The edgiest comic working doesn’t like Mom, dates Moon Zappa, and Remembers Sam Kinison.
PLAYBOY: You play a character named Marc Maron on the IFC series Maron. Is he based literally on you, or is he a caricature of you?
MARON: I don’t really know. At least in the first season I was insistent that everything come directly from my own experiences. This season we were a little more flexible. I’m not as obsessed with everything being true, but it’s still a struggle for me. I’ve always been envious of comics who can be caricatures of themselves. They create these fabricated, heightened versions of who they are. I can never do that. I just never thought a comedian’s responsibility was to entertain.
PLAYBOY: It’s not? Isn’t that like saying a NASCAR driver doesn’t have to drive fast?
MARON: I don’t know why, but I never thought it was. With the comics I respected, guys like George Carlin and Bill Hicks, it always seemed to be more about sharing a point of view. A lot of times when I’m doing stand-up or my podcast, I’m not sure what the fuck is going to come out of my mouth. And nothing feels more alive than that. That’s the excitement of having a moment that can never happen again. That’s way more compelling to me than getting a laugh.
PLAYBOY: There’s a great scene in the new season of Maron when you and your brother are talking about your parents, and he says, “I love Mom,” and you think about it and say, “Eh, I’m on the fence.” Is that actually how you feel?
MARON: It’s hard for me to see my parents as parents, because they were so young and were both struggling with their own horrendous insecurities. I see them as these people I grew up with. Parenting did not come naturally to them. There wasn’t a lot of nurturing. There was a lot of panic and worry and using me and my brother to make themselves feel better. When I say I’m on the fence, I mean I don’t quite register them as parents. If I were in trouble and could make only one phone call, they wouldn’t be at the top of the list.
PLAYBOY: You’ve claimed that being able to make your dad laugh was part of the reason you became a comic.
MARON: In a way, sure. It was my way of communicating with him. He was very erratic, mood-wise. He’d fluctuate from rage to depression to complete detachment. When he was at his worst, I was able to lighten the load a little and provide some relief for him. I did weird things like that to have a connection with him. My dad was a doctor and also a hypochondriac, so I became a hypochondriac too. If I said, “I think I’m sick,” he’d be like, “Let’s have a look.” On some level, it was asking for emotional attention and comfort that I don’t think were present in my childhood.
PLAYBOY: Judd Hirsch plays your dad on Maron. Has your father seen the show? Does he think it’s a fair portrayal?
MARON: My father was a little upset, not just with the show but also with my book Attempting Normal, where I wrote some things about our relationship. For me to identify him as bipolar and talk about some of the struggles in our family because of that, to him was a betrayal. Being incredibly self-centered and slightly delusional, he took it very personally and thought he had been outed in some way. It was sort of surprising, because I thought this was something everyone in my family knew and that maybe he had some perspective on it. When you do autobiographical work, sometimes the people in your life take a hit.
PLAYBOY: On your podcast, WTF With Marc Maron, you’ve interviewed hundreds of comedians, actors and musicians. Have you ever been intimidated or starstruck by any of them?
MARON: I don’t usually get intimidated, but some people are truly bigger than life. Will Ferrell was kind of weird. I don’t know Will, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy, but it was surreal having him in my garage. Bryan Cranston was intimidating because I had so much invested in Walter White [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][from Breaking Bad]. I just couldn’t separate him from the character. But the biggest one for me, the guy who really made me nervous when I knew he was coming over, was Iggy Pop. I’m a huge fan, and he’s this strange force of nature.
PLAYBOY: Did he live up to your expectations?
MARON: Immediately. The first thing he did was take off his shirt. I was like, Oh, okay. Well, I guess he’s ready to talk now. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: Your grandfather owned a hardware store, and as a kid you’d eavesdrop on the customers who would hang around and talk. What did you learn from them?
MARON: I always gravitated toward men who seemed to have lives. They all had this very defined sense of self, even if it seemed as if they were from their own planet. These old guys would just talk all day, and they were real characters. They probably had nothing else to do, but I was enamored of them. There was this one guy with a really scratchy voice, who always wore a hat, and was always smoking. I’d watch him and think, “That guy’s got some information I need.” I had a real craving early on for adult guidance. I certainly wasn’t getting it from my parents.
PLAYBOY: You also spent a lot of time talking to homeless people. Were you getting guidance from them too?
MARON: Well, I don’t know about guidance. Just a sense of…the largeness of the world. I grew up in Albuquerque, and during high school I got a job at the Posh Bagel, which was in an area with a lot of street people. I don’t know what it is about me, but I’m somebody they gravitate toward. Not just for money, but they feel I have sort of a sympathetic ear or something. I used to give these guys coffee and sit there and talk to them.
