Part of the appeal of podcasts is portability: You can listen at the gym, in the car, or on foot. Beyond portability, though, they offer another advantage: In a world of multimedia bombast, they return listeners to an ancient idea – people talking to other people.
And few people on the planet have found more success as people talking to other people than comic Marc Maron. Maron's WTF is a twice-weekly podcast in which he interviews comics, musicians and other showbiz folk. The podcast broke through to mainstream audiences a couple years back and has since earned a sizable and loyal audience.
It's also earned Maron some new gigs. His new show on IFC, called simply Maron, will premiere Friday, May 3, at 10 p.m. Maron also has a new book of essays, Attempting Normal, which was released April 30.
Shortly after the announcement of the new show at SXSW in March, Maron talked about the book, the show and mapping new territories in that oldest of pursuits — people talking to people.
What are the details on the new IFC show?
It's a half-hour scripted show based on my life — a slightly fictionalized world of a guy who starts doing a podcast. You've got people playing themselves integrating into the narrative. I'm pretty proud of it. Most of the stories are my stories, and I wrote a few of the scripts, working with three other guys. It turns into a fairly group effort. It was definitely a learning curve and there's a lot of good stuff in there.
Can you talk about some of the guests we might see on the show?
Yeah, sure. There's Jeff Garlin, Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Denis Leary, several others.
You've also got the new book coming out at almost exactly the same time. What was that experience like?
Horrible, horrible. [laughs]. No, it's just a lot of work. I'd written one before [The Jerusalem Syndrome], and I had no intention of doing another, but the offer was good and I had a lot of material.
I'm always curious about this — are there differences in the creative process, writing material to be read as opposed to performed?
Yeah, but I always start with talking first. I never write first. A lot of the standup just evolves from talking onstage or on the mic in the podcast — I improvise almost all of it. I think out loud and sometimes I hit upon things that I think could be built out into a nice bit. With the book, you have more leeway to expand and maybe be a little more poetic in a way that does not require a laugh. You can work with the language a little differently, so it resonates on the page.
The podcast has really grown into this huge thing, with A-list guests. How do you book all these people; it's still pretty much a one-man show, right?
Yeah, pretty much. I gotta know a guy who knows a guy. But I'm usually just one or two people away from just about anyone in my world.
WTF is famous for eliciting really candid and thoughtful replies from people in the interviews. Why is that?
It's just a matter of listening and wrangling. I try not to characterize them as interviews as much as they are conversations. I don't research a whole hell of a lot. In some cases, that's probably a flaw. But I'm willing to take that hit to get to something real.
Of all the people you've had on the show, are there any that really surprised you as being different than what you expected?
Oh, it happens all the time. The ones that stand out in my mind are Norm MacDonald and Steven Wright. People who have a very specific public persona, but you've never really heard them just talk.
There are some great moments in the Steven Wright episode where you hear him laugh. I realized, because of his stage persona, I'd never heard that guy laugh.
Yeah, and I had to make him do it! He would laugh and then he'd pull away from the mic. I'm like, "Stay on the mic!" He was laughing a lot. What a great guy. Sweet guy.
You've recently started bringing in musicians to the podcast. Is that a deliberate plan, to broaden the scope of the show?
Well, there are different types of WTF interviews. The more emotional and cathartic interviews with comics, that's become sort of the WTF brand. But if I can get the conversation to be genuine and really happening, I'm not that hung up on what's being talked about. I can roll with whatever is going down. I've become a good listener.