(full interview following the story below)

Laughing Through the Pain

Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron prepares for the gig of his life — Carnegie Hall

By Justin Chapman, 9/8/2016, Pasadena Weekly

Marc Maron is finally having fun.

Known throughout his nearly 30-year career as a decidedly angry and self-deprecating performer, Maron’s standup has evolved over the years and is noticeably more upbeat, even if it still has elements of self-aware nihilism. Rather than brooding over it, however, he’s laughing at it these days, as he did during his show at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena on July 3.

“My stand-up for the last couple years has been, if not upbeat, then pretty grounded and comfortable,” Maron, 52, recently told the Pasadena Weekly. “I’ve been on stage many times over the years kind of emotionally chaotic and ungrounded and aggravated and scared or angry, without having much control over it. And that’s an exciting thing to watch, but it’s a hard thing to make a career out of. There are some things that have gotten better in my life. I don’t know really how to deal with that, so I guess that’s my version of upbeat.”

As of the beginning of this month, his latest stand-up special, “More Later,” is available for digital download on iTunes. His other critically acclaimed comedy specials and records include “Thinky Pain,” “This Has to Be Funny,” “Final Engagement,” “Tickets Still Available” and “Not Sold Out.” He has also written two books, “Attempting Normal” and “The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah.”

And he’s still going strong. He’s been trying out new material on the road during his current nationwide tour that continues through December in preparation for his New York Comedy Festival gig on Nov. 4 at Carnegie Hall. And he continues to perform locally, with a show on Oct. 22 at Largo in Los Angeles and plans for another Ice House show in October as well.

His hard work is paying off. Maron’s stand-up, just like his social and political commentary and his work on his podcast “WTF with Marc Maron” and his TV show “Maron,” is nothing short of brilliant.

Candid conversationalist

A longtime resident of Highland Park, Maron hosts the popular “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast out of his garage. Maron and his producer Brendan McDonald started the podcast in September 2009 in the basement of the Air America studios in New York after the beleaguered liberal radio station canceled four of his shows.

“WTF” quickly became and remains one of the most popular podcasts of all time. With about 6.5 million downloads per month, the show has racked up more than 700 episodes. Each features Maron interviewing a notable guest in his garage, including fellow comedians such as Louis CK and Robin Williams, actors such as Bryan Cranston and Alan Alda, musicians such as Fiona Apple and Thom Yorke, filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Werner Herzog and countless others. The show is well known as a place where very public personas go to open up about their struggles, their passions and their lives in a rare, brutally honest way. Some have called what Maron does journalism, though he considers himself a conversationalist rather than a journalist.

“It’s unsatisfying to me if I can’t engage with a person in a real way, conversationally, but some people just aren’t necessarily like that, so that can be a little tricky,” he said. “But when somebody engages, something different happens, and I can feel it happen. So that’s what I’m gunning for.”

The most prominent guest on “WTF” was President Obama, an interview Maron says he approached the same way he does his other guests, by engaging in a personal conversation.

“I read his first book, ‘Dreams of My Father,’ which was written before he had presidential aspirations and was a very genuine memoir of a guy struggling with his mission in life and with his own identity in ways,” said Maron. “I just figured that guy’s gotta be in there somewhere, and we kept it around that.”

White House staffers had reached out to McDonald to set up the interview with Obama, with the goal of getting young people more interested and involved in politics. On June 22, 2015, Marine One landed at the Rose Bowl and a presidential motorcade snaked its way through Pasadena, Eagle Rock and Highland Park. Secret Service snipers kept watch on Maron’s neighbor’s roof.

That interview garnered sensational headlines across the country when the president said a certain word while making a nuanced point about racism in America just five days after a young white supremacist gunned down nine African-American worshippers at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Racism, we are not cured of it,” Obama said on Maron’s podcast. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

Maron said he didn’t expect the media to run with it the way they did, but that he was glad the president felt comfortable enough to be so candid on his show.

“That was an interesting choice for him,” said Maron. “The media was going to do what they were going to do. I wouldn’t address the idea of the N-word with the media without the context.”

The ‘John Coltrane of Jew-pain’

Last week it was announced that Maron will star in a new Netflix show called “G.L.O.W.,” inspired by the real story of a 1980s female wrestling league.

In July, Maron self-canceled his television show, “Maron,” which ran for four seasons on IFC. “Maron” was created and produced by Maron, who also directed and wrote several episodes. The first three seasons loosely resemble Maron’s real life, complete with his character interviewing celebrities on his podcast. At the end of the third season, his character relapses on drugs and alcohol and loses everything, although the real Maron has been sober for 17 years. The fourth season follows the arc of fictional Maron hitting rock bottom, struggling through rehab and recovering while trying to find the child he sired as a surrogate father for a lesbian couple.

