May 1, 2013
Marc Maron's Got Issues... on IFC
By Michael Grebb
IFC has become the place for comedy that’s a bit… off. And that’s perhaps the best way to describe the mildly neurotic, palatably angry, obstensively needy, borderline obsessive and hopelessly hopeful humor of Marc Maron. He’s worked the comedy circuit for years—but it’s his quirky and beloved podcast “WTF with Marc Maron” that really put him on the map. Maron often jokes that people still don’t know who he is, but that may soon change now that he has his own show “Maron,” premiering on IFC on May 3. He plays himself. Or at least a heightened version of himself. And it’s an existence you’ll probably want to observe more than emulate. Unless you like self-loathing. And cats.
So you’ve been filming for months, and now the premiere is upon us. Are you nervous?
I don’t know. I’m nervous in the sense that people are going to see it, but I’m happy with the show, and I’m excited. But yes, I’m nervous. I’d be crazy if I wasn’t.
How close is this TV version of yourself to your actual self? I’m sure you’re life isn’t this crazy on a daily basis.
It’s pretty close. It’s heightened in the sense that many of the stories are based on some real events, but obviously you have to amplify and fictionalize and heighten it a bit. The way I approach performing in these shows was really just to respect the script and be myself. I’m not a trained actor or anything, but I know that I can be good at it and I can show up for it. So the way I approach it is to be in the scene, be present, listen and be myself. So I think that hopefully if we get another season that we can look at the 10 [episodes] as a learning curve. And we can say ok, ‘here’s Marc acting as Marc. What can we do to heighten this? What are the strong suits? How can we write more towards what he does as an actor?’ I don’t make a lot of character decisions other than to just show up for the scenes and be as engaged as possible and honor the scripts that I thought were funny and emotional.
What was the shooting schedule like for you?
The schedule we were shooting on was very intense. I was in every scene. We shot whole episodes in two and a half or three days.
Does that sometimes make the material better in the sense that you don’t have any time to stress over every detail? You just do it.
Absolutely. Once I got in it, we were doing anywhere from eight to 15 pages a day, and it was crazy. But I got into the groove, and I think you’re right—the immediacy of it. There are setbacks, and there are also benefits to it, but there wasn’t much time to second guess stuff.
How involved were you in the writing?
We have a small staff. It was me and three other guys. We had a showrunning team and then the dude that I wrote the pilot presentation with, Duncan Birmingham. So Duncan, Michael Jamin and Sivert Glarum. We had a couple of months to do 10 scripts. I walked in with about 9 of the stories, and we broke the stories. We assigned scripts. Each of us did 2 or 3 scripts. And then you kind of send it off to the world, get your notes. It was very collaborative.
How was it working with IFC on notes and collaboration?
We definitely had notes, but they were very supportive. It was all a collaboration. There were never any lines drawn in the sand. There was never any sort of outlandish input, and everything was relatively diplomatic. There were discussion about certain things, and suggestions were taken and not taken. But overall, there’s nothing in the show that I didn’t want in the show. And there was nothing taken out that wasn’t a conversation before to do that.
And how involved are you in the post-production, editing, etc?
I’m involved in all of it. It was all very overwhelming, but yeah… we would make editing choices. That was very exciting. I’d never done that before, and a lot of things happen in the editing room. I was definitely part of all of it.
How much do the storylines for the show come out of your experiences with your real-life podcast versus just life experiences?
I talk about my life on the podcast. A lot of them are based on my life, and a lot of them are based on speculation about my life. Once you sort of establish my life, you can do stuff that might not have happened. That’s just part of writing a show and creating stories. It’s not a reality show. But there are a lot of events in there that actually did happen. They’re peppered through the story writing process and the scripting process. Now a lot of things are things that could have happened, but didn’t necessarily happen. But it’s all very rooted in my life to the point where we rebuilt my house… so we had room to shoot. A lot of the events are right out of my life. When you have a life—when I walk in with 9 stories to tell these guys—you think ‘Well, these are just events, and you need to make them stories.’ The Internet troll episode [Fri’s premiere ep] was based on something that really happened to me. But in my real life, I engaged a guy for months. But it all happened online. And that wouldn’t be a great episode. So they had me engage that guy, then we invent that guy and have me go out into the world to track that guy down.
It wouldn’t have surprised me if that was really your garage on the show.
