Stand-up comedian, podcaster, writer and actor Marc Maron didn't know what to expect when he started his podcast, WTF With Marc Maron, in 2009. Eleven years later, the podcast has a loyal listenership with more than a thousand episodes and counting. In WTF, Maron conducts off-the-cuff, long-form interviews with fellow comedians, actors and musicians.
The success of his podcast and his growing audience led to more acting opportunities, including his IFC series, Maron, and the Netflix series GLOW. He continues to tour as a stand-up and his latest special, the very-coincidentally-titled End Times Fun, was released on Netflix this past March.
Recorded remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton talk to Maron about his podcast, his growth as an actor, and his new stand-up special.
Later, Maron, a cat lover, plays a true or false game called, "Did This Happen In The 2019 Film Adaptation Of The Timeless Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical, CATS?" (He has not seen the movie.)
On Naming His New Netflix Special
"[End Times Fun] wasn't the original name for the show, but it was the same idea. I was very dead set on calling that show 'Jeremiad' and [Netflix's director of Original Comedy Specials, Robbie Praw] was like, 'We're not calling it that.' 'But that's what it is, it's gonna be a Jeremiad.' And he was like, 'I don't know what that is! No one's gonna know what that is!' ..Then I was like, 'End Times Fun.' That's what it is."
On Starting His Long-Running Podcast, WTF With Marc Maron
"It was not a popularized medium, nor were there any methods of making a living that you could bank on. But there were a few guys doing something, and I was coming out of radio, and I needed to do something. We figured out how to do it but, the early...community of podcasters had to learn as we went."
On Getting Recognized
"I got to be known as an interviewer — people would love me as an interviewer, but I would be like, 'You know I do stand-up?' ...A lot of people still don't know who I am or which me is me. A lot of people still can watch GLOW and be like, 'I didn't know he was a stand-up,' or, 'He has a podcast?' Those questions are asked around the world every day, alongside, 'Do you think I have it? My throat hurts.'"
JONATHAN COULTON: (Playing guitar). This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Jonathan. OK, we have a special guest, and he is amazing. We've been wanting to have him on the show for years. He hosts the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, and he has a Netflix comedy special out right now called "End Times Fun." It's Marc Maron. Hey, Marc.
MARC MARON: Hi.
MARON: Have you really wanted to have me on for years?
EISENBERG: Yeah, pretty much. I feel like - so this show has been happening for seven years...
EISENBERG: ...And I distinctly remember, like, right in the beginning as we were still kind of envisioning how the show would work, you were on our list. However, we were in New York. You were in LA.
MARON: Oh, so it had to be done in New - it's like my show. You only do it live face-to-face.
EISENBERG: Yeah, 'cause, usually, we're at The Bell House in Brooklyn.
MARON: At The Bell House.
EISENBERG: That's right.
MARON: And Jonathan plays songs.
EISENBERG: That's right.
MARON: I get it.
COULTON: Now we're stuck in our home studios now.
EISENBERG: That's right.
COULTON: It's a very different vibe all of a sudden.
EISENBERG: Now Marc, you asked me if we had met before.
EISENBERG: And the truth is...
EISENBERG: ...That when I moved to New York - I moved to New York in 2001, and I would go to "Eating It" in the Lower East Side at the old Luna Lounge because I was...
EISENBERG: ...Doing stand-up, and I wanted to be part of that show. And, obviously, that was a huge part of your life.
MARON: OK. So I did meet you. I probably was rude to you or did something bad.
EISENBERG: Well, it was...
EISENBERG: ...To be honest with you (laughter)...
MARON: Let's get it out. Let's process it.
EISENBERG: No, actually, honestly, we didn't have a lot of interaction because I was a comic from Canada trying to be part of a New York scene, and you guys were all the people doing it. And I just, you know, honestly just wanted to be liked and hang out...
MARON: Got it.
EISENBERG: ...With people. That's all.
MARON: So that was...
MARON: Like, that's how I know your name - that and from this show. But, like, it did - it felt like your name was deep in there in my head.
EISENBERG: Deep in there.
EISENBERG: Yeah, so - which is - you know, I think about when I moved there - and you know more about it because you were part of that scene, and I just swooped in - but to think back to a time where alternative comedy was a thing. It was a thing people were scared of. They were - clubs were mad about it (laughter).
EISENBERG: You know, and it was basically just people trying to create their own stuff.
