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Marc Maron Talks Highland Park And The Trouble With Sharing Your Life On TV

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For anyone bottling up any sort of emotional outpouring, comedian Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast and TV show, “Maron,” are wonderful catharsis.Twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays), Maron puts out a podcast in which he interviews friends and entertainers that starts with a taped introduction that often sees Maron detailing whatever is happening in his life at the moment—relationship woes, familial problems and the assortment of adopted and stray cats he cares for in his Highland Park home. From his relationship with a younger woman, which fizzled last year, to his father’s resentment over his representation on Maron’s TV show, to his new relationship with Moon Zappa, nothing seems off-limits.

Meanwhile, his TV show, “Maron,” is basically a fictionalized version of his own life—comedian Marc Maron records podcasts out of his garage, where friends and fellow comedians stop by to shoot the shit, and he lives life as a divorced, middle-aged comedian dealing with his parents, a relationship with a younger woman (who is a sex-fiending former fan) and a turning point in his career. Throughout, we see him at local establishments in Highland Park, which is almost a character in the show, in a Woody Allen-esque New York kind of way, as he runs into his ex-wife at Highland Café or talks to a creepy fan at a local pet shop.

Season two starts back up again on IFC May 8. We took a minute to catch up with the real Maron before his fictionalized counterpart returns to the small screen.

What spurred your more permanent move back to L.A. from New York a few years ago?

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I was done with New York, and I don’t really miss it that much. I’m glad that I know how to be in New York. There’s a lot of electricity to it and a lot of excitement in the way you live in New York, but it becomes exhausting. It does take a lot of money to have an elevated quality of life, and eventually you get tired of having sweaty strangers next to you all the time. You can’t compare the two. I love New York, I was just done living there. I grew up in New Mexico, so driving around in a car and having a little space is nice.

And that coincided with starting the podcast?

The original move was really, I came out because it was after 9/11, and I was with a woman that got very sort of frightened. I had a deal with Fox, and I came out on sort of a script deal with Fox in 2002 and went back for Air America in 2004 (where Maron was a morning show host, before getting fired from the now-defunct progressive radio network). After that last round with Air America in 2008 or ’9 when we started doing the podcast because we’d been fired and we were using the studio there late at night kind of breaking in where my partner and I, Brendan McDonald, really dug what we were doing. And I came out here and just figured out how to make my garage into a studio of sorts. I was already living here. I didn’t necessarily have a plan, but when I got back in 2009, I had a plan, and that was to do a podcast every Monday and Thursday, which we have done since then.

What made you want to start the podcast?The podcast was born out of desperation and the need to connect with people. I just sort of hit a wall. I didn’t want to go back to work in New York, but I was broke. I was in the middle of a divorce, and I needed to get out of that.

[Air America] had closed down shop and fired us, and I didn’t know what to do. My comedy career sort of hit the wall, and I just didn’t have a lot options. I knew that some people were doing [podcasts], and I enjoyed the medium of radio, so we just started experimenting with it with no real expectations and just stuck with it. And the show evolved into what it is now, and all these other opportunities sort of came from that act.

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I’d given up any sort of expectation of being a relevant comic or doing television or anything else, and I didn’t know how we were gonna make money or if we would make money, so I just let all that stuff go, and it was sort of a dark time. And I guess because of that, having nothing to lose and no expectations, things sort of turned around for me.

And the TV show evolved out of the podcast, or it shot off into another direction I guess.

Well yeah. As a comedian, if you have representation that will enable you to pitch and get your ideas out into the world, as a comic, traditionally, you go pitch a vehicle for yourself—whatever your life looks like, or whatever you see that would be a good world for you to do a show in. [President of motion pictures and television] Jim Serpico at [production company] Apostle was kind of fascinated with the podcast, and he brought me in in New York. He said, I love this thing, how do we do with it? I said how about a guy whose career hits the skids and he’s hosting a show in his garage. His life is always a little struggle. And he said wow, what’s that based on? So I think the timing was right … [the premise] would not have been sellable 10 years ago.

It’s interesting that Highland Park plays so prominently into the TV show. Was it important to you to use real places in Highland Park make the show more real because you live there, for either you or for viewers?

Yeah I thought, why not? This neighborhood is very interesting because it seems to be a neighborhood kind of in transition, but you don’t see much of Highland Park on TV, and it has a unique feel to it and it is where I live, and we were able to capture that. We rented a house and made it a studio about a half a mile from here, so it was easy to get to work. So I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. But I do like capturing the neighborhood, and I do think the local businesses enjoyed it—the ones that didn’t get annoyed with us hanging around for two-and-a-half months.

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Does that transition or gentrification bother you at all, and is that something that would play out in the show?

I don’t know if we hammered it too hard, but it’s happening. I’ve been here [on and off] like 10 years, and there was always an idea that would happen. I don’t know that it bothers me. It’s nice having some good places to eat down the street. I don’t think it’s ever gonna turn into Silver Lake. The weird thing about Highland Park is it’s predominantly two-bedroom houses. If you want to live large, you’re gonna have to build onto your house.

But I do like having the local businesses that seem to be sprouting up and the food. York [Boulevard] has become sort of a destination. It’s nice to have people walking around. It doesn’t seem to be compromising the integrity of the neighborhood. There’s still a very good balance of people here.

What are some of your favorite spots in the neighborhood?