Screenwriter and author Jerry Stahl, who wrote the 1995 memoir “Permanent Midnight” about his heroin addiction, was a consulting producer and writer on the show. Stahl is also the author of “Happy Mutant Baby Pills,” “I, Fatty” and several other books, and wrote the screenplays for “Bad Boys II,” “Hemingway & Gellhorn” and several episodes of “CSI,” “Alf” and “Twin Peaks.”

“Working with Maron was never work,” Stahl told the Weekly. “It was like getting paid to hang out with a pal — if your pal happens to be the John Coltrane of Jew-pain. We had the same conversation in the room we had before there was a room. The only difference was big chunks ended up on TV.”

Maron said he decided to end the show because he felt the story had been told.

“I thought we did a very adventurous and exciting fourth season, but I don’t know really what happens next,” he said. “Like, was there something to doing another season of me working at a bookstore in a small town co-parenting a baby with a lesbian? Yeah, I’ve never seen that before. But I mean, is it better just to leave it with, I’ve arrived at this different place and make it sort of touching and cryptic? If there was no creative incentive for me to continue, there was no reason to continue.”

The last shot of the show’s final episode pushes in on Maron finally holding his child in a park after trying so hard to get to spend time with him, when a look on his face indicates that he still isn’t happy, as Iron and Wine’s “Upward Over the Mountain” plays in the background.

“That last shot was very important to me, getting that right,” he said. “The end of ‘The Graduate’ was my inspiration for it, with Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross on the bus, after she had just run out of her wedding. Just that moment where he’s like ... whoa. I liked that vibe.”

Maron said he had to fire the originally cast baby because he was African American.

“I am not racist in any way, and I’m sure it’s a good baby, but we needed it to be a specific baby. It’s always a stretch with babies, but you’re willing to forgive. But I didn’t want it to be a separate statement. Like Louis CK’s wives have changed ethnicity [on his TV show “Louie”], and that is an artistic decision that Todd Solondz made as well with ‘Palindromes,’ which is fine, but that was not what we were doing, so I didn’t want that to be an obstacle to the narrative. Again, I just want to make clear, I have nothing against brown babies,” Maron said with a smile.

For tour dates and more information, visit wtfpod.com.


Justin's full interview with Marc Maron:

Justin Chapman: I saw you at the Ice House a few weeks ago. That was a great show. Are you using any of that material for your Carnegie Hall show, or are you writing all new stuff?

Marc Maron: That was all pretty new. Some of it was hinted at in other places, but no, most of that I tried to do as new as possible. I can’t remember what exactly I did, but whatever I’ve been doing for the last few months is developing into the new hour. That was the plan, was trying to stay new. I think I did that.

Is the Carnegie Hall show going to be your new special?

I don’t know if it’s going to be a special, it’s really just a gig. I was planning on going easy over the summer after the TV show and stuff, but I got offered that show by the New York Comedy Festival. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s not something I orchestrated. I have no real plans to make a special there. I just started thinking yesterday that maybe I should at least record the audio, but it was not something that I planned. It was offered to me, so there were no real plans in place to shoot a special. If I’m gonna do a special, or a record, or a CD, not even that, a recording, usually I book it and plan it and that kind of stuff. So there’s no real plan other than to do Carnegie Hall. I guess I should document it. That would be a smart thing to do. I might even document it on some high quality machinery as opposed to my phone. 

Do you have any other local shows coming up?

I always work around here. When I’m in town I primarily do the Comedy Store, because there’s some part of me that belongs there and lives there for a long time, and I don’t really have any love for the Laugh Factory or the Improv. I seem to have pulled back on alternative rooms. I do the Trepany House sometimes to build material. I did a few months of Tuesday’s over there, just to work out. That’s a nice little place, but that’s not a comedy club. I think we’re going to do another show at the Ice House on a Sunday in October. 

What I noticed at your Ice House show was how even when a joke you were trying out didn’t quite land, you were still able to turn the process of telling it and trying it out into a joke. Is that you playing with it in the moment, or do you think about those kinds of things in advance?

