Comedian Marc Maron has interviewed many big cultural figures on his highly rated podcast, "WTF," but only one that involved putting a sniper on his neighbor's roof.
President Barack Obama dropping by his home studio in Pasadena, California, on June 19 for an hour solidified Maron's reputation as a true pioneer of the medium. The episode, released Monday, featured the president discussing personal matters like his upbringing and the raising of his children as well as national issues such as the battle for health care reform and the state of racism in this country.
"We are not cured of racism," Obama told Maron. "It's not just a matter of it not being polite to say [the 'n-word'] in public."
This statement caused the media to focus on the president saying the racial slur outright. The episode became the most downloaded (over 1.5 million) in the history of "WTF." A frustrated Maron addressed the issue.
"Networks and radio stations were actually bleeping the word," says Maron. "They were censoring the president of the United States, who did not use the word. He said the word to make a point about using it."
When he comes to The Paramount tonight, Maron, 51, will discuss the Obama interview as well as pontificate on life and how he's dealing with it through his stand-up comedy.
How did the interview with Obama come about?
About a year ago, someone on the White House staff reached out to my producer and said, "We like the show and we want to do something." Then, suddenly it became a reality. I couldn't believe it until they were tenting my driveway and had a dog in my house sniffing for bombs. It didn't feel totally real until he was walking up my driveway, which was pretty amazing.
Was the prep more nerve-racking then the actual interview?
A little bit, because I wanted to do what I do. We were surprised he was able to make the interview, given the Charleston massacre. I had to get up to speed on politics because it's not really my wheelhouse any more. I read his first book, "Dreams From My Father," to get a sense of him as a young man and where he comes from. It was a bit trickier than usual.
Do you feel like you connected as people?
I did, and I think you can hear that in a few places. There were some real moments and I think we got a lot of them. He was definitely very present, and he put me at ease. I was surprised at how human he was.
Did it surprise you that the President actually said the 'n' word instead of using the phrase "the n-word"?
I'm a comedian so we've been talking about words forever therefore it didn't surprise me. I heard it and I listened after that. It was deliberate, it was candid and it led into a bigger point. I wasn't like 'Oh my God!'...It was predictable, irresponsible and embarrassing that the media took it up like that.
Did you leave the garage as is or did you change it before he came?
They asked for some things to be removed. There was some clutter on the ground. We had to remove some objects, like a half a hammer and knife.
How did your neighborhood react?
It was compromising. You couldn't park for a day. But my neighbors were excited. Some people lined the streets with signs. He signed a book for a little girl when he came out.
How has your podcast impacted your stand-up comedy?
People who listen to the podcast know me very well in a relatively intimate way. When I improvise at the beginning of each show, it's a lot of thinking out loud. Many things that I come up with during that conversation with myself I am able to build into my stand-up material.
Do you appreciate your success more because it came at a later age?
Not only do I appreciate it more, but I can handle it. I don't think I could have handled it at another age. As you get older and more accomplished, you become less frightened. I think I feel that, and it's a tremendous relief more than anything else.
What made you start the podcast?
I started it because I was in a desperate situation. I was broke, out of a divorce and fired for the third or fourth time. I was in bad shape. I knew people were doing podcasts. I didn't listen to any but I knew it was an outlet that was available. I was pretty good on that kind of mic. We knew we had to be consistent, so we've dropped a new show every Monday and Thursday since 2009. The show just evolved on its own.
Was there an episode that brought you to a new level?
There were many: the Robin Williams one, the Conan O'Brien one, the Judd Apatow doubleheader, the Louis C.K. doubleheader, the Ira Glass episode, Patrice O'Neal show. There are still people who don't know how to get a podcast. There are still a lot of growth possibilities for the medium.
Do you think a lot of your success is based on your honesty?
Yeah, I seek to connect. There's a certain rawness to it.
How would you describe the "WTF" style?
If I can get 10 minutes of authenticity and engagement, then I think that's a success. Whatever that connection happens around, whether it's about someone's father, their dog or a failure. and for however long it goes on, that seems to feel like what I'm trying to do. I have an instinctual methodology around doing that.
What kind of impact did The Comedy Store have on shaping you as a comedian?
It taught me that the more I pushed the boundaries, the better I'm going to be. I learned that comics are true renegades, outlaws and gypsies who live by their own code. Also, the commitment to stand-up comedy is a real thing and no easy task. It was a live-or-die situation.
You aired your actual issues on the air with fellow comedian Louie C.K. What was the result of that?
A lot of the email and reaction that I received from that was people saying, "I need to call my buddy." It was a powerful thing for a lot of people. Louie and I are very close now. We went through whatever we went through. Now, when I go to New York, I go to his house and just talk for a few hours.
Do you think the world has gotten too politically correct for comics today?
Comics are going to take the risks they are going to take. They are going to push and then they are going to get pushed back. It's an ongoing struggle. You have to be respectful of people. If you're not, you are going to have to shoulder that. I think there's plenty of room for comedy that's challenging. There's always going to be overreaction, but some of the reaction is legitimate. You have to decide as an artist what you want to say and how you want to fight your personal fight.
Has it caused you to alter your material?
No, I don't know that I've had to alter anything. I'm fairly deliberate about what I say, and I'm conscious of it. There are certain words that go out of fashion and you can try to use them ironically if you want or remove it if it hurts people's feelings.
What was the biggest comedy lesson you learned, and who was it from?
It comes from watching my friends. I just wanted to have a point of view and speak my mind. I've learned a lot from watching people spin out or succeed. The ones that I respect are the ones that find a part of their heart lives on stage. They can't help but be up there or hide themselves. Those are the guys I respect.
How would you compare TV Marc Maron ("Maron" on IFC) to podcast host Marc Maron to the real Marc Maron?
TV Marc Maron is more limited in his perspective. He's more like me five or six years ago in temperament. He evolved into a comedic character with some emotional range. The guy on the podcast for the most part is me. When I do the monologue, I'm a little amped up because I'm on the mic, but in conversation you get a full sense of me. Regular me wakes up, makes coffee, goes on Twitter for an hour, then listens to a record.
Your work ethic seems intense. You even podcast on vacation!
When you are self-employed, part of you feels you don't deserve a vacation. You feel like you are getting away with murder. whatever you do.
Is the podcast therapeutic for you?
I've learned a lot of things and have evolved to the point where I'm more comfortable with myself. It's therapeutic in that way. Doing the podcast, I've become very engaged emotionally in peoples' stories and my empathy has grown a lot. I like talking to other people because it gets me out of my own head.
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m., Saturday, The Paramount, 370 New York Ave. in Huntington
INFO $19.50-$37.50, 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com