Episode 2: Marc Maron (Voted #4 Ep of 2011)
Paul interviews fellow comedian and friend Marc Maron. Subjects include: God, the universe, suicide, and the night Paul had to listen to Marc get it on.
Paul: Welcome to another episode of the Mental Illness Happy Hour. I’m your host, Paul Gilmartin, and I’m so excited to have my guest for my second-ever episode, Marc Maron.
Marc: I think that’s a proud moment, Paul, given the nature of the podcast or what I hear from the title. I think I should be, what’s the word I want, grateful and excited to be thought of as somebody who would be someone you would talk to on a mental...Are we gonna talk about mental illness?
Paul: Yeah. Yeah.
Marc: Are you a professional?
Paul: If suffering mental illness makes me a professional, then I have a PhD.
Marc: OK, so we’re going to be sharing about some of our good and bad experiences with mental illness.
Marc: Well that sounds great.
Paul: As you know, so many comedians and artists suffer from depression and other forms of mental illness, and I’m kind of fascinated with what a double-edged sword it is, how, in some ways, it drives us, it feeds the creative flow. And yet, it’s our worst enemy. And for the longest time, I didn’t even know that I was depressed. I just thought people around me were hard to deal with and asked a lot from me.
Paul: One of the things that I love about your comedy is it’s so naked, it’s so…You just put it out there. In a lot of ways, it’s comedy that I always thought ‘Boy, if I had balls, you know, I would have said that.’ The first couple of times I saw you do standup, I was like ‘Eh.’ This would have been like 12 years ago. I thought ‘Yeah, he’s good, but I don’t see what the fuss is about.’
Marc: And neither did anyone else.
Paul: We were doing a show at Largo one night, and you followed Patton or someone who absolutely crushed. And I thought ‘Oh, God, how do you follow that?’ And you went up and you were so unfazed by the fact that you weren’t killing, but you were connecting to the audience with honesty. And you did a joke about how “Well, yeah, everybody wants to fuck a teenage girl”. And it just loosened the audience up and it was then that I understood what was unique about you and what made me always interested in hearing your comedy from then on. Have you always been somebody who’s been that forthright in what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing, and unafraid of looking foolish?
Marc: I don’t really know how else to do it, you know? I’ve written jokes, there was a time early on in my career when I would write jokes, but then the distance started to close in on me that I wasn’t satisfied by doing jokes or taking a position, a certain way. It was all my creativity, but ultimately it seems I got into comedy to find myself. And my voice is all I have. So a lot of the jokes that I did were really me insisting that I should talk about how….You know, I used to really believe that everybody’s just as bitter as me. Everybody has these same thoughts. I mean I thought that I was sharing something that everybody would connect with because everybody must be like me inside.
Paul: And when did it dawn on you that everybody isn’t, but a lot of people are?
Marc: Well, it dawned on me like after spending about two or three years of insisting that bitterness as a manifesto was just something that was gonna catch on—
Paul: It’s so ‘20s. it’s such a badge of honor in your ‘20s, and by the time you get into your ‘30s, it’s like ‘No, you know what, I’m tired of having my TV on a milk crate. I’m tired of, you know…’
Marc: Well yeah, there were professional things, but there was more like…I don’t know that I ever thought about that. I never got into show business for the business element of it. I always chose comedy because there seemed to be a freedom of mind around it. I really believed that people were lying to themselves and I thought that bitterness was just being reasonable, that I was being objective, that cynicism. I wasn’t being cynical, I was seeing things as they were. And then something changed, I’m not sure what it was, where I realized ‘Dude, some people are at least half well-adjusted. Or they don’t have the same emotional problems that you have.’ And I think it was by virtue of my narcissism that I was insisting, and it became self-righteous and overbearing and it made people uncomfortable, and a lot of times people were laughing because they were uncomfortable.
Paul: “We’re NOT like you!”
Marc: But I didn’t let them have the laugh at me. And at some point I realized, like ‘Oh my God, bitterness is just amplified self-pity. I am hyper sensitive, and my reactions and my feelings about things are not necessarily common experiences. Certainly there are people that do experience it, but I have to somehow find a place where I can be okay with these people laughing at me, and not with me’, because a lot of times they were either not laughing, or laughing uncomfortably. And then I just said—
Paul: I never got the feeling that people laugh at you.