PLAYBOY: Did you have a favorite?
MARON: There was one guy in particular—Pete, I think his name was—who was a schizophrenic. He used to make these interesting drawings that involved General Custer and firearms, and he’d smoke Winchester cigars like they were cigarettes. A lot of what he said didn’t make sense, but he would draw these amazing pictures, and I’d put them up at the restaurant. I’d give him free coffee and just spend hours with this guy because I thought he knew something. His way of looking at the world was completely abstract, but he was very passionate about it. I thought, Well, maybe he’s right.
PLAYBOY: You’ve built a career on intimate, revealing conversations, but you also have a big Twitter presence. Isn’t social media the enemy of real human interaction?
MARON: Probably. But remember, you’re talking to a guy who didn’t have any foresight about the internet in general. In 1995, on my HBO special, I called it a passing fad. So it’s sort of ironic that the internet is at least partly responsible for any success I’ve had. I guess with Twitter I like the immediate exchange with fans. I don’t enjoy the confrontation and the trolls. I don’t want to be there for the garbage. But it’s a nice way to share thoughts in an immediate way and get immediate feedback. It’s not a replacement for actual conversation, but for some people it can be a source of intimacy.
PLAYBOY: You have a reputation for being brutally honest. Under what circumstances would you lie?
MARON: If I have lied in my life, it has usually been to avoid pain or punishment. It’s not necessarily lying, it’s more like…an omission. [laughs] You know, out of self-preservation.
PLAYBOY: After two divorces and countless relationships that ended badly, you’re dating Moon Zappa. Is this the one that’s going to last?
MARON: I hope so. I’ve known her for a long time, like 20-odd years, and we only recently started dating. When I first met her, I felt immediately connected to her in a very deep way, but for whatever reason it never happened. So who knows how this will play out? We’ve both been through a lot of shit. We both have a lot of problems, and we’re both very aware of them. It took only about a week before we were like, What are we doing? How’s this going to work? And it hasn’t been without drama. She has some very specific daddy issues.
PLAYBOY: How do you not have daddy issues when your dad is rock legend Frank Zappa?
MARON: Yeah, exactly! These aren’t daddy issues, these are Frank Zappa issues. There’s no barometer for her experience on a comparative scale. I’m a Frank Zappa fan, and occasionally I’ll bring it up. But we don’t sit around and talk about Frank Zappa too much. Her relationship with him is specifically father and daughter. There’s a lot of pride, but I imagine a lot of struggle around creative expectations. I don’t poke at it too much.
PLAYBOY: You have a few cats you clearly adore. You discuss them on your podcast and pose with them for book covers, and they’re characters with story lines on Maron. What is it about a cat’s personality that you relate to?
MARON: I like the autonomy of cats. They’re low maintenance, and they’re not emotionally needy. I grew up with dogs, but when I was still in New York and going through my first divorce, the woman I was seeing, who became my second wife, gave me a kitten. I got very attached to it. All of a sudden I wanted to be surrounded by cats. I really just wanted friends, and they didn’t like me, which made them even more attractive. You have to earn their respect, you know? And it’s always kind of a tenuous relationship. I think I’m more comfortable in those situations, both with women and cats.
PLAYBOY: Most of the WTF podcasts are recorded in your garage, which apparently has a gallery of paintings and portraits of you made by fans. What are some of the best?
MARON: There’s a great portrait of me interviewing Fozzie Bear, where he looks dejected and I’m going, “What’s up with this ‘wocka-wocka’ thing you do? You hate yourself, right? No hugs from Daddy?” There’s also a weird craft mosaic, which is like a portrait of me made out of colored stones. Someone did a needlepoint thing of me. It’s so fucking flattering and humbling. I remember in junior high spending nine hours doing a portrait of John Lennon, and it was the best thing I ever drew in my life. You really have to be inspired by somebody to do that.
PLAYBOY: Another piece of garage decor is a cast photo from the 1932 film Freaks that you used to snort cocaine off of back in the 1980s. Why hold on to something like that?
MARON: The photo goes further back than that. One of my grandmother’s neighbors in New Jersey during the 1970s was this hippie dude with a beard, and his bedroom was cluttered with posters and records and pictures. The whole aesthetic of my garage is based on his bedroom. He had the Freaks photo, and it burned a fucking hole in my brain. I got my own copy of it, and it ended up being the thing we did coke off of when I was hanging out with [late comic] Sam Kinison. I guess I thought it was some form of reflection. [laughs] Like, you know, these people are naturally outside of any established order, and so am I.
PLAYBOY: You and Kinison partied and did drugs together, but did you share a sense of humor?
