Podcast superstar Marc Maron prepares for TV: "We should call the show 'Not Louie'"

As he gets ready for the debut of his sitcom, the "WTF" star fields questions about competition and selling out

Published April 26, 2013 1:00PM (EDT)

      (IFC/Katrina Marcinowski)
(IFC/Katrina Marcinowski)

His face may not be familiar, but the newest IFC star's voice -- reedy and insistent -- is among the most notorious in comedy.

Marc Maron has become one of the most successful among the vanguard of podcasters; his show "WTF," in which he interviews comics and entertainers including Amy Poehler, Conan O'Brien and Fiona Apple, has built Maron an enviable public persona since the show's launch in 2009. He was even named one of Salon's "Sexiest Men" in 2011.

The show averages 230,000 listeners per episode, according to online syndicator PRX, but has the power to move the culture, as when comic Todd Glass came out in a meandering, compelling fashion or when Louis C.K. talked about his tense, rivalrous friendship with the host.

The show didn't just save Maron's career -- it made it. The comedian was in a period of extreme career difficulty when he snuck into the closed-down studios of Air America Radio to tape furtive interviews with guests. He eventually shelled out for home recording equipment, which he keeps in his garage.

And that garage is the focal point of "Maron," his new series on IFC (debuting May 3). The series depicts a podcast host who hangs around with his guests and completes mundane errands. If it sounds a bit like that other half-hour comedy about a comic who hangs around with colleagues and completes mundane errands, you're not watching closely enough. "We used to joke that we should call the show 'Not Louie,'" said Maron.

In a recent interview, Maron discussed how his show differed from "Louie," whether or not he fears selling out, and when the stories he repeats on "WTF" will begin to lose their punch.

Does broadcasting a TV show about a podcast break any ground that the podcast didn't? Does it matter?

They're different. You're dealing with a fictionalized version of myself. I'm taking themes of my life, themes from the podcast, fragments from stories, and giving them form, giving them a through-line. I don't think people are going to say, "This is different from the podcast -- I don't know how to respond to this!" There are people who don't know what I look like. Capturing my interactions with people in this form was exciting. They're different mediums, and completely different ways of approaching me.

Do stories like your talking about how you "almost killed yourself" lose something on repetition, on your podcast and now your TV show?

Not unlike any comedian who does a show, the material from their life is going to integrate. Also, I know how these stories are told. That's just one line, that's an aside, during a weird fragmented monologue. We have to assume, knowing what the potential audience is for a TV show -- well, do I only try to reach people that listen to my show? Or do I play to the world? There's going to be plenty of people that don't know me coming to this show; it's got to be for everybody. And no matter what you know about my life -- that I was depressed and suicidal, that I was married, that I have cats -- those are the facts about me.

To what degree are you comfortable putting details of podcasting into the show? As popular a host as you are, it's still kind of a niche medium compared to TV. 

In order to do television, in order to make the world finite, things have to be a little tighter. They have to have closure. So are you going to have me pacing around for 30 minutes freaking out, making sure that the audio files are OK and some weird robotic sound doesn't mess up GarageBand? Well, maybe!

What is this guy's life? He does a podcast ... Am I upset that people are going to be familiar with it? No. They expect it on some level.

So how do you balance expectations of your die-hard fans against what you want to accomplish? 

We don't really know! You're talking about my die-hard listeners -- but they're not my die-hard watchers. No matter what I do on the podcast, it's me on the mic alone or me talking to somebody. That's it. Now you have me in a house, talking to Judd Hirsch, going to Gina Gershon's. There are stories that are related to things people don't know about me! What you're asking me is how people will accept me as a TV character -- and I don't know! I feel pretty good about how it represents me. The whole thing is pretty new and interesting. Once you lay this groundwork, the real exciting thing is to refine who this character is. And that character is me. Once we figure out how the character works on TV, let's tell some new stories.

So it's not just "WTF," the show.

I hope so! If I wanted to do an interview show in my garage, I would do that! It's not what we were doing. This was a half-hour scripted comedy based on the life of this guy. That life is a little bigger than the life I live. I've got friends. The world had to get bigger, even if it's only as big as my neighborhood.

What I do during the day, you end up having stories as a person, and you think about those stories -- are they stories or just events? If I go to lunch with a guy, is that really a story? It is if you attach it to something else. I interview people in my garage, I eat, I go to the record store. Am I that close with [comic and guest star] Andy Kindler that we run around with each other? Not too much. You have to build a life when you work in television, take the elements of your life and build them out. We're not doing a reality show. We were creating scripts based on events in your life. Your life is bigger on TV but smaller, too, because it's contextualized by the script.

Let me clear this up a little bit. When we're breaking stories, I say, "This event happened to me." Whether it's dating a dominatrix, or my fear, not even my reality, of running into my ex-wife. A lot of people get confused with me: Is there any fiction in marc's world? People want to believe things -- they want a reality. How do I capture them and keep them a story?  Let's make my fear of running into my wife and make it part of the story. If you're not making a reality show, there aren't rules.

A show loosely based on your reality but massaged into something compelling to watch: sounds a bit like, well, Louis C.K.'s "Louie." 

What am I gonna do? When you're a comedian and you're given the opportunity to do a show -- well, you have Larry David who did a single-camera show based on his life. And the models for single-camera shows are that. [Jerry] Seinfeld, Ray [Romano], everything else. Every show built around a comedian is gonna be built around a comic's life. Obviously, the sensibility is different -- Louis has a vision for himself that's different from my vision. ["Louie" is] cinematically adventurous and doesn't hinge on one story.

Is it hard not to be jealous of his success? 

I would have to assume that the first guy that sang "kumbaya" was doing it because he was furious. To generalize, I'd say that the competitiveness people feel can be applied to any business. No matter what your feelings are, if they're inappropriate or come across as bitter, you learn to keep them to yourself. There's diplomacy to it; it's being a grown-up. But it's my assumption that we're all kind of competitive. The trick is to realize that everything in the world is not a threat to you.

We used to joke that we should call the show "Not Louie." And I don't think it is and I'm happy about it. There were choices I made that were specific. Between Seinfeld and Louie doing stand-up, being the comic playing the comic is relatively new, and you have to choose how to portray what you do. I didn't put stand-up in my show, specifically because I thought I could do more with the podcast to amplify the stand-up. There's a competition that just comes from being a person in a particular line of work -- I don't think it's specific comics. If you ask me directly if I'm competitive -- I don't like to think I am. If you ask me if I get threatened? Yes.

Younger characters on the show, from people on message boards to a young assistant, make fun of you and treat you snidely -- you've lost your cool. Does this reflect anxiety about feeling like a "sellout" of sorts?

That trajectory of thought has not entered my mind. Who would I be selling out to? I had a lot of control. We did it at a network that was very supportive. It's all very new to me. I had to work with people in a way I wasn't familiar with. I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to.

I've waited a long time to be able to work in this way. If it never happens again, I'll live with that. I've lived with everything else. I think we made a good thing. You get to a certain age, what do you want to do? I'd rather not die broke and I'd like to have health insurance.

I have a tendency to be negative, so I'm trying to keep it in perspective. That's what my brain does. I'm about to have this show and my brain is preparing for warfare.

By Daniel D'Addario

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Comedy Ifc Louis C.k. Marc Maron Maron Podcasts Wtf