After Turmoil,Comic Gets Last Laugh

Mining his own life leads 'WTF' podcast’s Maron to book and IFC deal
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Over the years, Marc Maron has been offered several deals with major networks to play himself on TV. The script deals all fizzled, but the appeal is understandable, as they would have featured various twists on his performing persona: Maron as angry chef; or as a cranky strip-mall lawyer; as burned-out advertising exec; or as disillusioned (though Oscar-winning) short filmmaker.

At long last, Maron the TV series has arrived, premiering May 3 on IFC. But the show owes its existence to a true media phenomenon, something more potent than the comedian’s 48 Conan appearances, half-dozen cable specials or thousands of stand-up gigs: his podcast entitled WTF With Marc Maron.

Launched in his garage in 2009 while Maron was at a professional and personal nadir, the podcast has built a following, radiating out from industry and hipster circles. Maron has welcomed Louis C.K., Judd Apatow, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, Mel Brooks and hundreds more to guest on the podcasts. They savor dissecting comedy and life with Maron—who has oscillated from high points (Comedy Central host, late-night fixture) to low (bouts with drug abuse, two divorces, being fired by Air America Radio)—in the comfort of his garage, free from traditional media’s limits. As guests have let their guard down, WTF has grown from cult item to 700,000 downloads a week and a spot in the iTunes top 10.

“When you’re a comedian, all you can really do is pitch whatever version of your life is happening at the moment and package it,” Maron said during a recent stop in New York, his burgundy work boots hoisted up on a hotel-room desk and his flannel/denim/facial hair looking firmly intact. “You’ve gotta hope your life changes enough to repitch it.”

True to that notion, Maron on IFC features the comedian as a podcast host moving through life in the not-quite-gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park. He gets into mild scrapes, and comedian friends (among them Dave Foley, Andy Kindler, Denis Leary, Jeff Garlin) drop by to alternately relieve and exacerbate his situation. A low-fi cousin of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the show pushes Maron’s highly personal, comedy-as-therapy voice center stage. The jokes are not polished bon mots but discursive observations laced with fatalism and anxiety.

IFC has positioned Maron in its burgeoning originals block, joining a roster including Comedy Bang! Bang! (also derived from a podcast) and Portlandia. Fox Studios produced a presentation reel of Maron and pitched networks. IFC president Jennifer Caserta recalls having no hesitation when she watched it. “All of his scars are out there,” Caserta said. “As soon as I started watching it, I fell for him. He drew me in.”

The redemptive arc of the real-life Maron had a lot to do with that. “Marc is the ultimate example of ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over,’” said Luke Matheny, a director and executive producer of the show. Added executive producer Jim Serpico, an early champion of using the podcast as a jumping-off point for a show, “As I listened to [Maron], I really related to his struggles as a human being and as an artist. Those are not mutually exclusive.”

Maron’s stand-up has never been in the setup/punch line tradition of TV sitcom stars—in fact, as he built his career, he caught only a handful of episodes of Seinfeld. (Though now he makes up for lost TV time, watching Breaking Bad and Top Chef, among many others, with his girlfriend, Jessica, and their many cats.)

Having missed out on the late-20thcentury jackpots that propelled comedians to early retirements, Maron represents something more profound for its creator: one of many steps in the comedian’s larger rebirth process. (“This is someone with a plan,” marveled Caserta.) To wit: Maron’s memoir, Approaching Normal, will be published April 30 by Random House’s Spiegel & Grau division. And later this year, Netflix will release a comedy special filmed April 15 at Manhattan club Le Poisson Rouge. In other words, what Maron is also approaching is, potentially, his moment.

“At the time the podcast happened,” Maron said, “I had let go of the idea of being a popular comic, of having these TV opportunities. My heart had let it go. The fact that all this is happening is astounding.”

E-mail comments to dhayes@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @dadehayes

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