WTF: Marc Maron on Turning Addiction Into Comedy

Marc Maron.

Marc Maron. Courtesy of IFC

Maron is a semi-autobiographical original comedy starring stand-up comic and podcaster Marc Maron as a fictionalized version of himself. The real Marc Maron is doing just fine. His TV alter ego – not so much.

At the end of season three, the fictional Maron had collapsed on the floor of a studio, having just blown his shot at a TV hosting gig, because of his growing addiction to painkillers. When we first see him in season four he opens his garage door from the inside, as he does at the start of every episode, but this time, it’s actually not his garage but a storage unit that he’s clearly living in.

He looks like hell.

Quickly, it’s apparent that this relapse has cost Maron nearly everything, including his home and his main source of income, his podcast, of which he hasn’t worked on in a year.

Taking the title character down the road of addiction and recovery wasn’t exactly planned from the get-go, says Maron. “The way season three ended was sort of jarring and in my mind, I saw it as a possible end of the series because when you do TV you don’t know if you’re coming back. It would have been a dark end, but it would have been fitting. I really didn’t want to return to the world that we’d established because I thought we’d played out all the story possibilities. I thought we’d used a lot of my life and I didn’t want to start becoming redundant so we needed to take a new approach.”

Shifting the narrative this season opened up a bevy of new possibilities, explains Maron. “I just came up with this idea that we could do three shows within a show – Pick up where we left as if I’d been out for a year using drugs and that way we have to get me clean and back into life, and then I have to make decisions about my future. That sounded really compelling to me.”

“The real trick to it is to not make a mockery of the tragic nature of the disease of addiction; to honor and respect the real horror of it and the constant struggle of recovery.”

Maron himself has never been shy about his own recovery and says that his playing an addict is just that – acting. “I’m very stable in my sobriety and opiates are not my thing. The real trick to it is to not make a mockery of the tragic nature of the disease of addiction; to honor and respect the real horror of it and the constant struggle of recovery. I didn’t feel a personal threat to my sobriety, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t trivialize any of it.”

To make this season of the show funny, wasn’t exactly easy, but it wasn’t too difficult either, says Maron. “It was kind of challenging to do comedy [with the subject of addiction and recovery], but there was a way to do it and I think we found it. I don’t really know how, but we did. I think what we did was to utilize relationships, some established and some new, to generate conflict and then we found the real humor in those relationships and those conflicts.”

Maron also wants to be clear that the whole of season four is not about his character struggling in rehab. “I get clean pretty quickly; we don’t leave me all screwed up on drugs for too long. But, then comes a bunch other types of screwing up, because, you know, that’s how it goes.”

To explain how he and his team crafted the through-line for this season, Maron says, “Once I came up with the arc of the season, we started working a month before we were even officially in the [writers’] room. We’d meet at one of our houses and work on breaking the stories for each episode. I really need that to happen that way because every phase of the writing has to move through me and once we start actually shooting it gets really hectic because I’m in nearly every scene. Almost all of the major writing, except minor changes here and there, was done before we started shooting.”

Teasing a bit about season four, Maron says that Judd Hirsch and Sally Kellerman return as his parents, Constance Zimmer and Ron Perlman also show up, as do M.C. Gainey and Michael Lerner.

One of the guests Maron wants to really give a shout out to is Chet Hanks. He divulges how Hanks (yes, Tom’s son) came to his role on the series, saying, “We conceived of the character to be this rich kid in rehab with me. We’d seen Chet and knew that he’d had a little trouble in this area but that he’d gotten cleaned up. So we reached out to him, he came in and auditioned, and we booked him right away. He turned out to be just amazing because he was new to recovery and this character was really very close to who he was at that time. I’m sober, we have sober guys on the set and it was like this beautiful bonding thing.”

After completing four seasons of the series, Maron admits that he’s discovered a few things, mostly about himself. “I like that I was able to know enough about myself that I knew there was going to be a learning curve with almost every element of this – acting, writing, producing, directing. I entered this open to learning about the whole process. I really never thought of myself as the boss, even though my name is on the show, I just wanted everything to go well and to grow and I think that’s happening.”

“As a comic, you tend to believe that you’re a pretty selfish person, so my evolution as a human seems to have helped a lot of people and I find that very humbling.”

It’s key to remember that all of this started with Maron’s incredibly successful WTF podcast, that began in 2009 and now has over 700 episodes. Asked about hitting that milestone, Maron responded, “Well, first of all, I don’t think in my wildest dreams I thought that I would ever have a podcast. I had no idea that it would turn into what it has.”

Explaining the beginnings of the podcast, Maron relates, “Brendan [McDonald], my producer and I just decided that we’d have a new episode every Monday and Thursday no matter what, so that’s what we do. These milestone episodes, like 500 or 700, kind of become less significant because we just keep working. We work hard and get a lot of joy out of it and we’re just really glad people like it.”

The guests on the podcast are a who’s who of the entertainment world, but by far the most famous guest is the now-sitting President of the United States. Yes, Mr. Obama spoke with Maron and he didn’t do it in the oval office – like all other guests he stopped by Maron’s garage for the sit-down.

Maron admits that he’s still in a bit of shock over the event. “Why would I think the President would ever come to my house? But yet, it happened.”

Could it happen again with the next POTUS? Maron laughs a little as he says, “I don’t have any desire to get into the political dialogue or talk to politicians but I’d be honored to talk to the next president, whoever that might end up being.”

Summing up his journey, Maron ruminates with, “I think that what’s happened that’s surprising to me is that because of my weird compulsive desire to continue to express myself and survive in this ridiculous business that I’ve chosen and also to service my love, which is standup comedy, somehow my cosmic timing and my perseverance kind of won out. It’s amazing, exciting and emotional for me to get feedback about the place the podcast holds in people’s lives and it’s a very exciting thing to know that I do something that helps people in some way. As a comic, you tend to believe that you’re a pretty selfish person, so my evolution as a human seems to have helped a lot of people and I find that very humbling. And, I’m really thrilled about is as well.”

Season 4 of Maron premieres Wednesday at 9/8c on IFC.

Maron’s WTF podcast can be found at WTF: Marc Maron on Turning Addiction Into Comedy