When Marc Maron started his podcast "WTF with Marc Maron" out of his garage in September 2009, he was in a dark place: He was going through a divorce, his comedy career had hit a wall and — in his mid-40s — he didn't have a Plan B.
"I was at a place in my life where I had gotten very cynical," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I had lost a lot of hope for my comedy and everything else, and I really feel that I was no longer able to really appreciate other people's stories. I had lost my ability to really kind of listen and enjoy the company of other people."
Looking back, Maron says, the podcast "was really a way of me reconnecting with like-minded people — with people I'd known for years — and learning how to talk about problems and issues with friends and peers. And because of that, my joy came back. My ability to laugh came back; my ability to listen and engage emotionally with someone else's story came back. It brought me back into the world of the living, emotionally."
And as the podcast, which features interviews with other comedians, writers and personalities in the entertainment world, breathed new life into Maron himself, it did the same for his career. It quickly became one of the most talked-about and listened-to podcasts on the Internet. Conan O'Brien agreed to be interviewed, as did Janeane Garofalo, Robin Williams, Chris Rock and, in an interview that garnered a great deal of attention, Louis C.K.
Louis C.K. and Maron had been friends coming up together in the comedy world, but the friendship had foundered as Louis C.K.'s career took off and Maron's stalled. The two talked it out on Maron's podcast, and a version of the conversation later showed up in a scene in Louis C.K.'s show, Louie.
Now Maron has parlayed the success of his podcast into Maron, a television show based on his life; it debuts May 3 on the IFC Channel. And he has a memoir, Attempting Normal, in which he says he wishes his imagination was fueled by something other than panic and dread — though he says not to worry too much about that observation.
"I think I've been mischaracterized a bit as a guy who gets off on his own misery," he says. "I think that misery, for people that are incredibly anxious or frightened, is something consistent. I think that obsession sometimes works as almost a spirituality.
"You know, you have a routine that your brain kind of loops around, that you call 'home,' but that's usually in defense of some other part of you that's unruly. And for me I think it's anxiety and panic and worry and dread."
On his anxiety about Conan O'Brien agreeing to be interviewed for "WTF"
"He's a TV guy; he's a big TV star, and I always looked at him as the guy who would let me on his show. We had this rapport on the show, and there was respect there, and I knew he was a busy guy and a hard worker, and he's a very intense dude. And it was just really the fact that even though I'd done his show so many times over so many years, I don't know his life. I don't know him.
"It's really that weird separation between what we get as fans or as co-workers of somebody who has a public personality, and what you really know about them. So when he was coming over, I was sort of overwhelmed and grateful that he was going to come, but there was a lot of insecurity in it. It's like, 'Now he's going to see my house. He's probably going to use my bathroom. He's going to judge my couch.' "
On whether his interview with Louis C.K. changed their relationship
"I had a real problem with resentment and, you know, Louis is his own guy. He busy, too, and he's got his own issues, but this thing happened. I think there was love there. We were good friends. We did have a connection. We did make each other feel better in times of crisis, and we just let it go and it was a burden for me.
"So after that [interview], yeah, we did. Honestly, the one thing I learned from that is a lot of times, because of the immediacy of the culture we live in, when you put a text out there or you shoot an email, if you don't hear back from someone in a day, you're like, 'Well, that's it. What happened there? Why isn't he ... ?' And now that I'm a little busier, it took this to happen for me to realize it: Things fall through the cracks. You know, it's hard to keep up with everything that's coming at you.
"And ultimately what happened with him is, I went to New York and he invited me over to his house. You know, I ate leftovers, and we sat down, and we talked for two hours. He showed me some cuts of one of the episodes he was working on, and we connected, and it was great. And then I went and did what I had to do, and he went and did what he had to do, and we're in touch. So yeah, the friendship is intact, and it's better."
On becoming a hypochondriac to attract his dad's attention
"I always thought I was dying. ... You know, I would tell my father, you know, 'I think I'm this. I think I'm that.' And when your father's a doctor, they can very easily get into a clinical mode with you and give you the attention you need — or tell you to go see their friend. And how I got over it was an awkward series of visits to his friend Bob, the urologist.
"And there was just a moment, there on the fourth visit to this guy on one break from college where I thought I had a number of things over the three-week break, and I think I was on my fourth visit to Bob's office. And I had my pants down, and he was looking at me ... and Bob finally just said, 'There's nothing wrong with you, Marc. Do you like coming here?' And there was just something about that moment where I was like, 'You know, I'm going to have to think about that, Bob, and I think this is the end of that period for me.' "
On his fears of becoming a father
"I'm a very panicky guy, and I worry a lot. That's where my brain goes. There's a dread thing that I have to fight on a daily basis, so when I think about having a baby, I go right from, 'Yay! A baby!' to 'Oh my God. It's not breathing.' There's nothing in between those things."
On his mother
"My mother is kind of compulsively vigilant about her weight. That is a nice way to say a functioning anorexic. She's very proud of her weight. She weighs 116 pounds, and I once wrote a piece for a cooking magazine that said she weighed 119 pounds, and it was as if I had misrepresented her entire life. ... Maybe within the last five years she kind of came up to me and goes, 'Look, Marc, I got to be honest with you: I don't know if I could love you if you were fat.' You know, and this was recently. ...
"And then the other time, maybe three years ago, she sits me down — we were making Thanksgiving dinner down there — and she goes, 'Marc, you know when you were a baby, I don't think I knew how to love you.' And I'm like, 'All right, well there's a missing piece to the puzzle. I guess I can cancel my therapy now.'"
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Marc Maron is not only a very funny comic, his podcast, "WTF," is the go-to place for interviews with comics. A lot of great comics have been in his garage, where he records his podcast interviews. He has a new memoir called "Attempting Normal" in which he says he wishes his imagination was fueled by something other than panic and dread.
