Marc Maron on Dating, the Devil, and the End of the World As We Know It
Marc Maron, host of the widely popular WTF podcast, is easy to talk to. Perhaps that should be obvious, given the comedian has talked for thousands of hours to everyone from President Obama to Pete Davidson. Nevertheless, in conversation, Maron is considerate and generous. He’s also got a wealth of opinion. Talking with him at times feels like clicking a mouse cursor on a desktop file, opening a host of files and documents at the ready.
Maron’s recent Netflix comedy special, End Times Fun, which touches on everything from public health scares to the devil’s penis, has been a saving grace for many in this era of social distancing. The 73-minute special was directed by the filmmaker Lynn Shelton, who was present in the background of this interview, and is also Maron’s new romantic partner (more on that news later). Shelton has also directed Maron in Netflix’s GLOW, in which he plays a wrestling promoter.
We caught up with Maron and asked him a series of questions, cribbed from Glenn O’Brien’s infamous 1977 interview with Andy Warhol, to find out his thoughts on masturbation, whether Harvey Oswald acted alone, and non-dairy milk, among other things.
JACOB UITTI: What was your first work of comedy?
MARC MARON: Second grade, man, me and my buddy Jerry used to do this thing in front of the class a couple of times where he played Grover from Sesame Street and I interviewed him. He did a really good Grover. Maybe it was third grade.
UITTI: Did you get good grades in school?
MARON: No, not really. I was very distracted and incapable of numbers, incapable of putting numbers together in any form, themselves or with letters. That was a big problem. So, I did not really do well in school throughout most of school, until my senior year of high school when I panicked, realizing I might never be able to leave Albuquerque, New Mexico. Then somehow or another, I got As, which proved to everybody that it really was a motivational problem.
UITTI: Did they say you had natural talent?
MARON: I don’t know that I knew I had any sort of natural talent. No, no one said that.
UITTI: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
MARON: When I was a teenager, I just wanted to have friends that I thought were funny and cool. But I was a lot to deal with, emotionally. So, for fun, I used to hang around the record store. I liked hanging around the college, too, because I worked across the street at a restaurant. I spent a lot of time talking to people like the guy Gus who owned the book store. I’d hang out at Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque, Budget Records with my buddy Steve. Or drive around, drinking. That was a good time in Albuquerque. Because in Albuquerque, you get your driver’s license at 15, so it also enabled you to sit out in front of liquor stores trying to get grown-ups to buy you beer. Then you drive around drunk.
UITTI: And someone comes out pretending to be a police officer?
MARON: No! That never happened, dude. We’d always find some fucker to buy us beer.
UITTI: Who was the first comedian to influence you?
MARON: I think that the first comedian that I saw when I was very young was Jackie Vernon. My parents took me to see Jackie Vernon at the Lounge in the Hilton Hotel in Albuquerque when I was, like, 11. I was so into watching comedy that they took me to a nightclub to see this aging weird, deadpan comedian. He did this slideshow shtick. The whole shtick was him with a slideshow clicker, creating a narrative out of slides you couldn’t see. And those were the jokes. I thought he was great.
I liked Buddy Hackett a lot. I had a lot of records of George Carlin, Cheech & Chong, some early Richard Pryor stuff. Woody Allen movies were a big influence on me. Chevy Chase. John Belushi on that first season of SNL. Seeing Richard Pryor’s first concert film when I was in high school was really a mind-blower.
UITTI: Did you go to a lot of movies?
MARON: In high school, me and my buddy Devin really thought of ourselves as, you know, intellectual types and by hanging around Gus’s bookstore, we learned about things. And there used to be one of those revival house double feature theaters in Albuquerque called Don Poncho’s. I think that’s where I started to realize that movies were a thing.
UITTI: Do you think there are any great undiscovered comedians?
MARON: Of course. You know, it’s hard to name them after being in the business now for more than half of my life. But at any given point in time, there are literally thousands of comedians. So, yes, for sure there are undiscovered great comedians. Just walk down the back hallway of the Comedy Store and look at the wall of pictures. There are people who were discovered and remain undiscovered. It doesn’t last long, dude.
UITTI: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to become a comedian?
