Culture

Interview: Marc Maron on Everything

Culture

Interview: Marc Maron on Everything

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Marc Maron has a chart-topping podcast (WTF With Marc Maron), a television series (Maron) on IFC, a published biography (Attempting Normal), and an upcoming comedy tour in the works. As an artist, he makes a living dissecting the perils of human cognitive behavior, poking and prodding at our collective unconscious.

“Marc’s worried about sweating through his shirt,” a producer vents. The set of Maron is a shinier, refined replica of the comedian’s own Los Angeles home; muted colors, kitschy knick-knacks, music paraphernalia and illustrations line the walls. Similar to the filming environment, Maron’s performance persona is much like the model house: a polished framework of a real thing, with the rough edges rounded off.

In his highly confessional, deeply reflexive comedy, Maron always appears sincere. Yet, although this sincerity comes through in conversation as well, he seemed most truthful when he stopped talking- his silences suggesting greater depths and the potential for greater heights. His primary formats, stand-up comedy and the long-form podcast (in which he turns the same unflinching gaze on his guests) may however be more confining than they seem. After a twenty-five year marriage to a cynical industry, it’s difficult not to become pigeonholed by the trademarks of the trade- he wrestles with his own self-created dichotomy, and audiences on the receiving end often digest a fraction of the whole.

Maron’s personality is oceanic, presenting both a gentle translucency and bottomless chaos. What’s lost in the transcription of this interview are the peaks of emotion conveyed through vocal tone: moments of utter defeat, compulsion, childlike enthusiasm, calmness, and a surprising lack of venom. In a world where we’ve been conditioned to hide behind computer screens and conceal our unpleasant truths, Maron’s work can feel like a siren blaring through the night. “He’s like a war correspondent- and he’s the war,” says staff writer Jerry Stahl.

Regarding WTF, you said “The whole arc for me has been, “How do I get out of my head?” And now it’s a few hundred episodes later. How have your improvisation skills lent to sustaining so many hours of interviews?  Do you still find yourself surprised?

Yeah definitely, I’m still surprised, because it’s all relative to each person. So I don’t really know how I’m gonna experience each person or what they’re really like, how they work against how I think they are. I don’t know what’s gonna happen once I start talking to somebody- there’s just no way for me to know. I don’t have much control over that and I don’t want that much control over that. Sometimes I talk too much and interrupt too much. But I’m a little tired of my own brain- I’m a little tired of that.

You must be tired of talking about yourself.

I am.

I thought to myself, “What do I talk about with someone who has talked about themselves for so many fucking years?”

I have to think of some new things to talk about.

Well, hopefully it ends up being about what someone else can bring to you.

That’s why in conversation it’s different. The wild card is whatever they’ve got. I don’t exactly know what to talk about anymore. I’m a little bit tired–not with other people, but with myself.

As an interviewer, are you trying to find something in these people that you see in yourself? 

I’m definitely looking for a connection, to understand something. Not so much about myself, but to find some common way to feel close to them. I want to feel connected to them more than I want to find out something about myself. So a lot of times, I’m moving conversation that way, like, “Oh! I know that thing! Do you like that thing too?” So that’s commonplace. But where an interview departs into someone’s story exclusively, whether it be about childhood or their parents, then I’m sort of forced out myself and can enjoy the narrative. Once I connect with them and I feel like, okay, we’re good, we’re together in this, then I can sit back and let the other thing happen. But I still interrupt too much.

How do you humanize your guests and get them to drop their egos and their guards?

Magic and trick. Is there is a magic trick?

(laughs)

No I mean, if you catch people off guard even in a very minor way something happens. Even if something’s not going right.

Yeah, I mean, you interview some really big personalities who have also talked about themselves for years. And you want to get to something that’s real and has momentum. It must be difficult to get that person out of themselves or the way that the world has seen them and defined them.