MARON: I guess so. Yeah, that's for sure. I was coming at it from a club background. And for me, that venue just provided the idea that we had to go with something fresh and, you know, improvisational every week. Or maybe that was what I decided...
MARON: ...In my head.
EISENBERG: That was the premise - right? - that everyone was supposed to bring new material?
MARON: I think so, yeah. And that was - that's always been sort of the way I write, so to force me into it on a weekly basis was a very useful tool that I still use. And it was easier to do it there than to do it at a mainstream comedy club. So I still do all of my writing in real time onstage by taking ideas and, you know, thoughts up there. I don't know how it happens. I really don't. It's like some sort of weird magic. But, like, the new special took me a year and a half, two years to really sort of bring it all together and have a throughline and land somewhere. And it was sort of evolving right up until the week that I did it.
MARON: And then it - then I really tightened it up, and I really made some choices around it. But I think "Eating It," or that show down there, was really helpful to me.
EISENBERG: So your special is called "End Times Fun" and just came out a couple weeks ago. It - I mean, how does it feel, first of all, to have a prophetic comedy special?
EISENBERG: Because it sounds - you could - I could say right now, I'm recording a comedy special called "End Times," and people would just assume that I am streaming it from my living room this week.
EISENBERG: But you actually recorded this...
MARON: Yeah. Well, I mean, these are themes that, you know, certainly - they became more immediate to me. I mean, since even the last special, "Too Real" - it sort of has underlying - it has jokes in there referring to that political shift. And that was just in - that was done in 2017. But it wasn't the original name...
MARON: ...For the show, really. But it was the same idea. But I wanted to - I was very dead set on calling that show "Jeremiad." And Robbie (ph) at Netflix was like, we're not calling it that.
MARON: And I'm like, but that's what it is. It's going to be a jeremiad. And he's like, I don't know what that is.
MARON: No one's going to know what it is. And, you know, you have that up on the menu on Netflix - they're not going to know it's a comedy. They're not, you know - you got - they have to know it's a comedy special. And I was like, but it has to be "Jeremiad." We'll put the definition up next to it.
EISENBERG: Yeah. And they're like, we love definitions.
MARON: Hold on now. I'll tell you what the definition is. A long, mournful complaint or lamentation. A list of woes.
COULTON: Yeah. Yeah.
MARON: And I thought like, and then we'll just put in parentheses, but funny.
EISENBERG: But funny.
MARON: And then...
MARON: And then start the special.
EISENBERG: That's right.
COULTON: Comedy jeremiad.
MARON: Yeah. But he was like, nope. And I'm like, fine. And then I'm like, OK, "End Times Fun." That's what it is. That's what it is.
MARON: But I think people are hanging that somehow it's prophetic in this COVID-19 thing that we're involved in. But I think maybe it's an observation about people and about, you know, catastrophic times.
EISENBERG: You know, and I was just thinking from the point of view of - so you, you know - you have this material that is part of the special that was recorded in October. And you're working on it for a year and a half. But let's just say the timeline was shifted.
EISENBERG: You would not - I mean, that material - you would have to throw that material away to certain extent.
MARON: Everyone's going to have to throw their material away now.
MARON: I mean, we don't even...
EISENBERG: Yeah, seriously.
MARON: ...Know if we're going to be able to perform in front of real people anymore - live, living people. We might just have to be - you know, collect an audience through, you know, Zoom meetings.
MARON: How many little box - head boxes can you get on one screen? How high does it go?
COULTON: It's kind of crazy. It's, like, podcasting was a thing that grew and grew and grew until it just - now it's the whole world. Everybody's...
COULTON: ...Podcasting all the time just in their personal interactions. It's - everybody's talking into a microphone wearing earphones.
MARON: Yes. It's true.
MARON: It's true. That is the world we live in.
EISENBERG: Marc, when you started WTF in 2009 - you talked about it. You were broke, depressed, divorced.
EISENBERG: At that moment, nobody was doing podcasts.
MARON: It was not a popularized medium, nor was it - whether any, really, methods of making a living that you could really bank on.
MARON: I think that there were a few guys doing something. And I was coming out of radio, and I needed to do something.
MARON: And we figured out how to do it. But yeah, the early group, the community of podcasters - all of us sort of had to learn as we went, you know? Because, like, the - you know, after I started, I think Rogan came on, and Hardwick started. I mean, they definitely - I think they started after me. Doug Benson might've been going already.
