Marc Maron is ready to let you laugh at him

After fighting personal demons and audience members, Marc Maron has evolved into a finely tuned comedy machine. He sat down with That Other Paper writer Nicole Haddad during his most recent trip through Austin.

That Other Paper You’re here in Austin doing stand-up at Cap City. I read that you are more interested in doing stand-up than having a movie deal or a television show–

Marc Maron Well, I don’t know. I think if I was to parse the language it would be that that is what I’m doing now, stand-up comedy, and that is what I always set out to do. I imagine that if a deal came up I wouldn’t be like, “Y’know, I don’t think I’m gonna do that movie. I’m gonna be at Cap City this weekend.” I don’t think that conversation would happen.

TOP What got you interested in doing stand-up in the first place?

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MM When I was a kid I always liked the stand-ups. I can’t really put my finger exactly on what it is that made me impressed by them, other than they made me laugh. But I remember from a very young age listening guys like Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles. They were just funny. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to do that? It seemed like a noble profession. And then as I got older I kept listening to the records of Richard Pryor and [George] Carlin, and when Steve Martin came out. I just always thought they were great. It was never really a doubt to me that I eventually I would do it. I don’t know if I’m doing it for the same reasons as Buddy Hackett, but that’s why. I always thought it was a great job. It deserved respect.

TOP How do you describe your style of comedy?

MM Draining. I think I do a certain type of neurotic, soul-searching comedy that tends toward the political and the poetic, I guess. To me, I think my comedy is my desperate attempt to make sense of things. It took me a long time to let people laugh at me. There was a period there where I thought that everybody was like me; they were just hiding it. But then I started to realize that’s probably not true and I should stop demanding that they identify with me and go ahead and let them laugh at me if they think I’m crazy or weird. That was a big breakthrough. It wasn’t that long ago that that happened.

TOP If you had just one bit or one joke to sell yourself to an agent or a skeptical audience member, what would you do?

MM I think the demons bit is the most signature bit. I quit drinking and doing drugs, not because I had a problem. All right, fuck you, I had a problem, but I’m not ashamed of it. I had a good time. Logged a lot of hours, covered a lot of topics. The reason I quit drinking and doing drugs is simple: Everybody’s got demons. I just realized a few years ago that I had all of them, and they were tired. Y’know, I’d been at it a long time. There used to be that one [demon] that would pop out and be like, “Whooo, let’s go get an 8-ball and some booze and some pussy.” Who wouldn’t go with that guy? That guy was my best friend for 20 years. Then he came out a few years ago and he was like, “Whoo, how ’bout some ice cream and a porno? That’d be good, right? And then some sleepy-sleep, ’cause I’m tired, man. This all-night shit has got to stop. We’re too old, asshole.” And there’s something touching about a sad, tired demon sitting on the couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, just trying to milk an 8-ball’s worth of fun out of a pint of ice cream. Who would have known when I was 25 years old, sitting over a mountain of cocaine, saying “I’m never gonna die, and I understand everything” that 15 years later I’d be saying, “Oh! There’s more chocolate under here!” with the same intensity?

TOP What’s the worst you’ve ever been heckled?

MM I was tackled onstage. But it was weird, because it wasn’t like that. I’ve not had a situation with a drunk or with a heckler that I haven’t been able to handle. I’m not saying that it didn’t ruin the show, but all those kind of bleed together. I was doing this joke that had suicide in it, in the context of the joke. The joke wasn’t about suicide. I’m in the middle of the joke and some guy says “Don’t talk about suicide.” And I’m like, “Who the hell are you to tell me what I can and can’t talk about onstage?” It’s a packed room too. And he goes, “Just don’t talk about suicide or I’ll take you out, bitch.” So I was like “Why? Did you just lose someone? What’s your problem?” I kept hitting him, and then I just sort of got all cocky and I said, “Are you still gonna take me out, bitch?” And he did. He came out of the audience. And I’m not a real fighter. I’m not a pussy either. But I knew that I was onstage. I couldn’t run because that would look really bad. And he ended up just tackling me. And eventually some cats pulled him off. He kind of apologized. He kind of lost control of himself. I guess he had a family member who had attempted suicide and he was upset and drunk and felt bad. We worked it out.

TOP You had two different shows on the progressive radio network Air America Radio. How did you get involved with the network?

MM I was in LA and I was sort of in some downtime, and I heard about it. I heard that they were going to try to dethrone this moron, and it was before the [2004] election. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something. So I sent them my shit. They flew me out and auditioned me with some people and threw me into this mess. I’d never done radio before. I ended up getting pretty good at it, until some selfish asshole pushed me out. Danny Goldberg. He fired me because he didn’t like me.