I think he's shortchanging himself by leaving out jealousy and anger. I realize these emotions aren't the best companions in real life, but they do work for him comedically, as you'll be able to see for yourself when his new TV series "Maron" premieres Friday on IFC. He plays a character based on himself named Marc Maron. Here's how the first episode starts.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARON")
MARC MARON: Things are going pretty well for me right now, but that's a problem because when things are going well, that means there's a voice in my head saying you're going to screw it up, you're going to screw it up, Marc - just over and over again. I just wish that voice were louder than the voice screaming let's screw it up.
A few years ago, I was planning on killing myself in my garage, and now I'm doing the best thing I've ever done in my life in that same garage. It's a podcast. Do you know what a podcast is? I've been on Conan O'Brien like 47 times, and you don't know who I am, right?
GROSS: That's Marc Maron from the start of his new IFC TV series "Maron." Welcome to FRESH AIR, Marc Maron. Welcome back.
MARON: Thank you.
GROSS: I love that opening because it sounds like - you know, as I was watching it for the first time, I thought, oh, I guess he's being interviewed by a reporter who's not onscreen. And then we realize, no, you're just trying to impress the veterinarian who's treating your cat, and you're thinking about how you're going to hit on her afterwards.
GROSS: So I love how at the same time you're trying to impress her, and then you're almost accusing her of not knowing who you are.
MARON: Yeah, it's tricky. You know, it's a tricky thing to be charming and completely insecure at the same time.
GROSS: So I don't usually start interviews with questions about suicide attempts, but since you bring it up in the very, very start of your show, you say you once tried to kill yourself in the garage that you are now using for your podcast. So since you brought it up, why did you try to kill yourself?
MARON: I think I should be clear that I didn't try to kill myself. The deal was, is that I thought about it a lot. You know, it was a difficult point in my life. My career sort of hit a wall. I was in the middle of a horrible divorce. You know, I wasn't getting much standup work, and I really didn't know what to do.
And when you invest half your life into this, into a creative field, into a dream like being a standup, when you - all of a sudden when you're in your late 40s or mid-40s, and everything goes wrong, there's no plan B in place anymore. You know, you have that moment where you're like, all right, well, I could always - and there's just nothing there.
And in my mind because of pride and being brokenhearted, yeah, I just would, you know, fantasize about killing myself. I didn't see any other way out, in my brain. I don't know that I really wanted to, but I found it relaxing to know that I could if necessary. It's sort of the spiritual reprieve of a faithless person.
And so I really don't want to portray myself as someone who was, like, you know, planning a way or actually trying to commit suicide. I just had a lot of suicidal ideation going on.
GROSS: So you found it kind of relaxing to know that there could be a way out if you wanted one?
MARON: Yeah, the ultimate way out. It's just a way my brain worked. I think there's a selfishness to it all, obviously, but in my mind, you know, I didn't have a wife, I didn't have children, I didn't have a career. I think a lot of that kind of stuff is just really, it's self-pity, and sometimes you get stuck on that and stuck in it, and it can sort of become depression, and that's where I was at at that point, when I started the podcast.
GROSS: So your podcast now, which is really popular and talked about, you do that from your garage. Has it helped you as a comedian to talk comedy with a lot of comics in the podcast?
MARON: I don't know if it's helped me as a comic, but I do know that it helped me as a human. I was at a place in my life where I'd gotten very cynical. I'd, you know, lost a lot of hope for my comedy and everything else. And I really feel that, you know, I was no longer able to really appreciate other people's stories. I'd lost my ability to really kind of listen and enjoy the company of other people.
And I think that when I look back at the podcast, it was really a way of me reconnecting with like-minded people, with people I'd sort of known for years and learning how to sort of talk about problems and issues with friends and peers. And because of that, you know, my joy came back. My ability to laugh came back. My ability to sort of listen and engage emotionally with someone else's story came back. It just sort of - it brought me back to the world of the living emotionally. But as far as comedy goes, I think that to be validated and to become relevant in my community helped me on all levels.
GROSS: As you mentioned, you've been on Conan more than 45 times. Were you ever, like, the emergency guest, the replacement for someone who's canceled at the last minute?
MARON: Always, yeah. That was what would happen a lot of times is that because I had a very active mind, and I was always moving through stuff, they knew that there was a real good chance that I could do a panel segment, that I could sit down and talk to him. And we had a rapport.
So I would get that call a lot. I, you know, between me and you and everyone who is listening, I just got that email about a week ago again, you know, now here on the new show, that moment where it's sort of like what are you doing tomorrow? Can you...
MARON: And yeah, I used to get that all the time. It made it very exciting. A lot of the early and - a lot of the appearances I made on there were sort of like, you know, the day before - not day of usually, but usually one or two days before.
GROSS: So you have a really terrific "WTF" podcast with Conan, and you write about that podcast in your memoir. So you write that you were really uncomfortable about Conan coming over to your garage. You'd been on his show a lot of times. You really admired him. Why were you so uncomfortable about him coming over to the garage to do the podcast?
MARON: Well, there's still a thing about - you know, he's a TV guy. He's a big TV star. And, you know, I always looked at him as the guy who had let me on his show, and we had this rapport on the show, and there was respect there, and I knew he was a busy guy and a hard worker, and he's a very intense dude.
And it was just really the fact that even though I'd done his show so many times over so many years that I don't know his life. I don't know him. It's really that weird separation between, you know, what we get as fans or as co-workers of somebody who has a public personality and what you really know about him.
