Comedian, author, podcast host, and now TV star Marc Maron returns to primetime on Thursday with the second season of IFC's “Maron,” where he plays an inspired-by-real-life version of himself. How real is TV Marc? Like the real Maron, the TV version has frustrating relationships with his family and issues with his live-in girlfriend, shares his affinity for listening to music on vinyl, and has a run-in with a man with a surprising connection to his new fling — all which lead to delightfully awkward and hilarious storylines in Season 2.
Maron (whose Season 2 guest lineup includes Ray Romano, David Cross, Judd Hirsch, Sally Kellerman, Conan O’Brien, Chris Hardwick, Michael Ian Black, Johnny Knoxville, and Sarah Silverman) talked to Yahoo TV about getting comfortable as a writer and actor in his second season, how his friendship with Louis C.K. has famously played out on radio and TV, and why he doesn't watch "The Walking Dead" anymore.
What did you learn from doing your first season of a TV show that made Season 2 of “Maron” a different experience?
The only thing I knew about TV going into Season 1 was that I was ready to do it. I had not had much experience acting. I had not had much experience writing for television. I had certainly not had any experience producing television. I was just willing to learn and collaborate and show up for the stories that we created and to trust those people I was working with and build those kind of relationships and do the best I could and see what we got. That was a tremendous learning curve for me.
Going into Season 2, I had a little more confidence, but I was nervous. “How are we going to write all this stuff?” Fairly quickly, I hired two other writers, so there were six of us in the room. We broke the stories very quickly, in a couple months. Then I just wanted to focus a lot on what were the strong points of the character, in terms of, how does this version of Marc live in this world, and how does he function comedically and emotionally, and write to the strength of those things.
Also, in performing this season, I really wanted to take the time to make choices and be a little more comfortable in my skin, in acting. I think I did a pretty good job. I made sure that I had other comics around me, too, and really good actors. It was very important. It makes everything better, because you feel there's something grounding the scene. There's some sort of mountain of experience and talent there.
Do you now feel comfortable as an actor? Playing a version of yourself must take an extra bit of getting used to.
Yeah, because it's hard to call yourself an actor when you're not. I'm a comedian. I know I can hold the screen OK, and I'm compelling, but to get some basics down and to make some conscious choices about timing and movement and that kind of stuff… I felt like I was a little more on top of that. I'm sure I could be more comfortable, and hopefully that will evolve. I think it probably evolves throughout the season. I can definitely show up emotionally for scenes. It's really just to not get self-conscious. That's the trick to it all. You want to be present.
Watch a scene from Season 1 of IFC's "Maron" right here:
People always want to know where writers come up with their ideas. With your show, a lot of them are sparked by real life. Still, going into the writers' room, how do you decide which ones will work, and which ones may be great stories but aren’t necessarily going to work for an episode?
We all sit there, and I start talking and spinning whatever yarns or events that I have and what I think could be stories. Then we figure out the difference between events and stories. Some things would be hard to fill out as a whole story. My showrunners, Michael Jamin and Sivert Glarum, they're very good story guys. Some things that I thought could be stories would not hold up, but some of those things we were able to integrate into other stories.
Some of the episodes are a combination of events. I knew I wanted to do something revolving around [vinyl] records, because I'm really into records... I had a couple ideas for stories, but we ended up integrating that element of my life into the "White Truck" episode, which was based on a thing that happened with me. They all sort of emotionally, or literally, are told from my life, but some of them this season are completely fictionalized, just departures from ideas about what I would do or how I would find myself in that situation.
In the Season 2 premiere, “Talking Dead,” you are a guest on that AMC “Walking Dead” aftershow. Do you actually watch "The Walking Dead"?
I did for a while. The woman I was living with was very into it, so she kind of pulled me into it, not unlike what you'll see in that premiere episode. Once we broke up, my interest did not hold up. I like it, [but] it's hard for me to lock in. Now you've got to wait so goddamn long between seasons. It's hard not to lose interest. It's hard to maintain steam.
Watch Marc crash and burn on "Talking Dead" in this "Maron" sneak peek:
I was very into "Breaking Bad," and I do watch "Mad Men." I haven't really done the “Game of Thrones" thing. It's weird: Unless you make it a ritual with somebody to watch, sometimes it just drifts. I don't really have anybody here right now, so I'm just left to my own devices. I don't watch a lot.
Going into another Season 2 episode, “Mom Situation," there's a situation in which TV Marc has to have a very awkward conversation with his mom about a sexually transmitted disease and her lady business. It’s very awkward, but ends with a relatively sweet moment. Was blending those kinds of moments a goal for Season 2?
I like that. I'd rather play the emotion than play the joke. I want the emotional component to be real. Once we came up with that premise, which is a challenging premise — but apparently it's not a stretch; that is a reality in the senior community — ultimately, the relationship with my mother is so peculiar anyway, and there is a sweetness to it in a way that is almost inappropriate.
To go through this harrowing thing and treat it with respect, to be put in that position to judge your mother along those lines, and then to realize that she's having a hard time herself, it just seemed to be the most honest way to approach it. I think trying to honestly approach emotions that are possible in these stories is just following through with it, as opposed to obstructing it with a joke. Let the comedy balance out, but I think the emotion should win, really.