Marc: I don’t mind it now.
Marc: Like, it’s okay with me because clearly I’m different, and I always thought I was different, but as opposed to accept that I wanted to insist that everyone was like me.
Paul: But to laugh at you usually insinuates that you’re not in on the joke. But you are in on the jokes.
Marc: Sometimes. I don’t mind if they laugh at me, to me it’s a very….Being embarrassed is a very humbling, humiliating moment. But if you can sit in it you can actually get some humility out of it. I mean I was on stage in Atlanta the other night, and some woman had bought me a 6-pack of soda with a gift basket that she had put on stage, and I’m walking around holding this 6-pack of these mini Diet Coke cans, and one of them fell out of the 6-pack, hit the floor, and exploded all over me. Now I had no control over that, and there’s no question that in the five minutes of your set, if a soda explodes all over you, the soda wins. You’ve been upstaged by a spontaneous event. But I didn’t get angry about it, I just sat and played the straight man to a soda. And it was okay.
Paul: Isn’t that sometimes what show business comes down to?
Marc: Sure, just letting it happen. Don’t run away from it.
Paul: Yeah. And it’s funny, when we first start out being comedians, there is nothing more frightening to us than losing control onstage, because we have this idea that it’s gonna turn into chaos and we’re gonna look bad. And the longer we do comedy, the more we realize we don’t really have to have this big wall up, in fact maybe the really true good material lies in letting that wall fall down and seeing what happens.
Marc: If you can handle it. Sometimes depending on how much neediness you bring to the stage, I think we’re all afraid of being embarrassed or being ashamed or being rejected. And certainly for a good part of all of our careers, a lot of energy and a lot of skill goes into acting like we’re not frightened. I mean, that’s where a lot of it goes. We want to have control. I quote this a lot, but Harry Shearer once said that, to me, and I’m paraphrasing, that the reason comedians do what they do is to try to control why people laugh at them.
Paul: That’s good. I like that.
Marc: Yeah, and it says a lot that we are sort of controlling. I mean, it’s a very risky thing.
Paul: And the other thing that I think comedy gives us is it’s socially accepted aggression. You know.
Marc: Yeah, depending on how far you push it. I’ve definitely played with the boundaries of that.
Paul: Yes. I remember going through Second City’s training program and our teacher was asking for suggestions for something, and I yelled something out that I probably thought was funny, like ‘Saw the person’s head off!’ or something. And he looked at me and he said “You’re so hostile.” And I’d never heard anybody say that before, and it kind of dawned on me that I may not be the person I think I am. That was probably the first time, I think I was like 24, 25 at the time. When was the first time you realized you might not be the person you picture in your head?
Marc: It’s hard to say because everything is so immediate to me when I’m engaging.
Paul: Well, let me ask you this. What was the first thing you learned about yourself that you went “Oh wow, I’m that?”
Marc: Well id have to think about it because it didn’t happen on a comedy stage, I’m sure. I think that with me there was such a confusion and a fear at the core of me in terms of who I was, who I thought I should be, you know, who was I really. I mean I thought about that kind of crap, you know, identity, sense of self, all that stuff was very fragmented for me. I was constantly trying to fit in, to feel like…I always felt like there was something missing from my sense of identity. And it always bothered me.
Paul: Okay, let me ask you this then--
Marc: I knew I was hostile.
Paul: Yes. When you set out to do standup and pictured ‘I’m gonna have success, I’m gonna connect to people, whatever, whatever.’ What are some of the thoughts that you had that you wanted people to think about you?
Marc: I just thought I was innately funny and that I could speak freely, and I always knew I was funny.
Marc: But I think that a lot of my personality, getting back to the other question, was built out of a defense mechanism. That I had parents were very emotionally intrusive and selfish—
Paul: Give me some examples.
Marc: Of my parents?
Paul: Yeah. Of them being emotionally intrusive.
Marc: Well, my father was a manic depressive. He was not around a lot, and a lot of the times when he was around he was detached or he was raging. So there was always a sense of accommodating his emotional rollercoaster, that basically when he was around you were excited to have your dad around but then there was this other issue of ‘What’s he gonna do?’.
Paul: Right. Was he ever fun and emotionally accessible?