Right. I don’t know if that always happens, but it’s hard to hide for an hour. Do you know what I mean? I know when people are reeling off their personal narrative. I can feel that happening. So I’ll keep trying to push that aside until we get to some other place. With someone like Paul Thomas Anderson, I was relatively- and endearingly- confrontational about his work. I felt that was okay. Like I couldn’t do that with everybody.

I remember you saying you couldn’t really get through the walls with Nick Cave.

Yeah, with some people, they either don’t know me or they don’t know the show and they’re like, “Okay, what do you have? Do you have questions?” And I really just wanna engage and have a conversation. So that can be kinda dicey. But generally, if you do enter a conversation without much expectation other than to keep it going, you’re gonna get around that- that thing. Whatever they’re thing is.

I was listening to the famous WTF episode with Louie, and he said to you, “Your progress has been taking away more of your defenses away from yourself.” You responded, “Not without a fight!” (which I find so telling about your personality). What are those defenses, and what does it take to break them?

Over the years, they kind of wear down because what am I really defending myself against?

Well, that’s what I wanna know.

It was just an innate reaction- that I was going to be manipulated or hurt or one-upped or defied. I was very sort of reactive because I was protecting a lot of pain of some kind, and fear. And I thought that was sort of my personality.

Like it defined you?

Yeah, well it sort of did. This guarded kind of aggressive intelligence, sometimes. But I really couldn’t see passed it. The fight was always that I was incredibly sensitive and very needy and craving companionship. But that was not a way to go through life. So being defensive and provoking people to get that connection as opposed to just being open and allowing things to happen was a way that I did it after a certain point.

Yeah, intellectuals tend to reason themselves out of their emotions. With an intellectual thought process, you don’t really have to reveal vulnerability.

Right. But a lot of times you can just compress emotions into anger. Almost all of them become anger. You just have different variations of this one expression of emotion.

In that same episode, I liked that you said, “For people who’s dads were primarily absent, they try to put their life together on their own. Where you’re scrambling for the right role models and the wisdom that’s going to guide you through your life.” Who have those been for you?

I definitely have people on pedestals or people that I identify with throughout my life, which I think you can see in some of the work. The people who have really made a profound impact on my life were: a guy named Gus Blasedell when I was in high school. He owned a book store near the university. He’s a writer, he’s a very funny guy. His intelligence and his ability to make things funny was mind-blowing to me. He was a really intellectual guy. He made me want to be that. I don’t really have the discipline to be a real intellectual, but as time went on I figured out what was interesting to me. Same with guitar or anything else. If I get the fundamentals… I just need to figure out how to express myself. That’s what I’m really trying to do. So I’ve given up on a lot of pretending to know things I don’t know. But he was a big one. I had a professor in college who was a big one named Professor Orgell. He was a philosophy professor. I didn’t understand any of it. But I liked him, he was a profound person. Kinison was important to me at one time. I had some art teachers when I was younger. My grandfather. There are a series of people that offered different things.

I have to say, your energy is so much more mellow and grounded than I expected.

You want the other thing?

No! I don’t want it–I want what you give. You’re just a lot easier to connect to than I imagined.

Good. Is that a problem for you?

I don’t know. (laughs) Let’s talk about your show! You’re currently filming the upcoming season of Maron. What has the experience been like so far on set? Has it been transitional for you? 

Well, the first season there was a big learning curve. I’m kind of cranky and I still have a lot of those elements of fighting myself, and my initial feeling is to be angry and aggravated. I really had to trust a lot of people: the production company and my writers and the directors and the other actors, because I didn’t have any experience with any of it and there was no way for me to pretend like I did. So I had to allow myself to, not fail, but to get the hang of something. I didn’t think it would be a liability, but I think it would show, I knew that it was gonna take a season for me to get comfortable being on camera, with creating the show and understanding who I was on the show.

Was that your first real acting experience?

Oh yeah absolutely. So, I didn’t have any idea how to do that , and I knew it would be a little choppy. But it came out better than I thought. It was received okay.