MARON: To not limit yourself. For me, it was always about the standup. There was no desire to be a writer. There was really no desire to work with other people. It was just, like, this is what I do. This is how I speak. This is the medium I’ve chosen to communicate my thing. But I think, with younger people, I generally tell them to figure out a way to apply their talent to something more than just standup: writing, writing with other people, scripts, whatever. That is, if you want to make a life out of it. If you want to be a responsible creative, then show business is how you do that. And that doesn’t mean being a standup for your whole fucking life. Because it’s a tough racket, buddy. It’s hard to put all your eggs in that basket, or to go all-in on that. The possibilities of making a living are limited.
UITTI: Who do you think is the world’s greatest living artist?
MARON: I don’t know, man. There’s too many to name in terms of the greatest living artist. But that guy who used to go around New York doing weird mosaics at the bases of lampposts, he was pretty good.
UITTI: Do you ever think about politics?
MARON: Yeah, I think about politics all the time. And I think about how many of my thoughts about politics are my thoughts? Because we’re all sort of susceptible to sponging.
UITTI: What’s your favorite piece out of all of your work?
MARON: My favorite piece of all of my work is probably the newest special. I think it really is everything that I’ve always been doing together all at once in one 73-minute piece of comedy.
UITTI: People love it and it came out at the perfect time when everybody’s home.
MARON: Yeah. The timing for the world, not good. The timing for me, very good.
UITTI: What’s your favorite color?
MARON: My favorite color tends to be maroon.
UITTI: Pepsi or Coke?
MARON: I think I’m a Coke person. But I do enjoy a Diet Pepsi. If I drank sugar soda, I would drink Coke. I don’t have any soda at home but when I’m out, I’ll drink a Diet Coke. But if I’m performing, I’ll make sure they have Diet Pepsi in my dressing room because I believe it gives me some sort of jolt of clarity.
UITTI: I wonder if it’s more caffeine?
MARON: I think that the caffeine compounds are different. I don’t know if it’s a matter of how much. I don’t think all caffeine is the same, is what I’m saying.
UITTI: Do you think about dying?
MARON: Yeah, of course. I try to put about an hour a day in.
UITTI: Do you work on comedy everyday?
MARON: Yeah, I think I just did. I think I just did my work with that last line. That was today’s work you just witnessed.
UITTI: Do you change your clothes to do comedy?
MARON: I’ve had superstitions about clothing and I’ve had things I’ve had to wear at different points in my life to do comedy. Later in life, it became this sort of fashion choice. But there was a time when silver pinky rings were essential to protect me from dark forces. There was a skull pinky ring and a snake pinky ring involved. There was a period when I had to wear t-shirts that had skulls on them or else something bad was going to happen. I was recovering from cocaine psychosis, so it was just part of the evolution.
As time went on, I decided that green was terrible. I wore a green vintage sports coat one time, and I tanked and blamed the jacket. The jacket was a type of green that would have been daunting for anyone to confidently wear on stage. But then I decided there was a connection between wearing green and the green room, which is where you’re supposed to be peaceful. So, to bring green on stage just means you’re going to somehow put someone to sleep. It’s not going to register as funny.
Now, I just try to honor whatever particular fashion thing I’m into. I’ve made a lot of bad choices in terms of wearing clothing on TV. You can see a history of that on my web site. There’s 50 or so Conan appearances that I’ve made in the last two decades. I would say 40 of those outfits were just not great.
UITTI: Do you ever take drugs?
MARON: Not anymore, I don’t. I really don’t take any drugs now. I got off the nicotine, too. It was never my bag—I didn’t need drugs to perform. Some dudes do. It was, like, I need drugs to eat breakfast. It was just weed, really. It was just sort of a way of life. But there were always some dudes who just, like, needed it. They would tank up before going on stage.
UITTI: And you don’t drink anymore either?
MARON: No, no. I don’t do anything. It’s been over 20 years now.
UITTI: Do you think your work will go up in value when you’re gone?
MARON: I don’t know. I do know that comedy, for the most part, doesn’t age well. Except for a few rare cases. When you go back to look at or listen to older comics, most of it seems to be relative to the time it was created in. But some of it holds up—these jokesters, these jokes for jokes sake. But I think maybe some of it could hold up. That’s the weird thing about comedy. You know how people look at music videos from the ‘80s, and they’re kind of like, “Oh my god! What were these people wearing?” For some reason, that applies to all comedy. Even if it’s a year old. You’re sort of like, “What are they thinking with that beard?” It doesn’t transcend. Except for very rare types. Mitch Hedberg seems to have one of the few kind of eternal spigots. He tapped into a type of simplicity and poetry that you could come to at any age, at any time and be, like, this guy’s great. It’s not attached to anything. It’s kind of a childlike point of view.