Marc: Yeah, sure, that’s the two sides of mania. He’s never emotionally accessible when he’s crying, and he’s fun when he’s got some big ideas.
Paul: Did you ever feel safe around him? Was there ever a point when you didn’t feel like ‘Oh, this is gonna turn.’
Marc: No, you know, he never really did. You just knew that when he was feeling good and everybody was on board with this momentum, then it was great. And my mom was very self-involved, and body image stuff, she was constantly worried about food, and there was always this issue about whether or not I was fat, or I wasn’t fat, or whether she was fat, or who was fat. And it was all about food, and still is all about food. So there was really this part of me, and that was my whole life. so I had these parents that were self-involved and they demanded that you react to them. And I think 90 percent of the time they were compulsively worried about where I was, what I was doing, where was I going…and as I get older I realize that a lot of that worry was not empathetic or concern for me, it was concern for them, like what were they gonna do if something happened?
Marc: So because of that I fought with them both, and I think that that fight is the only thing that bought me any kind of territory of my own. So most of my personality through most of my life was really that. It was a guarded, sort of preemptively defensive disposition. But if people dug me, I was very excited to be around them.
Paul: it’s interesting that you mention that, because I had an experience in childhood where I went to go—it was in the winter—and I wanted to go play hockey, and I saw that the temperature was 32 degrees, so I thought ‘Oh great, so there’s gonna be ice.’ Not realizing you need a couple of days of below 32 to get some decent ice. And so I went down, I left my mom a note, I went to go skate, it’s 32 degrees out, and there actually was ice and it turns out it was safe, but all of the sudden my mom comes pulling up, honking the horn, “Get off of the goddamn ice! Get off of the goddamn ice!” She starts chewing me out, “You could have fallen in!” And I remember being struck by ‘This doesn’t feel like love. This feels like she was afraid she was gonna lose an item.’
Marc: Yeah, yeah.
Paul: So is that kind of the feeling that you’re describing with your parents?
Marc: Well, it’s just like in retrospect I realize that there was no separation, whether it’s anger or whatever, that to lose an item is one thing but I had a therapist once say to me that there has to come a point when your child…where you know, there’s a symbiotic primal bond between the mother and child, it’s a primordial union or primal union. But at some point there has to be some responsibility on behalf of the parent to let that child become its own thing. To start creating boundaries, saying no, letting it find out for itself. But I think that out of panic, that my mother never really gave that to me, and I don’t think she had it in her own emotional life. So there was always this enmeshment that went on much too long, and I had to literally cut it. You know, just sort of like ‘Get out of me.’ And I think that a lot of my sense of self for a lot of my life was just this armor guarding a fairly nebulous undefined character. And it’s not until recently in the last few years, I’ve had relationships, I’ve had bad relationships, I’ve had divorces, I’ve had a lot of addiction problems and also anger in my life. But I think I was just trying to be seen for myself, and I think that’s why I ended up on a standup stage, like ‘This is me, this is mine, you guys are my parents, let’s work through this.’
Paul: Isn’t it funny how on a given night there’s no place in the world you feel more comfortable than on a comedy stage?
Marc: Well I feel very honest up there. I’m not always comfortable, but I feel like I have the freedom to say what I want, it’s going to be received, and I’m not going to be fought or told that…I mean, there is a context that they should be laughing, but I sort of got past that too. I do feel some fear, I feel less fear here on a mic, but I do feel some sort of expectation, I project an expectation onto the audience because I am a comedian and you do want laughs. But a lot of times I don’t know where I’m going and I’m finding that they’re relatively supportive for that too.
Paul: So you grew up in a family where there was mental illness, hopefully that doesn’t sound too dramatic, but I think it’s the truth. So you had it environmentally, you probably, my guess would be, because you’re their son, are predisposed to have it genetically. Do you think it matters where your depression stems from?
Marc: Well, honestly one of the great breakthroughs I’ve had over the last few years around my mental disposition is that I was years ago the most…I had a therapist years ago in San Francisco that I think was the best therapist I ever had because there was a couple of things I remember that he said that resonated with me. One was “There’s no such thing as boredom, only fear.” And he had said that I’m not bipolar, that I do seem to be dysthymic, which is kind of a low-grade depression all the time. And then other people tried to get me into the bi-polar thing because my dad was diagnosed as bi-polar, but over time, especially in the last five or six years, I have not had depression that came out of nowhere. I have not had depression that sort of like—
Paul: That wasn’t triggered by an event, you mean?
