“Obama? Oh yeah, we text all the time” Marc Maron talks female wrestling and presidential chinwags
Actor, comedian and OG podcaster, Marc Maron tells Tristan Cross why he does’t actually listen to podcasts
Marc Maron gets a lot done. In between hosting a podcast which releases episodes near enough three times a week (to the present tune of 926 episodes) and maintaining a stand-up career that’s spanned three decades, he’s managed to put in a shift as a Critically Acclaimed Actor, starring in Netflix’s most recent hype series Glow as wrestling promoter Sam Sylvia. And yet, his appetite for doing things can never be sated, so he sat down with ShortList to tell us how things were going.
Hi Marc, how’s it going?
I’m doing good. Things are OK. I think that’s the best you can hope for. What am I going to say: “Things are great”? Even if things were great, I don’t know whether I’d fully realise it. I guess I’m constantly afraid. You don’t wanna jinx it. OK is good enough!
How’s the stand-up going?
Great! I was excited but I was nervous about it because less than a year ago I did an hour long special on Netflix and I assumed that everyone had seen it. I don’t know whether that is true or not. But, when you start to tour, you know, it is sort of like: I haven’t had time to generate a new hour!
Is it annoying having to rewrite your entire show every tour? Do you ever wish you could just do tried-and-tested greatest hits material, like musicians get to do playing their audience’s favourite songs?
I don’t feel like I’m that kind of guy. I think for somebody like Jim Gaffigan – somebody where they wanna hear the ‘hot pockets’ bit - it becomes the bane of your existence. I don’t think that comedy is like music. Music can create a mood, it can take you back in time, it can take you to another place. At best a joke is going to make you laugh and think a little bit. There’s a couple of pieces that I really love doing, like [this bit], I’d worked on it for months and then I did it on a small television show in the states – John Oliver’s comedy special. Then after I did it there, I just stopped doing it – which is stupid because it took me half a year to make that bit work.
You’re primarily known as a stand-up and for your podcast, so how did Glow come about?
I’d done four seasons of my own show [Maron] and there was a part of me that always wanted to try to act, and not as me. The Glow script came through. I read it and the character [wrestling promoter Sam Sylvia] – I immediately knew the guy.
You knew him?
Well, because he’s a sort of redeemable asshole, and it’s not an easy redemption. He’s a delusional guy who thinks he is more powerful than he is, more talented than he is. But fundamentally, he shows up for people and cares about people. He just doesn’t want to show it and it’s a pain in the ass to him.
I heard you made a point of not researching wrestling.
I was told it doesn’t matter; the character didn’t know anything about wrestling either!
Pro wrestling involves blurring the lines between artifice and real backstage tensions. A bit like GLOW…
I think there’s something like that going on in GLOW, yeah that definitely makes sense. But I also think it functions as a way for these women to redefine themselves, to empower themselves, to transcend reality. And you’ll come together as this collective. That is what happened offstage while shooting, because [the actors] all had to learn how to wrestle. So all this stuff is going on in the main of GLOW, you’re seeing a team of women really become wrestlers, just like in the show.
Did you feel hard done by that you didn’t get to learn to wrestle? In terms of physical action, your character mainly just gets to smoke and kick filing cabinets in frustration….
…Does blow. Yeah, I felt a little left out that I wasn’t wrestling but I’m always excited to watch it. It’s very exciting. You get very invested in them pulling it off. Doing a move.
How did the real-life GLOW from the Eighties differ from today’s wrestling?
It’s very raw. Almost disturbingly raw. Wrestling was different. They were just beating the sh*t out of each other, there wasn’t much artifice.
What happens to Sam in series 2?
He gets handed a couple of big kicks to the soul. He’s humble, unmistakably humble. So he enters the next season with that, this unforeseen humility because of knowing he has a daughter, because his big masterpiece has been hijacked by a similar movie…
[Sam believes he’s invented the concept for Back To The Future, only to discover the film already exists.]
Do you ever have moments like that; where you have a big million-dollar idea, then someone else goes and does it first?
There was an idea I had that was vague but then that sort of…was it, My Name Is Earl? I sort of had an idea like that, but it was about a guy trying to make the world a better place, a little bit at a time. But that happens all the time in Hollywood. If you have an idea and you put it out in the world you find out very quickly something similar already exists.
“They had the picture of Obama and I talking in my garage in the Oval Office”
In podcasting terms, you’re the godfather of your format: a comedian interviewing other comedians. Do you ever see someone else do it and think, “That’s my idea”?
I used to have a joke with Pete Holmes who’d outright tell me he stole my show. I just said it to Kristen Bell about Dax [Shepard]: “You know he’s doing my show.” She went “we know!” The thing is; I didn’t create talking to somebody on a microphone, I did help popularise podcasting but no one’s got copyright on interviewing or talking to someone.
But, if you did…
Even if I could just make a quarter for every podcast downloaded…
Two people talking, that’s your idea.
I got it, I registered it.
How do you know if you have a good podcasting voice?
I’m self-conscious about my voice, I have weird tics and weird things. Does everything come through, does it connect with people? I don’t know if you can manufacture that. I’m lucky, those mics work for me because I don’t have to just be funny, I can show my flaws, I can talk about whatever I want, I can wrestle with myself.
Are you born with an innate talent for podcasting, or can it be learned?
It took me a while to learn the ability, the craft of being on a mic alone. I have to be aware of ‘uhs’ and ‘ohs’ and ‘likes’. Once I figured out how to just sit in my garage and talk for 20 minutes, that was a big break. It’s not easy to do that. I don’t know what makes someone good or what doesn’t. Production has a lot to do with it.
What do you make of podcasts of groups of mates who just decide to record their banter on their smartphones?
I don’t know what people’s tolerances are for a mic in the middle of a table, and four guys sitting far away from it… But get good mics.
What makes for a great guest?
Good conversation. If we’re engaging and both in it, and I’m fascinated with it. If I’m getting a kick out of them; if we’re finding things as we talk.
Is former guest Barack Obama still a devoted listener?
Oh yeah, we text all the time.
No, never. But he enjoyed being on the podcast. I heard they had the picture of him and I talking in my garage in the Oval Office.
Do you ever relisten to the shows?
Not really. I don’t listen to them after, my point of reference is the live conversation. Sometimes we do shows that have a lot of different elements, we don’t do them that often but like the 900th episode which takes some production, which [WTF producer Brendan McDonald] loves to do, I’ll listen to those.
What bells and whistles are you going to pull out for the big 1000?
You think I got the bells and whistles for 1000? Yeah, I hope so. I hope we make it that far.
Are you expecting some fiery apocalypse to intervene?
That, or some sort of subtle apocalypse.
What would a subtle apocalypse involve?
I don’t know, isn’t it happening every day? It doesn’t have a direct effect on us right here in this room but it feels like something is being eroded. I don’t know what ultimately it will look like once it’s all eroded, maybe we’ll push back on it, we’ll see. But it does feel like something shitty. If we get to 1000, it’ll be a celebration of the shitty people not winning if that’s how it turns out.
Is your stand-up an extension of the podcast?
Definitely the natural extension. People [at my shows] sometimes say, “I heard that bit on the podcast.” I’m thinking: no you didn’t. You heard the story but if you come to my show, this thing has jokes in it now, it’s got pacing and punchlines. Now there are 1,000 people in the room, there are beats and we’re all laughing. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d just sat there and played the podcast.
So, what podcasts do you listen to?
I don’t. I listen to music, the radio, occasionally the news. But generally, I don’t know how people have time to listen to stuff.
Glow Season 2 is on Netflix from 29 June