UITTI: What he talks about is so small, it’s sort of like Seinfeld in a way. Maybe they become more timeless because the details are so minor?
MARON: I don’t know, I think he’s more like Steven Wright. I don’t know if Seinfeld really holds up if you listen to him. Seinfeld was sort of these observations of minutia that go one a while. There’s nothing short about a Seinfeld piece. There’s a lot of explaining and describing. Whereas most of Mitch’s stuff is three lines. Max. It was observational, but it was poetry. I think Jerry is sort of whiney over-explaining.
UITTI: Do you think people should live in outer space?
MARON: Not me! It just sounds daunting and horrible. Even if they get it right, I have a hard time being on an island for more than a week. I can’t imagine outer space.
UITTI: Do you think the future will be futuristic?
MARON: God, I hope so. It really depends on which future. Is it a dystopian one? I guess they’re all kind of dystopian. Even the ones that are supposed to be perfect are kind of horrifying. I will say that I think it will be half-futuristic. And the other half will just look like a bad neighborhood.
UITTI: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
MARON: Walk around. Do things around the house. Play guitar. Watch things. Think. I’m big on the thinking. I’ve been hiking a lot lately. I’m hanging out with Lynn [Shelton] right now, but we have no choice. She’s not working, I’m not working. What are we going to do? What am I going to tell her to leave?
UITTI: It’s cool to have seen your friendship grow between GLOW, the new special, social media. It’s adorable.
MARON: Who? Me and Lynn? Well, we were friends. But now we’re more than friends. That’s a whole other ball of wax there. But it’s going pretty well. This is a real test of it, though, I’ll tell you that. This new relationship is being dramatically tested by quarantine.
UITTI: Forgive me for prying, but are you guys an item?
MARON: We are an item. Yes. It’s pretty new in that she’s kind of pushed it out into the world. She’s insisted… I’m kidding, I’m kidding. We’ve been seeing each other, I guess it’s been about a year. Because we were both in other relationships fairly recently before we started seeing each other, we kept it on the down low for, I’d say, seven months or eight months. Now, we’re letting it seep into the culture, for those who give a shit.
UITTI: My next question was going to be: Do you sleep alone? But…
MARON: I can sleep alone. I’m okay at it. But as of late, I’m not sleeping alone. But the bed is big enough for me to feel like I’m sleeping alone, which is perfect for couples I think. If you can, get a king-sized bed. Then you can just, you know, separate and divvy up the space properly.
UITTI: Do you sleep in the nude?
MARON: I generally don’t sleep in the nude because I’m afraid I’m going to have to get up and deal with some sort of emergency. I at least have boxers on. I think that the reason I don’t sleep in the nude is because when the earthquake happens, you don’t want to be the guy standing on the street naked while other people have robes on. I guess you could put a robe on, I guess you have that kind of time. But I think I wear boxers in case I have to address something horrible that happens in the night.
UITTI: What time do you get up in the morning?
MARON: I seem to get up around 6:30 or 7, usually. I think as you get older, you get up earlier. I’ve written a joke about that. I think if there is a god, it’s his way of saying, “You might want to get up. Because there’s not a lot of time left.”
UITTI: Do you look in the mirror when you get up?
MARON: I do look in the mirror, but sometimes, if I’m not feeling comfortable about my weight, I’ll avoid myself in the mirror, which is challenging. But I can do it. Like, I’ll brush my teeth and I’ll catch my own eye, and I’ll be like, “Don’t look at me! Don’t you look at me! You’re disgusting, don’t look at me!”
UITTI: What do you do in the morning?
MARON: I get up and I clean cat bowls and I refill water and food and I boil a large pot of water and then I generally make a strong cup of back tea. Sometimes I’ll make some hot cereal out of quinoa and some sort of non-dairy milk.
UITTI: Oat milk?
MARON: Not oat milk, usually. I try to only use flax milk. That’s how I’m spending my time in quarantine. I made my own flax milk yesterday. That’s very exciting. It seems a little bitter, though. But I don’t like dairy very much and I think I might have a slight allergy to almonds. So, I’m feeling things out, learning new stuff.
UITTI: Do you think psychiatry helps?
MARON: If you know what’s wrong with you.
UITTI: Do you believe in marriage?
MARON: Not so much after two. It doesn’t seem that necessary. I don’t know what it means, really. It’s not going to stop anything bad from happening. It doesn’t guarantee anything other than you divvy up the money fairly, or to one side fairly.