So when he was coming over, I was sort of overwhelmed and grateful that he was going to come, but there was a lot of insecurity in it. It's like now he's going to see my house, he's probably going to use my bathroom. He's going to judge my couch.
MARON: You know, there was a lot of things going through my mind. Like this is an important man who had me on his show so many times, and now he's going to see, you know, how I live. And there was a lot of insecurity around that. And also how do I talk to Conan? I've never seen him out of his suit. You know, I mean, this is a guy that throughout, you know, a good chunk of my career would just say hi in the dressing room and then go do his show, and I'd come out and do it. So it was the casualness that was intimidating to me, you know.
GROSS: So I'm going to ask you to do a short reading about what the interview was like and what it was like afterwards. So this is Marc Maron reading from his new book "Attempting Normal" about his interview with Conan O'Brien in Maron's garage for his "WTF" podcast.
MARON: (Reading) Once we got behind the mics it all flowed very easily. It wasn't about what was said; it was the fact that this was the first time I had really talked to him. He told me stuff that wasn't part of his public narrative, and I got to know him a bit. It was emotional for me because I had always wanted to be his pal in some way, and even more so because he was doing the podcast, and that meant I was doing something relevant.
(Reading) I felt proud. I wanted to do a good job because I respected him, and in some way it was a turning of the tables. When we finished, we went back into the house, and Conan was just sort of lingering. He was looking at my stuff on my table, on my walls, and it was awkward again, not in a bad way, but we were both back to our roles. I was a guy whom he let appear on his show and had a good television rapport with, and he was a star who in my mind had better things to do.
(Reading) That might not have been the case. We have a history, and we had just had this great talk, and now I knew I couldn't say, OK, we'll talk tomorrow, or let me know when you want me to come by the house for dinner, or anything real friends say to each other. It literally got to the point where I was wondering how to get him out of my house because I didn't know what to do or say. It was time for him to go back to his life and me to get on with mine.
GROSS: I love that part because I really relate to that feeling that after you've had this, like, really personal conversation and then the mics get turned off, you sometimes have, like, no idea what to say. And it's such a contrast because, you know, you could be so personal and intimate in the interview, and in real life it goes - it's so awkward.
MARON: Yeah, it can be, and I don't really know how to deal with it sometimes. I've had people linger, and it's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's that moment where you realize right, we're not - we don't know each other's lives. We're not really part of each other's lives. And because of what we're doing for this show, you know, we've just really connected in a deep way.
And I'm very sensitive to that. I mean, I've had experiences with people in my life that literally lasted maybe five minutes and had such a lasting impression on me that I feel bonded to those people. I think that's a lot of what, you know, propels some of the interviews on my show. But, you know, Jon Hamm hung out after he did my show and sat on the deck with me and my girlfriend. And, you know, it gets to the point where it's like, oh, OK, and you don't even know if you can say like, all right, I'll call you, we'll do the thing. It's just, it's not there.
And who else? Like, you know, when I interviewed Jonathan Winters at his home before he passed away, you know, he wanted to go out to lunch. And it was an honor, but there's just a moment where you're, like, am I really, is this happening, is this my life, is this OK? I mean, is he comfortable? He must be. He asked me to go with him. It's very tricky.
GROSS: I thought now we can hear an excerpt of the podcast you did with Conan O'Brien, and in this part you've been talking about how difficult it was for Conan when he first started hosting late night back in the '90s because he'd never done that kind of work before. People weren't used to seeing him on camera. He wasn't used to being on camera. He was getting bad reviews. There was a lot of public criticism. So here's him talking a little bit about that period.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WTF")
CONAN O'BRIEN: I probably have a Catholic need to suffer. That helps me, so - so the trials and tribulations that I went through in '93, '94 probably was my way of paying whatever dues I felt I needed to pay to keep that show. And then once I had suffered enough, there was a part of me that was like all right...
O'BRIEN: And now I could move on to another level. And that's probably what happened.
MARON: So that really, that really did have that - you know, Catholicism has that kind of effect? Like, because I have no familiarity with it. But the idea of suffering, to - that's part of life is really something that's plowed into your brain?
O'BRIEN: Yeah, it gets into your DNA, and I'm really trying very hard in the last couple years...
MARON: Like you're not doing it right if you're not suffering?
O'BRIEN: Yeah, I'm trying to - and you know what? My escape from that was always comedy. Comedy was always something that I could get into a zone, and you can have a really good time and people can really be laughing, and I would think later on wait a minute, people like that, and I was enjoying myself, and I was in the moment, and I wasn't self-conscious.
So comedy was always my escape valve. And then the tricky thing was I turned it into a career, and when you turn the thing you love into a career, you're playing with fire.
GROSS: That was Conan O'Brien, talking to Marc Maron from Marc Maron's "WTF" broadcast. So Marc Maron, do you relate to that? Those are some nice insights there from Conan. But do you relate to the idea of suffering being an inspiration?
MARON: I relate more to the fact that, you know, comedy is a relief, and comedy is a release, and comedy is the only way that we can feel present and lose ourselves. I find over time that I don't enjoy suffering, and there's something, you know, comforting and sort of predictable about the way your brain works around your own troubles.
But I have found that I'm more of an anxiety-ridden person, that I experience a tremendous amount of dread and fear and panic. I think I've been mischaracterized a bit as a guy that sort of gets off on his own misery. I think that misery for people that incredibly anxious or frightened is something consistent. I think obsession sometimes works as almost a spirituality. You know, you have a routine that your brain kind of loops around that you call home, but that's usually in defense of some other part of you that's unruly. And for me, I think it's anxiety and panic and worry and dread.
GROSS: Do you find that's true of most comics, that they have either depression, anxiety, dread, suffering that they have to escape from and that comedy becomes the escape valve, and they've found a way to talk about horrible things in a funny way, but it doesn't make the horrible things any less horrible necessarily?
