A few years ago, comedian Marc Maron's funny, intimate interviews with fellow comics and actors on his podcast WTF with Marc Maron launched him into the national spotlight. These days, he's got not only an IFC TV show, Maron, but a New York Times bestselling memoir, Attempting Normal, too. But before all that, he was just another stand-up comedian. Recently, we asked local funnyman and Charleston Comedy Festival Stand Up Competition winner Jason Groce to talk with Maron about his work in comedy, making a living, and the state of stand up today.
Maron will only be in town for one performance, but you can catch Groce performing regularly as the host of TROM, Tin Roof's monthly open mic night, and on the stage at Theatre 99. —Elizabeth Pandolfi
Jason Groce: I used to see you on Short Attention Span Theater on the Comedy Channel a long time ago. At that point, you had a gig on a cable network just for comedy, but did you think at any moment back then, "I've made it"? Do you feel that you've made it now?
Marc Maron: Look, what it really comes down to is, "Can I make a living without getting freaked out about money?" Obviously, the podcast became more popular and got some momentum. And then having the opportunity to do the show and to have them going simultaneously. But obviously after doing this for more than half my life, just to earn a living and to do something and keep developing — that's sort of all happened in the last few years.
JG: Is doing the TV show weird because you don't get feedback immediately, like you do in stand up — besides from the crew who is around?
MM: Well, I mean it's a different process; it's a highly collaborative process. There's a lot of staging, and it takes a long time to get to the finished product. There are different moments of excitement. There's the writing, there's coming up with a story, doing the scripts, making the scripts right, and then casting it. Hopefully you get the people you want and you get to work with different people. And then there's performing it, and either you nail it or you do it again. You know, a lot of it all happens in editing just to make it each show. You got all this footage, but you still gotta make a 22-minute episode. A lot of the real magic is gonna happen in the editing.
JG: You said in your book Attempting Normal, at the beginning of a later chapter, something along the lines of how going on the road is great for escaping, for running away. Is that still true?
MM: Yeah, you know over the years, I've become a lot more comfortable with the road. It used to be a little more daunting. You get me in a nice hotel that has a free breakfast and not have to deal with the noise of my house or my life or the cats or whatever. Like sometimes it's a nice reprieve to be in a Marriott Suites Hotel and know I can get whatever.
JG: You've given the advice previously to stand ups to vary what you do, don't do stand up only, if you can help it, which you obviously have done. So for you, after stand up, a podcast, a TV show, writing books, what's next?
MM: I'd like to maybe do some more directing, maybe script something I can direct myself. And I'd like to keep improving at stand up.
JG: What works in stand up comedy? Is there an overall common theme you see in a comic that definitely works, like being truthful or something big and nebulous like that?
MM: I don't know, everybody's gotta figure out what they do, man. It's either innate, or it's a mixture of being innate and practice — how to get a laugh when you want one is what it's about. Everyone's gotta figure it out for themselves.
JG: Are there any stand-up trends you are hating right now?
MM: Nah, I think stand up is better than it's ever been. It seems like people can find their audience. I don't think comedy is any different than it used to be. I wouldn't say there's a "trend." There just seem to be a lot of comics. A lot of them don't make it over the long haul, but even the ones who aren't that great can still find a place that people will enjoy them. It's never been any different. There's just a lot more people who are educated — not educated, but comedy-savvy audiences — out there. The whole comedy nerd community. They get excited about a comic coming, you know.
JG: You say you have a newbie opening for you, Ashley Barnhill. With as wide of a network as you have, how do you possibly narrow it down and decide on one single opener?
MM: Well, you know she worked for me for a while in other capacities, and then I had her as my part-time assistant, and I had seen her stand up and I've known her for years. And then she worked as a script assistant on my TV show. So, I've worked with her a long time and now she's getting a little attention in stand up, and because I knew her and we had a relationship, I thought that I'd take her out with me and let her do the 15 minutes up front. And she's doing good! You know, we've even added some tour dates. I generally like to bring people that I like to watch and hang out with on the road.
JG: You've said before you don't like to over-prepare for things. Does that apply to all the various ways you entertain?
MM: Well, here's the thing. When you've been doing this for 20 some-odd years, you know what you are doing, so you're prepared. And with stand up I don't like to over-structure a set. I don't like to be forbidden from keeping the end of jokes open for ongoing revelations and ongoing tags and lock myself into it that way. Sometimes I like to mix up the order of a set, so that I have a relationship to the audience and I'm not stuck on auto-pilot.