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WTF, Bonnaroo and Beyond with Marc Maron

For those who know Marc Maron only through his “WTF” podcasts you have a lot of catching up to do. Far from an overnight sensation, he’s been a hard-working standup comic and author for 25 years. Besides hundreds of live shows, he hosted programs on Air America radio, appeared on HBO, Conan, Late Show with David Letterman, Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and starred in two Comedy Central specials.

But it was his “WTF” podcasts, which featured his monologue and interviews with other comics that finally brought his career to cultural overdrive. Included among TIME Magazine’s 100 short list of the Most Influential People 2012, he has a book deal for his memoirs and completing a half-hour scripted series for IFC.

With an open yet challenging approach the “WTF” episodes have become a revealing arena for its host and guests such as Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Louis CK and Judd Apatow. Maron expanded from the realm of comedy to include Anthony Bourdain (“No Reservations”) and musicians (Wilco and Nick Lowe).

He appeared at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival as part of a Comedy Central lineup that included Andy Daly, Jon Dore, Judah Friedlander and Natasha Leggero with Key & Peele hosting. It was filmed and aired on the network as “CC: Stand-Up: The Bonnaroo Experience.”

Doubling up his time there, he set up Alice Cooper for a “WTF” conversation and scheduled time with Jack White for another. The latter aired as “WTF Episode 289.”

The raw honesty that dominates his stand up performances is also an integral part of my talk with him. As it turns out, his discovery of simply wanting to connect with other people through conversations became the basis for the success of his WTF universe. So, it’s not much of a surprise that when I inform him that a finite amount of time was given to me by his publicist Maron quickly responds with, “I got time. Whattya need.”

JPG: I’ve been following you before the WTF podcasts. I think they were HBO specials. There was one where you talked about getting exercise shoes but all you really needed was your weed in a box at home…

MM: Thanks. (recalls the comedy bit) “Yeah, we got a day planned. What’s in the box?”…Wonder what that was on. Was that on the HBO special? (Turns out it was part of a Comedy Central special.)

JPG: I’m not totally sure but then there was the Jerry Garcia…

MM: That was definitely on the HBO special in ’95. (The bit involves him trying to deal with eating too many mushrooms while sitting around strangers at a Jerry Garcia concert and how an old hippie ended up helping out with some great advice.) “Just hang on, man!” (Maron did a revised version of the Garcia bit when he appeared at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.)

JPG: The crazy thing is I dealt with someone like that old hippie at the Terrapin Station reunion shows at Alpine Valley. But this person didn’t say words. Just yelled gibberish at the performers onstage. But it was the perfect thing at the perfect moment.

MM: I wasn’t a huge Deadhead but I certainly had a lot of love for ‘em. I lived with a Deadhead and I grew up with one or two of the records. I inherited this weird collection of records.

But something is not the same anymore. I don’t know what it is. See, I don’t know whether I’m just becoming an old guy or things have really changed because, obviously, there are plenty of young people that have the same type of experiences with band but there was just something about…in my mind the one that they can never replicate is the fact that you and I were closer to the source of the beginning of this shit.

Everything was different. Everything was more intimate then. People still making millions of dollars doing concerts but the experience of a band, it seemed to be on all levels a little more…pure. You were dealing with records and you were dealing with radio and that was it. There was no internet. There was nothing distracting you. In order to get ready to go to a show there was a certain amount of preparation that had to take place and excitement that seemed to be unfettered by a lot of technological clutter.

JPG: I also think that what’s taken away now is a certain amount of adventure and danger. I remember older cousins going to concerts and they’d be going with cases of beer or plug a watermelon. And then these are the same people who now come up with MADD and making things safer. It creates a different environment.

MM: Right. I was talking to [Chuck] Klosterman the other day on a live WTF and he brought up this interesting thing about the nature of twitter. He said that when we were kids you’d be at that indie record down the street and there’d be some dude in there, a few guys just talking at the counter and one dude’d be like, “Jimmy Page isn’t that great a guitar player.” And that was it. It would leave his mouth, enter the ether and have the effect it was going to effect and you could think what you wanted of that guy. But that was the end of that statement was in that record store, and it just dissipated into the air. But now, you put that on Twitter and you can get to Jimmy Page! (slight laugh) And that type of weird connectiveness is…I don’t know how to really classify its importance or lack of importance but, boy, everybody is up everybody else’s ass for music these days.

JPG: Well, how about yourself? Do you feel weird with how the internet and podcasts have brought your career to a whole new level?

MM: There’s no doubt. I’m completely grateful for the fact that I just had some cosmic timing for once in my life in terms of getting into something — a new medium — and helping to define it. I wasn’t even there are the ground floor. I came in a few years later, and it just so happened that when I started to do what I did with it that it became a possibility for a lot of other people. I wouldn’t say I’m at the vanguard of anything but certainly the growth of the medium started happening a little after me. It’s kind of exciting to be there and to be part of that. Yeah, so that’s been great.

In terms of other internet issues like Twitter, it’s just a complete lack of boundaries between artist and band and whatnot. I handle that okay. That’s just the nature of the beast. I do a boundary with podcasts in terms of who I am emotionally. So, it works out for me. It’s a little draining, and I have to learn some lessons about technological boundaries that I’m sure will be hard-learned.

JPG: Yeah, I follow you on Twitter. Once in awhile I’ll reply. Said something the other day in regards to your comment about dropping a piece of turkey and the “5 Second Rule” …

MM: Yeah, I’m sorry if I don’t get back. I don’t respond back to people, outside of my 50 or 60 manic tweets and flurry of bullshit. It’s just hard for me to just do “Thanks.” “Right on.” “Cool.” It’s still an immediate kind of conversation I’m having. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of favoriting things. Retweeting I do a little bit of but for me it’s still I’m throwing stuff out there and then whatever comes back that’s the other side of the conversation. So, I could throw more shit out there. It’s a very selfish kind of (slight laugh) gratification system.

JPG: And I follow Albert Brooks and Mort Sahl as well, and their tweets are these brilliant 140-character one-liners whereas yours are like “I’m bored and I’m going to ramble” or you just gonna make shit up or tweet back and forth with Patton Oswalt for the helluva it…

MM: …or I’m just gonna hashtag some weird shit. It’s just stream of consciousness. I have a hard time knowing whether, I was thinking about this yesterday, is it boredom or is it what we do now? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s boredom like, “Well, I’m sitting just around…” Well, that’s what I’m doing. I’m sitting around tweeting. That doesn’t mean I’m bored. That means I’m tweeting. Is it boredom or is it something that people do now? I’m not at work but it’s part of my job in a way. I get a kick out of it. In my mind it’s part of what I do is to engage with my audience. So, I don’t know if it’s boredom.

What it really is is something that I can do too much. It’s really easy to dismiss it as, “Dude, go work on this or go work on that.” But on some level I’m performing. I’m working. (slight laugh) You know what I mean? And I’m doing it in a medium that is new and it’s challenging and I’m trying to do different things with that. I know some people think, “Hey, you don’t need to tweet everything.” Well, some days I do so shut the fuck up. Don’t follow me. You know what I mean? Is your feed that essential and golden that you can’t scroll down past my bullshit without making some sort of comment about it? I just love those people, “Dude, I gotta unfollow you, man.” Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fill up the page. You can’t scroll down…you know, whatever.

JPG: I never understood that because I also follow Ricky Gervais and he talks a lot about atheism and pisses people off and he’s always reminding them, “You can always hit the ‘unfollow’ button.”

MM: Yeah!

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