming

Albuquerque Native Talks Wtf, Recovery And Growing Up In The City

Maggie Grimason
8 min read
Marc Maron
(courtesy of Marc Maron)
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Marc Maron has a long memory. Through nine years of hosting his podcast—called WTF—the sometimes-bitter, but always sharp comedian has confronted his past, not only through the therapy-like dialogue that precedes the interviews that the series is based around, but through the conversations that he has with others. There is often the sense that Maron walks away from each conversation a better person.

But it’s not all existential on WTF—though that is, indeed, where many of Maron’s struggles lie. Because Maron allows himself to be vulnerable—candidly speaking about his jealousies, insecurities, divorce, anger and past addictions—he elicits the same vulnerability in others. What results is honest and important journalism, which has changed the face of podcasting. His interview with Robin Williams, for example, more serious than one might expect, sees Williams engaging with Maron in a way that is palpably real, his persona—the comedian one expects—is absent.

That long memory also extends to Central, Highland High School, the North Valley and Frontier Restaurant. Maron spent fourth grade through high school graduation in Albuquerque, and as such, his Sept. 3 show at the National Hispanic Cultural Center is something of a homecoming. Preceding stand-up dates at Carnegie Hall and ever more interviews for WTF (which is released twice weekly) and work on his IFC television show, Maron will perform at a benefit for Endorphin Power Company, a nonprofit geared toward assisting individuals with histories of substance abuse transition to a healthier life by creating a positive living community.

At Endorphin Power Company recovery is something very personal and self-directed—whether that means a 12-step program, SMART recovery, Buddhism, or a Christian faith-based program. There’s an avenue toward wellness in many veins at EPC. The center, something of a sanctuary in the Southeast Heights, is underpinned by four objectives for recovery—education, exercise, community and service. These pillars take whatever shape the individual who has made their home there would like—maybe it is using one of the on-site gym’s electricity-generating stationary bikes, maybe it’s rock climbing, or participating in one of the many yoga classes that are offered on the expansive grounds. It doesn’t matter which direction your compass points, as long as you are putting in the work in each of these arenas. The facility isn’t just functional—it’s beautiful. There’s a library and a community garden, a koi pond and a wide courtyard. “There’s an energy here,” Executive Director Jeffrey Holland told me as we strolled the grounds on a cool late August morning. And being there, I don’t doubt it. It’s no wonder that Maron, who recently marked 17 years of sobriety, chose to lend his talent to benefit the organization.

When I spoke with Maron on the phone in anticipation of his visit, I felt myself talking more than usual. Even in our casual conversation, Maron’s singular inquisitiveness that typifies WTF was apparent. He is genuinely interested in people, and that is not only what makes him an insightful (and sometimes acerbic) comedian, but also a great conversationalist. After I gave him nearly my complete life history, he said, “Anyway, well, what’s on your mind?”

Alibi: [tells a long, circuitous story] … And, all that to say—do you feel famous?

Maron: I seem to keep my life fairly consistent. … I haven’t changed my life at all over the last nine years in terms of where I live, how I live. I don’t spend a lot of money, I’m in the same house that’s slowly falling apart. … I think part of that’s protective, to keep something to myself. I know that I’m an influence on some people’s lives. I’m very grateful for that—that people get so much out of what I do.

Do you feel like listeners are able to form this personal, emotional relationship with you because you allow yourself to be very open and honest? Do you think it’s important to have conversations about hard topics like addiction?

It’s very important to have those conversations—I enjoy talking to people, it’s nice to get out of my head a little bit … and it’s nice to see what happens in those conversations. It’s very important to me to have those conversations just as a human being. It’s something I’ve always liked to do in my life, but maybe I lost it for awhile because I was more aggravated, angry and insulated. In terms of how I have conversations, I don’t know that I’ve ever done it differently. I’m pretty forthcoming [about] myself—probably too much sometimes. [On the podcast] I just go with it. … I want it to be a real conversation. There’s a point where you can feel it sort of happening—where you’re detached from the self-consciousness of being formatted to the context, and you’re just a couple people talking. I don’t think people do it a lot. I’ve become a better listener. I’m still a little self-involved sometimes. In terms of filling a place for people listening that it is intimate … it’s hard to really conceive of that. I can understand it, but I’m just doing what I do. I don’t think many people really have those kind of conversations with anybody in their lives, … [so] me being forthcoming about my own flaws and weaknesses, and past and current problems, no matter what they are, it’s relieving.

I like your approach to interviewing quite a bit—and something that I’ve pinpointed as unique is that after awhile you can disconnect from the personas you’re expecting to hear and just listen to two interesting people have a conversation. That’s pretty unusual for that interview format.

The interview format—whatever anyone thinks that is—is inherently stifling to conversation. If you’re a journalist, you have questions, and then you have follow-up questions—you have your agenda. So, my agenda is always emotional. I want to connect with somebody. I do a little bit of research to get a sense of where they are from and what they’ve done—I don’t want to disregard their work or what they’ve accomplished—[but I want] to get my own poetic sense of what I think someone is like, which is never really right. … My approach is completely instinctual. … I don’t know why I spoke to John C. Reilly about clowns for 10 minutes … [but] it was a gateway into having real engagement with that guy. I never know when that’s going to reveal itself. … When I talked to Maynard from Tool … I listened to as much of the music as I could, but we ended up talking about parrots and pet stores for 15 minutes. Who gives a shit about their third album and whatever Tool nerds might have a problem with, when you have this other dimension of a person that happens in the immediate context of the conversation?

Even though you’ve been away for awhile, does Albuquerque still feel like home?

Definitely. It’s become more distant to me now. … [I grew up in] a Jewish family, my father was a surgeon in town, my mother was a painter. … I went to Highland High School and was able to move through different cliques without attaching to any of them. I had a couple of crazy friends who would get people to buy us booze and hang out at the McDonald’s on Lomas and San Pedro. [Eventually] I got a job by the university so I was very entrenched in that world of art and weirdness. I worked at [a] bagel place right next door to [this] record [store]. There were a couple of guys there that changed the course of my understanding of music. I spent a lot of time at Frontier.

And what about Endorphin Power Company?

It is a valid and good program, and you know, I’m a recovering person. It gives me the opportunity to play my hometown for a good cause. I’m certainly grateful for my recovery and anything that helps other people recover and integrate back into the world. I’m performing a lot of new material because I’m performing at Carnegie Hall in November—it’s all around a good thing.

Congratulations on 17 years of sobriety! It’s important to see someone successful be candid about things like that—and it’s powerful. Is there anything that helped you recover? Do you have different, good habits now?

For me it was going to AA meetings and … at the beginning being very persistent and making sure that I put my sobriety above all other things [for] as long as it took me to be relieved of the obsession and take responsibility for my actions. There are lots of ways to get sober, and that was the way I took. I still go to meetings and I try to stay connected to the program. I talk to other sober people on a daily basis. [And] sure, I have habits. I try to eat well and exercise. I’m still a coffee addict and I take nicotine lozenges. I’m not perfect, but I don’t drink or use drugs. I understand the nature of my own addictive personality. I try to do the best I can.

Marc Maron

Marc Maron

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