Marc Maron beats himself up more than any other comic with three shows bearing his name. Already this month, Maron aired episode 600 of his addictive twice-weekly podcast WTF with Marc Maron, and announced that he’ll star in a second television show, the on-camera interview series Vice Portraits with Marc Maron, forthcoming on Vice TV. On May 14 on IFC, season three begins of his scripted TV venture, Maron. Recently, Maron traveled East from the Cat Ranch for a week of promotional events in New York. Playboy gave him a wake-up call at The Bowery Hotel, where it took him six minutes to bring up anal sex.
A little time has passed since you talked to Mick Jagger — how do you feel that interview went?
Well I didn’t really see it as an interview — I saw it as an opportunity to talk to Mick Jagger in very specific terms. You know it was a 10-minute promotional piece of radio that I tried to make my own by letting myself be as excited as possible and having my buddy Dean [Delray] in the room [who]’s very excited with me. It was very exciting to talk to Mick on my phone in my garage for even 10 minutes. I don’t know that I would call it an interview. That’s what it’s framed as, but given the type of interviews that I do, it was just an opportunity to kind of engage with one of my heroes and Keith Richards as well. I thought they were good, I thought they both went really well. I thought they were both connected and funny and sharp and they both had jokes and I felt that I, you know, actually had a moment with both of them, so, you know, I was thrilled about it.
Is it harder to listen to tape of yourself or watch footage of yourself?
I try not to do either. It’s definitely harder to watch footage of yourself I would think. You know I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but [chuckles] it was difficult early on. But it’s gotten easier. I’m okay with it. I think I’ve maybe gotten a little more okay with myself.
On the new season of Maron, your friends are resenting you because you’re getting really successful. Is that based on real life?
No, not that I know of. But I don’t know if I would know that, you know what I mean?
I feel like comedians are really good at reading people.
Yeah, you know, I don’t know anyone’s really begrudging me anything. My success is very relative to who I am. You know it’s not like I’m some breakout star who’s playing Madison Square Garden. I don’t think that anybody who knows me is gonna say like [grumbles], “He doesn’t deserve that” or “He didn’t earn it.” I don’t think anyone’s really begrudging me the success I have. But you never know. I’m sure there are people who don’t like me but in my peers, I don’t get a sense of it. I’ve actually had people say to me like, “You know I don’t usually experience happiness for other people but I’m very happy at your success.” [Laughs]. That’s something.
What’s the first deeply confessional story you remember telling me onstage?
I think it was probably sex-related and it was probably back maybe even in the late-‘80s. I think I might have constructed a joke around trying something sexually. It wasn’t that specific of a story but it was certainly material based on something intimate. Like maybe trying anal for the first time…something like that.
I’m assuming it did not go well?
Does it ever?
Was there a turning point in your career where you felt like, “Now I’ve found my niche—there’s power in being very, very truthful”?
I’ve always been sort of provocative and aggressive but I mean in terms of really being personal, it evolved. After I got out of talking about politics I decided I wanted to be exclusively personal, only to remain completely original as possible. There are so many comics in the world that steal and the only truth you know is your own. I really just started focusing on that, maybe even in the past eight years. It was pretty recent, that conscious shift.
You talk a lot about your parents’ shortcomings — were you ever concerned at what they would think when you talk about them?
It affects them. My mother is usually okay with it — I’m relatively respectful of her but I’m a bit hard on my father and that’s sort of taken its toll on our relationship. What are you going to do?
On stage you seem absolutely fearless even though everything you’re saying is about insecurity and self-deprecation—it marvels me that that works.
I think that processing it and coming out the other side, there’s definitely plenty more insecurity. But as I learn to live with it, I can speak about it competently. That’s just the process of it. It just means that I’m trying to make sense of it and I have a handle on it, but that doesn’t mean it goes away necessarily.
Do you ever lie? Or are you honest 100 percent of the time?
Oh, I think we all lie a little bit. By omission or by necessity.
What do you lie about?
I don’t know that I’m lying — you mean on stage? You can only do your point of view. If there are other people involved in what you’re talking about, they’re probably going to see it differently. That’s a hard-learned lesson — because of the fact that [while] in relationships I’ve talked about the relationship and the person that I’m with will get mad because they don’t get a response. So it’s a little tricky, the perception issue. But I’m pretty honest. I think there’s some things I have not not said because I need to keep some things to myself, ‘cause I think I’m pretty open. I’ve got to have some sort of private life.
