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"This May Be The Last Time" to see Marc Maron in Troy, Burlington

Comedian Marc Maron
Marc Maron
/
Comedian Marc Maron

Throughout the pandemic, Marc Maron mused about whether he would ever return to stand-up. That ambivalence, despite his decades on the stage, is reflected in the name of his current tour: “This May Be the Last Time.”

Maron performs Thursday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Saturday at the Flynn Center in Burlington.

While continuing his popular podcast WTF, which learned how to trade the garage for Zoom in recent years, Maron has appeared in films like “Respect,” “Sword of Trust,” and “Joker,” to name a few.

Were you really thinking of giving up stand-up?

Yeah, I was actually it was a strange experience, you know, the pandemic, it made everybody sort of reflect and I had a lot of time for myself. And the strange thing was, it wasn't like this weird decision, like I'm done with comedy, but I actually thought, hey, maybe I'm all better, maybe I don't need this type of attention anymore. It was a psychological thing, a spiritual thing. But I found that as soon as other people started doing comedy and comedy clubs within a week, I was doing it. So it's really… I seem to be entirely driven by spite, competitive nature, and need to sort of reflect on the world we're in publicly if other people were doing it. I had a great, relaxing time, outside of the loss of my girlfriend and being terrified that we're all going to die of the plague. But outside of that, the fact that nobody was doing anything, I found to be very, very pleasant.

Well, I don't mean to go dark so early in our conversation, but obviously, you did suffer a tremendous loss with the death of Lynn Shelton, the filmmaker, and you've talked about it publicly. It's been a while now, how are you doing?

Well, you know, grief comes and goes and I think the immediate circle of trauma that surrounds the event itself has dissipated. But it really kind of comes at different times, and you really have no control over it. It's a very odd thing. I don't think anybody really knows how to handle or what to do with.

But I talked to Keith Richards recently, actually, for a short interview and I asked him how he was dealing with his grief, how he was finding it. And he said, it finds you. So I think that's sort of what happens, and you don't really know how or when. The hardest thing about grief is that you feel that there's a tremendous injustice to it, especially when it's tragic. But then you have to really reflect on the nature of the world, the nature on people and the fact that everybody deals with it. It's just hard to put into perspective. But I think when the feelings come you have to honor them and sort of integrate them into your heart and mind in life and move on.

You had Keith Richards on your show, and you idolized him. What was it like catching up with him again? I mean, what was that for?

It was the exact same. It was the exact same. I thought by this point, I'd be able to keep it together. You know what I mean? Like, the last time I interviewed was at the NPR studios in Manhattan, I was kind of piggybacking on a Morning Edition interview he was doing, and I got to sort of go in there and use their studios. It was so funny that time because, you know, we were waiting to talk to Keith and some woman was running around the studio going, ‘He smoking, he's smoking! What do we do?’ And I was like, well I don't think there's much you can do, really. It's Keith Richards. He's gonna smoke, right? So I was really quite overwhelmed with excitement that first time and this time he's promoting the release of reissue of ‘Main Offender,’ the second solo album, but I was equally as excited and could not contain myself. And so you have that to look forward to. It was only 20 minutes, but it was it was fun. It was great to see him and it was on Zoom.

Do you still have questions for him at this stage? I mean, it's somebody that you've really looked up to your whole life. And my sense of it is when he does interviews, there’s still a veneer that's very difficult to get through.

I don't know, you know, I asked him about his beanie. You know, he was wearing these great beanies on this tour. Like he, he looked appropriate for his age, and he was very cool, and very sort of, like, you know, basic colors. You know, I said to him, I said, I like the beanies, you know, you're not, you know, you're not putting beads in your hair anymore. He said, ‘It was something to do.’ Yeah. I think there are moments where you can have candid moments and I am able to make him laugh a bit and I was able to talk to him a bit about the blues album they did that nobody seems to really care about it and was the best Stones album in probably 20 years, ‘Blue & Lonesome,’ and sort of getting excited about talking about the blues and he was candid, and there is something to get out of him. You know, if it's like anything else I talk to on the podcast, if you connect that moment in its authenticity in that moment, you can feel it no matter what's being said. So, you know, to get a guy like that laughing or little off his public narrative and just in the moment is great, no matter what he's saying, you know.

Speaking of your podcasts, there was a recent moment of virality from the Sam Elliot interview you did where he took some shots at the Oscar-nominated film ‘The Power of the Dog.’ Were you surprised that that took off that way? And for people who haven't heard it, he's just not a fan of that movie.