Marc: Or a series of events, and that’s what I’m getting to, is that whatever low-grade depression I had was because I was frightened and overwhelmed and full of dread. And I started to realize on my own—
Paul: Are there other emotions?
Marc: No! That’s it. Is there a bigger list than that? I hear about joy and happiness and stuff but that seems crazy. But what I realized about me is that I have anxiety, almost paralyzing anxiety, and panic. And that drives me to worry and to dread and to sort of like project all kinds of possibilities that are going to cause more anxiety. And what—
Paul: “Trauma fantasy”, I heard someone refer to it as.
Marc: But even just basic dread, I don’t even know if it’s trauma, the fact that at another point in my life I acknowledged that ‘I’ve gotta leave on Wednesday to go to Wisconsin, then I’ve gotta go to Australia for two weeks’, I’d be literally like ‘Oh my God’ every time I think about going to Australia, it’d be like ‘I’m gonna be alone, I’m gonna be in Australia’…
Paul: ‘The line at the airport, and what about the baggage?? And what if there’s traffic on the way to LA and I miss my flight?’
Marc: ‘Should I go now? It’s only two days away but I could sleep at the airport’…But what that caused was I would become overwhelmed at these possibilities that were bearing down on me, that were being generated by my mind through panic and fear that I would become exhausted and I would enter paralysis. And that paralysis does not look that different than depression, and having that knowledge and operating under that explanation for my behavior has changed my life dramatically. And that with the help also of being in support groups and knowing things, really closing the gap between what I can and can’t do in this moment. What am I reacting to and is it real, or is it something that my brain is wired to put me through?
Paul: It’s so funny because spending time with you , I can see on your face when you come in, I’m sure those close to you tell you “I can see when you’re going into fear-land, away from the present moment”, and it can turn on a dime.
Paul: Do you take meds?
Paul: How do you feel? Pro-med, anti-med, don’t really care?
Marc: For me, the med thing is…I’m self-medicating. I’ve got a nicotine patch on right now, I eat compulsively, I do that.
Paul: How are you not fat?
Marc: I try not to eat bad things.
Paul: Oh, OK.
Marc: I learned that from my mom. It’s an old eating disorder trick.
Paul: She learned it from Vaudeville?
Marc: Yeah, back in the day. Just eat a lot of lettuce. Find yourself some diet stuff.
Paul: That seems like being a drunk but you drink 3.2 beer.
Marc: Yeah, kind of, but you do get some of the satisfaction of feeling full, of filling the hole…
Paul: So what do you eat? popcorn?
Marc: Yeah, popcorn’s good.
Marc: Sure, sometimes if I’m really on my anorexia game… I’ve been a little sloppy, I’ve been enjoying real food.
Paul: When you say anorexia do you mean social anorexia, or…?
Marc: No, anorexia anorexia.
Paul: You have bad body image?
Marc: Yes, horrible. I’m like a girl.
Paul: When you were on stage in Bloomington, about a year ago, I was sitting in the crowd and I was like ‘He’s so funny and he’s so thin. I wish I could look like that.’
Marc: See, you don’t know what kind of pride just filled me. That was the best moment of this conversation. [Laughter] But you know that’s where a lot of my sickness comes from, but in terms of in my face, the struggle for me has always been to stay here as opposed to there and I get that from my father. My father would go off, he’d be out to lunch half the time, out in his head. If there’s anything I was grown up with it’s that. I’m not even completely convinced my father is clinically bipolar. I think he’s a pathological narcissist that, when things started to get away from him and his narcissism started to shatter, I had no idea who he was anymore. And a lot of that guilt, compounded by other things…I don’t know. Oh, the meds thing, that’s what you asked me—
Paul: But just to pick up the thread about narcissism, I think one of the reasons why not being in the present moment is so tempting for people who suffer from depression or are narcissists is because we can create whatever future we want in our heads and it’s always so much easier to live there than it is in the present moment where we have facts colliding with us.