MARON: I don't know. The reason - it's hard for me to speak for comics in general, and certainly I've spoken to a lot of them, and certainly I initially thought that we all had to be miserable to be great comics. But as time goes on, I don't know that that's really the case. And what I found when I was a kid that, really, you know, made me gravitate towards comedy was they seem to have an angle on things.
I think that comedy, when you're capable of it, it has a lot of uses. You know, you can sort of disarm a situation. You can also, you know, attack with a certain amount of clarity and finesse that may not be dangerous. You can protect yourself. You can, you know, ease pain in others. I mean, it's a very, you know, multifaceted tool and creative thing.
So I don't know that it necessarily serves the same purpose for all comics, but I do know that for me, when watching comedy and also the way I do comedy, is it puts an angle on things. You can get a handle on things in a very precise way, and it disarms a lot of that dread and panic.
GROSS: So do you think of some of your dread and panic and anxiety - let me back up and say Conan saw suffering as being a really Catholic thing. Do you any of your, like, dread and anxiety as being a Jewish thing?
MARON: I don't know. I - maybe. I think that if I'm to look at the history of Jewish education, just in the sense of, you know, where we're at culturally, there was always an active engagement, you know, with arguing, with debating, with mulling things over, with putting it out there and getting a reaction, and even describing it I'm getting more Jew-y.
MARON: And then you talk to the guy, and he comes over, and maybe you work something out, maybe you don't, that's the way it goes, not everything has closure. You know, maybe, maybe. It's a little hard for me to characterize that, you know, without, you know, leaning on a stereotype that I'm not completely sure is true.
GROSS: My guest is comic Marc Maron. His new memoir "Attempting Normal" has just been published, and he has a new TV series called "Maron" that starts Friday on IFC. More after a break; this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is Marc Maron, and he does the "WTF" podcast, which features his interviews with comics. He is a comic, and he has a new memoir called "Attempting Normal" and a new IFC TV series that starts Friday, May 3.
So I want to ask you about another podcast you did, and you talk about this one in your new book. So you used to be really good friends with Louis C.K., the comic, who now has a TV show called "Louie." You have a really terrific interview with him, and there's the double version podcast, and then there's the hour-long version on the Public Radio Exchange website, the PRX website.
So in this interview, part of it was about your relationship and how it kind of fell apart and partially because you had gotten so resentful of his success, at least that's how I understood it from listening to the podcast. And I just want to play an excerpt in which you're talking to each other about the friendship. So Louis C.K. speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WTF")
LOUIS C.K.: You don't have to put this in the podcast if you don't want to, but what I would say as far as trying to stay friends with somebody that you have a hard time thinking about what they're doing against what you're doing...
LOUIS C.K.: ...is focus on them needing a friend. It takes a good friend to stay with you in hard times. It takes a good friend to stay with you in good times. Everybody needs support, everybody does.
LOUIS C.K.: So you're letting me down - if you see me doing something, and you have a hard time coming to terms with it because of your feeling about your own life, what's really happening is you're letting me down as a friend by being jealous.
LOUIS C.K.: So think about the other person. Think about what they might need.
MARON: But, like, in my heart...
LOUIS C.K.: I could have used you. I could have used you. I got divorced. I got a show canceled. You know, I had some tough times. I could have used a friend during those times...
MARON: But you didn't call me.
LOUIS C.K.: ...during those times that were making you jealous, I was struggling, I was having a hard time. Doing the "Louie" show was really hard. Trying to keep my family together, it was hard.
MARON: But thing is that in our - in the way our friendship always operated, it was not that I was kept up to date in the day-to-day things. It wasn't a day-to-day call that we had. But it seemed that most of the time the thing that made our friendship so deep and so strong was that when we did talk, we made each other feel better.
LOUIS C.K.: No, it's true, but you shut me out. You shut me out because you were having a hard time.
MARON: OK, well, I apologize again.
LOUIS C.K.: Well, I apologize to you because then I did it to you probably out of resentment, ignored your emails because you ignored my phone calls back when there was no email.
MARON: Well, can we get back on track or what?
LOUIS C.K.: Yeah, I think we can.
GROSS: That's really an amazing piece of tape.
MARON: It's choking me up now. I mean, I - you know, some of these podcast I did, that was a while ago, you know, and there was an emotional intensity to that thing that's - it's heavy, man.
GROSS: It's real. It just sounds absolutely real.
MARON: It was real. I don't - you know, I don't listen to these things after I do them. And just hearing that, I'm like, oh my God, it was so loaded and intense. Wow, yeah, well, that happened.
GROSS: So how did the podcast change the relationship? It sounds like OK, you tried to work it out during the podcast. Did you call each other afterwards? Did you go out for a cup of coffee?
MARON: Well, yeah, I mean, the thing about me and Louis is that when I went in to talk to him, I had all these memories of things - like, you know, we're comics. So it wasn't like we were, you know, hanging out every day necessarily or taking vacations together with our girlfriends or wives or any of that. But with Lou, I had been at certain junctures in his life that I thought were, you know, relevant to his growing as an artist.
And it was just - it was a real issue for me. You know, I had a real problem with resentment. And, you know, Louis' his own guy. He's busy, too, and he's got his own issues. But this thing happened, and I think there was love there. We were good friends, and we did have a connection, we did make each other, you know, feel better in times of crisis, and we just let it go. And it was a burden for me.
So after that, yeah we did. Honestly, you know, I - the one thing I learned from that is a lot of times because of the immediacy of the culture we live in, when you put a text out there or you shoot an email, it's like if you don't hear back from somebody in a day, you're like, well, that's it. What happened there? Why isn't he...?