But there were a handful of us that came out of comedy that knew each other. Me and Brendan, my producer - we didn't know how to - what we were going to do. We were taking donations and sending stickers and T-shirts to people.
MARON: I was - had a houseful of, you know, envelopes, you know, going out to people that we could - you know, kind of talked into making a monthly donation of $5 to $10. And, you know, we really had to just figure out how to, you know, make a business out of it.
MARON: So yeah. It got a little weird. It is a little weird. And, you know, I just - I always discourage people. There - I just...
EISENBERG: (Laughter) I do, too. I always discourage people.
EISENBERG: And so - but - so you're doing stand-up at the same time that you are starting doing WTF.
MARON: Always doing stand-up. I'm a stand-up comic.
EISENBERG: Always doing stand-up...
MARON: It's my job.
EISENBERG: ...Touring, everything.
EISENBERG: And then, of course, as the popularity of the podcast increases, your shows - I'm sure it just changes for you.
MARON: Yeah. I mean, there was a lot of people early on that came over from the radio, from the political radio that I was doing. But I didn't really - I stopped doing politics when I started the podcast...
MARON: ...Altogether. - some of them hung around, but then people started to come around. And then I got to be known as an interviewer and as this - people would love me as an interviewer. And I'd be, like, well, you know, I do stand-up. It used to aggravate me.
MARON: Like, they didn't know my stand-up. But as time went on, everyone kind of started to know everything. And now, you know, "GLOW's" involved, and...
MARON: ...There's just - unless you're a certain level of celebrity, a lot of people still don't know who I am or which me is me. Like, a lot of people still can watch "GLOW" and be, like, I didn't know he was a stand-up? Or, he has a podcast? I mean, those questions are asked around the world every day alongside of, like, do you think I have it? My throat hurts. So...
EISENBERG: And then, of course, on top of it, acting. "GLOW" is obviously an amazing hit on Netflix. You play Sam Sylvia, the women's wrestling coach and promoter.
MARON: The manager - yeah, the director guy. But yeah, the acting thing - it's an odd - when I started the podcast, I had sort of given up on and really let go of most of my dreams because I was in a bad place. I didn't have - I couldn't sell tickets as a comic. I don't even think I had acting representation. You know, I knew I - you know, I did comedy, but it wasn't like I was nationally known or could put [expletive] in seats. I certainly didn't have an acting career. I'd done some radio. And - but the thing is weird - that's weird is that I do think in my heart that I did let it go.
Like, you know, there's a certain point your life - and there's a thing I was always hung up on in my head, which was, like, you have to realize your limitations - you know, part of being a grown-up, you know, and accepting sort of where you are. I knew I didn't have a plan B, but I also - it didn't seem like I was going to be a big comic or have any - or get my own TV show or any of that. And I just had to grow up and deal. And I let it go.
And then because of the podcast, a lot of these opportunities started happening. I did my own show for four seasons, and I was cast on "GLOW." I knew what was up. You know, I wasn't afraid of it. I'd been on a set. The character - you know, for me, the one problem with being an actor is people know me very well from my comedy and from the podcast that they're, like, well, you're just kind of doing you. It's like, well, I think most actors are, but you just happen to know me better, so I don't get the option of mystique...
MARON: ...Which is sort of annoying.
MARON: But, like, Sam is - you know, he's not quite me. He doesn't have any self-awareness, and he's not neurotic. So, you know, there's - there are - you know, there was some craft applied.
EISENBERG: By the way, how are the cats doing with the quarantine?
MARON: Oh, they're great. They're - I'm here all the time. They love it.
EISENBERG: And they love that. Yeah.
MARON: I think so. I mean...
MARON: ...It's hard to tell with cats, you know?
MARON: I think they love it. They could be, like, why is he here all the time now?
MARON: But oddly, you know, Monkey is doing OK. You know, his sister died a few months ago, and I'm - you know, but he's OK, you know? Yeah, I gave him subcutaneous fluids last night. But...
COULTON: Oh, yeah.
MARON: ...I don't know. Like, it's a trip, man.
MARON: But, I mean, he's got hypothyroid, and his kidneys are starting to go. But he's been good. And the other one, Buster the kitten, is getting fat and beats up on the old man, Monkey. And, you know, they're all right. I've just got the two. But...
MARON: But they seem good right now.