You evolve a way to survive on stage if you’re the type of performer I am, where you’re not playing a song, you’re not repeating yourself exactly. Also just building jokes in general, or figuring out what things are, I do a lot of thinking out loud and a lot of in the moment stuff, and that’s usually where the jokes develop. So sometimes I’ll go out and I’ll just start talking about something, or think something’s funnier than it might be and hopefully something will come to me in that moment, and if it doesn’t I can usually make that funny. I don’t know if that’s really a great way to do a big show, but I have done that before. I like being that in the moment. I like not just the real immediacy of improvising but sort of failing in the moment. There’s a type of weirdness that happens around that, where if I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, and the audience isn’t sure, there’s that moment of very immediate, real experience. I don’t know if it’s everyone’s idea of entertainment, but I like it. A lot of times I’ll integrate jokes that don’t go well into something, and sometimes that gets me to another place. I don’t know what other people’s expectations are around comedy per se. I have an idea, but I don’t really want to deal with that. There’s a general sense of how comedy should be, and a general sense of stuff in general is bothersome; it should be a unique thing. When you go to a comedy club, and the Ice House is a good example...that’s an institution for decades, and you just see the history of comedy in the lounge in 8x10s in headshots of people, some you know, some you don’t know. There’s a context, a tone that is expected. I understand that tone and I work within it, but I want to be a little out of it. There’s something about modern standup that is sort of exactly like that club is. There’s a mode. I don’t know if it’s cookie cutter but it’s just definitely dated, but sometimes it’s in a good way. I like going to comedy clubs where I can look at 8x10s of guys from the old days, because I know them all, they’re not that old. It’s not vaudeville or something. The 80s are kind of far away now but I’m 52 years old so I grew up either opening for a lot of those guys or watching them on TV, and I like it. But it’s funny to me that there’s really no other way. What’s another way to do a comedy club? I like working at the Comedy Store because the history is so tangible and it hasn’t been messed with, and the Ice House is like that as well. That place is a really great comedy room and it’s been there forever, and there’s something comforting about that. I understand that world because I’ve lived in it all my life, but I want the experience to be outside of that expected tone. If somebody comes in and they don’t know who I am, I know I can make them laugh, but I’d like it to be in a way that they didn’t anticipate. I think there’s an expectation around comedy that is not just about laughing but it’s around, ‘Well, this guy’s going to behave a certain way. He’s a standup comic.’ That bothers me. But I live up there, so I’m sure I have my version of it.

In the Ice House set you seemed noticeably more upbeat than, say, the character in your TV show or your past standup. Are you having more fun with it these days?

Definitely having more fun with it. I think my standup for the last couple years has been, if not upbeat, then pretty grounded and pretty comfortable. I would say that the last two specials, Thinky Pain and More Later, are both pretty comfortable specials. If I am not upbeat I am at least not living in what I’m talking about necessarily. I’ve been on stage many times over the years kind of emotionally chaotic and ungrounded and aggravated and scared or angry, without having much control over it. And that’s an exciting thing to watch but it’s a hard thing to make a career out of. You become sort of this erratic freak that you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t mind that too much, the never knowing what’s going to happen part, but I think now whether I’m upbeat or not, I’m not afraid on stage. I’m comfortable in being up there. I don’t care as much as I used to about how I’m going to be perceived. But yeah, the material is, I guess, my version of being upbeat in that there are some things that have gotten better in my life. I don’t know really how to deal with that, so I guess that’s my version of upbeat.

Do you get bothered by hecklers at your show? You seemed to handle this drunk woman at your Ice House show pretty calmly.

I don’t think she was that happy. I think something had gone wrong inside of her. She seemed upset about something specific about me. I don’t get a lot of hecklers. Once you become known, generally, if you’re going to do a theater, not so much a comedy club, but if I do a theater show, most of those people are coming to see me. So they know me, and if they’re going to talk to me it’s not going to be an aggressive heckle. But sometimes people know me very well from listening to the podcast. They have a relationship with me that I think is real; it’s one sided, obviously. So sometimes, and this has happened throughout my career, at some point in some audiences people think I’m directly talking to them and they’ll sort of engage from their side of the conversation. It’s happened all throughout my career. I think it’s because of my tone. I don’t mind it. I’m not uncomfortable. I’m pretty good at crowd work. It’s a skill I learned. So I don’t mind it. It’s kind of exciting. It’s been awhile since I’ve been heckled with hostility, but that’s more likely to happen in a comedy club where I’m going to have people that are just in there, but even then, usually...I haven’t had a lot of hostility lately. I’ve had people that come to the show and it might not be the show they want to see so they’ll talk amongst themselves or whatever. I can work with that. I can work with all of it, really. I just don’t want somebody screwing up the show for people who want to see me. 

You talked a little bit about the gentrification of Highland Park in your show. Is that starting to get out of control around here, or do you think it still has some of its original character?

Oh yeah, there’s plenty of original character. I don’t really know. It’s a dicey thing because I don’t know the full extent of it, of gentrification in Highland Park. I came here in 2004 impulsively. I knew nothing about the neighborhood. Literally was driving a guy around who was looking to rent something in Garvanza and I saw that little house up there, and I had no idea where I was. I was living over by Franklin and the 101, Franklin and Bronson-ish in an apartment with a woman, and I had a little money from a deal that went nowhere, and I just saw this little house here driving that guy around. I didn’t know how to buy a house, so I bought it. I had no sense of anything. Nothing. I barely do now. I do know that it seemed like a long way to drive initially, because I was doing shows in Hollywood. I was kind of that area-centric. From living in New York and other cities you find your little area and that’s sort of your world. So this seemed very far from my world, which was really just the Comedy Store, the original Upright Citizens Brigade, that neighborhood. I make my world pretty small. So for years I was like, ‘I don’t know where I am or what’s happening. I had no sense of anything. That Vons used to be kind of a nightmare. My neighbors were okay. It was a little nerve-racking at first. There was some tagging going on, and then somebody robbed the house. That was years ago, like 2004 or 2005, then there was just this talk around 2007 that this was going to be a hot area and then the York opened and then it was like, ‘Well, I guess that’s it.’ I knew I was close to Pasadena and Glendale. I was like, ‘I like this house, I like this neighborhood. It feels like where I grew up in New Mexico. In LA you just figure out where you live. You’re not beholden to anywhere, especially in showbusiness. You don’t know where the hell you’re going to be working. There’s no center to the city, so just figure out what feels good and, you know, own it. So that whole element of gentrification now, it’s a little crazy that things have changed so dramatically on York and in the neighborhood, but I guess this is what it looks like. This is my first time ever being in a neighborhood that’s doing that. I don’t know how the locals feel. I imagine there’s two sides to it, but most of the people - outside of being a bit over the top with their attire and lifestyle, seemingly, there’s a hipster element - everyone seems pretty pleasant, but it’s still astonishing to me that people will park and spend half a day walking around York. I mean, it’s like, ‘What?’ I was here when there was really nothing down there. I don’t ever remember walking down there when I first got here. There was no reason to, really. 

