You think the cell-phone reception is bad where you are. Try
getting coverage in the desert landscape of northern Arizona.
That’s where Marc Maron was when we talked last Thursday, en
route from Sedona, Ariz.,
where Maron had watched the final presidential debate hoping to engage with
folks in the heart of McCain Country, toward Albuquerque.
He’s part of a crew from The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.,
getting the pulse of the American electorate in the final three weeks before
Election Day. He’ll also be at Comix in New York City this weekend.
"Everything’s pretty good, man. The road trip has been good
in a lot of ways, like I needed to get out. I just moved back to New York City from Los Angeles,
everything has been up in the air, and the past couple of years for me
personally have been miserable. So nothing is better than running away!" Maron
tells me. "If given the opportunity, it’s always fun to run."
It’s not as if the satirical stand-up comedian hasn’t
criss-crossed the country before, either for road work or with friends. But
this time feels very different.
"It’s interesting to
do it for a reason," he says. "We’re interviewing people. Shooting video. And
right now we’re checking out the meteor crater. I’ve never seen my producer get
so excited for something. I guess it’s interesting to see what could happen
that’s entirely out of our control." He looks out at the massive 4,000-foot wide, 550-foot deep
Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff and
finds perspective. "There’s no reason that can’t happen again. So it just makes
everything seem small and insignificant," he says.
He asks how I’m doing.
I’m just trying to carve out a niche for myself on the
Internet, but finding it slow going and requiring lots of patience, much like
trying to build a career in stand-up comedy. Maron understands. He just started
his own Web project himself, a new live Internet talk show, Maron v. Seder,
which began Oct. 1 and airs at 3 p.m. Eastern each weekday. You can read even more of his road trip musings there. He said you put
something out there on the Internet and hope people find it or flock to it. "Wow, we had 12 people watching today.
That’s pretty good. You get to know all the people who watch your show on a
first-name basis," Maron says. "Like catlady7, or roadfuck2. Or remembermeimtheonewiththeredha
Early in the road trip, the crew hit Las Vegas and Maron decided to take in Carrot Top’s live
show and talk to him afterward backstage.
Yes. Carrot Top.
So how did the meeting of Marc Maron and Carrot Top come about,
"Quite honestly, I knew one of the guys who opened for him,
Charlie. And certainly, I’ve used Carrot Top as the brunt of my jokes over the
years…I’m not saying he’s part of the problem…I guess I’m at an age now where I
don’t give a s$%& one way or the other. In all honesty, for all of the
jokes I’d made at his expense. I’d never seen his act. Never. Ever. I had no
recollection of it. So I figured. Why not do this? He was flattered and a little taken aback. He said he was happy
that a real comic would come down."
As for the show itself, Maron says he "was exactly what I
thought it would be, except a little more…loud noises, videos of one sort or
another…at one point it started snowing for no reason." That night, "he actually
wasn’t doing as well as he thought he should onstage and thought, oh great, the
one night a comic friend comes down…We’re, despite what anyone might say, we’re
in the same f&%#ing business…He’s survived in this business for all that
time, and that’s no easy trick."
And one of the odd things that can happen to a stand-up, as
Maron notes, is the difficulty of cultivating a certain look for your act, then
trying to maintain that look as you get older. Hence, ahem, Carrot Top of today
vs. the younger artist formerly known as Scott Thompson. You’ve all seen the
transformative photos. Let’s not go there. Let’s move on with Maron and crew,
since they already have moved on.
They’ll trek through 10 more states before reaching Washington,
D.C., on Election Day. Amid all of this, Maron takes a two-day timeout to fly back
to NYC for this weekend’s shows at Comix, and after the election, he’ll call
the city home once again. He enjoys living in Queens.
"I’ve had that place there since ’95," Maron says. "I was
subletting it to a German lady…that’s why coming back. I’ve been through two or
three lives in that apartment. Just that I hold onto it is bizarre. Prescient
that I would return: The very real possibility that things would not pan out as
He’s talking now about his second divorce. That subject
comes up often onstage, as well as how much New York City
has changed since Maron last lived there.