MARON: Not really. I was completely out of my mind in terms of signs and symbols and mystical paranoia. I had all these weird agendas going on inside my head, and Sam was just a balls-to-the-wall rock-and-roll monster. I was like, “Think about it, man. We’re freaks, you know?” He was like, “Whatever, Maron. Just cut the coke.”
PLAYBOY: How did you finally get clean?
MARON: I was in a coke-induced psychotic state and hearing voices in my head. Hollywood had taken on this weird kind of mystical symbolism to me that I was self-generating. I was way out of my mind, and I had gotten paranoid on so many levels. I had a falling-out with Kinison. He peed in my bed because I’d let a satanist hang out with us. So one day I was—
PLAYBOY: Wait, wait, back up. A satanist?
MARON: Yeah, Dave the satanist. He used to hang around the Comedy Store. Satanists, or at least the ones who choose to represent Satan publicly, are always kind of tragic. They’re not as scary as you might want them to be. But Sam didn’t like him hanging around, and he peed in my bed to make a point, so I found someplace else to sleep. Not long after that I had a weird meltdown in the parking lot of the Comedy Store. I was breaking glasses, just out of control. And this drug dealer came up to me and said, “You got to get out of here, man.” [laughs] If a drug dealer tells you to leave, it’s time to leave.
PLAYBOY: Every time you’ve interviewed a past or current Saturday Night Live cast member, you mention how you were nearly hired by the show in the mid-90s. After all these years, is it still your white whale?
MARON: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m a little obsessed. It’s taken on mythological proportions for me. It was such a weird, defining moment in my life. I’d like to interview (SNL executive producer) Lorne (Michaels) about it just to get some closure. I want to ask him “Tell me exactly why I didn’t get it.” [laughs.] I don’t know if he’d be able to tell me anything that’d give me closure. I mean, at this point, why does it matter? But I think about it. I think about it more than I should. I’ve just had to accept that whatever path I’m on has to be the right path, because I can’t go through life regretting anything.
PLAYBOY: What happened exactly? What went wrong?
MARON: I was asked to meet with Lorne and Steve Higgins, who was the head writer at the time. I remember trying to decide whether I should smoke a little weed before or not, and I decided I’d better smoke a little weed. I walked into Lorne’s office, and there was a bowl of candy on his desk. In my mind, it’s Jolly Ranchers, but it might’ve been Tootsie Rolls. He started talking about monkeys. He said “Comedians are like monkeys. When people go to the zoo, they like the bears because they’re intense and the lions are scary, but the monkeys make people laugh.” And I remember saying, “Yeah, as long as he doesn’t throw shit at you.” That didn’t get a laugh. I was uncomfortable, so I took a piece of candy and put it in my mouth. Both Lorne and Higgins looked at each other, and in my mind, they both just agreed, “Yeah, he failed the candy test.” That’s how I’ve made sense of it in my head. [Long pause, then laughs.] I really need to talk to Lorne.
PLAYBOY: It all worked out in the end. You’ve had a pretty successful career.
MARON: I guess. You think so? [Laughs, then sighs.] I don’t know.
PLAYBOY: Do you not feel famous?
MARON: I think more people don’t know me than do know me. I get that a lot. They’re like, “How did I not know about you?” I have no idea. I’m doing everything I can. I’ve got a TV show, a podcast, I do standup, I’m on talk shows. Do you want me to come to your house and introduce myself? I’ve done everything that’s humanly possible. On the other end of it, there’s the people who follow everything I do, and they feel like we’re friends. I’ll walk down the street and people are like, “Hey Maron. You get your toilet fixed yet?” Because I talked about it on the podcast or something. I have to move through the world with this weird familiarity with hundreds of strangers.
PLAYBOY: This discussion has gotten pretty deep and intense. Can you lighten the mood a little? Tell us a joke.
MARON: Okay, here’s something. There’s this guy with no arms and no legs. He’s sitting at a bar, and he tells the bartender, “Can I have a shot of whiskey?” The bartender puts the drink down, and the guy leans over, covers the whole glass with his mouth and sucks down the shot. Then the guy reaches into his pocket with his mouth and pulls a cigarette out of a pack of cigarettes and says, “Hey bartender, you got a match?” Bartender hands him one and he puts the match in his mouth. Then the guy flips the cigarette in the air, strikes the match, catches the cigarette, lights it with his mouth and spits the match out. The bartender is pretty impressed. Then the guy goes, “Hey bartender, you got any darts?” The bartender goes, “Yeah,” and the guy goes, “Put one in my mouth.” So the bartender puts a dart in the guy’s mouth, and then the guy goes, “Now throw the board at my face.”
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the July/August 2014 issue of Playboy magazine.)