When you started the podcast, you were doing it in the Air America building, but you weren’t still doing your other Air America shows at the time, right?

I was doing it at the old Air America studios on 6th Avenue. That was toward the end of this final thing I did for them. I had been fired a couple times already just because of their money problems, but the final thing was there was someone who saved the place financially, again, or dumped a bunch of money into it. We were doing a streaming video show before that technology was really viable, around 2007 or 2008. I just needed money because I was going to lose the house and I didn’t have any work really, and I needed to pay off the woman I was divorcing so that would stop. So I took this gig knowing I wasn’t really emotionally capable of dealing with politics or dealing with anything but it seemed like a cash grab, and it seemed like it could be interesting. I brought my friend Sam Seder in, which in retrospect was maybe not a great decision, but I didn’t have a choice. I love Sam but he definitely has a political agenda and I think our plan was to move into more of a comedy agenda. Either way, nobody watched it, nobody gave a shit. So we were there for a year and they closed us down because they ran out of money. So we were just sitting there, me and my producer Brendan McDonald, who’s been producing me since 2004. He was at Air America originally when I took that job in 2003 or 2004. That’s where I met him. He was a kid, he was like 24. He was an associate producer who came out of WNYC. He produced me for a couple years on that, then when they fired me we produced a show out here. We were always very hard working. We had a show out here for awhile that no one listened to on KTLK, because some people within Air America wanted to keep me in the fold so they gave me this nightly show that ran in LA that nobody listened to. We had to wait for the Clippers games to end to start our broadcast. It was a bad time. But then after all the other shit hit the fan, some guy called me from the old guard at Air America and said, ‘We’re going to do this thing, do you want to be a part of it? And I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s pitch it to the new guy.’ So that was that. So they closed us down, but we were still in there, they didn’t kick us out of the building. We had a couple months on the contract. I asked Brendan can you figure out how they do these podcasts, because I wasn’t listening to any but I knew guys that were doing it. So we looked into it and iTunes was excited to have people that had some experience doing that. So we figured it out, and we just committed to doing two new shows a week, Mondays and Thursdays, no matter what. And the show sort of evolved out of those first 10 or so that we did after hours at Air America. Then I came home, got the garage set up, and it just evolved into the interview show that it is. There used to be a third act, like a fake guest, or maybe not fake, I’d bring in improv performers to do characters that I would interview straight. Those are pretty funny, some of ‘em, kind of disturbing. Those tapered off because the interview became the thing. I don’t know that really happened, or why. I think usually those things just evolve out of discussions with Brendan, like, ‘Do we need to do this?’ Because it’s always really been him and me, looking at it and putting it together. The third act became a whole thing, like, reaching out to the improv community, finding guys to do these characters, how many are there really, is it really what the show’s about. I don’t know how many we did like that, but there was definitely a bunch, and then yeah it just went away.

Why do you think the podcast took off when the other shows didn’t?

The Air America thing initially was a big deal, but it was very limited in its market. There was a deal cut with weird Clear Channel stations that were either oldies or sports, that were dying. It was a weird network that was not consistent. Radio people are odd. People that work in consulting and managing in radio, a lot of those guys around. A lot of people involved. There were a lot of problems with it. Our show was pretty good. It got very good because it was a comedy show, it was a morning show, but you never knew which markets you were on, or really who your listenership was. And then we got pushed out, right when Howard Stern went off the air by an idiot named Danny Goldberg, who was the CEO at the time. And then the second show was just Siberia. And then the streaming video show, no one cared. And I didn’t want to do politics anymore. I didn’t want to be part of that dialogue because it’s very consuming and it’s very predictable and it’s very hard to really know what’s your opinion and what isn’t. I really wasn’t that involved in it. I’m pretty reactionary and I was angry about a lot things. I just thought I’d deal with that, and not sort of limit my audience and limit myself to the political dialogue, which is just tedious. A lot of it’s bullshit. So I made a very conscious decision to get out of it. That and the fact that podcasting was a new medium, and I was doing things with it and getting attention for it that hadn’t really been done in the way I was doing it. God knows I didn’t invent interviewing people or talking to people, but it was a combination of forces.

