Exclusive Interview: Comedian Marc Maron on Playing Himself on TV

May 3, 2013

For as long as Marc Maron has been a comedian—25 years and counting—sharing his woes with the world has never been an issue. On his new show Maron on IFC, he delves into everything from relationships and work to his amazingly popular podcast featuring one-on-ones with celebrity guests. In this exclusive interview, Maron talks about his life as a comedian, working alongside incredible talent, cats, and more!

Don’t miss the premiere of Maron Friday, May 3, at 10/9c on IFC (Ch. 559).

You’ve been doing your podcast—WTF with Marc Maron—for a while. How did you translate this idea into a TV show?

Marc Maron: Well, usually as a comic, if you want to do television at some point, when you have a point of view you pitch people, or rather a studio and the network executives, an idea that you can run your point of view through. I’ve had a few deals here and there over the years and every couple of years my life seemed to change enough to pitch a new idea about me and a show that I could do. I had given up on all of that. When I started doing the podcast, Jim Serpico over at Apostle, he liked the podcast and the idea so much, he said, “What can we do with this?”  I said maybe we can build a sitcom around it, you know, a half-hour camera thing around my life right now. He was in a relationship with Fox Television Studios, who probably got the little money to shoot the pilot presentation. I got hooked up with a writer, who was a friend of Serpico’s—Duncan Birmingham—and we wrote a pilot presentation and shot it. We took that around. It really captured the character I was inhabiting, which was me, and the life I was living. And we showed it. Then IFC stepped up and said, “Let’s make this!” That’s how that worked.

How similar are you to the character in the show?

MM: I’d say it’s pretty close to me. I have a fairly broad personality. There can be a lot of nuances that are not necessarily there. I approached it pretty earnestly and I was very much trying to portray myself. The script sort of leans towards a certain part of my disposition. When I watch it I think it’s pretty true to who I am.

There’s a trend of comedians becoming actors and vice-versa. Jerry Seinfeld, Louie C.K., Mike Birbiglia have all done it. What are your thoughts on the crossover?

MM: I think that comics have always utilized television since the beginning of television. The comic playing himself speaks more to a cultural understanding that being a comedian is a job. Why not just be who you are? As opposed to pretending to be a sports writer or a guy who has a tool show on television. All those comics were really just playing themselves. I guess at the time the network thinking was, “What’s an occupation that could bring their comedy and also honor the guy’s point of view?” I think now, with cable companies and the popularity of the single camera, we’re able to inhabit our own lives and our own profession.

When you’re doing a podcast, nobody really sees your face. Now that you are on TV, you get more exposure. Are you worried about being super famous that you have people shouting your name everywhere you go?

MM: I hope that people like the show. And I know that, having been in media all my life, that there will be people that like it… I’m not necessarily that mainstream. Being recognized on the street is nice, it’s flattering. They notice my girlfriend! But it’s not a goal that I have. I just want enough people to really enjoy the show, to enable me to bring more to them. And continue to explore doing television.

What’s it like having all these celebrities as guests? Mark Duplass, Gina Gershon, Denis Leary, Ken Jeong, the list goes on. What is it like working with them?

MM: Denis plays himself and a lot of them play themselves, either for a few minutes or a little bit in the aftershow. A lot of them enjoy playing themselves because they don’t get to do that very often. In the podcast, there is a segment of the show where they can be a lot looser, moments in the show where the connotations are very organic. But Ken Jeong—he was also in the pilot—he’s a really big fan of my show. So that was fun. It’s great working with great actors. Gina does not play herself, she plays a woman that I go out on a date with. And just for me, who really don’t have a lot of experience acting, when you’re really working with great people like Denis or Gina, it makes me really rise to the occasion. It’s always very thrilling to do it.

Who would be your dream guest?

MM: Well, I’d like to interview Bob Newhart, Iggy Pop—there’s always an evolving list of people I haven’t talked to yet. Will Ferrell… the list goes on and on.

There are a lot of cats in your life and your show. Women with a lot of cats are called cat-ladies, but there isn’t really a male term for that.

MM: There are male cat-ladies. Sure, why not?

So you’re a male cat-lady.

MM: I don’t know about that! I like my cats. I’m not out in the world acquiring new cats. I’ve got a couple of strays that I see and I’ve got the two cats that I have in the house. I’m attached to them. But yeah, there was a time when I had a lot of cats around. They’re very hard to work with as actors. There is a lot more “cat suggestion” than there are cats on the show.

Is that your real house on the show?

MM: They rebuilt the interior of my house and my garage in a house that was about a mile from my house. There was more space over there and we could afford a little more room to shoot in.

You have a huge Twitter following. [216,399 at the time of the interview. You can follow him @marcmaron.] Do you find Twitter is the ultimate heckling platform? Do you take insults personally or you just see it as more material?

MM: I take everything personally. I try to ignore them as much as possible, but as you’ll see on the first episode of Maron, it was based on going too far and engaging with someone on Twitter. Yeah, but I like Twitter. It’s very immediate. We’re in a world where it’s really on us, the entertainers, to sort of nurture our audience and keep them in the loop as to what we are doing. Also, to have a very direct relationship with them. It’s very unique. It acts both ways. When you have access to your audience in that immediate way, they also have access to you. You just have to ride the waves of that. I find it very engaging and addictive!

When did you decide you wanted to make a living out of being funny?

MM: Yeah, from when I was a little kid I wanted to. I started pursuing it a bit when I was in college and then right after I left college. I don’t know if I was ever really hung up or really thought about being an entertainer and making a living, but I knew I wanted to be a comedian. I didn’t know what that would entail. I thought it was a very righteous thing to be and it seemed like an amazing way to communicate and express yourself.

What are you watching on TV these days?

MM: I’m a very big Breaking Bad fan. I just watched Mike White’s Enlightened–I found it really great. My girlfriend likes The Walking Dead, so we seem to be connected to that. I also watch cooking shows. I watch Chopped, Iron Chef, Restaurant: Impossible. Occasionally I check those morbid shows, like Hoarders, but I can’t take too much of that.