Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Comedian Maron's interviews make compelling podcasts

Brian Gaar

Marc Maron has been in the comedy game for years, but podcasting has made him a star.

A fixture of the U.S. comedy scene, Maron has done scads of appearances on HBO and Comedy Central, and he holds the record for most appearances on `Late Night with Conan O'Brien.' He also had a brief career as a political talk show host on the now-defunct Air America radio network. But Maron has largely flown under the pop culture radar - until now.

His profile skyrocketed thanks to his `WTF' podcast, which he started in 2009 and mostly records in his garage. Humble surroundings aside, Maron has carved out a niche in the podcasting sphere, becoming almost a Charlie Rose-style interviewer of his fellow comedians. He's talked to some of the biggest names in the business - Robin Williams, Dane Cook, Louis CK and Ben Stiller - and made waves when he confronted Carlos Mencia over allegations of joke theft. Mencia didn't cop to any thievery, but his protestations made for compelling listening. The `WTF' podcast draws almost 200,000 listeners a week and is one of the top comedy podcasts on iTunes.

Maron is coming to Austin on Monday to record a live `WTF' podcast with some of Austin's top comics. We talked to him about the podcast's origins and some of its more infamous moments. (Read more of our interview with Maron @austin360.com/comedy.)

Where did you get the idea for the podcast?

Well the real way it started is my producer and partner, Brendan McDonald, and I were working at - we had a radio job and I had been fired from …

Oh, Air America?

Yeah, I had been fired several times from there, and we were doing an Internet TV show and they fired us again, but they didn't take our passcards away. So we had our security passcards and then, after hours, we would break into the studio, and we did the first handful of podcasts there, where we'd have to bring guests up on the freight elevator and hopefully didn't get caught. They were so busy going bankrupt that they didn't notice. ... And once I got out here to L.A., I set up shop in the garage, and that's how that started.

Do you know a lot of the guests? Are these friends?

Most of the people I've met, but some of the younger guys I didn't know that well. And a lot of the guys I talk to, I've known for 20 years, but I don't know them that well until I sit down and talk to them for an hour. I mean, how often do you talk to anybody for an hour? But certainly I know some more than others. ... And now some people are seeking me out, like Judd Apatow was a big fan of the show. Patton Oswalt emailed me, asking me whether it was OK or not to give my e-mail address to Judd. And of course I said, `That's ridiculous, don't just give it to anybody.' (Maron was kidding.)

It seems like people aren't very guarded. One of the first ones I listened to (was) when you interviewed Robin Williams, and you sort of made him not (act like the character) `Robin Williams.'

Well, I think that because my nature is to bring myself out and to talk about myself a little bit, and I think that people who are accustomed to talking about themselves or talking about themselves in a particular way or format - all of those preconceptions go away. Primarily, we're in my garage. There's no one else there. There's no agenda, other than to have a genuine conversation, so I think the best thing that can happen is that you forget that you're on the mikes. And that happens a lot in the garage.

With Robin, it was a little different because ... he was familiar with me. I obviously knew him; I'd run into him a few times here and there. ... So after a fair amount of work in pulling the interview together, he invited me to his home. So the intimacy of that interview was really relative to the fact that it was 11 in the morning, I was at his house and there was no audience there. And so I think he was ready to talk about things in a very genuine way .

The second Mencia (podcast), it made me physically uncomfortable.

It was awkward because I was in a difficult position. I'd done this hour-long interview with Mencia and I realized that I didn't address a lot of issues. It wasn't my agenda in the first interview, to grill the guy. I had a very different agenda going in. I saw him, because I wasn't at the Comedy Store when all that (stuff) went down, so I just wanted to hear his side of things, because I thought he seemed to be the victim in this situation with Joe (Rogan), you know?

(Maron's referring to when Joe Rogan confronted Mencia in 2007 about allegations that Mencia steals jokes. See a clip with this story online.)

And I just wanted to address the topic of stealing and the topic of what is anyone's material and what is hack material, and so it was really sort of a general thing. But then when I talked to him and I realized that he clearly had an agenda and he was trying to rebuild this image and using me to do it and that I couldn't get underneath it, (so) I had this thing that I'd recorded ... that I couldn't use. And I didn't know what to do. And so I started talking to some friends - Al Madrigal and a couple of people, and Al said, "Talk to some of the Latino guys; this is a bigger problem than you realize," and so then I started doing my homework.

Yeah, you basically did journalism.

Right. And so then I'm in this weird position after I talk to Willie (Barcena) and I talk to Steve (Trevino) and I talked to other people, well, I've got to call (Mencia) back and give him the opportunity to answer this stuff. Like literally when I called him, I was hoping he'd do it on the phone. ... But I call him up, and I said, `Look, I talked to Steve and Willie and a few other people, and I've got to be fair to you and do followup on this.' ... So, we went into the garage, and the weird thing about him is that he is pretty open and pretty ready to answer (stuff). It was almost like he was craving the opportunity.

Has the podcast caused any ripples in the comedy community?

No, I think if anything it's strengthened the community. I think it's giving a lot of comics an opportunity to get to know the people that they work with, or the people that they've looked up to forever. If I were starting out and I loved Dave Attell when I was 13 and 14 and 15, the opportunity to listen to my interview with him would've been just an amazing, great thing.

Marc Maron

Three local comedians will open the night, followed by a live `WTF' panel hosted by Maron. All ages.

When: Doors at 6:30 p.m. Monday

Where: The Parish, 214 E. Sixth St.

Cost: $15 advance, $20 at the door

Information:www.theparishaustin.com ; marcmaron.com