Recovering Messiah: Marc Maron

By | May 08, 2012

If ever there was a tale of comic resurrection, it belongs to Marc Maron.

The 48-year-old comedian’s climb back from drugs, drinking and despair—with a lot of help from iTunes—is a modern-day redemption story.

The progeny of a Jewish doctor and homemaker mother, Maron began his standup career in the 1980s. A hit in alternative comedy clubs in New York in the 1990s, Maron blew his Saturday Night Live interview, then watched as his friends—and enemies—went on to sitcom deals and television specials. Jealous, angry and bitter, he turned to alcohol and cocaine. He went through two divorces, the second so contentious he based his one-man show, Scorching the Earth, on it.

In 2005, he was fired as a co-host of Morning Sedition, a talk show on the liberal and now-defunct Air America radio network. (Rachel Maddow got part of his time slot.) Desperate and broke, Maron used his still-working Air America pass-card to sneak into the studios to interview his comedian friends. Without a show of his own, he recorded the interviews and uploaded them as podcasts to iTunes. When he moved back to a house he owned in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood, Maron continued the interviews in his cluttered one-car garage. Eking out a living on the far edges of comedy, he interviewed megastar comic actors such as Robin Williams, Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, as well as radio and TV personalities including public radio’s Ira Glass, sitcom star Amy Poehler, late night TV’s Conan O’Brien and the occasional literary notable such as Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler.

Ably mining his narcissism, anger management issues, food and weight obsessions, and his professed inability to get out of his own self-absorbed head, Maron brings a refreshing honesty to his interviews. They are conversations, which stir emotions in him as well as in the guests who sit opposite him. With a sharp mind fueling an even sharper and often profane tongue, Maron manages to cut through the BS to reveal new meaning for himself and for his audience, something that can elude all but the most talented comics.

He calls these blasts of verbiage—his podcasts—WTF (What the Fuck). And over the past two and a half years, they have become a must-listen for comedy nerds and insiders, plus a growing number of fans in the general public. Twice a week, Maron’s show is downloaded 230,000 times, making WTF one of the top podcasts on iTunes.

With the surging popularity of WTF—Maron seems to be pulling his life together. He’s been sober now for more than 12 years, and even gave up smoking, though not nicotine lozenges. He’s recently acquired a young girlfriend, a TV pilot, a book deal and some mainstream sponsors for his podcast, enabling him to transcend his bitterness and let go of some of his anger. Some fans have emailed Maron with fears that they may lose the tortured and hyper-neurotic Marc to a new, more stable one.

Moment editor Nadine Epstein recently stopped by the Cat Ranch—as Maron calls his small bungalow, populated by once-feral cats like Boomer, La Fonda and Monkey that his listeners know so well—to talk about his upbringing; the experiences in Israel that resulted in his book, The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah; why he diagnosed himself with this fascinating ancient malady and much more.

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