Marc: Exactly. But like everyone has narcissistic tendencies, and I feel like I got some shrapnel that I have those. But I have way too much self-awareness and way too much—
Paul: So your dad is like you, without self-awareness and humor?
Marc: No, he’s funny. He can be.
Paul: He better be.
Marc: He’s excitable. It’s all about him all the time, you know, a lot of talking. But medication….I’ve tried medications here and there, and lately I’ve thought I could use something for my anxiety, but it gets tricky with that because I am an addict, and I don’t wanna get involved with Klonopin, I don’t wanna get involved with Xanax, because there’d be no…Sure, I’ll be anxious all the time then.
Paul: What about something that—
Marc: Selecta or Lexapro?
Paul: Yeah, one of those. I don’t know a lot about meds, I’ve taken maybe a dozen over the last 10 years and settled on ones that work for me. What I’ve found is when I go off them, I get this physical depression, where I feel doom to the core of my bones and no matter how much spiritual work I do, no matter how much I exercise, no matter how well I treat my body and connect to friends and people, I can’t shake this feeling. And so I’ve accepted—
Paul: Yes, doom. It just feels like there’s a disaster waiting around the corner, and I guess that would be called anxiety. I don’t know, but I’ve accepted the fact that I gotta take meds and I hate putting my life in the hands of big pharma, but I accept that.
Marc: Well that’s the other problem I have, like the idea of getting prescriptions renewed and whatever. But I also have an issue where I’m always moving, I’m always in my phone, now I’m very busy, which is great, I’m sure that’s a lot to do with my change of disposition. Cause there are moments where I’m sitting alone where I have to man up to that.
Paul: What do you mean?
Marc: I mean like I’ve been on the road for months, I’m only home for a couple of days, I’ve got an assistant now who’s helping me out with a lot of stuff cause I’ve gotten too busy. And these are luxury problems, but there’s this part of me that’s sort of like ‘You’re home, why don’t you just sit at home, watch some television, just do the laundry, cook a little bit…’—I find a lot of joy in cooking, in terms of grounding myself. But just to sit and know I’m going to sit, there’s a little bit of ‘Oh God’…
Paul: What is the fear underneath there, in just sitting?
Marc: There’s no fear but there’s this moment of just—
Paul: Are you being honest? There’s’ no fear?
Marc: No, I’m telling you the fear is that I don’t exist. If I’m not engaged either with a person or with some work or with some food or with a task, and I’m just sitting there, the silence…I understand to be really present and alone is—
Paul: To die?
Marc: I don’t know if it’s to die, and I don’t’ know if it’s a fear, but there’s part of me that is like ‘This is it? This is it.’
Paul: I see.
Marc: You know, like ‘Ok, I can deal with this but it’s not very satisfying.’
Paul: Yeah. Right.
Marc: And also ‘What if this is it?’ is not far from ‘I’m gonna die eventually.’ And then you get into that and you’re like ‘What does that mean?’ And then the whole God thing. Lately I’ve been telling people I’m not an atheist, I just don’t care, really. I need to keep moving.
Paul: Do you believe that there is an underlying structure in the universe that we can choose to align ourselves with or fight?
Marc: Sure. I’m good with that. When something like the tsunami hits or a nuclear problem I think I find comfort in the fact that there’s a distinct possibility that we will all die at roughly the same time, so I won’t miss anything.
Paul: That’s the biggest fear! That’s why I love Patton’s bit about he hopes he’s here for the apocalypse, then he can brag in the afterlife “I was there, it was awesome!”
Marc: Yeah, yeah.
Paul: I lost my train of thought.
Marc: We were talking about medication, about fear, about sitting alone, about medication. Look, I’ve tried some medications, but once I realized that I’m not inherently depressive, that I have an anxiety, and that made sense to me that the reason I drank for so long or smoked pot or whatever, was just to feel okay.
Paul: Is there a big difference between anxiety and depression? I mean they’re both unnatural state that degrades the quality of your life.
Marc: But I think that depression is to wake up—I cant remember the last time I didn’t want to get out of bed. I cannot remember the last time I was literally standing backstage going ‘I’m too sad to work.’ And I think a lot of that transition when I would bring my sadness up there was necessary, but I think having gone through my second divorce where I was heartbroken and crushed, I didn’t wanna get out of bed but I couldn’t sleep. But there was a reason for it and I had to somehow work trough that stuff. Now I’m not saying I’m the healthiest guy in the world, but I can literally not remember the last time where I didn’t want to get out of bed and start my day. And the difference between being depressed and anxious is that anxiety will get you out of bed, depression will keep you in it.