Well, yeah. You’re onto your third season.

Yeah, but it’s still weirdly off the radar in a way. Being on IFC. You still sort of have to find it.

The fact that it’s on Neftlix is beneficial, I’d assume.

That’s better. Now with both seasons it’s been mind-blowing in terms of people finding it. The second was better. I was more comfortable. The stories were good. We engaged some people I wanted to work with. And now this season has been really sort of comfortable. I know the score, I know the schedule, I’m trying to be more comfortable as an actor- whatever that means, or at least to make choices that are conscious. I guess I’m doing okay- I don’t know because sometimes I think people are afraid to tell me otherwise because I’m the guy. But I feel pretty good. I’ve been having some fun with the people- I worked with Adam Goldberg yesterday.

The Hebrew Hammer, right?

Yeah. He’s a funny guy. I interviewed him in here. He’s playing a good role. I worked with Elliott Gould and Alex Rocco. The two of them, that was really a trip. Just working with guys like that- he was Mo Green in The Godfather. And Elliot Gould is fuckin’ Elliott Gould. And I’m just sitting with these guys, and they love to work.

You’re a giddy little kid right now.

They love to work. In my mind they loom very large, but it’s weird, when I grew up, I’m 51, those movies were important to me. And they remain important, but they’re part of my brain, my childhood. And Elliott Gould in M*A*S*H. And even in popular culture. And the fact that I’m working with Moe Greene and Trapper John, these guys from the 70’s who were great actors. And now they’re just old guys. But they’re still great actors.

And Judd Hirsch plays your dad.

Yeah, and Judd is great. My initial reaction about him playing my father is that he would be too adorable and too Jewy and too cute.

He is a bit Jewy.

He is, and he can’t hide that. But he can temper his emotions. He’s a professional. I was concerned, though. There was a point where Bobcat (Goldthwait) was directing the first episode with him and my writers were there and I knew he was being too Jewy and adorable- more adorable- I don’t want to throw around the word Jewy too much-

It’s okay, I am one too.

They were all standing around the camera going, what are we going to do? And I’m like, he’s an actor. Go direct him, one of you idiots! I say that in an endearing way. But Bobby had to go up there and tell him, “Can we adjust? Make these adjustments?” And of course he was able to do it. So it worked out. But working with these actors and having a lot of my peers come on and play themselves has been great. And in this season, and we’re moving forward and the scripts are interesting and there is sort of an underlying connectivity to it. When you’re working with the budget we’re working with and you don’t have an ensemble cast and I’m in every scene, there’s no B-stories. It’s hard to have an arc or relief. So each season has a tone.

What is Marc Maron’s arc? (laughs)

Yeah! Where do we go? And how do we continue to do something different? I was real hung up on making it very close to my life initially, and that sort of dissipated in the second season and this season there’s a lot of stuff that’s directly related to my life, but there’s also stuff that is completely not my life.

Regarding trying to make a show about your own life, you once said, “When something is rejected that is your life, at some level, you’re being rejected”. Has the success of your show given you a validation that you were seeking?

I think because of Netflix and because I’m actually seeing some real feedback about the second season, because it’s very hard to tell when it’s airing who’s watching it. It’s not a huge hit-

I mean personal validation.

No, I know. But personal validation is knowing that these things are connecting, that they are resonating, that the comedy and the stories of the show are working. I have three very distinct worlds that I live in. I have the podcast world and the stand up world and the tv world. The tv world is very specific and unlike anything else because its a heightened fictional version of me, and it requires a lot of collaborative effort on behalf of me and my writers and directors and everything else, and that these are stories that are things that have to exist unto themselves. And I know when they work and I’m proud of them. No one was really in the way of telling me how or what I needed to do. So that’s a rare opportunity to have that freedom.

You once said that self-pity is a waste of a human emotion. That theme seems to largely be a part of your series. Is that something that you tackle in your work to try to get out of your system and away from? 