And now that I'm a little busier, it took this to happen for me to realize it, things fall through the cracks. You know, it's hard to keep up with everything that's coming at you, and, you know, ultimately what happened with him and I is, yeah, I went to New York, and he invited me over to his house. You know, I ate leftovers.
GROSS: Very nice.
MARON: And we sat down, and we literally, we talked for two hours. He showed me some cuts of one of the episodes he was working on, and we connected, and it was great. And then I went and did what I had to do, and he went and did what he had to do. And we're in touch. So yeah, the friendship is intact, and it's better.
GROSS: There's another twist to that Louis C.K. story, and we'll hear it in the second half of the show. Marc Maron's new memoir is called "Attempting Normal." His TV series "Maron" starts Friday on IFC. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with comic Marc Maron. He has a new memoir called "Attempting Normal," and a new TV series based on his life called "Maron." It premieres Friday on IFC. Maron also hosts the popular podcast "WTF," featuring his interviews with fellow comics. When we left off, we were talking about his podcast interview with Louis C.K., in which they reconciled after a long falling out. In the podcast, Maron admitted he'd been jealous and resentful of Louis C.K.'s success.
So, sometime after that podcast, he wrote a role for you in an episode of his TV series "Louis," which is based on his life. But in this episode - it's about the rift in your relationship. And in this episode, Louis has blamed you for the friendship falling apart. But he has this revelation that it was actually his fault. It wasn't your fault. It was his fault. So he goes over to your house to apologize, and I want to play the scene. He comes over to your house. He walks inside. And here's the conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOUIE")
LOUIS C.K.: I realized that it was my fault completely, and it's like I was a total (bleep) to you, and I stopped being your friend. And I'm shocked now when I think of it, that I would ever have thought it was anything that you did. You did nothing, and I know that now, and I don't know how to look back at - you know, you look back at your actions and, man, I don't know. I don't know if this has any meaning or worth to you, and I don't - maybe this is more of me being selfish. But I just want to say, Marc, that I'm sorry. And I wish that - I don't know what else to say.
MARON: OK. Is that it? Or...
LOUIS C.K.: Yeah. I guess so.
MARON: All right. Well, I appreciate that, but I guess you don't remember, but you came over here five years ago and said the exact same thing.
LOUIS C.K.: I did?
MARON: Yeah. I mean, you cried that time. You didn't cry this time, so that's - I guess that's something.
LOUIS C.K.: (bleep) I kind of remember that now.
MARON: Well, I - look, I accepted that time. I don't know, this time, whatever. I don't know what - you know, what, you need something for me? Do you want...
LOUIS C.K.: No. No. (bleep) I'm sorry.
MARON: OK. Again? All right.
LOUIS C.K.: OK. I'm...
LOUIS C.K.: OK.
MARON: We good then or...
LOUIS C.K.: Yeah. Yeah, man, OK. I'm just going to...
MARON: It's all right. I mean, (bleep). You know.
LOUIS C.K.: All right.
MARON: All right.
LOUIS C.K.: Well, I really am sorry, though, just so you know.
MARON: OK. OK. I get it. It's OK. You know what would be really great, though? If maybe you call me up, you asked me for coffee, we go out to dinner, something like that.
LOUIS C.K.: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, we'll do that. Yeah.
MARON: OK. Great. Or we could just do this again in five years.
LOUIS C.K.: OK, man.
MARON: It's all right.
LOUIS C.K.: OK. All right. All right
MARON: OK. How you been?
LOUIS C.K.: Good, man. That's very nice for you to ask. OK.
LOUIS C.K.: All right. Yeah.
MARON: All right.
GROSS: That is so great. And I think just, like, hearing the actual conversation you had on your podcast, and then hearing a similar story transformed into Louis' TV show, it's just a fascinating comparison. And what also I find so interesting is that Louis C.K. makes it all his fault and this. It's like...
GROSS: And it's not all his fault. He's so kind of careless about the relationship, he doesn't even remember he apologized to you five years ago.
MARON: Yeah. And that's very Louis. I think he was being, you know, pretty honest in that exchange. And I think even listening to it again - because I watched it once, and I remember doing it with him. And - but, I think there was a lot of genuine emotion there. I think that in some part of him, that was a genuine apology for what might have been his side of the selfishness in our relationship. I'm going to look at it that way, because I feel that - because he was definitely - just listening, and as you know, when you just listen and you don't have any visuals, there's an emotional depth to it that I don't think I really heard until I just listened to that now when you played it.
GROSS: So when I heard it, I was thinking, OK, so Louis C.K. is the new main character in this, and he's giving the blame to himself, because it's going to make it a more interesting episode, and because he's a generous guy. And so he's going to blame himself in his show, not blame you. But you think he's actually taking some of the blame for real in this.
MARON: Well, I think that these things are two-sided, and I think that when you listen to my podcast, that I could have pointed fingers. I could have been petty, and in that moment where, you know, I take responsibility for my side of it, I could've said but you, but you this, but you that, but you - and, you know, I realized like this was - that's not the time for it. You know, understand and take the consequences of your actions. So I think there's a chance - you would have to ask Louis - if there was some part of him that was, you know, taking some responsibility, or maybe he was just, you know, created this role and did his riff on our riff, and made it his own in that way. I don't really know. You'd have to ask him. But I do know that we are getting along better.
GROSS: Good. I'm so glad to hear that. So you've mentioned that you think - in one of your podcasts, as I recall, that you mentioned that you think a lot of comics have issues about their fathers, and you seem to. And I want to illustrate that with another clip. And this is a clip from your new IFC series "Maron," which premieres Friday, May 3rd. And this edition features Denis Leary as the person you're interviewing in your podcast. And Denis Leary is also, actually, in real life, an executive producer of this new TV series.