Paul: That’s a good way of putting it. You know, I experienced both and I don’t really know which is worse to suffer from, because with depression sometimes it’s nice to go ahead and isolate and find your video game or whatever it is that brings you comfort. You know, Civilization, have you ever played that video game?
Marc: I don’t play video games.
Paul: Oh my God…
Marc: I don’t do anything…It’s weird, I wish I had more outlets. I’ve got the guitar over here…but I like using people.
Paul: Yeah. My favorite bit of yours is “I have two friends that I call…”
Marc: I got the main guy and the guy I go to when I drain the main guy.
Paul: That made me laugh, because we’ve been hanging out for a little while, and it was just starting to dawn on me that ‘Marc’s a pretty intense guy!’ And that’s what I love about your comedy, there’s just so much truth and pathos underneath it and there’s such a lack of it in television and movies. Everything is on such a surface level nowadays.
Marc: Unless you’re watching a show where those people are made to be freaks. There’s plenty of treatment shows for fat, drugs, hoarding, OCD, whatever. There’s plenty of those emotions on those shows but it’s always pathological, it’s never embraced.
Paul: Right. The main character rarely has…I think that’s one of the reasons why I like Mad Men, cause Don Draper is this good bad guy.
Marc: Love that guy. I just met him and it’s very hard to separate him from the…
Paul: Isn’t it?? I met him backstage at one of Jimmy Pardo’s shows and we did the San Francisco comedy thing together so we were on the same flight and he bought me a pretzel, and I’m like ‘Don Draper just bought me a pretzel!’
Marc: Yeah, it’s very hard. There’s all that man-crush shit, I mean how can you not love that guy?
Paul: Yeah, he’s a handsome man. And speaking of texting, the last time you and I were hanging out I chastised you, we were at dinner and you were checking your email on your phone and I chastised you. And afterwards I was like ‘Was I being kind of a dick for doing that, or was Marc being a dick for checking his email at dinner?’
Marc: No, no, I think that those are reasonable boundaries to have. To bring your phone out and…It took me a long time with the CrackBerry thing, whatever it is, that was a very fitting thing. Because it’s a little reassuring box.
Paul: ‘I’m still alive! People still want to talk to me!’ What is it gonna take for you to…Right now your podcast is hugely popular, and it just keeps growing. I can’t see it becoming less popular than it is now because you’re such a funny, intelligent guy who to me has the most important quality that an artist has: you are never satisfied, you’re always curious, you’re always seeking something. And do you think there’s ever gonna be a point where your anxiety is going to calm down to a level that you feel is manageable and where you can actually call your self happy, content, peaceful, serene?
Marc: I think some of that’s happening now. A lot of times what I’m seeking is relief. And that goes back to a clinical paradigm, that the idea of seeking…I’ve talked about this before, but anything I read or do or get interested in, I literally see anything on these bookshelves in this room, I see as self-help books even if they’re novels or they’re a out somebody else. I recently tweeted that I just finished The War for Late Night and it seems to be about me not being in show business. And I said ‘I’m almost done with the Keith Richards autobiography and it seems to be about me not being a Rolling Stone.’
Paul: That’s funny. You know I found myself watching the Comedy central roasts and going ‘Why am I knot one of those comedians?’ And then really looking at it and going ‘Let’s put myself up there. Then I’m worried about what people think…Was my joke too harsh? Was I not edgy enough?’ Be careful what you wish for. But your career--
Marc: And also know your limitations. That’s the hardest thing for any of us to do. My friend Jonathan Daniels told me that, that that’s what being a grown up is. Realizing your limitations so you can…That’s how you get peace. That’s how you get humility, the ability to say ‘The reason I’m not that guy is because that’s not my life. I’m not trying to—‘
Paul: Not a great actor.