I don’t know, do you- is self pity part of the series, really? Or is it like a guy who wants things to work out, but they don’t? I don’t know if I see self-pity. Maybe. I think it’s a guy who aggressively is trying to deal with stuff but it just does not necessarily go that way and he’s his own worst enemy.

Well, I think in that perhaps- being your own worst enemy is kind of inherently self-pitying, right?

Maybe. Being your own worst enemy is… I guess so. But self-pity to me is sort of like a victim. Of something. Like you’ve got the short end of the stick. And i don’t really think that’s a tone that’s happening. I think I may be getting the short end of the stick. I mean I may be volatile and not really able to live life properly.

In the show?

Yeah. Well, less so in life. But yeah, still in life too sometimes. (laughs)

Why did you decide to revolve the very first episode around the idea that you need everyone to like you? Would that set up the rest of what would come after?

It’s always been a struggle to me because I think I’m reasonably accessible, and that my life is reasonable. So, I know that not everybody likes me. I know now, but I haven’t known forever, that I’m a difficult person- an acquired taste.

Right. I’m just interested in why you decided to start it off like that.

Oh. Because I think it was a good example of how I’m emotionally misguided. I haven’t really thought about it, but that was based on a real story and I don’t really understand that part of myself, either. The way the real story ended up was that the real guy who was attacking me was going through something. And that might have arguably been a more interesting way to go with that, but the idea that I needed to somehow connect with this person who was resisting me or being mean to me- that there had to be a way- is sort of telling about my own self-loathing and how that manifests itself. One of my problems is that I don’t respond to people who say nice things about me, but I will respond to people who bait me. Because I think they reaffirm what I think about myself. So coming through that was sort of humbling. I think the hardest part about the show is that I put myself in a lot situations that are sort of pathetic. But I think that’s a real place.

How much of the portrayal of relationships with women is based on your actual experiences? Is a great deal of it exaggerated or fabricated? 

The Jen relationship was pretty real. It was actually a nicer version of it. The dominatrix episode, that was kind of real, I did date someone who was in that industry briefly but I wasn’t that interested in it. I was not interested in what she did at all- being dominated or being a stripper. I needed to date her for, I don’t know what it was. I used to do a bit about it- I think it’s in the show. What other relationships?

Well, you hit on being drawn to very complex, chaotic women. You have lines like “My dick is a broken detector” and “If there’s a storm behind their eyes I’m hooked”. Has this been a pattern that has always been?

I think it’s a little bit of an embellishment. I think my side of that is that I seem to be in relationships that become very sort of intense and dramatic and aggravated. A lot of it is on my side, but a lot of the women that I’ve been with , not all of them were as kooky- crazy- I don’t like that word. The last one that I was in that the Jen character is based on was difficult and it really beat me up. In terms of the longer relationship, like my second wife, there was a lot going on there but she kept a lot to herself. But that kind of got ugly and dramatic, but most of that was with me. It’s all different kinds. I think the common denominator of the problem was me moreso than not.

What are your shortcomings in relationships?

I’m overly accommodating in a lot of ways to make up for my inability to be as emotionally present as I might want to be. I’m a little closed off, I’m a little distrusting. But I’m trying not to create drama in light of that. Like a lot of times if you’re not feeling something, if you fight you feel something. I don’t know what the else I expect out of it. I can co-habitat with people, but my shortcomings are, I can’t seem to pull the trigger on having children-

Maybe you just don’t want to.

Yeah, maybe. My shortcomings are that I’m not as nurturing as I could be, and I struggle with that. I’ll stay in things that aren’t really working for too long just because I’m in something. I tend to doubt myself in terms of what feels right and what doesn’t feel right. Sometimes I think what feels right to me is not healthy.

It must have been relieving to engage in that father-son confrontation scene with your dad played by Judd Hirsch. Was that a fantasy scene for a kind of catharsis, or has that actually happened?

I’ve had worse confrontations with my father. Much worse than that.