TOP But you still maintain a working relationship with the people there. I know you guest-hosted Al Franken’s show last week.

MM Well, Goldberg’s gone. They pushed him out. He ruined the company with his recklessness. There was so much backlash from them firing me that Goldberg couldn’t do it with confidence, so they had to set me up somewhere else and keep me on the payroll, with the Marc Maron Show that only went out to LA. Now there’s a new guy there and they seemed to have survived and they want me to do a show again.

TOP Do you think that’s something that you would do?

MM I think so. I’d like to do regular radio, but if my calling is political radio … they want me to do another half-funny, half-political show. We kind of did a unique show. With Morning Sedition we made a functioning comedy radio show that interspersed news pretty well. I’d go back if it doesn’t kill my life.

TOP I don’t know if you’ve heard about last week at the Comedy Store with Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia.

MM Yeah, I know those guys.

TOP So what do you think about that whole conflict between them?

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MM Everybody steals. There are very few original thinkers out there. There’re very few original talents. Everyone’s drawing from the same well. And your job is to make information or inspiration your own. In the popular arts, most comics that are unique are unique because of their personalities, not because of what they say. Stealing jokes has been part of this business forever. There’s a difference between stealing jokes and being a hack. If someone does a joke that you’ve heard before but you can’t attribute it to anybody, that’s an unoriginal hack. The issue of whether hacks and thieves need to be policed by other comics, to me it’s interesting, because it only used to be important to us at one time. You didn’t want anyone stealing your jokes. If somebody talked about the same topic as you, you better have a more original take on it, or else let it go, because the same things are happening to everybody. So if you’re going to talk about your relationship, or if you’re going to talk about the president, as a creative person you better have the joke on it.

But this thing with them is some sort of cockfight, and now with the internet, there are people that care enough about comedy to make it a point and make Carlos pay. And I think he should. I have no argument with that.

There are two kinds of comics. There are guys that will second guess their own intuition because they’re not sure whether they heard [a joke] or they thought it. They check themselves. Then there are guys that don’t have a conscience about it. I’m not apologizing for Carlos. But he doesn’t give a shit. Should he be getting what he’s getting from Rogan? I guess… . I think within the community it’s good that someone is checking this guy, someone as persistent and that has as big a presence as Rogan does in terms of online stuff, because it should be brought to the attention of people that care about original expression.

TOP The internet has definitely changed the face of comedy. Were you resistant to the development of sites like YouTube and MySpace?

MM I was doing morning radio when all this stuff started to really hit. Once I came out of that cave I had no presence, and I was panicky. But then I got the MySpace thing going. It hasn’t made a big difference in my life. I still think it’s television that makes a difference. You can’t make people like you. Hedberg, before he died senselessly, he did one half-hour for Comedy Central. For some reason the kids dug him. You can’t make that happen. They just liked that guy. And it’s still gonna come down to that. There’s still that indefinable thing that draws people to music or comics that you can’t make happen. But you have to be out there for that to happen, and the internet puts you out there. It also gives you a direct interaction with your fans on an almost compulsive day-to-day level, which I’m not sure is healthy, but I think the fans like it.

TOP Okay, last question. Do you have any advice for young comics?

MM Yeah, that advice has changed over the years. It’s become more practical. When you get into comedy at some point you have to decide what you want to do with it. I never thought of it as a career. I just thought I’m gonna be a great comic and then everything will happen. I’ll just be one of the great comics. I still have a hard time thinking about it as a job, but it is a job. As a stand-up you’re paid to make people laugh. If you’re a young comic starting out, at some point you have to decide. Are you gonna be that guy? Are you gonna be the guy who gets paid to do comedy for hundreds of people? For thousands of people? Are you really that guy? Show business is a big game. My advice is just to be as original as possible and know your limitations. Comedy will open the door for you to do a lot of things. If you don’t think you have what it takes to be a stand-up star, don’t stop yourself, because some of those guys that realize that are making a lot more money than any of us, running TV shows, writing TV shows, producing TV shows, directing stuff. It’s just a big business. It was always about the stand-up for me. It was the only way to express yourself in a very pure way. Pryor once said the biggest threat to creativity is fear, and I think that’s true. Does that make any sense?

TOP Yeah, it makes a lot of sense.

See Marc Maron live Marc Maron will be performing at Cap City Comedy Club February 20-24.