No, my garage is too small to accommodate 2 or 3 cameras. So they literally found a house that looks a lot like mine down the street… that someone had built a 2-story addition onto to create one bedroom. So we were able to rent that whole house. That addition in the back became a place where we could put a video village, have drinks, hair and makeup. The set decorators got a sense of my style and just redecorated the whole house to look like my house. I got rid of my couch, so I gave the set my couch that I was getting rid of—with actual cat damage on it from my cat. A garage behind the set house was a 2-car garage, which gave them the ability to really rebuild my one-car garage within it but also make a moveable and have room for cameras. So they rebuilt the garage. It looks a lot like my real garage. They were very meticulous about that.
You shoot the entire show in L.A., right?
It was all shot in Highland Park, for the most part.
You’ve got a lot of famous comedians and actors who make appearances on the show. Did you have to call in some favors?
I don’t know if it’s calling in favors, necessarily. In terms of the celebrity guests, I just went down the list of people who had been on my show. Outside of Denis Leary and Illeana Douglas, they’ve all been on my [podcast] show. They had a good time, and they like my show. Nobody said ‘no’ because they didn’t want to do the show. It was always a scheduling problem, and we were thrilled to get the people that we got because they were all great. Ken Jueng did the pilot presentation with us, and he loves the show. And he loves playing himself. He’s always very excited the two times I’ve worked with him. He was like ‘I never get to play Ken Jueng. I always have to play the kooky Asian guy.’ But always in those moments—the podcast moments—are the loosest moments on the show. So engaging with these people… we were able to take longer and more organic moments in those conversations.
Any of these guests surprise you?
I’ll tell you… The wild card is Bobby Slayton, man. Bobby Slayton came in at the last minute. We reached out to him a couple days before we shot, and he killed me. He was great. He played himself. He’s an old club comic, and it was just a riot. When you’re in a room with him… you’re just defenseless. He’s just going to come at you… But Mark Duplass and everybody, it was great. In terms of calling in favors, I wasn’t really feeling that way. I was just hoping that these people would want to be part of it of the TV show. And I was very flattered and appreciative that they did.
So how many of these guests are actually friends of yours?
Well, when you listen to the podcast, you’re hearing roughly a first conversation. I don’t socialize with too many people. I know a lot of people. The comics I know. But the actor guys, I don’t hang out with them. They like my show, they had a good time, and they wanted to be part of the TV show, which is very nice. But no, I’m not going over to Jon Hamm’s house after we talk.
You famously love cats and have rescued a number of them. How involved are you in cat-rescue these days?
Let’s be specific: It was one case of cat rescue. I’m not out in the world with a cage. I rescued a bunch of cats in 2004, and I still have 2 of those cats. I have another rescue cat, and another kitten, and then there’s a couple strays I feed. I’m not actively rescuing cats every day. I wouldn’t mind being represented like that because I love my cats… But they’re just a big part of my life. That’s it.
So you’re not out every night trapping them, spaying, neutering…
No. I mean, if I had time I might.
In the show, you certainly mine a lot of comedy out of your cats, though. Will that continue throughout the season?
Well, you find that they’re not easy to work with. There are no actor cats. You’ll find that as the season goes on that there’s a suggestion of cats as opposed to the cat presence.
Wait until you meet the cats’ agents.
Dude. They have these cat handlers. But no matter how good they are, cats just cats. You’re going to take them out of a box in a strange place, and they’re back in the box. I find that cats that are younger are better to work with. But you know, we had pretty good success in a couple of episodes with some of those cats. If we do more, we have to figure out how to do that. They’re could be an argument to be made for literally having the cats living on set for the entire time. I don’t know if that’s possible. I might have to get a couple of new cats to have them around… I would just get a kitten, a new one, and have that be the cat for the run of the show—Marc’s new kitten. That would be the easiest to handle. [Laughs]
I’m guessing that no matter what happens with this show, the podcast will remain a part of your life for the foreseeable future?
Oh yeah. The podcast goes on. The podcast is the through line of my life. It’s my passion. It’s my job. And that and stand-up will just always be there. You know, you shoot these things, and we’ll see what happens. But on the daily level, I go out tomorrow to perform stand-up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I just posted an episode of the podcast today. And that’s what the week to week thing is.
So you continue to tour quite a bit then.
Yeah, I have been doing a lot. In the next month, I have a lot of booked dates. I just taped a special for Netflix in New York, a couple of 2-hour long shows that Lance Bangs directed, and we’ll post that in June. The job is still stand-up comic/podcaster, so we’ll see what happens. And writer right now because my book comes out at the end of the month.
Nice timing on that.
Yeah, it was a bit of wrangling to make that all happen, but it’s exciting. For once in my life, things seem to be lining up a bit.