Does it leave an imprint with him? Does it get through?

Between my book and the tv show, he was very hurt and angry and felt betrayed by me. I had to sort of deal with that. So our relationship after all that has been sort of, not difficult, but he’s definitely beat up and he’s definitely nervous. There’s some part of me that feels kind of bad about it, but I don’t really. I talked to him last night for forty-five minutes so it’s fine.

That’s a pretty long time.

Yeah, we’re okay. But we did have a bad time.

You also seem to explore the subject of masculinity quite often. Growing up, did you fit the ideals or set of rules of what was expected of being a man?

No. I don’t know where that all is. There’s still sort of weird insecurities around that stuff with me now, like, what am I really? I talk about it in my stand-up too. What defines that? You’ve got your alpha guys, you’ve got your pussies, you’ve got your beta guys and whatever they are. I don’t know about all that stuff. Lately I’ve been doing a bit how I’m an alpha doormat. Like I’m an alpha, but I’m kind of a push over.

(laughs)

Why? What do you think?

I don’t know. I don’t know you!

Ah, okay. I was always judging myself against more jockier people and having that resentment. It all comes back around to not really having a defined self in general. I think that over the arc of my life, that’s really been the pursuit- to sort of land in my body and be okay with it, be okay with myself, whatever the hell that was.

And that can include masculinity or not.

Well, I mean I’m pretty masculine. I’m definitely pretty specific. But I’m also very sensitive. There’s two very desperate poles, I’m overly sensitive but I’m also sort of a dick. But I think somewhere in the middle you can get the balance.

During season two you say, “In relationships you’re looking to be reparented, and if the the original cast didn’t do a good job the remake isn’t gonna be any better.” How has that applied in your own romantic life?

The weird thing about reparenting is that it can’t happen. It won’t happen. So you end up fighting them just like you fight your parents. You’re just gonna recreate whatever the dynamic was that you don’t want to be part of. So you gotta ultimately parent yourself. Those are all lessons that are all coming to fruition. I think the progress of the podcast and the tv show is how I’m actively working through that. I’m not committed to being that way.

Is it working?

I’m doing alright.

I was watching one of your stand-up routines from a while ago. You used to look very different. You’ve really come into your own in terms of style.

Everything! In all ways!

You had that Pert-Plus commercial haircut.

I’m finally coming into myself. Finally. At fifty.

But during it, you said that “We are a morally bankrupt selfish narcissistic country.” That was in the 90’s. 

Yeah, that sounds like 90’s me. (laughs)

So what bothers you the most about the society we are living in right now in terms of selfishness?

It’s just exhausting. You really have to put energy into turning off the noise of everything and everybody. It’s always like “Aaaaghhh, look at me!” It’s very needy. I get lost on twitter. But I’m getting exhausted, I’m exhausted of all of it. I don’t know what the point of all it is. It’s all narcissism.

Not feeling alone?

I guess, but ultimately I think it’s even more isolating. It’s a weird illusion. The idea of connectivity when no one is really going out of their house. It’s a bunch of agoraphobics thinking they’re part of a community. I’m not that worked up about it. I’m not sure what my brain should be thinking about right now. I’m in a weird place. I’m not sure what I should be talking about or what’s important. I gotta shut the noise off for a little while. After I shoot the show and go on tour I’m probably gonna take a little time off to figure out what the hell, what do I wanna do with my life?

You had said you are rediscovering empathy while working through your anger. How does that work?

Because my parents were sort of selfish, I don’t really think that I’m the model to be broadly empathetic. Like I can feel people like me, people who are overly sensitive, or people who struggle- I can feel them immediately. I can be empathetic for people who it’s been hard on. But I have a problem with just being generally empathetic with regular people.

Regular people? Like, the townsfolk?

Yeah, kinda.

Why?

Because I think they’re okay. I don’t think they require my empathy. They have something that I want. They seem to be able to function in the world.

So, socially adaptable. 

