Marc Maron comes to Fringe
11:03 AM, Sep 18, 2013
If you go
What: Marc Maron at the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
Tickets: $20 to $55, available at rochesterfringe.com.
Marc Maron has gone to a lot of new places in the last decade. Morning talk radio, a much-talked about podcast. Talking on his phone now, he’s on his way to a session with the writers for the TV show he’s created and stars in for the IFC network, Maron. It is what they used to call a situation comedy, and the situation is Marc Maron.
Perhaps it’s the LA driving, which is frequently better described as sitting, but he does seem a bit cranky at first.
“Focus your question!” he snaps after a somewhat unfocused question.
Maron is unaware that one thing you learn in Interview School is, the first question for a guy driving on an LA freeway should not be if he’s ever had any suicidal thoughts.
A moment later, Maron takes minor offense at a question about podcasts as a platform for an entertainer, verses a high-profile gig such as late-night talk with Conan O’Brien.
The evidence suggests Maron has chosen well. The 49-year-old is a hot item, trending well on the gauges that measure such hip things.
“Let me rephrase that,” he says, self-cleansing the response on his career arc for a family newspaper. “No way I could have planned it.”
The plan now: He does a stand-up comedy show on Saturday at Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre, Day Three of the 10-day First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. This comedy thing is a bit of a resurrection for Maron.
“My comedy career was OK, it was just kinda done,” he says. “Not for a lack of opportunity. I was on 50 Conans. But I couldn’t sell tickets. My manager hung me out to dry, it was hard to get work. I had been doing it a long time. I wasn’t doing bad comedy, I just hadn’t caught that wind, that push behind you. Ultimately, what happens is you’re left to fend for yourself.”
Then a couple of things happened. Janeane Garofalo called and suggested he’d be great for the liberal radio start-up network, Air America.
“I’m not really a pundit, I don’t know a lot about politics,” he says. “As a comedian, I’m somewhat reactionary.” Nevertheless, he went for it and moved to New York City. “It was kind of a mixed blessing,” he admits. “When you do morning radio, getting up at 3 a.m., you’re shot for the rest of the day. Financially it was good, but it probably led to the end of my marriage.”
His marriage to Air America was rocky as well; Maron bounced from show to show, getting in a few good shots about the “Neocon death cult,” before the relationship ended after four years.
The problem, or perhaps the solution for Maron, was they didn’t take his keys to the studio. He and a few cohorts began sneaking in when it wasn’t being used to start an interview podcast called WTF. And you’re correct, those aren’t Maron’s initials.
“I didn’t know what a podcast was,” he confesses. But he did know what he didn’t want to talk about anymore.
WTF, Maron points out, “is almost completely non-political. It’s conversation, but I knew there were more interesting, deeper issues to talk about.”
Now generally working from his garage, which he also has the keys to, Maron’s wide range of celebrities and smart people draws an Internet-savvy, in-the-know audience.
“The most-rewarding comments are from people who say, ‘You helped me through a dark time,’ ” Maron says. Perhaps most notably, there was a 2011 WTF podcast featuring Todd Hanson, an actor and editor of the newspaper parody The Onion, on which Hanson described his battles with depression and his attempt at suicide: a bottle of whiskey and more than 60 Xanax pills. “It was a risky thing to do,” Maron says of Hanson’s confession, “but extremely helpful for people who have had that kind of depression, or lost family members that way.
“When people own relationships with celebrities, based on how they get to know them, and they hear of these personal struggles, it’s a powerful thing.”
Ironically, the failure of Marc Maron’s comedy career may have also been its resurrection. “After 25 years in the business, things are starting to work out a bit,” he says. “I’m making a living, I’m really excited about what I’m doing. I’m doing the best comedy I’ve ever done, because a lot of things inside of me have relaxed.
“It’s sort of a validation, a boost in my personal self-esteem, in the struggle to be relevant somehow. I’m a little more grounded than I used to be, a little more confident and genuine.”
Being genuine means quite a bit of self-confession. Maron has spoken on WTF about his past drug addictions. And, as with Hanson, he’s said on his show that he has also had thoughts of suicide.
“Yeah, but not like that,” Maron says; the questions have been quite focused now, and the comedian is quite serious. “My suicide ruminations were amplified self-pity.”
Perhaps Maron shares too much of his personal life on WTF and in his stand-up routines. But, “I don’t know what else to draw from,” he says. “That’s what I do. I’m not making up things.”