For the President Obama interview, his people reached out to you initially, right? How did you prepare for that? How did you decide what you wanted to ask him about?

It was hard because I didn’t want to get in the weeds politically and I wanted to try to do a conversation like the ones I do, about a person, a personal conversation. So I read his first book, Dreams of My Father, which was written before he had presidential aspirations and was a very genuine memoir of a guy struggling with his mission in life and with his own identity in ways. I just figured that guy’s gotta be in there somewhere, and we kept it around that. It had to be tight, and I had to write questions, which I usually don’t, and we had an hour, and it was the president, and I didn’t know how I would feel about it, how nerves would factor in. We did alright, but we ended up talking a little bit about politics, obviously. But I thought it was a pretty good interview. And I wasn’t that nervous, really, because I had experience talking to politicians. I mean, granted he was the president, but it was still like those guys have a way of, whoever they are, of handling themselves, and he can definitely handle himself. But the trick is to stay present and not let them go off too much.

That must have been such a surreal experience, especially when Obama said the N-word and the media jumped all over that when really he was making an important point about how racism still exists.

That was an interesting choice for him. I’m glad he felt comfortable [to say it on my show]. The media was going to do what they were going to do. I was very insulated from it. Brendan managed that situation very well. He knew more than I did that that would take off. I’m not naive, I’m just a little detached from the pulse of what’s going to get traction. I don’t know. And once I’m done with the conversation it’s really behind me. Brendan edits all that stuff and he puts the show together and he’s very connected to how media works. I think he knew that that would take off. I didn’t talk to anybody. We had an agreement with Chris Hayes to do a post-Obama interview on MSNBC, and an agreement with Terry Gross on NPR to do one pretty immediately, like that day. We got her clips and did an interview with her, and that’s really all I did. I wouldn’t address the idea of the N-word without the context, and there were people waiting outside my house, Cruz, ‘Hey, man, you want to just...?’ I don’t. So we handled that pretty well. With almost all of them, if somebody has questions about it, yes, it’s like, ‘Just listen to the podcast. It’s there. What do you need me for? I did my thing.’

You said earlier you don’t prepare questions before interviews?

I don’t. That can go either way. It’s challenging, but it’s not unlike how I do standup. There’s going to be false starts and there’s going to be things that could use more definition. I’ll have ideas, I just don’t do it. It’s a weird thing. And sometimes it’s not that I regretted not doing it, but sometimes I think some guests would work better with [prepared] questions. But what happens is, if you get into the groove of questions you might diminish the possibility for actual conversation, and that’s really what I’m after, for my personal satisfaction more than a professional choice. It’s unsatisfying to me if I can’t engage with a person in a real way, conversationally, but some people just aren’t necessarily like that, so that can be a little tricky. They’re not as bad as I think they are, ever. But sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, this is hard,’ and in those moments I’m thinking it would have been easier with questions, but then you risk having them just answering questions. When somebody engages, something different happens, and I can feel it happen. So that’s what I’m gunning for.

You’re essentially doing journalism with your podcast, right?

I don’t know. People have said that. It was never my mention. I don’t consider myself a journalist, and I don’t even consider myself an interviewer. I consider myself a conversationalist, I guess, but things happen. Arguably, I don’t follow any of the rules of journalism: I’m not objective and I integrate myself into almost everything. There are people who do that in journalism. That is a type of journalism. But I think people use what I’ve done in their journalism. I seem to do a lot of homework for a lot of people, in a very lazy journalistic climate, for one way or another. There are certain sites that pick up a lot of what we do, depending on who the guest is. I make it very easy for people looking for a story on somebody, and I know other shows use my interviews for pre-interviews, like radio producers, TV producers. I know that happens. That’s okay. 

How much time do you spend researching a guest while preparing for an episode?

