The Interview: Marc Maron on Ireland, acting and the future of 'WTF'
Even over the phone, Marc Maron's acutely aware of his surroundings.
In the middle of our interview, his cat Buster interrupts proceedings as he's trying to convince her to eat. Scolding the feline gently, he goes right back into the conversation without skipping a beat. With a European tour looming and an Irish date on April 11th at Vicar Street, not to mention the upcoming third season of 'GLOW' and his roles in 'Joker' and Lynn Shelton's 'Sword of Trust', he's clearly got a lot on his plate - not to mention trying to feed his cat.
To top it all off, Maron has just passed 1,000 episodes on his hugely successful podcast 'WTF'. Having previously interviewed the likes of Paul McCartney, President Barack Obama (when he was still in office) and nearly every actor you can name, you'd wonder if he has a 1,000 more episodes in him. "I try not to think too far ahead, I barely know what I'm gonna do this afternoon," Maron says. "I imagine I've got a 1,000 more in me, I don't know how many people I have left to talk to, but they seem to keep showing up, so yeah, probably unless something awful doesn't happen."
Pessimism isn't something that's far from Maron's mind, and it's something he thinks about with great intensity. "I think if you've got a certain type of brain when the world is shitty, there's part of your brain that's almost like, 'See? I knew it. Now my brain matches the world!' So I think in these dark times, it's a good exercise to really figure out where your head is at and how you can help and be a proactive voice because everyone seems to be doing the same kind of hopelessness you've felt, even before this happened!"
It's not all bad, however. As Maron argues, "you have to constantly make a choice, to say like, well, everyone feels scared and hopeless, we're all on the same page finally, well let's try have some solidarity and figure out how we can do this and not add to the garbage."
As a comedian, Maron believes that his material over the years has been about confronting that sense of emptiness in a personal way. "I don't know that I'm necessarily for everybody. There are definitely people who relate to me, but I don't really set out to take on a topic and find the humour in it. I have a visceral human reaction that comes from my heart and my mind to what's going on in the world and what's going on in my life and I try to address it so I can some resolution around it that doesn't lead me into a dark hole that I have to live in, because, y'know, I put myself there." Maron's frank about how his comedy may not be jovial, but for him, "the humour in darkness is some of the best humour you can find."
"Y'know, sometimes, there may be no resolution, but there's an acknowledgement in the common experience, of acknowledging the horror or the darkness or whatever, we can move through it together and find insights or a different way of looking at it, and that's always been the thrust of my comedy from the beginning, if I'm honest with you."
As mentioned, Maron is one of the leads in Netflix's comedy series 'GLOW', and is now set to star in Todd Phillips' gritty reimagining of 'Joker', and talks excitedly about Lynn Shelton's 'Sword of Trust' and the audience reaction to it as SXSW. "When you do a film, you don't know where the laughs are going to come, so it was wild to see laughs from things that I didn't think would have gotten laughs and I had no real control of it, but then to be in it and see it get genuine laughs while you're sitting there is a whole new experience." Despite the allure of larger roles in bigger movies, Maron's focus is still on standup.
"When I started the podcast, I was kind of a down-and-out comic in a real way, I had a good reputation, I'd been around a long time, but I'd given on a lot of things happening for me. I really let go of the idea that I'd be a successful comic to sell tickets or a person that could act or anything, and I had to let that all go because I'd turn into a smouldering mess any more than I already was, so the way I look at things now is that it's like, I always do these things, I never thought I'd get the opportunity, so I do them. I don't really consider stopping one for the other."
"I'm a comedian at heart, that's what I started out doing," Maron declares, "and all I ever wanted to be was a good comic in the way that I wanted to do it." More acting roles may come for him, but he's clear that he doesn't see comedy getting away from him. "I mean, I get frustrated when I think I don't have it in me anymore, and I think I can't do it anymore, why should I keep doing it, and then material starts evolving. I write about an hour, an hour and a half of new material every year, and it comes. I feel the need to get up on stage at least twice a week because part of me lives up there."
In his own show, 'Maron', and in the likes of 'Joker', Maron says that acting has given him a realisation with regards to the process. "To me, acting isn't as engaging as comedy or having a conversation with someone, or talking spontaneously on a microphone. It's a long process, there's a lot to put together so what I really want to get out of acting is to enjoy what is enjoyable about it, and maybe getting a little better at it. I'm not thinking of it in terms of changing careers or substituting one for the other. My first responsibility is to the podcast and standup, and if I can do the acting, I'll do the acting."
His comedy show is no stranger to Ireland's shores, and on many occasions on the podcast and his live show, he's admitted that were he to "flee America", he'd land in Ireland. Is this just an act to get an audience onside, though? "I played the Kilkenny Festival a few times, early on, and I had horrible experiences. I really didn't enjoy the standup, it was rural in a weird kind of way, it wasn't real comedy audiences, but right when I land in Ireland, there's something about the landscape and the feeling of the place that really connects with me an emotional way."
Despite the fact that he recently had his DNA tested and it came back "like 99% Jew" in his words, he feels he has an affinity to Ireland that he can't readily explain. "Maybe it's the history of darkness and introspection," he jokes, "but it's genuine and my only regret is that I haven't taken the time to see the whole country. I've only been a couple of places, I really need to take the time to do it, but it's a very earnest thing."
"What I realised the last time I was there that was funny to me was there's this fundamental difference between Irish-Americans and Irish," he explains, to which I readily agree. "Oh my God! I lived in Boston for a long time and that Irish community is tough, man. They had to be! Y'know, before they got traction and held their place in this country, they were treated like shit. They had to come up, and toughen up, and hold their own and more than that. They're a tough bunch, dude."
"Y'know, when I was in Boston, I'd be intimidated and scared by a certain, I don't know, Irish stereotype in my head because you know they stay in their gene pool and they have a similar look or whatever, but when I go to Dublin, I'm looking at these guys and it's like, 'Oh no, this is trouble...' and they're the sweetest people in the world! Because America didn't crush them and turn them into tough, cynical brawlers!"
Marc Maron plays Vicar Street on April 11th. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.ie and usual outlets.