Whatever it is. I think that really realizing that everybody has something that they struggle with. I just had to be conscious of engaging in that.

What do you think that people misinterpret about you?

I think that people that don’t really know me tend to think that I’m abrasive, but I’ve characterized myself as an asshole before. Or like, I’m difficult. But I think as times goes on and people who really know me don’t see me that way.

What about from audience member’s perspective?

They might think that I’m more neurotic than I really am. Because that’s the part of me that lives onstage. I mean, you’re gonna amplify something. But also I’m going through some changes now too in the last few years. Things are settling. There seems to be a few very specific things that I’m fucked up with.

Just keep narrowing! Keep honing it in and crafting.

Yeah! Yeah, exactly. Yeah! Maybe eventually getting rid of them.

You’ve talked about your father’s pathological narcissism and even becoming a hypochondriac to attract his attention. What does it take for that need for acceptance to ever go away? Can anything fill that void?

What part? The lack of having a good experience with your parents?

Well, specifically the dynamics of the relationship to a father. 

I don’t know. (sighs)  I don’t know. It all comes down to acceptance and forgiveness eventually. I don’t know if anything is gonna make the void anything, but I guess things dull as you get older and it may not be an active disappointment or resentment, but it will always be sort of a heartbreak. It can become less of a void and more of a mature sadness, right?

What would it would be like when you got home from school in your household? Is there a specific memory that you can look back on that sums up the negligence?

It’s just that, I don’t know what they were doing, you know? There was not a lot of engagement in terms of being supportive. My dad was not home often because he was out working and doing whatever. It was a mystery of when he would come home, whether he would be home. My mother was hung up with her own trip- trying to be an artist, or lose weight, or this or that, be attractive. The priority was not making the kids feel supported because they were too busy trying to serve their own problems.

Yeah, you often speak about your mother’s obsession with disordered eating and her weight.

Mmhmm.

It seems like that took so much focus and attention throughout your childhood, and maybe adulthood.

Miserable. Horrible. Yeah, it really fucked me up.

She had said that she didn’t think she could love you if you were fat. That’s fucked up.

Yeah. That was recently. I’m not sure she could love me either way.

Did you feel like her involvement with her body outweighed (oh god, outweighed) how close she was able to get to you as a son?

Yeah. Definitely. No doubt. She was completely consumed by that.

You still don’t feel like she loves you now?

I do, but there’s nothing nurturing about her. She’s kind of charming, but she’s not a maternal person. and she’s still primarily obsessed with food. And she seems to gravitate toward men who are a handful, who spin around in their own bullshit. And I think it’s kind of way she’s able to insulate her own self emotionally, by having very dramatic men in her life, and creating them.

What, like imaginary friends?

No, like me.

Oh, literally creating them. Yeah, I wasn’t gonna say it, but-

(laughs)

You’re quite open about your experiences as well as your character flaws. Are there certain subjects you find yourself particularly protective of? 

There are some things that I keep to myself in a way. Either things that I don’t have peace with yet, it’s hard when most of your subject matter is yourself to find something to keep to yourself. I do have a frequency that I keep to myself.

A frequency?

Yeah, like you didn’t expect me to different. You didn’t know about this, right?

Yeah. There’s more of a tenderness to you than I would have thought.

Yeah, so I try to keep that to myself.

You interviewed John Cale, and you had talked about moving through the history of these artists and honoring it. Have you found a comfortable way to navigate that?

It’s hard. I’m still just sort of flying by the seam of my pants. With somebody like him, that was a long interview, but you’ve only got so much time. And his solo career is not my bag. I don’t know a lot of it.

You know more of the stuff with Nico and The Velvet Underground?

Yeah, that’s good stuff. But he’s a producer. And as a producer, what do you really talk about? Aside from being like, “What was Nico like?” You don’t want to be that guy.

All of the many, many sounds in his universe!