So, in this show, which is episode two of the series, you've just done a podcast with Denis Leary. And when it's over and you're leaving the garage, he's - and the podcast is done from your garage in your house - he smells something foul coming from under your house, and it turns out that there's a dead possum in the crawlspace, but you don't know how to deal with it.
And Denis Leary has already accused you of not being a manly man. He said that you have too many Joni Mitchell records in your garage, and you have too many cats. So you decide to get it together, and you kind of go out with your new assistant, your new intern to get these kind of protective clothes and protective gloves and all this other gear so you can be a man and go down to this crawlspace to get rid of the dead possum. And - but you really don't want to go. So you're standing right outside the crawl space in all of this protective gear with your intern by your side, and here's what you say.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARON")
MARON: Why can't I do this? Every other guy can do this. It's my dad's fault. He never showed me how to do this stuff. He never showed me how to throw a football. We never went camping. I can't fix anything. He was supposed to be around when I was a kid. He was supposed to show me how to do this crap, and then he just, he just left with no explanation, no apologies, nothing. It was neglect, man - just neglect and abuse.
JOSH BRENER: (as Kyle) I was molested at sleep-away camp.
BRENER: I'm sorry. I didn't mean for that to come out. I think I got caught up in your energy, and then it just - I don't think I've ever said that out loud before.
MARON: You want to talk about it?
MARON: You sure? I mean, I'm here for you.
GROSS: Yeah. No, I think it's a sit-down conversation, probably.
MARON: Yeah. I - yeah, it's definitely a sit-down conversation.
GROSS: That's my guest Marc Maron with Josh Brener as his assistant, Kyle. I hope he has a steady part on the show.
MARON: He's funny. He's funny. And that joke comes back around. It sounds a little gnarly just as it is but, you know, there's definitely a callback to the molestation setup there.
GROSS: So, anyways, I have to ask you. Did you have a lot of issues with your father? And did he - do you feel like you did not teach you to be a manly man?
MARON: I think that - those issues there are little exaggerated, but true. I think my father's biggest fault was that he was, you know, emotionally absent and, you know, and actually absent a lot. I mean, he was around, but he wasn't really checked in and, you know, he was a surgeon, so he was always out, you know, doing something that we were led to believe was, you know, life-saving and important. And when he was around, it was always - he was very, you know, either very manic or very depressed. It was very erratic.
And I think a lot of my issues are around that. I don't think that - and, you know, and I'm not whining. I think that any - a lot of people can relate to this, that there wasn't a lot of support there. There was not a lot of guidance. I think that it was just an expectation to kind of follow his lead, and if you didn't, you were some sort of idiot or, you know, he'd get mad, and there was not that active kind of moving through, you know, self-development - if that makes any sense.
GROSS: Did you ever become a hypochondriac to get his attention, because he was a doctor?
MARON: How'd you know that? Did you know that? Why did you ask me that? Where does that come from, from you? Why would you ask me that?
GROSS: Why would I ask you that? Because it would be a way of getting attention. Because you say he was always going away to do, to save people's lives...
MARON: No I didn't...
GROSS: ...and yeah.
MARON: That's very perceptive and very - that's why you're Terry Gross. I, you know, yeah, I sometimes talk about it on stage. I went through a long hypochondria period. I mean, it was really - I can't believe you just sort of zeroed in on that. I recently told the story about how I finally got over that, the hypochondria with my father. Yeah. I definitely, I definitely had that.
GROSS: How'd you get over it? Well, what did you do...
GROSS: ...in the first place? I mean, what were some of the maladies that you had?
MARON: Well, I always thought I was dying. You know, I always thought I was dying. And, you know, I would tell my father, you know, I think I'm this. I think I'm that. And when your father's a doctor, it's a very - you know, it can very easily get into a clinical mode with you and give you the attention you need, or, you know, tell you to go see their friend or take you - how I got over it was an awkward series of visits to his friend, you know, Bob, the urologist.
MARON: And, you know, there was just a moment, there, you know, on the first - on fourth visit to this guy in one, you know, break from college where I thought I had a number of things over the three-week break, and I think I was on my fourth visit to Bob's office. And I had my pants down and, you know, he was, you know, looking at me in a very, you know, there's a very - I don't know what I could say on NPR. But, you know, I had my pants down, and Bob finally just said, you know, there's nothing wrong with you, Marc. Do you like coming here?
MARON: And there was just something about that moment where I was like, you know, I'm going to have to think about that, Bob, and I think this is the end of this period for me.
MARON: So as you can see, I had to go through a lot to finally overcome, you know, that need for connection on that level. But it's definitely real, and I was - it was also a, you know, real outlet for my anxiety and my panic. I always thought I was dying, and it went away. That is one of the most taxing dispositions to have, to go into that panic and stay into that panic, because there's no end to it, because, you know, you are dying. It's just not of what you think you are in that moment, but, you know, it's a bigger existential issue.
GROSS: Did you feel frail, as a result?
MARON: Frail in what way? In - as a result of what?
MARON: No. No. I was never - it just - you can manifest things. You know, you have a magical ability that if you want to get obsessed about something - whatever it is in your body - the more you obsess about it, you're going to manufacture symptoms. You have to learn that for yourself that, you know, you're going to feel pain, you're going to feel whatever you think is there, if you insist that it's there. You know, the brain is very capable of doing that. And then there's really no end to it until you just relax and accept, like, you know, all right, these aches and pains come and go. This is this. It's nothing serious. You just have to retrain yourself.