Well, I don't know. I'm always surprised, my producer wasn't surprised. And he kind of knew that that was sort of set up for somehow being click bait and he gets very upset about it, because it sort of drags our show into the garbage culture of clickbait where, you know, journalists either for, you know, money reasons, or just for the nature of their job, they don't really do their job anymore. And it's always taken out of context. But, you know, just to get the click. But look, man, you know, Grandpa is gonna Grandpa, you know, I can't apologize for him. And I can't say that he was correct.

It was a homophobic comment. And I think it was a little off base. But, look, he was he was passionate about it. And I responded to it in a very subtle way. But with a bit of, I wouldn't say, pushback but acknowledgement that, you know, it was a little off. And, sure, I'm always surprised. But you know, I was surprised by that whole interview. I mean, I didn't know what to think about Sam Elliott, we all kind of know him. But he was he was engaged and he was filthy. And he cussed more than most of my guests.

More than you.

Yeah, more than me on that way on that episode anyways, but yeah, it came out of left field, but you know, given his age and what he comes from, and, again, not apologizing for him, but it's not necessarily that surprising.

If I could just return to the concept of grief for a second. Obviously, you had this loss in your life. And it was very unexpected, but it came at a time when so many people were experiencing loss and grief and panic over COVID. What was it like to go through something like that, that's so personal at a time when, you know, the numbers of people in this country who were experiencing their own trauma were just through the roof?

Well, you know, it was my trauma. And, and it was her family's trauma. And, you know, I think the most difficult thing about COVID was that it was very hard to define community in the grief. After, after she passed, there was people that Michaela Watkins put together a sort of makeshift Shiva online, sort of a Zoom community created around her death right away, like, within days, if not the day after to reflect and to be together on Zoom, which was helpful and odd.

And my brother came down. There was this life threatening, you know, risk to engaging at all, but my brother flew out immediately, and he was there. And as the outreach was sort of overwhelming from people calling me and reaching out to, to share the condolences and, and I knew that many people were going through similar things, and we were all in fear. But nonetheless, that one experience was mine. And I think the worst part about it was that the lack of community around it, and the lack of, you know, in-person support was difficult. People would come by, but you know, I'd sit on my porch, you know, crying and they'd be in my yard, you know, trying to talk to me, and I felt like I was an exhibit at a zoo, which should have said, grieving man on a plaque in front of my porch. They brought food and I was like, well slide it into the cage. Thank you.

The collective nature of grief at that time, in some ways, was sort of, I wouldn't say helpful, but that in and of itself had a communal effect, that this is something that that people get through, that people manage, that people deal with in their lives and that never really goes away. But I think it changes as time goes on and I think that's happening on a big scale too, hopefully, but the hence the title of my tour. It's really a personal thing. ‘This may be the last time,’ it's a poetic idea for all of us.

You never know, it might be the last time.

Yeah, that's right, for me, for us for whatever.

You've been very open about your relationships and your history. You've been married a couple of times. And you've talked about other breakups publicly.

Yeah.

What you went through losing Lynn, your girlfriend, so unexpectedly, does it change your approach to whether you're going to be with somebody in the future and how you think about that?

Yeah, definitely. You know, I've been talking about this stuff on stage, too. I know, it doesn't necessarily sound funny, but, you know, I talk about my life and I and the challenges and how do you process it? But yeah, it made me think a lot.

Sadly, you know, we were a fairly new couple, maybe a year or so in to being public about our relationship. And it really felt like I landed finally, after years of trouble and turmoil and breakups and different versions emotionally of myself, that I'd really sort of found a partner that I could sort of be with for the rest of whatever this is. And ] for that to be shattered like it was was devastating. And it really made me think about what is it that I need, it's made me even more cynical about love and trust and intimacy, which I was already that way. And I think I was just making a little headway with her. But I have a certain amount of acceptance. And it really has just made me wonder, what do I need out of a relationship at this point in my life? I can't answer that question. But I think sex has something to do with it.

Ian Pickus and Marc Maron in 2013
Ian Pickus
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Ian Pickus and Marc Maron in 2013

Let me run a theory by you. Lynn Shelton directed your last special, ‘End Times Fun,’ which let's just face it, you nailed it.

Thanks.

It was a perfect comedy special. And do you think maybe that played into your ambivalence about getting back up on the stage, like, you've sort of mastered the form to a degree?

