Comedian Marc Maron's garage, located in his Los Angeles home, has sort of become the spot for various men and women in the comedy community to hang out and riff. This is where Maron records his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron.
Thanks to the success of this Internet broadcast (it's consistently in the iTunes top 10), Maron has turned into the comedy equivalent of Charlie Rose. Every Monday and Thursday, Maron drops episodes where he has often-revealing, always funny conversations with comedy's heaviest hitters. Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Judd Apatow—yeah, he's talked to them. But he doesn't just converse with comedy's elite. He's interviewed legends like Jonathan Winters and Shelly Berman, comic pariahs like Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia, alt-comedy gods like Patton Oswalt and David Cross and musical jokesters like "Weird Al" Yankovic and Tenacious D.
The 49-year-old Maron was casual about it at first, even booking "fake" guests. "It just evolved into these one-on-one conversations about life in general—you know, without putting any sort of real premium on doing comedy—but more just talking about life. Because I needed help."
For a while there, Maron, a three-decade veteran of the stand-up comedy world, didn't exactly know where his life and his career were going. Missed opportunities, failed marriages, bitterness, financial trouble and bouts with drug addiction began to take their toll on the man, who wondered if there was anything for him to live for. But he remembered his days working as a morning host for the now-defunct Air America Radio network (where he was fired twice), and he realized he was good at talking to people on-air. And so, in September 2009, that's what he started doing online, mostly with his comedian buddies. "It's always good to talk to people, your peers and like-minded people, when you're in some sort of trouble," he says.
What's made WTF such a must-listen is that it's not only a haven for comedy nerds but also a place where the industry's most well-known clowns can get genuinely, blisteringly real. Maron and Louis C.K. spent two memorable episodes mending their estranged friendship. Comedian Todd Glass used the show to come out of the closet. Famed The Onion writer Todd Hanson and comic Matt Graham each spoke candidly about their suicide attempts. Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza opened up about the stroke she had at a young age.
Things have been known to get tense, such as the notoriously heated meeting between Maron and veteran prop comic-turned-highly bitter crackpot Gallagher. But Maron assures that's not what he's looking for when he talks to people. "It's from a genuine need to connect," he says. "I'm not looking for people to divulge anything. I'm not going in there with the intention of creating some sort of tension or anything."
And it hasn't just been comedy folk he's been connecting with. Maron has also welcomed many rockers into the garage: Jack White, Fiona Apple, Nick Lowe, The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis. "I like music, and musicians lead an interesting life as well," he says.
Now that he has a rep as a major player in the podcasting arena, more opportunities have arisen. He'll star in his own scripted comedy series, titled Maron, starting this May on IFC, and he's also working on his second book. But Maron is proud of what he's accomplished with WTF, creating a venue for open and honest discussion, where famous—and not-so-famous—comedians divulge that, yes, they have problems like everybody else.
"I think what it became was the idea of having an authentic conversation, where the defenses were relatively down and you kind of forget that you're on the mic," he says. "And just, you know, two people engaged in some real talk became appealing. And if I can get to that place with guests, then I feel like we got something."
This article appeared in print with the headline "True confessions."