Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Marc Maron and His Implausible Garage

Three years ago, Marc Maron was broke, twice divorced, and thinking of quitting. Not the quitting the business – quitting life.

"I thought about suicide a lot," Maron recalled in his trademark neurotic way. "Not because I really wanted to kill myself. I just found it relaxing to know that I could if I had to."

But three days ago, Maron was confident, successful, and coming off one of the better keynote speeches in Montreal Comedy Festival history. What a difference 20 million downloads make.

That's how many listeners his critically acclaimed podcast "WTF" has earned in two years. It's the second most popular podcast in the world, and I can't have a conversation after a show without an audience member telling me I should listen to it.

Of course I listen to it. It'd honest, raw, and brilliantly entertaining even if it weren't about standup comedy. Telling a comedian that they should listen to WTF is like telling a doctor they should consider medical school. And according to Maron, the podcast has a healing agent to it, too. At the very least, it does for him.

"I started to understand who I was by talking to other comics and sharing it with you. I started to laugh at things again I was excited to be alive," Maron said. "Doing the podcast and listening to comics was saving my life. I realized that is what comedy can do for people."

In 2004, Maron was a guest on my own short-lived radio show, and I was beyond intimidated by how sharp he was. In 2005, I was a guest on his shorter-lived Air America morning show, where he took me to task on air for my ability to market my comedy, hinting I might be all smoke and mirrors. In 2006, I used that marketing ability to help him deal with the world of MySpace, and he made me deal with his anger and frustration when, like life, his MySpace didn't work out the way he'd hoped.

In 2010, I ran into Maron on the subway. When I gave him an enthusiastic hello, it was as if Maron barely knew who I was – odd after we'd spent years chatting in clubs and on the air. But just a week later, he walked up to me at a party and said his own enthusiastic hello, asking how I was doing with genuine interest behind the question.

And that's Maron – a person that has always been on the brink of both unbridled success and complete breakdown. In a life riddled with failed projects and failed marriages, you never knew which Maron you were going to get.

Myspace was a microcosm of the entertainment industry. MySpace was built for a young, hip demographic and filled with booms and busts, and with no real place for an uneasy voice of candid reason like Marc Maron.

But Myspace's brief success led to the launch of YouTube. And YouTube's wild success led to the democratization of entertainment on the internet. And the democratization of entertainment on the internet led to talent like Maron seeing the medium as a serious channel for creativity. And Maron's podcast let to him finally finding an outlet in an industry that generally ignored his tortured genius for the better part of a quarter century.

"I started doing a podcast in that very garage where I was planning my own demise," Maron said, almost choking on the relief of his own emotion. "I know my place in show business now. It's in my garage."

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