The Lost Art of Conversation with Marc Maron

By Vanessa Butler

We talk with comedian Marc Maron about his highly acclaimed podcast, the art of conversation and his stand up career.

There’s a certain art to holding an interesting conversation in this day and age, an art which stand-up comedian Marc Maron sees as lost. With so many devices, deadlines and outlets weighing down our freedom and necessity to banter back and forth, it’s hard to sit down with someone and have a good hearty conversation without whipping out our iPhones to check Wikipedia to end an argument. According to the 2.75 million downloads a month of his award-winning podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, there are a lot of people that enjoy what he’s doing for the lost art of conversation.

We had our own chat with Maron over the phone yesterday to talk about WTF he’s up to lately. You seem busy, Marc. Between podcasting, touring, an impending TV show and your memoir that’s supposed to be out sometime next year, it’s hard to believe you would have any time to enjoy being on top.

Maron: Absolutely not, but I’m happy to be busy. My happiness is all relative to creating new stand-up. I’m finding that out more and more. I’m working with people on the TV show, we’re working on a second draft of the book now, and the podcast I love, I need it, but I really get squirrely when I get stale doing comedy so I’m constantly trying to work on new material and bits. So that’s ahead of everything right now, which makes me feel good and happy. You’re bringing your WTF show as well as a solo show to Just for Laughs this year, which you’ll be performing back to back. Is that something you prefer?

Maron: I have, I can, I do. It usually works pretty well. The good thing about it is I’ll do a solo show and then we get a little down time when they re-seat the room. I’m pretty amped up after an hour or so of stand-up. My brain is completely engaged, I’ve hopefully gotten some laughs for an hour, so when I sit down with the other guys and do the podcast I am warmed up! Your name is synonymous with your podcast now. Has that changed the way you think about stand-up?

Maron: Absolutely. The podcasting I do in my garage, the one-on-one interviews are all very deep, very intimate and very funny. The live shows are more like panels, for entertainment and spontaneity in front of a live audience. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about comedy by talking with all of these people in these ways. I’ve had a lot of cathartic life-changing moments during the podcast. Also, speaking my mind in a mic in my garage helps me develop a lot more material since I improvise all of those (WTF podcast conversations). I surprise myself with things I had not thought of or said before. It all kind of works together to make me a different performer and a different person: a better performer. So there has been material that has come straight from your podcast?

Maron: There are definitely things that I’ve found in my monologue and in my interviews that are initially improvised. I tell the story speaking to the ether or to the walls here in my garage, and I think to myself, “Wow. Maybe I can build that out into a piece.” It’s very different content, building something into a bit with speech and with laughs and building it in front of people; it’s very different than talking. Have there been any conversations on WTF that were a challenge to do?

Maron: All of them are a matter of feeling out who I’m talking to and seeing where the conversation is going and how deep it’s going to go. Are we just going to be funny? When do I shut up? How do I move this along? Where do I know the limits of someone’s willingness to talk about something? They’re all challenging on that level, but the best thing that can happen is that all of those questions that go through my head fade away and it just becomes a conversation. I don’t really look at them as interviews, I think of them as conversations. If they become very organic it’s the best. Do you think that having so many outlets of social media accessible to everyone is hurting or helping comedy?

Maron: It’s absolutely helping, there’s no way around that. The only question is how intimate a relationship you want to have with your fans. When you’re talking candidly on a podcast and having conversations with people a couple times a week, you’re going to have people that listen to you and know you very well. So they come into the show with a very deep and a very real relationship with you and your life and your emotion and what’s important to you. And a lot of times it’s exciting for them to see you live and it’s also very exciting to see you with other people that also have that relationship with you: a one-on-one relationship with the podcast. So it all adds to it. It adds a dimension to comedy in terms of access and people’s relationship with the performers that I think is very new and very exciting. What have you found to be most rewarding after having a conversation with someone for over an hour?

Maron: It’s amazing and sadly a lost activity. People say when they talk for an hour like I do on my podcast it’s like therapy. I think it’s a misconception and I take umbrage with that. I think that people talking about themselves while other people listen and exchange feelings and ideas about life is one of the great things about being people. It’s very nourishing for the heart, it’s very supportive to know that you’re not alone and it’s very helpful to engage on that level and enjoy the company and conversation of someone else. I think that our culture moves at a pace now that there is no real premium set on that, and that is a sad thing. So I find it all very fulfilling. I think that the people listening do as well. I think that they get a lot out of these conversations and a lot of times I have to let my experience with the conversation be what it is and not judge it because other people are going to listen or experience that conversation with someone they may love and not know, which is completely different than my experience. I just try to detach from my post-interview feelings and let the audience have the experience that they’re going to have. Like the experience I had when you interviewed Jack White.

Maron: [Laughs] I was nervous about that one. Going into it, I knew that Jack and I had similar music tastes. I am a closet rock star; I play guitar but it’s not something I do publicly. I’m also a fan of his and I know that he’s tense and not known to be the most open guy, media-wise, so I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely knew that I wanted to have a conversation with him; I didn’t want to have an interview. Initially I didn’t know how it was going to go, but I think we did all right. We connected around music and he seemed comfortable since it was on his turf; it was fun to be there. I walked away from that wishing I had explored a couple more things with him, but I only had an hour. I beat myself up a little about it after that interview; even though it was a great conversation I wanted it to go on longer. You kind of talk to somebody and go, “Oh, why didn’t I say that!” but, like I said, it’s taken me a few years to realize that whatever my experience was is not important once it’s done because people who love him and are fans don’t necessarily get to have the experience of listening to a conversation for an hour with him, so everybody loved it and I loved it as well.

Catch Marc Maron every week on WTF Podcast with Marc Maron and see him at Just for Laughs on Saturday, July 28th.


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