EISENBERG: We have a silly, fun quiz for you. Did you watch "Cats?"
EISENBERG: That's going to help. Yeah. Because we know you're a cat lover, and so your game is called, Did This Happen in the 2019 Film Adaptation of the Timeless Andrew Lloyd Webber Stage Musical "Cats?" So if you managed not to see this movie, good for you, but the actors are covered head-to-toe in computer-generated digital fur. So this game is about some of the out-there things that happened in the movie. You just answer true or false.
MARON: Do I get to know how many I got right at the end?
EISENBERG: Absolutely. All we do is tally.
MARON: OK, good.
EISENBERG: All right, Marc, true or false.
EISENBERG: In the movie version of "Cats," there's a song and dance number featuring mice played by children and cockroaches with human faces.
MARON: God, I hope so. I want to say yes.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yes, it's true. Yes, yes.
MARON: (Laughter) Now I want to see it.
COULTON: It is a disturbing sequence.
MARON: Seems like the whole thing's kind of disturbing.
COULTON: The whole thing is kind of disturbing, but that in particular comes very early in the film. And it's a little...
MARON: I have a very hard time watching movies because they're bad.
EISENBERG: Me too.
MARON: Some people can do it. Like, people are, like, oh, this is great. It's so bad. I'm like, I'm out.
COULTON: All right. Here's another one for you, Marc.
COULTON: Sir Ian McKellen laps up milk from an oversized dish - picture it in your mind.
MARON: Oh, yeah. Yes, yes. I'm going to say yes.
COULTON: Yeah, absolutely. Also happens.
COULTON: It's totally gross. It's not a thing that you want to see.
MARON: Oh, my God. I got to see this now.
EISENBERG: Jennyanydots, played by a Rebel Wilson, unzips her skin to reveal a costume underneath.
MARON: Why would you make that up?
MARON: I'm going to go with true.
EISENBERG: That is true.
EISENBERG: Yeah, that is true. Another thing that happened. It's like a weird...
MARON: That would be too creative to make up.
COULTON: I just want to say somebody made it up because it's in the movie.
EISENBERG: Somebody made it up. They were so...
EISENBERG: It's like "Silence of the Lambs" meets "Cats". How exciting.
MARON: Wow, I got to see it now.
EISENBERG: James Corden, as Bustopher Jones, rolls around in garbage and then takes a swig of a champagne bottle.
MARON: That's got to be - that probably really happened to James Corden.
EISENBERG: Like, all the time. That's just what he does.
MARON: They took that right from James Corden's life.
MARON: That's definitely happened in "Cats."
EISENBERG: That totally happened. Yeah, totally happened.
COULTON: Here's another one. James Corden's late night rival, Seth Meyers, briefly appears as the host of "Late Night with Seth Meowers."
COULTON: You're doing very well. That is false.
MARON: That can't be right.
COULTON: I got to say none of these seem any more or less crazy to me. But clearly, you're...
EISENBERG: I know. They're all the same.
COULTON: ...You've got good radar.
MARON: Thank you very much. Am I going to win?
EISENBERG: It's looking good. We've got two more.
EISENBERG: Just remember what the stakes are.
MARON: They're high.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) They're super high. All right, Idris Elba's character, Macavity, appears on a magazine cover as the sexiest cat alive. True or false?
EISENBERG: (Laughter) I'm sorry. That is false.
COULTON: First weakness - we found your first weakness.
EISENBERG: It's OK. It's OK. Idris Elba, by the way, is doing better.
MARON: Is he?
EISENBERG: Yeah, I checked before we decided to have this question because I was like, God, if the guy is...
MARON: Oh, yeah.
COULTON: Good call.
COULTON: All right. Here's your last question. In the original theatrical release, the special effects weren't finished, and Dame Judi Dench's real human hand could be seen.
MARON: No. False.
COULTON: That is true.
COULTON: They didn't get to it.
EISENBERG: I know. Such a haphazard approach to filmmaking, "Cats." Marc, I know we said we tally, and we did. But you know what? It doesn't matter, OK? You did great.
MARON: Thank you very much.
EISENBERG: You can watch Marc's latest comedy special, "End Times Fun," on Netflix right now. And you can hear episodes of his podcast every Monday and Thursday. Thank you so much, Marc.
MARON: Thanks. That was fun, you guys. Take care of yourselves.
COULTON: Thank you, Marc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.