GROSS: My guest is comic Marc Maron. His new memoir is called "Attempting Normal." His new TV series, "Maron," starts Friday on IFC. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is Marc Maron. He's a comic who now has his own TV series on IFC, and it's called "Maron." It premieres Friday, May 3rd. And he has a new memoir called "Attempting Normal."
So in your book, you write: I am at a crossroad. I'm in a relationship with a woman who's 20 years younger than I am. We're living together, and she wants a baby. And you're afraid of becoming a father. What are your fears?
MARON: You know, it's interesting. I never really thought about it too much, which I think is because of the way I was brought up and being very, you know, sort of self-involved. You know, my brother, on the other hand, he has three kids, and he did it with a vengeance. He's, like, I'm going to have a lot, and I'm going to do it differently. As I said earlier, that I'm a very panicky guy, and I worry a lot. And that's where my brain goes. There's a dread thing that I have to fight on a daily basis. You know, so when I think about, like, you know, having a baby, like, I go right from like, yay, a baby to like, oh, my God. It's not breathing.
MARON: You know, there's nothing in between those things, you know. So, you know, I've got to get past that. And I know, you know, that I don't, you know, I know I'm older now, and there's a fear of that, as well - you know, am I too old? Do I want to do that to a kid? I mean, quite honestly, I remember the first kid I met with an old dad and, you know, it was awkward. It was weird. It was mind-blowing.
You know, you're in first grade and you're waiting for your parents to come pick you up, and his dad comes in you're like, who's that? And the kid's, like, nah, it's my dad. You know, how old is he? I don't even know. You know? Like does he do anything? Yeah, sometimes. I gotta go. I gotta help him. You know, there - you know, and I know there's a lot of old dads around.
I know there's a lot of, you know, baby boomers who realize that, you know, whatever narcissistic trajectory they were on sort of crapped out on them and they have no meaning and they have kids at 50 or 60 or they're doing second families. It's just at this point, you know, I'm warming up to it and I want to do it and I want to trust the situation. Because apparently it's something that people do. They seem to be able to handle it.
And from what I understand, there's an amazing thing that happens there. And I think I feel like we're going to do it. But I'm incredibly consumed with anxiety and nervousness about it.
GROSS: How does feeling that your father didn't do a great job parenting you figure into your fears about being a father?
MARON: I just don't want to be selfish. I don't want - you know, the worst thing about the way I was brought up is that - and again, there was, you know, most of my struggles were emotional. I didn't, you know, it was not physical abuse. There was no, you know, sexual abuse. There was none of that. It was just this weird boundary was kind of neglect in a way. But I just don't want to be so selfish.
You know, like when I was married to my second wife, you know, I was aggravated and angry and, you know, emotionally abusive. And, you know, the idea of kids, you know, she was basically like, you think I'm going to bring children into this? And I didn't really think about it until years later that, you know, you have to, you know, take responsibility for that stuff.
And you have to behave in a way that isn't destructive to you or to your wife or to whoever you're with. And you don't want all that shrapnel around. So, you know, my fear is that, like, you know, I just want to be able to know that I'm going to show up for it and not, you know, not be selfish in the endeavor. Because it really requires a selflessness that, you know, has to be innate.
And if it isn't innate, has to be, you know, you've got to be vigilant about it. And I'm just a little scared, you know.
GROSS: So you write in your book that your mother told you that you were a diaphragm baby and you say in my mind that means I have an innate ability to overcome obstacles. But really, like what impact did it have on you for your mother to basically say we really didn't plan on having you, we had you anyways?
MARON: Yeah. She doesn't hang onto that. There are bigger issues around the mother thing, you know.
MARON: You know, that - I felt - fortunately my grandparents - I was the first child and the first, you know, grandchild for, you know, all sets of grandparents. So I got a lot of attention there. And there was a couple of things that my mother said to me that were more defining of what that relationship was. You know, not too long ago - you know, my mother is, you know, kind of compulsively vigilant about her weight.
And this is a very nice way to say a functioning anorexic. She's very proud of her weight. You know, she weighs 116 pounds and I once wrote a piece for a cooking magazine that said she weighed 119 pounds and it was as if I had misrepresented her entire life. She called me up and she goes, how could you say that about me? I'm like, what - are you kidding? It's three pounds. It's like, I am not 119. All right.
But there are a couple of things that my mother said to me, you know, recently where I'm like, oh my god. Maybe within the last five years she kind of came up to me and goes, look, Marc, I've got to be honest with you. I don't know if I could love you if you were fat. You know, and this was recently.
MARON: This is recently. And then the other time, maybe three years ago, she sits me down. We are making Thanksgiving dinner down there and she goes, you know, Marc, you know when you were a baby, I just don't think I knew how to love you. And I'm like, all right. Well, there's a missing piece to the puzzle. I guess I can cancel my therapy now. You know?
MARON: So my mother's a character. There are other issues at hand, but yeah, yeah, I mean the diaphragm thing was the least of it.
GROSS: Did you ever have a weight problem?
MARON: Well, according to her, I had a weight problem. My - yeah, I had a weight problem in that my mother, you know, basically I think taught me to read with calorie counting books. You know, I was a chubby kid and I had a mother who was, you know, just literally frightened of fat.
She was an obese child and she just had this reaction to that, that she, you know, having been obese as a kid it, it just scarred her, you know, forever. And, you know, and her whole - a lot of her life is dedicated to, you know, this maintenance of body image. And I grew up with that. You know, like being denied desserts, desserts being taken away.
You know, going out to dinner and, you know, wanting to get something and a mother that said, do you really need that? I don't think you need that. Do you need that? And just getting stink eye through the entire cake process. You know, so - and I was chubby. And I've been saying on stage, which I don't know why it doesn't get a bigger laugh because I think I framed it right, I said, you know, having this mother, I really think for like the first nine or 10 years of my life, she just saw me as some kind of extension of her fat. And that if she just ate less, perhaps the kid would disappear, you know.
