Marc Maron: interview
Fancy being someone's psychiatrist for the night? If you go along to a Marc Maron show, you might just feel like one. The confessional comic pours his heart out to Time Out before his run at the Soho Theatre.
Marc Maron is an uncompromising, angry and angst-ridden comedian. Like a medieval doctor attempting to purge the body through blood-letting, Maron opens himself up to his audiences, exposing his own emotional traumas and insecurities for all to see. His painfully honest and often disturbingly dark sense of humour has won him a small but loyal fanbase both for his live work and for his relentlessly ranting hit podcast 'WTF with Marc Maron'. He may not be a household name, but he's once seen, never forgotten. File under the 'cult hero' section.
You once said, 'I enable people to laugh directly at my pain' - how true is that?
'What that means really is that some things I talk about are going to come from a painful place. You have two choices, really: either you're going to make it really palatable and water down the pain, or you can just present the pain in as matter-of-fact way as possible. I favour the second approach; it's more revealing and it makes people feel shitty about laughing at it, especially when they can't stop themselves. I did a show called “Scorching the Earth” about my fucked-up divorce and it was then that I realised that being in the middle of some dramatic, crazy, emotional crisis can also be very funny. I didn't mind that I was experiencing these emotions and that people were laughing at it.'
How important is it to talk about things in the moment rather than later with the benefit of hindsight?
'Funnily enough, Time Out New York once reviewed one of my shows and said “The great thing about Maron is that he has no hindsight.” It's not necessarily the most responsible way to work, but I think the energy of talking about something happening immediately is a lot different from something that has been honed and polished. Obviously, I do both, but if I'm living it I'm going to have to talk about it - that's just how I work. All of what I do evolves on stage, I'm not the guy that sits down and writes a joke. What I do is put myself into a situation and have faith in my ability to make it funny. I think the energy that it creates is exciting: it makes it a little bit menacing, it makes it a little bit unpredictable. The downside of that is it could just be uncomfortable.'
You've said that your comedy career so far has been a quest to find out who you really are…
'Well, you know, I think that's true. I also think as you get older you get a certain amount of wisdom, a certain amount of humility and hopefully a certain amount of craft, which helps me convey what I'm trying to say. My biggest fear is that when the shit goes down - whatever that “shit” may be - I'm not going to be exactly who I am. I just want there to be an honesty to what I do, that's all. I've heard that apparently some comedians just like to make people laugh - that's crazy. It's all about the entertainment or something. That's not what people paid to see, is it? Surely they'd rather see someone struggle with lifelong difficulties, wouldn't they? Wouldn't they?'
How are people taking to your particular brand of dark humour in these worrying times?
'There is this idea that comedy is there to entertain people, to take them away from their problems or from the broader issues that surround us. Obviously, that's not the kind of comedy I do. However, what I'm finding is that a lot of people are scared shitless about the economy and all sorts of things and that when I talk about what I talk about - my inner dialogues or my fears - I think a lot of people are like, “I thought I was crazy. I thought that I was the only one that thought this way.” I think a lot of people put a lot of energy into pretending that they're something that they aren't, just so that they can survive the fucking life that they've chosen for themselves.
'There's a lot of voices that go on in the heads of people that make them feel like they're having some sort of psychotic breakdown, when actually they're just having a normal reaction to being paralysed with fear. Some take the easy way out and just pick a God to make it all feel better, but others don't have the energy to muster up the delusion of belief. These people are my people, they kind of tumble through life in a thinly veiled state of panic - I just try to give voice to that a little bit.'
Are you grateful to have a job which enables you to express your innermost thoughts so freely?
'It's still the only reason I do it. Being a stand-up has enabled me to live a completely different life from most people - hence not being able to integrate into society in any way. It's very freeing to be this alienated from everybody else. As I get older I appreciate it more a more. When I sit in my garage to write, surrounded by books that I had in college and by the artefacts from my life, I realise that I've done exactly what I wanted to do. Whether or not I have the money I'd like, or the fame and success I thought I would have, I do know I did exactly what I wanted to do, and the compromises that I had to make in my life were fairly limited and didn't last very long. I still live hand-to-mouth in lots of ways, but I'm reasonably respected and I still do pretty good work, and I have done exactly what I wanted to do - so I guess, all in all, that's a good thing.'
Marc Maron is at Soho Theatre, Until Aug 7.