PLAYBOY: You play a character named Marc Maron on the IFC series Maron. Is he based literally on you, or is he a caricature of you?
MARON: I don’t really know. At least in the first season I was insistent that everything come directly from my own experiences. This season we were a little more flexible. I’m not as obsessed with everything being true, but it’s still a struggle for me. I’ve always been envious of comics who can be caricatures of themselves. They create these fabricated, heightened versions of who they are. I can never do that. I just never thought a comedian’s responsibility was to entertain.
PLAYBOY: It’s not? Isn’t that like saying a NASCAR driver doesn’t have to drive fast?
MARON: I don’t know why, but I never thought it was. With the comics I respected, guys like George Carlin and Bill Hicks, it always seemed to be more about sharing a point of view. A lot of times when I’m doing stand-up or my podcast, I’m not sure what the fuck is going to come out of my mouth. And nothing feels more alive than that. That’s the excitement of having a moment that can never happen again. That’s way more compelling to me than getting a laugh.
PLAYBOY: There’s a great scene in the new season of Maron when you and your brother are talking about your parents, and he says, “I love Mom,” and you think about it and say, “Eh, I’m on the fence.” Is that actually how you feel?
MARON: It’s hard for me to see my parents as parents, because they were so young and were both struggling with their own horrendous insecurities. I see them as these people I grew up with. Parenting did not come naturally to them. There wasn’t a lot of nurturing. There was a lot of panic and worry and using me and my brother to make themselves feel better. When I say I’m on the fence, I mean I don’t quite register them as parents. If I were in trouble and could make only one phone call, they wouldn’t be at the top of the list.
PLAYBOY: You’ve claimed that being able to make your dad laugh was part of the reason you became a comic.
MARON: In a way, sure. It was my way of communicating with him. He was very erratic, mood-wise. He’d fluctuate from rage to depression to complete detachment. When he was at his worst, I was able to lighten the load a little and provide some relief for him. I did weird things like that to have a connection with him. My dad was a doctor and also a hypochondriac, so I became a hypochondriac too. If I said, “I think I’m sick,” he’d be like, “Let’s have a look.” On some level, it was asking for emotional attention and comfort that I don’t think were present in my childhood.
PLAYBOY: Judd Hirsch plays your dad on Maron. Has your father seen the show? Does he think it’s a fair portrayal?
MARON: My father was a little upset, not just with the show but also with my book Attempting Normal, where I wrote some things about our relationship. For me to identify him as bipolar and talk about some of the struggles in our family because of that, to him was a betrayal. Being incredibly self-centered and slightly delusional, he took it very personally and thought he had been outed in some way. It was sort of surprising, because I thought this was something everyone in my family knew and that maybe he had some perspective on it. When you do autobiographical work, sometimes the people in your life take a hit.
PLAYBOY: On your podcast, WTF With Marc Maron, you’ve interviewed hundreds of comedians, actors and musicians. Have you ever been intimidated or starstruck by any of them?
MARON: I don’t usually get intimidated, but some people are truly bigger than life. Will Ferrell was kind of weird. I don’t know Will, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy, but it was surreal having him in my garage. Bryan Cranston was intimidating because I had so much invested in Walter White [from Breaking Bad]. I just couldn’t separate him from the character. But the biggest one for me, the guy who really made me nervous when I knew he was coming over, was Iggy Pop. I’m a huge fan, and he’s this strange force of nature.
PLAYBOY: Did he live up to your expectations?
MARON: Immediately. The first thing he did was take off his shirt. I was like, Oh, okay. Well, I guess he’s ready to talk now. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: Your grandfather owned a hardware store, and as a kid you’d eavesdrop on the customers who would hang around and talk. What did you learn from them?
MARON: I always gravitated toward men who seemed to have lives. They all had this very defined sense of self, even if it seemed as if they were from their own planet. These old guys would just talk all day, and they were real characters. They probably had nothing else to do, but I was enamored of them. I had a real craving early on for adult guidance. I certainly wasn’t getting it from my parents.
PLAYBOY: You also spent a lot of time talking to homeless people. Were you getting guidance from them too?
MARON: Well, I don’t know about guidance. Just a sense of…the largeness of the world. I grew up in Albuquerque, and during high school I got a job at the Posh Bagel, which was in an area with a lot of street people. I don’t know what it is about me, but I’m somebody they gravitate toward. Not just for money, but they feel I have sort of a sympathetic ear or something. I used to give these guys coffee and sit there and talk to them.
PLAYBOY: Did you have a favorite?
MARON: There was one guy in particular—Pete, I think his name was—who was a schizophrenic. He used to make these interesting drawings that involved General Custer and firearms, and he’d smoke Winchester cigars like they were cigarettes. A lot of what he said didn’t make sense, but he would draw these amazing pictures, and I’d put them up at the restaurant. I’d give him free coffee and just spend hours with this guy because I thought he knew something. His way of looking at the world was completely abstract, but he was very passionate about it. I thought, Well, maybe he’s right.