Marc Maron Discusses Growing His Alter Ego on IFC Comedy

The comedian talks with THR about the third season of his IFC comedy and honoring podcast fans with "a fictionalization" of real stories.
Tyler Golden/IFC

Marc Maron is trying to grow up. The comedian, sure — who isn't? — but also the character of the same name he portrays on his IFC series, Maron. And after two seasons of slumming it, Maron has hit his career stride. But with all that success comes even more self-destructive behavior, making the struggle all the more real in the process.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Maron to discuss straddling the divide between the real and TV versions of himself, why people love to conflate the two, and whether or not the character succeeds in his attempt at maturity.

What would you say is the theme of season three?

The undercurrent theme of the season was the road that was best not traveled. And why it's good that it didn't happen — what happened on the show — in real life. It's an interesting thing to explore. And it's nice to see that as a comedy on a TV show instead of in my real life. 

Given the fact that the show is semi-autobiographical in this way, has that real/fake distinction altered the way you portray the stuff you're working though?

I think it was only a matter of time. The way that I generally work is from immediate experience; it's how I move through the world creatively, but obviously there is creative license taken. Nothing happens exactly as it did in real life, [but] it's just sort of this weird thing that people want to believe about me: that this is some sort of reality show. But it's a very scripted half-hour comedy that sometimes gets emotionally gnarly. I would say that most of this season, outside of small events and emotional drive, is all fictionalized. I don't mind that people want to believe that this is my life on the line here, but it's really a 22-minute TV show.

Do you encounter a lot of people who only want to look at you through this lens? 

I think it becomes sort of tricky with me because of my podcast. I have hundreds of thousands of people who listen to me and know me fairly well and they know some of the real stories about my life, so it becomes sort of a challenge to honor the real fans with a fictionalization or something that is its own thing. And to do new stories and make up stories [for] the show so it all doesn't start to meld together. I think we did that pretty much with all the seasons. I think some people are expecting it to be real by virtue of the fact that I use some of my real life in it and engage with the characters as if they were my real-life counterparts. I don't know if they need it to be my real life or want it to be my real life but I need them to be surprised, too.

It seems like it would be very tricky — in the same way that it is with Lena Dunham — to remind people that there's a divide there while still maintaining that emotional authenticity.

There's definitely a part of my personality that — when you're really trying to figure out who the character of Marc Maron is on the TV show — sort of evolves over three episodes. You start to learn how the character has maybe moved through the world. And yes, that character's me and has the emotions of me, but it is limited to the degree that it's a show and there's also a comedic element. So I'm going to hit some of my more well-defined character traits, but you can't linger and think about the things you're processing or the way your processing would go in the real world because that would take a lot of time and not go anywhere, maybe. (Laughs.)

So this season, Marc's dealing with success and anger management at the same time, which feels pretty emotionally volatile. 

What was always the issue for me in my real life was the hope that I would not screw it up. Most people don't do it on purpose, but if you have a propensity toward self-destruction that you don't seem to have control over, that struggle with that thing is ongoing. What ultimately happens is Marc loses that struggle, which did not happen in real life. So what ultimately it becomes is an exploration of, "What if the worst part of me, or the weaker part of me, or the part of me that doesn't quite have a handle on things, wins out? What if I lose the struggle with myself? What if the worst thing happens?" It was pretty amazing, emotionally, in real life, to deal with it.

There certainly seems to be a heady mix of comedy and drama this season.

It's heavy because there's a lot of emotions that I had that were not really resolved. Like in one episode I have my ex-wife come on the podcast after her book has come out. It never happened in real life, but she did write a book and there's a lot of unresolved issues or a lot of things that were not talked about at the end of that marriage and I reckon with that on the show, which was a pretty big emotional risk. Plus, it was the episode I wrote and directed, so it was pretty cathartic. There's a lot of stuff in this, even though it's a comedy, that does ride the line, that was pretty emotionally challenging, but I wanted to take that risk. I just hope people watch it. 

Dave Anthony's character feels like an interesting mirror with you this season more than most.

Wasn't that funny? Dave plays a bit of a sociopath on the show but we have a pretty loaded dynamic in general. I wonder how that character's going to evolve if we do another season, because there are moments where he's clearly kind of creepy and there are others where he's a really on the money. But I think the comedic dynamic  is what really makes those interactions.

And can we talk about his anger-murder room? 

I think that's the one thing about that character that we can always go to — this secret life where we can almost do anything with it. (Laughs.) You could find out things about Dave that are way over the top and you think, "Oh yeah, that guy." 

Marc's romantic relationships also feel very different this season. 

It's about resolving some stuff around relationships [and] trying to get at some of the issues that have made me not the greatest partner in the world.

Sounds like he's on the growing-up path.

Yeah, I would not say that he succeeds, though! There's something he's trying to manage, but the movement toward the opportunity to do this big thing takes precedence, and whatever emotional progress he makes this season is steamrolled by trying to make this talk show work.

Maron airs Thursdays on IFC.