Marc Maron on comedy inspirations, old and new

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Marc Maron and Elvis Mitchell at KCRW HQ. Photo credit: KCRW

Marc Maron has been in the comedy game for more than three decades. The host of the highly successful WTF podcast as well as a new special “From Bleak to Dark” says watching his comedy contemporaries like Nate Bargatze and Maria Bamford keeps him on his game. 

As he gets older, Maron says he has gained new appreciation for comedy legends like Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield and even revisits a childhood favorite: Jackie Vernon.  

This segment has been edited for length and clarity. 

Lately as I get older as a comic, and I realize that I've been doing this for most of my life, I really find myself sometimes just sitting at home and watching old comedy clips. I mean really old like Rodney Dangerfield, like Buddy Hackett, like Don Rickles.

These were the guys when I was a kid, with my grandmother and my grandfather, I'd be sitting at their house, and they'd be telling me about what they thought was funny. My grandmother loved Don Rickles, loved Buddy Hackett. My grandfather was more of a slapstick guy, but it really informed who I was. 

And when I was a little kid, probably 10 or 11, I would watch comics on television. I used to see Jackie Vernon. It must have been on  Dean Martin’s shows, and I thought he was the funniest guy in the world, to the point where my parents – when I must have been 11 or 12, they knew I loved this guy – they brought me to a nightclub at the Hilton Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico because Jackie Vernon was playing. I sat right up front. I was the only kid in the place. They let my parents bring me in, and I'm sitting there five feet from Jackie Vernon, this heavyset, sweaty guy.

I thought this slideshow thing was so funny because the whole bit was a clicker to a slideshow that he described. I thought it was genius. I thought it was hilarious to me. 

For some reason, lately, I've been watching, when I want to feel better or if I want to really reflect on what comedy used to be, it took me a long time to appreciate this guy because I don't think as a kid I really registered Dangerfield that much, but I loved watching Rodney on Carson, the old stuff, because Rodney not doing well was the greatest thing in the world, where he'd be like “Are you sure this is the right mic?”

I guess there's part of me that's kind of realizing that this is part of my life, and I love comedians. I've always loved comedians. So I find myself watching old comedy, and I still find a lot of inspiration from watching my contemporaries. Oddly, it's very funny, I watched Nate Bargatze's new special, and he used to open for me. I remember the first time I saw him, I watched him three or four times at a comedy fest, I'm like, “Does anyone know who this kid is? Because he's got a style that's totally unique.” But the funny thing is, he and I politically and spiritually are very different. He’s Southern. He's Christian. He definitely doesn't have the politics I have, but we're friends, and I really truly love his comedy. We couldn't be more different: he's clean. I'm the opposite of Nate. He opened for me at Carnegie Hall. But it's so funny because I watched his newest special, and I swear to God, I find him inspiring.

But I texted him and I was like, “Look, I know we think differently about things, and, we're spiritually different, but I love you, man. And I thought your special was great.” And he texted back, “I pray for you every day. I love you too, man. I miss you. I hope we can hang out again.” 

It's really part of being in this community. And also, I recently worked with Maria Bamford up in Canada, we were in the same venue…. I’ve known her forever, and I've always sung her praises, but she's still working at the top of her game, and it's a game that no one else can play. It's deep, and it covers everything in a way that's just totally inspired and unique to the point where you watch her, and I'm like, “Why am I even doing comedy?” 

So I still get a lot of inspiration. I spend my life in comedy clubs, still. I am at the Comedy Store. If I'm in town, I'm there three or four nights a week, and I am in it. And I still find it engaging, and there are still acts that I'm very excited to watch and I find it inspiring and it keeps me on my game.  

More: Comedian Marc Maron on life, death, and lightening up



Rebecca Mooney