Also in the new season, we see that your girlfriend Jen gets very upset when you talk about your relationship, even when you just mention her on "Talking Dead.” How often does that come up in your real life, when people are maybe extra-sensitive about being portrayed on TV?
Between my book and the TV show, my relationship with my father has become very strained. Jen and I, the woman who that character is based on, we're not together anymore. It was always an issue. It wasn't that far removed from reality, that thing. That relationship fell apart before we began shooting “Maron,” and we already knew that relationship was going to end on the show. It was sort of sad and weird how synchronized it was.
The end of the relationship on the show is fictionalized out of respect. I do try to fictionalize things. I did learn my lesson around that. The emotional content of these relationships is very real, but the events are definitely fictionalized. Again, it really is about the emotional reality. The emotional reality with my father is what it is, and it's even more intense than it is on the show. The emotional reality with the woman that Jen was based on is very real in the show, but, again, you are seeing 22 minutes, and you are focusing on certain elements of the dynamic. Most of the events and most of the stories are heightened and fictionalized as to what happened. We did break up, and there was an issue around whether I can or can't talk about things. She was sensitive to that.
Switching to the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast, which is also a big part of the TV show: You hit Episode 495 this week, so 500 is a just a few weeks away. Will you do anything special for the 500th episode?
We want to, but a lot of the people that we were hoping to be that special guest 500, we have not been having success at getting. It will be special somehow. We'll figure something out.
Is there one person atop your wish list?
It's high time that I talk to Lorne Michaels. Tom Waits, Albert Brooks, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin. Definitely a lot of people I'd like to talk to.
Marc talks to Dave Letterman about interviewing Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner:
Which of the podcasts do people most often talk to you about? The Robin Williams episode, obviously. That was an amazing interview, the kind he almost never does. The ones with Louis C.K., I'm sure I'm not the only person to tell you how powerful it was, to listen to the two of you dissect what went wrong with your friendship, and to begin repairing it.
The Louis episodes are very powerful. People liked the Judd Apatow episodes, and the Carlos Mencia episode seemed to resonate certainly with comedians. The Todd Hanson episode had a profound effect on people who deal with suicide. Someone reached out to me from a medical school, wanting to teach that episode in relation to beside manner and empathetic listening.
Everyone's got their own favorite one. It's pretty interesting. Patrice O'Neal was a big episode. Mike DeStefano. But certainly the Louis [episodes]. In the last season of "Louie," he used me in sort of the role of him in that conversation. I don't know what episode he's going to use it in, but I do appear on "Louie" again in his new season.
And did the friendship repair stick?
We're OK. He had me out, and we hung out a little bit. We're in touch. He's very busy, and I'm busy. We're OK. We're definitely good.
Will you have him on "Maron" at some point?
Yeah, I'd love to. He's a very busy guy, and it really comes down to availability. We work out a certain budget, and there's a lot of people we want, but you're really looking at, "Are they available for this day?" It really comes down to a day. We can bend a little bit if we can shoot around it, depending on what the scene is, but you have to make your day. I think he would do it, but we didn't reach out to him this time, because he was shooting his show at the same time. With anybody, a lot of people want to do it, but can you do one of these three days? It really comes down to that, a lot of times.
The Louis C.K. episodes of “WTF,” and all the other great ones you mentioned, really illustrate how, with so much communication now taking place in texts and tweets, actual conversation is kind of a lost art. Do you think that’s why people have connected so strongly with “WTF”?
I definitely do think that has a lot to do with it. There is something about having very present, engaged conversation that's not trying to be funny or anything other than to have two people get to know each other or interact or connect emotionally.
We don't slow down that much anymore. Even the pace of it is peculiar. Even in your everyday life, you'd rather text than talk, and where do you find the time? If you really think about it, where do you find the time to just talk? It's really an essential method of grounding and nourishing your heart, and just what humans do to connect. And it’s just so gone.
Whatever technology has done, at the bottom line, it's made us feel compelled to try to keep up with it. Whatever was put forth as a way to make our life easier, very quickly became something that needed to be fed and needed constant attention. It may have made one thing easier, but it doesn't speak to how it changes the very nature of how we interact, both in terms of this sort of detachment of it and also... you could text somebody a hundred times a day, but it doesn't mean you're really connecting, necessarily. It's tricky business, but the simplicity of just talking for an hour... very few people have that kind of time, because of their own choices.
Is that aspect of it what keeps you still interested in and enthusiastic about doing “WTF” almost 500 episodes in?
Yeah, I love it. It's changed my life, not so much what I'm putting out in the world, but knowing I'm going to sit down once or twice a day when I'm doing interviews, and lock in and listen to somebody tell stories and ask questions. It's great. It's like having office hours. I don't know most of the people that come over. Sometimes I get my emotional needs met, and sometimes I don't. I try to keep that part to myself. Claire Danes was in my house [recently]. I don't know how that would have happened in any other lifetime.
“Maron” Season 2 premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on IFC.