It depends. I need to have some sense of somebody, and usually I’m wrong. Somebody like Werner [Herzog] is very hard, because he’s a real artist, he’s a difficult artist, if you really want to take in what he puts out there. I think he’s become sort of a character to people later in life because of his acting and people who do impressions of him and some of his documentaries. His filmmaking is sort of astounding and very challenging, the early feature films, and he’s very prolific in a lot of different areas. So my approach to that was I hoped we could talk about things and not his work, per se, because a guy that has that broad of vision and that unique of vision and that specific genius, artistic genius, it’d be better if we could just talk about whatever, because he’s going to have his thoughts on those things. Whereas if you just go through a catalogue of movies, which I’ve done before, and some people I think that’s okay to do. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, because I’m very familiar with his work and I find some of it difficult. So I just went at him, but it’d be a pretty amazing person who really has all of Werner Herzog’s films at the forefront of their mind. I just watched Fitzgeraldo last night, and it’s a difficult movie, it’s a great movie, but what are you going to say about that that hasn’t been said in the documentary? So that worked out okay. He’s a little stifling, because he’ll finish thoughts and then sometimes he’ll keep going with thoughts, but the engagement didn’t quite happen until later in the episode. So the research I do is just relative to the guest and sometimes I have to do stuff. Like I very rarely read people’s books but I read Kim Gordon’s, and I’m glad I did, because she’s not a big talker. The problem with doing too much research, certainly reading a book about somebody, is you’ll lead too much, because you’re basically saying, ‘In the book you said...will you say it again?’ That happens anyways. But I interviewed Kristen Wiig yesterday, and I haven’t watched SNL in years, really. I like some of her movie work. I like her. I think she’s very funny. But I sat down and watched...I’d seen Bridesmaids, I’ve seen other movies that she’s been in. I watched Sausage Party. I didn’t think I’d get through it but I found it compelling. I like when cartoon characters have sex. I think it’s funny. I don’t think there’s enough of that, and there’s a lot of it at the end of that movie. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. It’s not long but it’s there. As a fan of underground comics as a kid I’m always excited when cartoons are dirty, and that got pretty dirty. But I watched the two movies that she was a lead in that were not mainstream movies: Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me, which I don’t know if anybody saw, but it’s a pretty great movie, and both of those movies are challenging parts for her. Then I watched a few of her characters on SNL and her impersonations, and I read a little bit of where she grew up, whatever was available on Wikipedia, which can’t be trusted sometimes. So I got a sense of her as a person, and then just hoped that we could connect.

How do you get people to open up to you?

I don’t know if there’s a trick to it. If you listen and you’re curious, they’re going to do something if you follow through a line of thought, If I ask a question, then they answer it, then I’m like (head looks down at questions on paper in front of him), ‘Next question.’ If  we start off like, ‘Where did you drive in from? Have you been over here?’ or whatever. You start in that tone, like, ‘So you were just at that place,’ whatever it is, that sets that going, that exchange happens that is conversation. So if you stay in that and you listen, how are they not going to open up? I mean, they might not open up, but they’ll engage because you’re doing follow ups and you’re going different places. There’s no way for them to assume necessarily. You want them to stop thinking about themselves being interviewed or whatever and just sort of loosen up. And because there’s no cameras and it’s in my garage, it sort of happens, but there is a place where whether they open up or not, if they stay in the conversation there is usually a point where they relax, where that awareness goes away. Most of the time it’s 15 to 20 minutes in, but I’m going to stay on them for an hour. That’s a commitment I have to myself. So even if you hide for an hour, then that’s going to be indicative of who you are. I can only see it as, ‘What's this person like? Well, he didn’t talk to me that candidly about this or that, I mean that’s the way that guy is.’ Either way if you talk to somebody for at least an hour you’re going to get a sense of them even if it’s that they don’t open up, so that’s going to be part of it.

Why did you decide to end your TV show?

How much do you need to do? I mean, how many do you need to do? I have other sources of income. I’m not desperate or struggling. I have plenty of work to do. In my mind we sort of tapped out of a lot of the world of the podcast in those first three seasons. It was getting tired, you know? And there was really no reason to be beholden to it. The show didn’t make a fortune. Nobody really watches IFC that much. There were no real stakes, which was good because we had a lot of freedom, but there was also no real incentive for them to give us more money for production. So sort of struggling with a budget and wanting to take bigger risks or do different things, it becomes very inhibiting and that’s just the nature of that network and that world of cable. So I thought we did a very adventurous and exciting fourth season but I don’t know really what happens next. Like was there something to doing another season of me working at a bookstore in a small town co-parenting a baby with a lesbian? Yeah, I’ve never seen that before. But I mean, is it better just to leave it with, I’ve arrived at this different place and make it sort of touching and cryptic? Yeah, I didn’t know if I wanted to refill that world. And it takes up six months of your life. You’re writing three to four months, you’re shooting for three months, trying to manage casting and a budget. I just felt like the story had been told. If there was no creative incentive for me to continue, there was no reason to continue.

I thought the ending was brilliant, where your character finally got his kid, got what he wanted, but then he still wasn’t happy.

Yeah, something. Yeah, something. That last shot was very important to me, getting that right. We took a couple takes. I wasn’t directing it. Rob was directing it and I just wanted to make sure the framing was right, because I had a definite vibe to what I wanted. It was really the end of The Graduate, really. That was my inspiration for it, with Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross on the bus, after she had just run out of her wedding. Just that moment where he’s like...whoa. I liked that vibe. So the framing of it was important and the music was important. We spent a little money on that Iron and Wine song. It’s sort of an enchanting song to me. It wasn’t so much that we did a lot of takes, but I definitely checked the framing and looked at the ones we did, but it was maybe three or four takes. And the kid was very good. We got lucky with the baby.
(had to fire a bunch of babies?) One baby. Wrong color. It was like African American. It was a brown baby. And I am not racist in any way, I’m sure it’s a good baby, but we needed it to be a specific baby. It’s always a stretch with babies, but you’re willing to forgive. But I didn’t want it to be a separate statement. Like Louie’s wives have changed ethnicity, and that is an artistic decision that Todd Solondz made as well with Palindromes. Which is fine, but that was not what we were doing, so I didn’t want that to be an obstacle to the narrative of what I was trying to do. I just want to make clear, I have nothing against brown babies.