Slate rated your WTF with Louie C.K. as the best podcast episode ever. Was that a daunting honor to receive? Did you have any hesitation of, “How am I going to keep making them if that was the best one ever?”
I made that a long time ago, and I think we’ve made a lot of good ones since then. But I was definitely flattered by that and I thought that was a very nice thing. I work hard, and I think that my podcast on some level helped define the medium, it helped people get involved with the medium. So given that I don’t think I’ll ever win a Peabody — for one reason or another or you know, awards are not necessarily that forthcoming to podcasters — to have that honor meant something to me. And I think that when I sort of revisit that thing, the emotional range and intensity and unique intimacy of that conversation was pretty great. But it didn’t mark this unattainable thing to me. It was just another podcast.
What’s your relationship like now with Louie?
Do you hang out? Do you call each other?
Yeah. We do. I texted him yesterday when I was coming in and we just missed each other. Last time I was here I went down to his house and hung out for a little while.
On the show — which I know is not real life, but it’s based on real life — you complain sometimes about not being able to be a comedian who can just sit down and write jokes. Is that a real struggle that you feel? Do you wish you could just come up with punch lines, or not particularly?
That’s a real struggle. It’s not a matter of I wish I could it’s that my process is just, you know, it is what it is. It’s not that efficient in the sense of like, I don’t sit down and write. I go through flurries of things where I’m compulsively writing sometimes and then sometimes I’m not. And a lot of times I move through stuff onstage; that’s really the way I do it. I write ideas down and then I talk them through onstage until they get funny and you know that’s always been my process. There’s some part of me that wishes that I could sit down and write jokes but I haven’t done it for 25 years so I don’t know why I keep thinking that’s what I need to do. It’s just another thing I use to beat myself up with.
In The Jerusalem Syndrome (2001), you said a couple times that there are no coincidences. Do you still believe that?
[Laughs] I think I may still believe it but I don’t think it’s invested with as much mystical garbage that I might have invested it with then. I think that it’s all relative to your perception or where you are in your life in the sense that when things happen and you’re ready for them to happen, you can say like, “Wow that couldn’t be a coincidence.” “Well no, but it is where you’re at and you can handle it.” It’s a tricky sort of zone in between sort of mystical synchronicity and serendipity and just sort of you know how you see the world at that point in your life.
You’ve been sober since 1999. When your sobriety anniversary rolls around, do you do anything to mark the occasion?
Yeah. I go get a chip or I blow some candles out on a cake and I go celebrate with other sober people. I do definitely mark it.
What’s the strangest fan tribute you’ve received?
There’s a few tattoos of me on some people’s bodies. There’s three that I know of.
What’s it like seeing that?
Well I hope they can live with it because I have a hard time living with me [laughs].
In Rolling Stone a few years back you talked about having a troubled relationship with Jon Stewart. People say he gets more articulate as he gets angrier, and I feel the same way about you. Do you agree?
I don’t watch him much but I did actually just watch something he did yesterday. That seems to be true, yes. Sometimes people have the most clarity when they’re angry, unfortunately.
What’d you watch yesterday?
I watched his interview with Judith Miller.
That was great. Right out of the gate he called her out as an adversary.
That’s good. I think that he has nothing to lose now so. He’s got balls. Sometimes he’ll take [his interviewees] to task.
You said maybe you guys would have coffee together eventually. Did that ever happen?
No, no. I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
What memories of being on The Late Show standout now that David Letterman’s about to retire?
In my life, as a comic, that was the big deal. That’s all I wanted: To be on Letterman. So the first Letterman is pretty overwhelming and pretty exciting. Actually every Letterman is pretty exciting. I think I’ve done three or four stand-ups on Letterman, maybe, and one panel. And the panel was definitely thrilling, that was only like last year. So I was just glad I got to do it.
Does he talk to you during the commercial breaks?
Does he say hello beforehand?
No. Usually you do stand-up and then all the sudden he’s there. One time when I did a set I sat down and he goes, “You can make that stuff work on the road?” And when I sat down and did the panel, it was engaging, it was great. I wish I could do it again but I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I’m happy that I had the experience because it was very important.
Jenna Marotta is a freelance writer for nymag.com, esquire.com and nytimes.com. She lives in Brooklyn and tweets at @jennamarotta.