If I’m alone have have no food in the house, I can always get a pretty good meal down at The York. And also Ba, he does an OK job. I go down to the music store ’cause my buddy, (comedian and “Uhh Yeah Dude” podcast co-host) Jonathan Larroquette works there, I go over there and talk guitars a while. Permanent Records just opened [a new location] at York, Lance and Liz are buddies so I’ll go in there. You’ve got Gimme Gimme Records down the other side of the street, Dan, he’s a good guy. Scoops—I try not to go there too much, but I’ll go in there and get an ice cream. That donut place (Donut Friend). Sonny’s Hideaway? They’ve got pretty good food, too. You got Cacao up on Colorado. Little Beast is awesome. I definitely use the neighborhood, but I’m not beyond getting a roasted chicken at Von’s.

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You do the podcast out of your home, but do you like to write elsewhere or do you pretty much do it all at home?

No, I love not having to go out to do that. I’ve never been a guy who’s like, I’m gonna go write at a coffee shop. That’s just not gonna pan out for me. I like being at home. I like working here. I don’t go elsewhere to create.

I missed your performance at The Church on York, but what do you think about that place? They’ve got this Monday comedy night, could you see it fostering a local comedy scene?

I think it’s a great idea. I hope that [owner] Graeme [Flegenheimer] can pull it together and the neighborhood gets behind it. … I think if that venue materializes how he pictures it, that would be great.

In a recent episode of the podcast, you interviewed director Jason Reitman and the same week interviewed his father, director Ivan Reitman. That seemed to spur you to talk about your relationship with your own father, and how upset he was at his representation in your work and that you talk about him in general. I was curious if that made you want to stop talking about him and other people or relationships in your life, or if it’s like, look, I’m a comedian and a writer, this is just sort of how it is?

It’s very tricky when you work as closely as I do from my real life to sort of deliberate what is respectful and what isn’t. What’re your intentions? Obviously if you’re talking about your life, your parents play a big part in your life. What are you actually saying? Is the struggle that you’re having worth it to share with other people and have them be either entertained or find some solace in it? Is it worth troubling the relationship?

I feel like my father overreacted to certainly the TV show. The book (his memoir Attempting Normal) is another story; that was a little more personal. It’s something that when you do the kind of work that I do, you have to live with. My father is not the most rational person, and it’s a little troubling and painful right now that he’s sort of locked into this idea because in honesty, there’s only two episodes of the show last season with that character, and Judd Hirsch is arguably a better father.

The idea that he made it all about him and made it some sort of defining factor in the relationship or the problem with the relationship, it’s upsetting because it’s not all about him. I don’t know that it is as relevant to his life and whatever he’s struggling with as he makes it out to be. So I don’t know. The jury’s still out on whether or not it was worth it. I think that the honesty about those types of relationships does help other people and does help me.

You’re in a new relationship now, did you have to talk about that, like, this is what I do and some of it is going to be public?

I have to sort of pass it through with people. It doesn’t always turn out to be a great idea because when things aren’t going well—I was a lot more candid about stuff earlier on, but it becomes tricky because when things aren’t going well, or when things don’t pan out the way that you want them to. You sort of have to share that, or you leave people hanging. But you also want to maintain a little privacy.

Obviously I’m talking on the podcast maybe 20, 25 minutes a week, and there’s seven days a week, so there’s obviously things I’m not talking about. There’s obviously a life being lived there. But it’s a tricky balance with the television show.

Yeah, I watched the first episode of the new season, and there’s a line where Sarah Silverman says, “The joke is more important than the relationship, and that’s why we’re all gonna die sad and alone.” I thought that was a really funny and sad line that kind of encapsulates what you’re talking about.

Yeah, it’s tricky, man. And not everybody works like that. I certainly understand why not everybody works like that. Sometimes there’s a lot to be said for keeping some shit to yourself.

Have you always been so frank about your own life in your comedy, or did that come later and you realized that resonated with people?I think I’ve always been very sort of aggressive and frank with my comedy, but not as specifically as I am now. I think the podcast and where I went with my comedy has afforded me a bit more room to sort of really be probably too personal for everybody’s taste.

Speaking in a general way has always been a little difficult for me because you don’t want to come off as too abstract or self-righteous. And also by talking specifically about my life, you separate yourself from the possibility of hacking material or doing something that everyone’s doing. There are thousands of working comics in the world, or half-working comics, or people calling themselves comics, and you’re all drawing from roughly the same reality. It’s hard to maintain your own little slice of originality in the world. So by being specific about my life, at least I have that, because I don’t know that anyone is living my exact life other than me. Maybe someone is, but hopefully they’re not a comedian.

Do you think that’s why the podcast has resonated so much out of everything you’ve done, because everything is so personal and so frank?

I think that the idea of just sort of free-flowing conversation has become a rarity in people’s lives and in the culture itself. The tone of free-flowing conversation is comforting with or without whatever I’m bringing to it, just because no one makes time for it in their life, and the media doesn’t really service that at all. I think it’s nourishing. I think it’s a very sweet element of being human that’s gotten kind of plowed under.

It’s interesting that the podcast is so autobiographical and the show has a strong part of it that is fabricated. Why did you decide to have the show be more of a fictionalized version of your life as opposed to more directly representational?

For story to work, and for humor to work, and to honor the medium itself, you can’t make a documentary. We’re creating a scripted show based on my life and the world I occupy. We do a three-act structure. We’re writing scripts that have story arcs, some precisely and some loosely based on my life, and that’s part of the creativity of it is like, where can we take this story? We have maybe the kernel of it, but what would be a funnier way to go? How could we sort of amplify the emotional impact of this? You have control over that. In life, you don’t really have that control.