Do you agree with Seinfeld and others who think audiences are too PC and easily offended these days?

Maybe. I don’t know. That’s the challenge. Is Seinfeld really a button pusher? I think there is a nervousness and I think sometimes what is called PC is people have become nervous about what they can and can’t say, what’s culturally appropriate. There’s a shift that happens. My thoughts on it are, ‘You can do whatever you want and say whatever you want but if it backfires you’re going to have to shoulder that.’ So it’s really about personal responsibility and what you want to do. Should that stop people from doing it? No, I mean, is there a rule or a law that says you can’t do it? No. But I mean complaining about PC...I mean, look at these comics that were coming out of the 50s. Look at what happened in the 60s. Were they sitting around whining like, ‘Oh, it’s so conservative. I don’t like all this cookie cutter America, these morals,’ whatever the Beatniks were fighting against and whatever the hippies ultimately shifted took some real courage and some real stamina and some real fuck-you-ness. But I imagine during that time, between like 1950 and 1965, the shift in culture was much more dramatic then than being upset that you can’t say ‘tranny’ anymore. And I’ve never really thought about this, but thinking out loud, and it is interesting, that the cultural freedoms we have today were fought hard for and are vast. Usually it comes down to language. That’s usually all it comes down to, and not lifestyle. There seems to be tolerance around lifestyle, but if language attacks those specific or struggling or minority lifestyles, not minority ethnically, but sexual lifestyles, there’s going to be pushback because those people are fighting for their cultural place. So it’s really just an evolution of language. You can say whatever you want, but if you offend people you just have to live with that and make decisions around that. How important is it to say the things that you’re saying? What’s the reason? What are you really doing with it? Lenny Bruce had a lot of things, specifically ethnic slangs, to disarm them. That was a different time. That if you insult everybody equally, then the words start to lose their hate. I don’t know if that’s what’s happening now. People are very sensitive and college campuses have become very sensitive, and without knowing exactly the parameters of that and seeing some of the information gets out, yeah there is an oversensitivity, but I believe there will be a contraction. I believe that once everybody stakes their territory and feels a little more grounded and safe in their communities or whatever it is that they’re sensitive about, then they’ll ease up a little bit. It’s important for comics to keep pushing the buttons because some of it is pretty ridiculous, so even if it is too PC, then push back, take the hit, but then decide why you’re doing it. Don’t just say, ‘Hey! Why can’t I say ‘tranny’ anymore?’ Well, it hurts some people’s feelings. Is it that important to use? And I always use that word as an example because I’ve done that, or ‘retarded.’ ‘Hey, I can’t say ‘retarded’ anymore?’ Yeah, well, it’s very hurtful to families of mentally challenged people. It’s not a matter of not saying it, because there’s some black people who can say the N-word, there’s some trannies who call themselves trannies, but then there’s transgender, there’s transsexual, there’s LGBT. That’s a community, but these things are generational. Old trannies are not going to mind being called tranny, but younger transgender or transsexual people who find that limiting or demeaning because of their pride in their cultural identity are going to take issue with it, and they can in-fight all they want but me as an outsider, me fighting to use the word ‘tranny’ is just gonna be an old guy wanting to be able to categorize something in the way I grew up with. We can evolve out of that, it’s not that hard.

Do you think the Trump phenomenon is still funny? Or is it just sad and depressing at this point?