UITTI: I love how you’re saying all this and Lynn is right there.
MARON: We’ve both been married.
UITTI: Do you think you’re a father figure to anyone?
MARON: Yeah, I think because of my public personality. I’ve seen a lot of “Marc Maron is my spirit animal,” so I don’t know if that’s a father thing. I think a lot of people see me as a father figure, and in not necessarily the greatest way. Like, I think slightly sexualized. I do think I fill that role for some people in terms of what they get out of listening to me talk, for sure. I’ve seen evidence of that. It’s been written to me.
UITTI: Have you ever been in love?
MARON: Yes, I have. A couple of times. It’s good.
UITTI: Did you ever hate anybody?
MARON: Oh, yeah. If I’ve been in love a couple of times, and I’m saying that with at least one of them in the past tense, so I think you can apply the hate right there. I’ve hated people. It’s usually irrational and comes out of a not great place, as a human being. And you’ve got to process that and then not talk about the things that make you hate that person. Because it’s amazing how quickly it comes back.
UITTI: Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?
MARON: Yes. But I haven’t got time for that shit, dude. It’s like, I can settle on that. In terms of mythological absolutes, why not go with alone if you’re not going to really take the time to get sucked into that rabbit hole of who is involved. Look, it’s a good story and maybe it’s true. But, you know, I’d say he just had a good day, man. Sometimes, if you really focus, you can just fucking nail it once. I know that from experience. I’ve had that experience playing pool. You’re like, “Holy shit, how did I do this? I’m really fucking good at this!” But never again. So, I think that was just Oswald’s day.
UITTI: Do you think Nixon got a raw deal?
MARON: No, I think Nixon did not get a raw deal. But, sadly, judging by current events, the precedent of that president does not hold much.
UITTI: Do you know how to dance?
MARON: Yeah, I can dance. I don’t do it much. But I can do it.
UITTI: What’s your favorite scent?
MARON: I’ve been wearing patchouli oil everyday for probably about 30 years. So, there’s a little secret.
UITTI: Do you believe in the American Dream?
MARON: I do. Because it happened for me. But that doesn’t mean, you know … yeah, I do.
UITTI: Are rich people different from poor people?
MARON: Oh, absolutely.
UITTI: Are they happier?
MARON: I don’t think so.
UITTI: Do you think the world can be saved?
MARON: No. I mean, it will go on. But I don’t think it can be saved.
UITTI: What do you look at first on a woman?
MARON: I think I do, like, the full—the front? I think the front.
UITTI: What about a man?
MARON: I think I look at the face.
UITTI: What’s your favorite sport?
MARON: I’m very disconnected from sports. I’m not sure I can even identify a favorite sport. I did see this thing on one of the ESPNs in the hotel room, which was two guys alternating—it seemed like they were equipped and professional but they were just lobbing bean bags into a hole. These guys were wearing wrist braces and things. They were really stepping into it. I thought, “There you go. We’ve arrived.” That’s the sport for me. Throwing the beanbag into the hole.
UITTI: Did you ever see a movie that got you hot?
MARON: That got me hot? The movies? Yeah, for sure. But like a non-porn movie? There are movies designed to get you hot. And generally those have worked for me in the past. You’re asking me these questions in front of the woman I’m dating, which could potentially cause discomfort and problems for me after the phone call. Or, maybe two days from now, she’ll go, “You said…”
UITTI: What do you think about masturbation?
MARON: Big fan. It’s been part of my life probably almost daily since I was, like, 11 or 12. I would say I’m a compulsive supporter of masturbating.
UITTI: Do you believe in god?
MARON: No, not really. But I’m not afraid of the idea. When I say not really, it’s not because I’m afraid. It’s just because there does seem to be some cosmic sense to things, but I don’t know if I’m going to put a name on it.
UITTI: Do you believe in the devil?
MARON: I’ve met many. I’ve spent time with several people that come from that place. So, I don’t believe in the classic devil. I believe in the devil you know, and I’ve known many.
UITTI: Do you believe in the end of the world?
MARON: Sure. That seems totally possible. I imagine the rock, itself, will persist. It seems that will go on, but I don’t know if it’s going to be occupied by anything pleasant.
UITTI: Do you have any secrets you’ll tell after everyone’s dead?
MARON: I’m pretty open. So, if I do have one, I’m not entirely sure what that would be. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet, the secret.