"I was nervous that it’s just become this huge outlet mall
for Europeans. All the great grittiness of it was gone…I was walking down Houston
(Street) and saw the Whole Foods, which in itself, is ridiculous. That place
used to be Beirut. And I was
walking, thinking it was over. And just as I was thinking that, I saw across
the street, there was this sweaty, homeless guy screaming, ‘I will f@#$ you in
the ass!’ And I thought…nope, the heart of New York
is alive and well and in the spirit of that man. Pretty ambitious. ‘I will f@#$
you in the ass.’ How do you picture that? Or maybe he just has a really
difficult relationship with God."
How does it feel coming back to New York City?
"I feel almost like when I go back to where I went to
college," Maron told me. "Hey, that old guy is wearing my clothes…I definitely
feel older. I definitely feel that New York
is live and exciting again…despite the grittiness, it’s made it a lively place
to be again. I don’t remember that the last time. The Lower East Side,
as much I’d like that to remain gritty and weird…It’s hard for me to maintain
the level of bullshit and anger I get about things as I get older. I’m happy to
be there. Just got though my second divorce, just about nine years sober, and
just remembered I have no idea what to do with my life…in that respect, New York
is a great place to be in my state of mind." Which is still somewhat, well, perturbed. "And financially, my wife has convinced herself that she
deserves my money and the judge and the lawyers have agreed that I need to give
her some of that…It seems a little unfair to me…so I hope she’s happy."
Then Maron remembers another thing about his old Queens
apartment and the neighborhood.
"There’s a grime that builds up over time that you just
can’t wash away," he says of his apartment. As for the neighborhood: "There are immigrants from all different countries.
I just remember when I was living there before, there was this little old woman
living next door. I don’t know if she was mentally right. But she was alone and
she died in her apartment. No one knew it for two or three weeks." Not even
him. "The firefighter said, ‘How could you not know the smell?!’ I said I had
no idea. I thought the smell of the woman decomposing was
something that was being cooked in the building and I didn’t want to
judge. Here I was being tolerant and I was just letting this woman rot in her
apartment. Is that an uplifting story?"
Hmmm. How about something you like about New York City that actually is uplifting? "It’s also good to be in New York
because I like hanging with the guys…being with these guys I’ve been in the
business with for so many years," he says. Getting together with fellow headlining comedians and
talking about life in the trenches is good. So, too, he says, is his new
Internet show with Sam Seder.
"It’s because we’re able to shoot all this stuff," he says.
"I think if I wasn’t doing this, if I hadn’t gotten the opportunity of Air America.
I have no idea what would’ve happened. I really don’t, dude."
How did it come about, then? "I was in L.A. I
had a deal with HBO. I wrote a script with Jerry Stahl for a pilot for myself.
Literally the day we turned in the final draft, the woman in charge of
development…left," he says. "So they didn’t do the pilot. I called my
management. They said they couldn’t book me road work. Then I called my agent…"
Same story. Road work is a curious game among stand-up comedians, Maron
says. "It’s either you draw, or the other guy. So to be lumped in with the
other crew. There’s people who draw and then there’s everyone else. And that
everyone else, it’s people who have been doing it 10 minutes or 20 years…I was
never a huge road draw anyway, so I was up against a wall. And going through a
Then he auditioned for an Air America project, and the idea
came up to do a live show with Seder. "I said, hell, yeah. It sounded like a great place to try
new things and whatever we wanted," he says. "Plus, I needed to work. It’s good
when those two things sync up."
His former radio producer is back working with him again on
it. And he says The Guardian road trip project "came on around
the side" of everything else. "They kept calling me," Maron says. "I said I can’t do it
for a month, I can do it for two weeks. They said can you do it for three
weeks? I buckled. I worked it out with Air America
that it’d be a jointly produced thing, so we’d benefit from the exposure…When
you do an Internet talk show it seems like you need to blow up the entire
medium and build the show from the ground up."
How does it feel now to be so busy, doing a live daily talk
show, interviewing Americans on the road, shooting documentary videos, and
blogging about it all. "I feel engaged with the process," he says. "It’s good. I’ve
got some amazing editors. And tech people. I’m learning how easy it is…with
radio you can do anything you want with structures of sound. But with tech now,
you can do it with video, too."
He says a McCain ad they posted has "gotten some traction"
in the past week or so. But if the election turns out to be not so tight and this
"swing state" tour isn’t quite so swing, expect to see "probably more stuff of
me eating," he jokes. And the prospect of America’s
first black president has Maron excited. "It’s going to be very interesting to
see white people adapt to this. I think it’s a pretty exciting thing. I really
want to see how it unfolds."