Marc Maron had just seen his likeness on a Los Angeles billboard before sitting down with Rotten Tomatoes, and — unlike the grumpy mug frowning down over Wilshire Boulevard — this Maron was smiling, though momentarily distracted by whether or not his billboard double-selfie had posted on Instagram.
It’s not everyday you get your own billboard, a fact not lost on Maron, who, 51, is enjoying the most success of his life. His TV show Maron starts its third season tonight on IFC; his popular podcast, WTF With Marc Maron, just hit its 600th episode; and his comedy tour sells out across the country.
“It’s all working out okay right now,” Maron told Rotten Tomatoes. “The TV, that’s a process where you write for a few months and you shoot. Podcasts I do every week. That’s the basic job. And stand-up’s been great because for the first time in my career people want to see me. They come to see me. Five years ago I couldn’t sell tickets, I could barely get work.”
Maron’s loyal WTF fans (known affectionately as a slew of nicknames we can’t print here) are happy to see the comedian’s success, though some worry he might lose his edge. “Most of my fans have taken this ride with me, so they’re excited. I think there’s some concern that I may become too happy or too complacent and that would change the tone. I don’t know that that’s happened yet. I was yelling in my car today, so it’s not happening today.”
Maron’s character is also (sort of) on the rise when we see him in tonight’s premiere episode, “Stroke of Luck.” Realizing it’s time to get more businesslike about his career, Maron takes the advice of his podcast guest Elliot Gould and hires Hollywood relic Dave Rosen (Alex Rocco) as his agent.
“I think that the [Maron] character is sort of driven by the desire to succeed, but he’s his own worst enemy to some degree,” Maron explained. “He gets hung up on little things as opposed to keeping his eye on the prize. He’s also impatient and easily aggravated.”
He’s also funnier. This season, Maron focuses more on laughs where the old Maron might have taken a more serious approach to life’s challenges.
“I had an aversion to ‘just funny,'” Maron said of seasons prior. “It’s all got to make sense to me emotionally. I don’t like just funny for funny’s sake. It’s a real fight with me. I think we figured out a way to sort of make all the comedy work.”
Season three also finds Maron more at ease on the screen. The comedian acknowledged that in season one, he was finding his legs as an actor, and in season two, the focus was on who his character really is. Now, Maron feels more comfortable in his own skin and the comedy writing has been bolstered by the addition of two veteran TV scribes, Jerry Stalh and Sean Russell. “This season, everything’s sort of clicking,” Maron said.
As with other current comedies that portray comedians as versions of themselves (Louie, The Comedians, The Jim Gaffigan Show) Maron makes you wonder how much of the real man is who you see on the screen. For fans of his show and especially the WTF podcast, there’s a sense of deep familiarity with Maron’s personality. He’s often described as angry, neurotic, and self-involved — all qualities that require you know a person pretty well before ascribing them. In fact, during our interview, a fan approached Maron and said, “I like your crabbiness,” adding, “I feel like I know you.”
As far as Maron is concerned, the fans who follow his shows do know him. It’s only weird that he doesn’t know them back. They also get a pretty good idea of who his parents are, as played hilariously by Sally Kellerman and Judd Hirsch.
“You don’t experience me the other 23 hours of the day, but in terms of my emotional tone and what’s going on in my life, how I communicate with other people, how I react to things — you do have a good sense of who I am and I’m aware of that,” Maron said. “So when people come up to me with that familiarity, I respect it.”
Maron’s fans represent every age group, though his digital cred has certainly skewed the audience younger in recent years. “I think I give sort of the cool dad, weird uncle, hip professor kind of thing,” the comedian mused.
The multi-generational appeal has even led to some awkwardness recently, when an entire family showed up for one of his all-ages show in Vancouver. Maron, who does some dirty material in his set, struggled with whether or not he should make sex jokes in front of teenagers who were sitting with their parents. He was also heckled this month by an 18-month-old baby. “It’s very similar to having a drunk heckler. It really comes from the same place.”
Hearing stories like this — or how Maron was recognized because he was taking a selfie in front of his own billboard — you can see how his life is a goldmine for material, even if he never intended for it to be. “I wish that much forethought was involved in all my decisions,” he said, smiling. “I just sort of fall into s—.”
So far, the lack of forethought is working in Maron’s favor — even if it took a while for this moment to come. “Someone said I was the patron saint of late bloomers,” Maron laughed. “In fact, a guy called me that the other night. I was like, ‘I’ll take it.'”
Meanwhile, this late-blooming does come with subtle changes.
“I think what I have gained is a certain self-esteem and a little more confidence and I’ve sort of come into myself a bit, which I think was always the journey. I’m more comfortable with my creativity and my life. I’m still nutty. You got to be careful, you don’t want to be the guy who’s complaining in a pool, sitting on a raft going, ‘This is the worst. How’d I end up with this s—? It’s a very small pool comparatively speaking. That’s not even the good Maserati that I have. There’s a good one.’ You don’t want to be that guy.”