Yeah, but he’s very modest about that shit. So I try to keep it around him as an artist before producing- which was making avant garde noise music. So if you start there, and then somehow you get through what he brought to Lou Reed and whatever that partnership was, coming from being this classical protege who decides to go all John Cage and do that shit, what is his indelible mark on things? I did alright with him. It got a little awkward at the end because I hadn’t listened to his new record. I didn’t get it- I didn’t get the record. They didn’t send it. But it worked out.

I know you’re a huge Iggy fan. Was interviewing him what you’d hope it would be?

Yeah, I liked him. More than I thought I would, even.

There’s a strange line that you cross when you meet an icon, like a child meeting their favorite superhero.

That’s sort of how I approach musicians. I’m not a music nerd. They’ve had an effect on me. So I’m more approaching it as a fan. And the fact that Iggy was so lucid was great. And that he did it with no shirt.

You have a successful podcast and television series, and you’re still continuing to do stand-up tours. Is that something you will always continue to do throughout your career or do you want to focus on other creative endeavors?

I have no idea. For a long time, that was not an option for me. I was never a guy who could sell tickets. I don’t know how many tickets I’m gonna sell. This tour is gonna determine a lot for me personally around what people really want from me. I know how many people download the podcast or whatever, but selling tickets and having people wanting to come see me is very new to me within the last few years. A lot of these cities I’ve never been to, so I have no idea what to expect. The idea of being an unknown headliner who has no choice but to do B rooms on off weekends, or A rooms on off weekends-

Is that your comfort zone?

No! It’s the most horrifying thing I can think of. I would never want to live that life. I’ve spent a lot of time here and there on and off the road doing that and learning how to be a comic and I think I’m a good comic, but the idea of being an unknown comic just getting by with only the road to sustain him was a horrifying possibility. So, the fact that things have turned around for me, I’m very grateful about that, but just how much have they? I think I should tour if people want to see me. And I’ll figure that out after this tour.

You’ve had your own struggle, and many comedians often fall victim to the hex of addiction. Do you think that has to do with being an escapist and working in extremes?

I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any more drug addiction in comedy than there is in plumbing. I don’t think that if anyone was really to look at it that the percentages are really any different than any other profession. I think addiction is what it is. Artistic, creative, talented people are sometimes plagued with a type of insecurity or compulsion or a need for comfort or relief, and just compulsive behavior–food, sex, drugs, gambling, whatever. It’s just a type of person. I don’t know if it’s as simple as escapism–I don’t think that’s it. It’s complicated, why people use. For me it was always about feeling okay or relief. Just feeling like, “Okay. I’m okay. I have some control over something.” But it’s complicated like that. I think pain has something to do with it. But I don’t know that it’s specific to comedians, you know what I mean?

After performing stand-up for over twenty-five years, if you were gonna go onstage now, fresh for the first time, what would you bring that you didn’t have when you were starting out? What insight?

I don’t know, I think the fear is still the same.

Really? 

Yeah, no matter when you start it’s like, “How am I going to make these people laugh? Are my ideas funny? How nervous am I? How do you do this?” It’s terrifying. It would feel the same.

Well, I mean with the addition of your life wisdom from this stretch of time.

So much of it had to do with doing the comedy. So much of me putting myself together had to do with that. I wouldn’t have gotten the wisdom without it. Why would I ever do stand-up if I had the wisdom that I had now? I was compelled to do it. I can’t even explain why. I don’t know why. These kids today just want- I don’t know what they want- I have no idea. I was just compelled to commit my life to it. I don’t know why. I didn’t want to be an entertainer, I wanted to be a comedian, and it didn’t seem to be the same thing to me. It seemed to be this other thing- it seemed to be an important thing.

I have you quoted saying, “With two or three lines, a comic can disarm and slay those fucking dragons of despair and depression.” So it sounds like that’s why you do it.

Maybe. I’m glad I said that.

That’s a good reason, that hits the nail on the head.

Yeah. Relief. Relief and community, relief and connection.