The comedian Marc Maron is doing a whirlwind tour of Chicago, having just stopped by WBEZ, on his way to Mark Bazer’s Interview Show tonight at the Hideout, on his way to a two-night stand starting tonight at the Mayne Stage.
It’s kind of a wonderful story. Maron’s from the same generation of comics as Louis C.K. and Sarah Silverman, and is similar in tone and approach to the former, but his career never quite took off in the way that theirs did. A couple decades into his career he started doing an interview podcast with his fellow comedians out of his garage… and it took off. It caught the ear of Ira Glass, a huge fan, and got picked up by public radio, including our own WBEZ.
It’s interesting why the podcast works. Stand-up comedians are famously dysfunctional, and to greater or lesser degrees work that into their acts; Maron in particular works the darkly confessional angle into his act, making jokes about his broken relationships, depression, and loneliness. And, with his reputation proceeding him—he’s interviewing his colleagues—it gives him a rapport with his subjects that interviewers outside the industry don’t usually have. It’s an interesting contrast to the high polish of, say, Fresh Air, probably the most tightly structured and well-organized interview show on American radio. Which has its own appeal, and likely has a lot to do with why Ira Glass is a fan: the shared background, and the fact that Maron is a professional talker but not interviewer, gives the show an authenticity that’s often moving.
I recommend Episode #72 with Maria Bamford, not just because she’s my favorite comedian, but because of its structure–it’s actually recorded on the road, and it sounds like a road trip, where the conversation winds through niceties and light jokes into mental illness. As Ira Glass puts it: "the road trip Marc takes with Maria Bamford where she talks about her last relationship and what was fucked up about it, and Marc realizes that it was a lot like his failed marriage, and suddenly feels like he’s hearing his ex-wife’s side of everything she went through with him." Before that they talk about eating disorders and bad-thoughts syndrome. (I mentioned on Twitter how familiar some of the specific mental problems were to me, and someone responded that it’s a very theraputic interview, and it is.)
For instance, compare Maron’s stand-up act (or, if you want something less safe for work, his brilliant bit on Prozac):
With Maron in a (different, less deeply personal) interview with Bamford:
Bamford, by the way, will be at the Mayne Stage this fall; I agree with Maron that she’s the best working comedian in America.