Yeah, and mastered it to a degree that is only sort of limited in its popularity. I mean, I look at that special, and I know that that's my life's work there. And I know that in my heart. And I know that in my craft. But there's such a glut of things. And, you know, I'm always sort of up against, you know, did people like it, how many people watched it, Netflix doesn't seem that interested in giving me another special.

Oh really?

Well I’m going to do. It looks like I’m going to do it with HBO and Netflix is not all that it's cracked up to be anyways, in terms of, you know, finding things and then getting behind things, that's all fine and good. But I do have to accept after a certain number of years of my life that I am not a marginal character, but I am unto myself. And you know, commercialization and striving to be an arena act was never really my bag. So I really had to temper my expectations around my work, but also be proud of it. And I don't know why I compare myself to people that fill arenas, but I guess there's just part of my process is to find a way to beat myself up. That’s my drive.

But I appreciate you saying that. And I agree with you. And it did have something to do with some of the thoughts I was having about not doing stand-up anymore, because I do think that was a fairly complete thing. And it was all part of the dialogues I've been having with my audience and with myself for the last 30 years doing stand-up. But I also didn't know what I could find. And right when I started doing the work again, I was given an opportunity to perform at Town Hall at the New York Comedy Festival. So I just, I just started doing the work that I always do, which is improvising through thoughts in small black box theatres until something starts to form. And since the pandemic, you know, since we were able to start performing, which I don't even know what the date was, I guess it's been about a what a year, maybe six months to a year, when the work started. But you know, I've got a new 1:15, 1:30 that's kind of evolved since we're allowed to start doing stand up again, so I seem to have a need to do it. So I keep doing it.

And you know what, I think it's fair to say you wouldn't like doing arenas. I mean, people bother you in the theater.

Yeah, it would be terrible. People bother me in the theater. Yeah. I mean, it's not ever what I wanted, you know, and I you know, I'm a I'm a stand-up comic. I'm a club comic. I'm not I'm not greedy. I don't have a will to power. You know, there's a fine line these days between a comedy show and a comedy rally. And I don't know that people know the difference. And I mean that both politically and also entrepreneurially. I mean, there's a lot of people who believe that winning and building their brand to the point where they can fill in the arena is great, but it's not about the show, a lot of times it's about the cash grab. And I don't know how great a show of stand-up comedy could be at an arena level, you know, the spacing you have to do and the type of jokes that have to be structured to land that way they land. I like an intimate, engaged experience where freedom of mind has a premium/ I like to improvise a lot. And I like to sort of be in that moment. I think when you're dealing with an arena, the group mind is different than you're dealing with a 500-800 seat place, or even a 200-seat place, I'm doing smaller venues, because I don't really need the money at this point in my life, because I'm not greedy, and I've saved some money, and I want to do good shows.

On your show, you've been talking to a lot of actors in recent years, and you like to ask them about their approach, how they get into the character, you know, what they do. And as you've been appearing in more series and movies, I'm wondering, have you gleaned from all the conversations you've had, and then just having the chance to do it more, and I hesitate to use this word, but a method that works for you, once it's time to roll?

Kinda, you know, I'm still sort of at a loss, because I think I expect an awful lot out of everything I do, I always expect that there's going to be some life changing…that I'm going to figure out how to do it. And it's going to have this profound effect on me. But it is a craft in a way. And a lot of it, I think over the years I've realized, is either you have it or you don't, that there is a certain amount of natural talent that goes into people who are movie stars or who are great actors.

But I find that I've just tried to take some more risks, and I don't know that I have a method that works. But I am able to listen and I am able to be present. And then this last film I did, which is premiering at Sundance, on the on the 12th of this month, I can't make the premiere. You know, I did a guy that really wasn't like me, I tried to do a Texas accent. You know, I worked with a dialogue coach. And I'm trying I'm taking risks because I feel like if I want to be an actor, or do the acting and not be bored sitting on set all day, I have to find something rewarding about the short amount of time that you spend on camera in those situations or I'll lose my mind. So I'm more driven by what is rewarding when they say action for the two or three minutes or less that you're doing that action. How do I make that feel like an amazing thing? And part of that is just taking risks and applying the skills that I'm picking up and learning from other actors. That's all I can do at this point. Right?

It's all in the face. That's what Jeff Daniels told you.

I know! I haven't figured that out yet. See, I still gotta work on that.

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A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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