Aspen Rooftop Comedy: Marc Maron gets real (and out of of the garage)
ASPEN – Marc Maron never imagined that he would find his niche in a garage. Maron isn’t good at mechanical matters. When he was growing up, mostly in Albuquerque, he didn’t have tools and motors and electronic kits to tinker with, and if did, they’d have been buried under Richard Pryor and George Carlin albums.”I thought it was the greatest job ever, noble and good,” the 46-year-old Maron said of the comedians he grew up on – typical ’70s icons like Pryor and Carlin, Steve Martin and Cheech & Chong, but also the older jokesters, Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles, that his grandmother turned him onto. “I thought what they did was the best thing ever – saying exactly what you want. You don’t get to do that in any other job.”Maron spends lots of time in his garage these days. It’s an un-airconditioned space off his shabby house in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood, packed with T-shirts and microphones and promotional materials. When I called, he was in the garage stuffing envelopes with fliers about his various gigs and projects.The most significant activity that has been taking place in the Maron garage is talking and laughing. Last September, Maron launched WTF, a twice a week podcast that starts with a Maron monologue, and finishes with an interview/conversation, usually with another comedian, but occasionally with a writer who doesn’t specialize in humor. Robin Williams showed up in the garage recently to tape an episode; such high-ranking comedians as Patton Oswalt and David Oliver have also appeared on WTF.Along with his garage, another big factor in Maron’s life these days is authenticity. The topics of the WTF interviews can encompass anything – fatherhood, food, love, addiction – but Maron isn’t as interested in making jokes around these subjects as he is in generating real conversation.”I want the conversations to be authentic,” said Maron, who emerges from the garage to present a live WTF podcast at 3:30 p.m. today, at Belly Up, as part of the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival; guests will include Michael Ian Black, Hannibal Burress and Gary Gulman. (Maron also hosts the festival-closing Last Laughs show on Sunday, June 13 at the Wheeler Opera House.) “It can be about anything. As long as it’s authentic, it’s going to be good.”Like most comedians, Maron’s career has been all over the map. He wrote a book, and is working on a CD; he auditioned for “Saturday Night Live”; he’s done one-man shows Off-Broadway; he holds the record for most appearances by a stand-up comedian on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” The biggest and most notable chunk of his work has been on radio, including several shows on Air America that mixed sketch comedy, satire, call-in segments and commentary.But Maron seems to be finding himself in the WTF format. Podcasting is especially well-suited to the kind of humor he is looking to do these days.”It’s my own train of thought, fears, neuroses. I’m open. It’s just me, no one telling me what to do,” he said. “It’s free-form, and it works for me. And when you’re talking one-on-one like that, I find people relate to it.”Connecting a podcast to a revenue stream is the big challenge, and Maron is beginning to see some financial potential in WTF. While it’s mostly listener-supported, he has also lined up some sponsors, and is selling T-shirts and making select episodes available for pay. But he seems more interested in the fact that the show is creatively successful and is gaining traction. Maron was pleasantly surprised to find Ben Stiller show up in his garage to tape an episode.Maron’s current stand-up routine often opens with a bit we can call the popcorn analogy. It is an inspired piece of imagination that also serves as an insightful dissection of the comedy business as it stands today. Maron observes that a bowl of popcorn can be divided into two parts: the fluffy white pieces that have popped to the top, and just invite you to take them in, and the dark, burned kernels at the bottom, that standoffishly refuse to accommodate their audience – in other words, pop. Those kernels remain dark and elusive, says Maron in his act, “because they’ve got integrity.”To Maron, the white kernels represent a certain kind of entertainer, willing to do anything to find a taker, even if it means being drained of its color. Then there are the performers who retain their character, even if it means they will stay at the bottom of the bowl, avoided by the hand that is looking for a simple-to-enjoy treat.”Some people aren’t willing to sell out to be fluffy and white and easy to eat,” Maron said. “It’s a different path. To be raw and honest, that’s not always what people are looking for in entertainment. Mostly, they’re looking to avoid that.”Maron has stayed largely unpopped. His audience finds him on the Internet, in his garage, not on schlocky sitcoms and pseudo-comedies on the big screen. But Maron says he’s not sure that is where he will stay. His ideal situation, probably like that of every comedian, is to have it all – to stay true to his brand of humor, and somehow persuade an audience to crowd into the garage with him. “I’d like to have millions of passionate followers, fans, who will support my career,” he said. “We’re getting there. You can’t rush the million thing.”And he says it’s not too late for him to pop.”I might be a dark one,” Maron says, considering where he fits in his own analogy. “But I might just be a slow-popper, and may take some time popping and getting fluffy.”My dream is to star in a major motion picture about myself: ‘The Marc Maron Story: A Heroic Tale.’ It’s very much in pre-production. It hasn’t even been written yet.”email@example.com
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