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May 2, 2013

Stars Align for 'Maron' on IFC...

Nothing oozes Hollywood glamour like a Days Inn. And that's exactly where we found Marc Maron one afternoon last fall in Glendale, CA, milling about with a tiny crew as they raced to shoot IFC's new series "Maron" on a tight deadline and even tighter budget. On the series, which premieres Fri, Maron plays himself as a neurotic and chronically dysfunctional podcaster just trying to get through each day without another self-inflicted humiliation. And he says that's pretty darned accurate. "It's pretty close," he admits. "Many of the stories are based on some real events, but obviously you have to amplify and fictionalize and heighten it a bit. It's not a reality show. But there are a lot of events in there that actually did happen."

On the set last fall, Maron was shooting an episode in which his onscreen character finds himself at a sex convention (the perfect use of any Days Inn). The scene involved Maron blowing off a creepy fan before making up with his love interest and eventually meeting a top comedy promoter. The ups and downs of those pages could parallel Maron's real life as a successful comedian, with an insanely popular podcast—but one who has yet to break out as a mainstream star. Indeed, Maron even makes a joke of his cult status in the opening scene of the premiere, telling a veterinarian that "I've been on Conan O'Brien like 47 times, and you don't know who I am, right?" He could just as well be talking to the audience. Of course, he probably couldn't have picked a more receptive group than the hipster intelligencia that increasingly frequents IFC. "They're relatively new to comedy, and they have this sophisticated audience," Maron notes.

Unlike IFC's other alternative comedy fare such as "Comedy Bang! Bang!" or mega-hit "Portlandia," Maron's show occupies a related but decidedly slower burning comedic headspace. It's just as smart—but perhaps not quite as tailored for the hyper-cerebral brains of those who enjoy getting a joke a few milliseconds before everyone else in the room. In a way, "Maron" revels in its simplicity: One neurotic guy who loves his cats and his podcast, just trying to make his way in the world. His self-destructive nature drives the show in that every time he tries to make something right, he generally succeeds in making it worse. Can you relate? Case in point: When a guy torments him on Twitter in the premiere, he self-righteously tracks the hater down to guilt him into an apology—only to find that the taunts get even worse when hurled at him in person.

IFC was willing to take a risk on Maron partly because of that unique sensibility that comes largely out of the veteran comedian's anxiety-ridden brain. Although he didn't write all the episodes himself, he brought 9 of the 10 stories that became episodes to the first creative meeting with writers. Most of them were based on real events in Maron's life. So when people ask IFC pres/gm Jennifer Caserta what drove her to greenlight the show, she has one response. "The short answer is— Marc," she says. "He's the heart and soul of the show, and what we really fell for was an approach to the series that let Marc be Marc."

And while the satirical absurdities of other IFC fare are working well for the net, "Maron" does seem different, suggesting that heartfelt honesty doesn't necessarily derail edginess. "Nothing gets in the way, and it doesn't feel overly produced," says Caserta. "The show is about his relationships, the things that happen to him, how he interviews celebrities out of his garage... and the cats. We were familiar with his story, and people here had actively followed his podcast, but when you see him on screen you get a raw, authentic and unapologetic approach to himself and his life that is really endearing and funny at the same time."

As Maron awaits the show's premiere, he admits he's nervous. "I'd be crazy if I wasn't," he says. But he's also pretty content these days. No matter what happens with the show, he's always got his podcast—and his beloved cats. He has also never been busier on the comedy circuit, continuing to tour all over the country. He's even putting out a book timed to his show's premiere. And that was no accident. "Yeah, it was a bit of wrangling to make that all happen, but it's exciting," he says. "For once in my life, things seem to be lining up a bit."

- Michael Grebb

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