Marc: And you don’t even have to beat yourself up for that. You could just say ‘I didn’t plan my life to have that opportunity.’ If that was something that was important to me, doing something like that, then instead of sitting there going ‘Why the hell am I not…?’ well then try to do it then. You know? Did you plan your life to do that? You know, there’s a part of me that’s like ‘I should be able to do anything, I’m a gifted person. I can play guitar, why can’t I do physics? Why am I not a genius? Why am I not building rockets? How come I’m not on that show?’
Paul: And my first thought when Greg Geraldo died was ‘OK, asshole. There’s somebody that was always on the Comedy Central roasts.’ So obviously that wasn’t enough to make somebody happy. To complete their life.
Marc: Oh, yeah, well if you’re looking for happiness, the only thoughts I have around that—and by the way I’m not a genius, I was making light—the thing around the happy thing is that I’ve had moments now where I’ve literally had extended periods of peace of mind and contentment and I’ve had the thought following that where I’m like ‘Well, I guess comedy worked. I’m done. I got to where I need to be. I’m done with it. I’m cured of comedy.’
Paul: It’s beautiful that you even had that thought, however fleeting. That seems like real success—
Marc: it’s taken me so long to even own…I have opinions, and sometimes I’m over the top with them, but I also have things that I like and even when you just like things you’re like ‘Is this good enough? Do other people like it? Because I don’t want to say I like it if other people don’t like it.’
Paul: I’m glad oyu brought that up. I want to ask you a couple questions about that because a while back it occurred to me that there are four core messages that fuck with me all the time. You don’t do enough, you don’t have enough, you aren’t enough, and you don’t matter.
Marc: Those are true, Paul.
Paul: Let’s take these one at a time—on the way home I’m gonna be going ‘Was Marc being serious?’ So let’s start with “Do you feel like you do enough?”
Marc: Right now, yeah. Because I’m doing this unique thing with the podcast that has been the most popular thing I’ve ever done, it’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.
Paul: By the way, if you’ve been living in a cave, the podcast is called WTF and it’s one of the top-ranked podcasts on iTunes.
Marc: And I’m learning a lot about myself. It’s really fulfilling a lot of needs in a lot of ways. I’m able to re-connect with my community, I’m able to give back to that community, I’m able to apologize to people I needed to apologize to…
Paul: You mean the comedy community?
Marc: Sure. I’m able to have conversations about things that are interesting to me and also be an active listener and open my heart to other people and show up for them. So it’s really doing a lot of amazing things.
Paul: It’s nice too not having the pressure of punch lines. To be able to articulate.
Marc: I don’t even think about that. I don’t even think about whether it’s funny or not. It just honestly doesn’t even cross my mind. If anyone says “You should do this, you should do that”, I’m like ‘What are you basing that on?’ I’m doing exactly what I wanna do. There are some questions I should ask some people, but whatever. Ultimately as a life project, I talk to my peers twice a week, if not more, for an hour plus, so there’s a human element to it, so it’s really doing a lot for me on a lot of levels. I’m very engaged, I’m very busy, I’m doing comedy in a fearless way. I like being on the road, I don’t mind staying in hotels, I like being on stage—
Paul: That shocks me.
Paul: That you still enjoy…I understand being on the road and performing, especially when people are coming to see you. That’s an awesome feeling. But the traveling and staying in hotels hasn’t ground you down after 20 years?
Marc: This is the first time in my life—
Paul: How do you eat healthy when you –
Marc: Well that’s a whole other issue. But the other thing, the thing about it is that this is the first time I’ve been a bookable commodity in my career. This is the first time in 25 years of doing standup that I’m in demand at all. So in a way, this is my first wave of that. That like “There’s a lot of clubs that want you to work.” I’m like ‘Me?’ Before it was like –
Paul: ‘The guy they were thinking of firing on Wednesday night?’
Marc: Right. Or just ‘How come I can’t get any club work?’ “Well, you don’t sell tickets”. And now people are willing to take the chance. So this is really the first time in my comedy career that I’ve been able to work as a comic steadily.
Paul: On your own terms, too, with some leverage.
Marc: A little bit. Not huge, but enough. Enough to get what I think is good headliner money. I still think that way. A lot of guys are like “Do you do theaters? Do you do rock clubs?” And I’m like ‘I wanna do comedy clubs.’ And sometimes it sucks, and I don’t wanna be there Wednesday through Sunday, but I’ve gotten a way of working, if everything is OK here at the house, I’ve got someone I can trust staying there, I’m good. A hotel is like a zen trip to me. I’m doing my work, I know how to do my podcast from the road, I’m still busy. But there’s some part of like ‘Someone’s gonna clean this up later. What town am I in? I should make a waffle.’
