After more than two decades as a stand-up comedian struggling with both his own insecurities and addictions and with his apparent inability to break beyond a certain small level of fame, Marc Maron became an overnight success in his late 40s by going the DIY route. Turning to the new media realm of podcasting, Maron created the successful interview series "WTF," talking to fellow comics, actors and musicians about their lives and inspirations. The show, recorded in a makeshift studio in the garage of Maron's Los Angeles home, became popular enough to lead to a book deal and Maron's own television series.
Marc Maron was born in Jersey City and lived in suburban New Jersey until he was six years old. Following a two-year stint in Alaska, where his father served as a military doctor, the family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Maron spent the rest of his childhood. Maron's childhood and adolescence were fraught by his difficult relationships with his parents, particularly his father; examination of his parents' eccentricities and his response to them became a key element of his later stand-up act. In the early 1980s, Maron moved to Boston, where he studied English literature at Boston University. At the time, Boston's stand-up comedy scene was becoming renowned, with local heavyweights like Jay Leno and Steven Wright on the verge of making a national breakthrough. After graduation, Maron stuck around Boston, living in an attic apartment in Somerville, working a part-time job at The Coffee Connection in Harvard Square and becoming part of the comedy scene centered around a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge's Inman Square called the Ding Ho, whose stand-up comedy nights were attracting future comic superstars like Janeane Garofalo, David Cross and Louis C.K.
After stints working the comedy circuits in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Maron gained enough notice to start appearing on television, which in the early 1990s was awash in low-budget stand-up comedy shows that were inexpensive to produce and equally cheap for local TV shows to use as late-night filler. Maron also became a regular presence on Comedy Central early in that network's existence; by 1993, he was hosting the late-night clip show "Short Attention Span Theater" (The Comedy Channel 1989-91 / Comedy Central 1991-94). By the mid-1990s, Maron was appearing on his own half-hour stand-up specials on both HBO and Comedy Central, one of the key signposts of making it as a stand-up comedian. He held the record for the most guest appearances on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (NBC 1994-2009) and also appeared regularly on "The Late Show With David Letterman" (CBS 1994- ). In 1995, he auditioned for the cast of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC 1975- ), but was passed over in favor of Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, Jim Breuer and David Koechner. Years later, whenever a guest on "WTF" had auditioned, successfully or not, for "Saturday Night Live," Maron always asked about the auditioning process and their interview with producer Lorne Michaels.
Despite his increasing success as a stand-up comedian, Maron's personal life during this era was becoming increasingly tumultuous: a heavy drinker and recreational drug user since his teens, he became addicted to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and pills, although a fear of needles kept him away from intravenous drug use. His worsening addictions began to negatively affect his career, as did the frustration of not being able to make the jump from stand-up to regular TV or film work. Finally, he entered rehab in 1999, and with the help of a 12-step program, remained alcohol and drug-free. In 2000, Maron scored his first high-profile film role, playing the incensed promoter hectoring the band Stillwater after they cut short a gig due to the guitarist's onstage electrocution in Cameron Crowe's homage to 1970s rock "Almost Famous." A music fanatic and part-time blues-rock guitarist himself, Maron took another TV hosting gig, helming a short-lived American version of the popular British rock-themed quiz show "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" (VH1 2002).
During this era, the newly-sober Maron's standup persona changed: his stage clothes went from casual suits to jeans and t-shirts, and he grew a goatee that resembled that of one of his musical heroes, Frank Zappa. His material, as heard on his stand-up CDs "Not Sold Out" (2002) and "Tickets Still Available" (2006), became more aggressive during this era, with an increasingly political edge in the wake of the Bush Administration's response to the 9/11 terror attacks that coupled with his frank discussion of his anger and jealousy issues to create an at times unsettling vibe, as if he was about to attack himself or a member of the audience.
Maron's political leanings led him to work on the nascent progressive radio network Air America, conceived as a left-wing analogue to conservative radio pundits such as Rush Limbaugh. Maron's show, a satiric morning news program called "Morning Sedition," co-hosted by Mark Riley and featuring a young top-of-the-hour news reader named Rachel Maddow, mixed straight news and sardonic comedy. Though the program quickly developed a cult following, Air America executive Danny Goldberg (a music business figure who had previously managed artists like Nirvana) was vocal in his disapproval of Maron's rough-edged comedy; the show was canceled in December 2005, replaced by the more conventional morning radio news show "Air America Mornings" co-hosted by Riley and Maddow. In February 2006, Maron joined the staff of Los Angeles Air America affiliate KTLK for a nightly two-hour broadcast called "The Marc Maron Show" that brought back several recurring sketches and characters from "Morning Sedition." But when a change in Air America's upper management brought in a new regime that refused to honor a clause in Maron's contract that would have syndicated the show nationwide, the show ended after only five months.
Maron's next Air America-related project began in 2008, with a weekly video webcast co-hosted by fellow Air America veteran Sam Seder called "Maron vs. Seder." Recorded in the break room at Air America's New York studios -- the show was later renamed "Breakroom Live With Maron and Seder" -- the show consisted of a weekly chat about current events between the two hosts. Like Maron's previous efforts with Air America, the show was short-lived. After it was canceled for budgetary reasons in July 2009, Air America management neglected to take back the studio keycards Maron and his producer Brendan McDonald had been issued. The pair began slipping into the Air America studios in New York after hours and recording Maron's free-wheeling, unscripted interviews with fellow comedians. The resulting podcast, dubbed "WTF" (an internet abbreviation for "What The F*ck," which Maron explains in the show's intro is meant in both the exasperated and the philosophical sense) debuted in September 2009. It quickly became popular in comedy-fan circles, both for the often surprising revelations of the interviews themselves and for Maron's sometimes-lengthy pre-interview monologues, in which he bared the aggravations, anxieties and small victories of his daily life. But the podcast started becoming more widely-known for provocative episodes such as Maron's two-part interview with Carlos Mencia in which he confronted the comedian with widespread allegations that he stole jokes from other comics. In an immediately legendary episode, watermelon-smashing oddball Gallagher became so incensed by Maron's questions that he stormed out of the interview halfway through.
By late 2009, Maron had moved from New York to Los Angeles; he began recording the podcast in the garage of his house in a working-class neighborhood. During some episodes, Maron is heard asking his next-door neighbor to stop mowing his lawn while he was recording. Other episodes ended with Maron trying to coax one of his several cats to meow into the microphone. Those rough-edged moments became part of the podcast's charm, and by 2012, the show was popular enough that edited versions (expurgating all of the often filthy language used by both Maron and his guests) were syndicated to public radio stations. Meanwhile, Maron was able to resume his standup career in more luxurious surroundings than he had previously managed. In 2013, Maron became a multimedia figure with the simultaneous release of his memoir Attempting Normal and the debut of the autobiographical sitcom "Maron" (IFC 2013-16), a lightly fictionalized recreation of the early days of the podcast, with fellow comedians and actors playing themselves.