MARON: And people always go, aw. And I'm, like, I can't frame it any funnier.
GROSS: My guest is comic Marc Maron. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: My guest is comic Marc Maron. He has a new memoir and a new TV series based on his life. The TV series is called "Maron" and premieres Friday on IFC. When we left off he was telling us that when he was growing up, his mother was obsessed with her weight and with his weight. You know, you went through a period where you were, you know, maybe not bingeing on foods but certainly bingeing on drugs - cocaine and I don't know what else.
But your mother probably never told you, but don't do a lot of drugs.
MARON: Well, it was interesting. She, you know, they were - they come from the school of - and there was not a lot of discipline with me growing up. I was really left to my own devices in a lot of ways. Like they were indecisive. You know, like if I would ask my mother, hey, can I go out and hang out with Dave and go to this party? She would literally say things like do you want me to say no?
Because I'll say no if you want me to. And I'm like, oh my god. This can't be on me. You know, someone's got to take charge here. You know, with drugs I think there was always the assumption that, you know, I was a bright kid and that I had it, you know, I had it together enough. There was guilt there but there was never, like, it was never - there was no lines drawn.
There was always a lot of sort of like - my parents were constantly checking in people. Like, hey, make sure if you call if you're going to be late. You know, tell us where you're doing, ba-ba-ba. And there's was about drugs - for some reason it scared me. And I remember the first time I ever got high on pot. This is who my mother was at that time.
I went across the street to this kid John's house and we got high in his tree house. And I'd never gotten high before. And I remember walking back across the street and I went into my house and my mother was there and she looks at me and she goes, are you stoned? And I was like yeah. She goes, well, then why don't you go in your room and play guitar? They say you play better when you're like that.
MARON: So that wasn't really - but I think that what I grew up with was always just sort of like, look, if you're going to get high, you know, maybe do it, you know, in the house and tell us. That doesn't sound fun. But there was that, on a disciplinary level that's kind of brilliant because if they're those kind of parents, there's no rebellion into it.
But, you know, if you're like going to tell your mom, it's like I'm going to try coke tonight if that's OK. And then they're going to have a dialogue about it. But I don't think they had any anticipation of how out of control I got. And I think it was frightening for certainly my mother.
Even when she read this book and certainly my last book, "Jerusalem Syndrome," you know, she said to me, she said, Marc, you know, as a mother this is a difficult book to read. As a person who's just reading a book, it was very nice. You know, it was very good. And she doesn't talk like that. For some reason I just made her 80 and very Jewish.
But I think it hurts her that she didn't know how bad off I was, you know, in both like in this book with the relationships and in the last book with the drugs. And she felt a little out of the loop and a little helpless during it all. Even when she knew that something was, you know, bad was going on.
GROSS: So I regret that we are out of time. I wish we could talk some more. But I just want to ask you about your cats. People who know your podcasts...
GROSS: ...and people who will be watching your show will know that cats are very important to you. People who read your book will know that you have had a whole colony of feral cats living in your house at one time. So what's your cat life like right now? How many, if any, cats are in your life at the moment?
MARON: Sure. The cat situation is, you know, Monkey and Lafonda, from the original crew of "Feral Estoria Cats" from 2004 are now comfortably living in my house is Los Angeles.
GROSS: In the assisted living wing?
MARON: Yeah. No, they don't need any assistance. You just put the bowl out and they're good. They don't even want to touch you much. No, they've gotten — they've come around. Feral cats are real tricky because it takes them a long time to trust and they're always kind of twitchy. Boomer is still gone. He's missing. He went missing in, you know, and my hope is that - like there were some strays hanging around and I think he got pushed out.
The two fantasies I - or not fantasies but in my mind hopefully Boomer just went down the hill a bit, found a nice old lady who gave him some nice wet food and, you know, and now he's the only cat around and he can go back in the house. He had to live outside because he peed on everything. And, you know, it took me a long time for me to even, you know, take action around that.
But hopefully he's living comfortably. Or else, you know, he got ripped apart by coyotes. I'd rather not think that way. But I tell you, if he is living with some nice woman, I'm very grateful to her and if I ever find that woman, I will take my cat back. Two strays hanging around. One is a deaf black cat, which is fascinating to me. This is a wild cat and he cannot hear at all.
And can you imagine how tough that cat has to be?
MARON: To live out in the wild with no hearing? And the weirdest thing about that cat is because he's deaf he can't gauge his meow. So it's a very disturbing sound. But, you know, I love the guy and I feed him. And then there's another stray called Scaredy Cat who has been coming around for a couple years. So that's the cat breakdown right now.
GROSS: Well, Marc Maron, it's really been great talking with you. Thank you so much. I wish you good luck with the book and the new TV series.
MARON: Thank you so much, Terry.
MARON: It was an honor and a thrill to talk to you again.
GROSS: Oh, how nice of you to say that.
GROSS: Thank you so much. Marc Maron's new memoir is called "Attempting Normal." His new TV series, "Maron," premieres Friday on IFC. If you follow him on Twitter, you know that after we recorded this interview, he sent this tweet: I just talked about porn with Terry Gross. I feel a new kind of dirty. She started it.
Yes, Marc Maron is right. I started it. But the porn chapter of our interview didn't make it into the final cut because we recorded a lot of material, more than could fit into our broadcast, and well, sometimes talking about resentment, jealousy, and family dysfunction is even more interesting than talking about porn. But we do have the porn discussion for you as an extra on our website, freshair.npr.org. Enjoy.
Also on our website, you can read an excerpt of Marc Maron's memoir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.