I was always embarrassed by it. I don’t know if it’s sad and depressing. It’s frightening, and it’s more frightening because of what it represents in the country. That’s frightening to me. Yeah, it’s funny to a degree, but his popularity is not funny. It indicates something culturally that is a little scary and a little...it’s not depressing, it’s...sad, that there is a frustration and an anger that is so deep and so hopeless that somebody could, with a little vision and just an attitude of hate and revenge, could be so cathartic to those people that there’s such a lack of solution available for some of that anger and it’s multi-faceted that we’re at a state where people willing and wanting to pull the plug on any sort of dignified or organized system of government, or etiquette of social tolerance. It’s always there, but if the momentum is real and it is limited still, you would hope that we could somehow become more sophisticated and more fair as a country to kind of deal with these problems around employment and other issues. The country’s changing in its profile of ethnicity, and that is something that the intolerant can’t handle. A lot of it is driven by the feeling that they are being negated, but they aren’t really. They had this tremendous fear, about the economic inequity and class problems which are never really discussed and just the real hopelessness that exists for a lot of people. If anything, Trump’s popularity should be a signal that something really has to shift in how the country is governed and how this economic disparity can be somehow eased. Right? (sentiment will be around long after trump loses) Well, yeah, that’s the fear of forward thinking political analysts who are more objective than pundits, is that if he loses, and I hope he does lose, who’s going to be the next guy to really bring those people together? What’s that going to look like? What if a guy or woman comes along with real vision around the type of anger and those types of solutions for that anger shows up on the political landscape? This country has been through a lot of weird, bad shit, and the system is what it is, and it is salvageable, and democracy is a grand experiment, and how it’s mediated now through media and how easily it is to misinform and aggravate people’s fears and hatreds is tricky. There's no balance to it, but democracy should work and it has worked, and the one thing people forget about democracy is sometimes your guy doesn’t win. Sometimes your cause doesn’t get honored. It’s a majority thing, so you have to learn tolerance and if you still want changes then you have to work within the system to change that. That’s just the way it works, and people seem to forget that because we’ve all become on all levels weirdly entitled infantile people. I’m not disregarding the real problems that exist, which I think Trump speaks to more than anything else. His supporters say they like him because he shakes things up. But what does that really mean, ‘shaking things up’? He’s entertaining. You feel something because he’s not playing by the rules. That’s why he always talks about how many people show up at his rallies, it’s because they want to see the show. Those aren’t political people. They may be voting for him but they want to see the show. People who vote for Hillary, a lot of them are like, ‘I’m going to do that. I don’t need to go down to the thing. I’m in. I don’t need to go.’ It’s like the Insane Clown Posse concerts, there’s just people like, ‘Let’s get some beers, Trump’s gonna be down at the park!’ They’re tailgating for Christ’s sake. It’s dangerous, and the way the Clintons have been...look, none of them are perfect. I mean, what do you expect out of politicians. And the disregard for Obama is ridiculous. He put this country back together again. And nobody ever mentions George W. Bush. Neither side! And that guy ruined everything, and they pulled in this old guard of fucking greed monsters to just pilfer the Middle East and the American banking system. I mean it was such a cash grab and such a destabilizing presidency. It’s baffling. This is why I don’t talk politics...I get into this dialogue. Mine is a limited point of view but it is a defined point of view and I don’t feel like spending my life defending it. You are allowed to be quiet and vote your mind and your heart in this country. That’s an amazing thing about that, is that like, you don’t gotta tell nobody nothin’. You just go in and do your business, you know what I mean? You can vote different than your wife, you can lie, you can do whatever you want, you don’t gotta say nothin’. That was hammered into me at Air America when Bush got that second term. We were there railing every day, and our candidate wasn’t great, Kerry wasn’t great. He was a default candidate, you know what I mean? But he would have been a fine president. He would have been fine. Some woman wrote from the other side and said, ‘Some of us just quietly vote our hearts,’ and I was like, ‘Those are the ones.’ But the thing is, you want someone to be able to do the job. I don’t know what people are thinking. What are their beefs? What is really America’s fault that’s your personal problem? It’s an odd thing, but right, you don’t want to pay taxes. I get it. But you do. ‘The government’s too big.’ I guess. Arguably it should be doing more to provide jobs. There’s a way to do this. This kind of blind faith in the free market has got to take a hit at some point, because it doesn’t mean that the best is going to happen. To have contractors bidding for everything with no real regulation to it, doesn’t mean the best job is going to be done because it’s a cash grab. All these places, this free market economy, have been using the American system of government as a money laundering system forever. They’re just like pay it out, take it out. I’m not very nuanced in this stuff, and I never really was, which is another reason I never really do it because there are people who can do it better than me. But it’s like Obama said on my podcast. He didn’t do that podcast for any other reason than he said, ‘Look, I’m using you to get people involved in politics, because that’s where it happens.’ People who want a third party, well it’s like, what do you do during the other four years? Every three and a half years you’re going to go, ‘Yeah, Bernie!’ Bernie had a great platform and dialogue around things that are rarely talked about, so how do you keep doing that work? You want a third party to be established, get someone in office on a local level. Do the work. No one wants to fucking do that work. People can blather on television, but the people who are really working for causes that are important and should be important in a much bigger way, it’s a thankless life of commitment and that’s not really the world that we live in right now. People want things now, and then every three and a half years they get all worked up and don’t understand why things don’t happen quickly. If you read Obama’s first book, that’s what he did (he started local). He saw the problem. But I think the problem is that it’s very hard not to get cynical. Anybody who does those relentless jobs about change or managing, like cops, how do you not get shattered? Because there’s no end to it. At no point is everything going to be utopian or right for everybody. It’s the thing with politics, it’s fucking discouraging, and you’re up against these machines that just disseminate garbage to protect whatever they want to do. You think you can sort of put it on the shoulders of people, but when do you have time to be informed? It takes time. You usually just glom talking points from here or there, and if you gravitate towards the right you’re going to glom those, ‘Hillary’s a crook,’ any sort of misinformation, and it happens on the left, too. And there’s a lot pulling at us, we’ll see what happens.