Paul: So this next question then you probably know the answer to: you do feel you have enough?
Marc: I always worry a little bit about money and I’m happier when I have more than I need. I guess that’s anybody.
Paul: I heard you saying in your phone interview that you’re getting more advertisers now so the show’s becoming more—
Marc: It’s working as a business but it’s still not making me enough money to say ‘I’m good, I’m saving money.’ But definitely I’m comfortable.
Paul: I saw that you have an assistant in there, how long until you drain her soul? And she leaves with bags under her eyes?
Marc: Well she’s kind of young and pretty well-fortified, and I’m being very appropriate, so she’s pretty tough. She’s into it. I’m being respectful and I’m not leaning on her too much. I think she likes what she’s doing.
Paul: Was she a fan of the show, is that how you found her?
Marc: Well kind of. No she was working for my management company., and she’s trying to find her way in what she wants to do in show business. She’s pretty solid.
Paul: OK, I cut you off. You were finishing up on your thought about do you have enough.
Marc: I’m at an age now where this is the first time in my life that I feel like I’m earning money appropriately.
Paul: Yes, that you didn’t luck into something.
Marc: Well, I’ve gotten deals before where people give you a lot of money, ridiculous money. I’ve worked at a startup company, Air America, where I was paid ridiculous money. But there was always part of me thinking ‘This is too much money.’ And I know that’s crazy and that’s not an American way of thinking, but I didn’t feel like I was earning money. It’s my belief that you don’t make money until you make someone else money. And that all becomes relative, and certainly some people are in a world where the money is ridiculous. I’ve never been in that world, but I feel like the money I’m earning now is honest. That I’m earning an honest dollar and that a lot of it is done on my terms and I’m okay with that. And if I can make a living and try to get some savings in place for when and if I live long enough to need that, I’d like to have that. I just want what other Americans want. I’m not gunning for a swimming pool. Like this house, a two bedroom house, I live in it myself and it is too much for me to handle.
Paul: What do you do if, say, not that this would happen, but a corporation like WalMart says “We want to advertise on your show and it’s a big chunk of money.”
Marc: No. And that’s happened.
Paul: Yeah? So you’ve turned advertisers down?
Paul: Really? Can you name some?
Marc: Sure. Well there are advertisers that are just not gonna work for us. There’s advertising like the Man Grate wanted to do a…and we said ‘Fine, we’ll try it but we don’t think it’s right.’
Paul: What’s the Man Grate?
Marc: It’s just a thing people put on a grill. But there are things that aren’t really right for my audience, I just did one that didn’t really work. But in terms of like corporate entities, my issue is I don’t want them to infringe on my freedom in terms of what I’m doing…
Paul: Did they want to have a conversation about content?
Marc: No but there are people who are like ‘What do you say you…’ You know, most people, we’re gonna bring something to them more than they’re gonna bring to us. Like if a website says ‘We wanna video your show and make it available on our thing’, I’m like ‘Well what do I get out of that?’ “Well, we’ll pay you this”, and I’m like ‘Well, I don’t know’ then all of the sudden “Well we want exclusive rights to that content” then I’m like ‘I don’t need to do that’. I don’t need to do that. I’m not at a point where I don’t need to sell this thing out. But Comedy Central has become interested in really just having a presence, in terms of sponsoring certain episodes. And my first thought was ‘I really don’t know because that’s big, and I don’t want to have anything infringing on what I can and can’t do on my show. And I don’t wanna have anyone in control of anything.’ But it turns out they just want to buy a bunch of episodes. So before the show I go ‘This episode brought to you by Comedy Central. This week on Comedy Central…’ And I’m like ‘I can do that.’
Paul: That’s fantastic.
Marc: Yeah, those are my peers. I don’t have any problem with that. But I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. And I don’t have to have anyone telling me what to do. So I can decide that. It usually depends on that. And also if I can’t sell it, I can’t sell it. It’s really about that. Are you gonna dump a Budweiser ad in the middle of my podcast? I don’t know if it’s gonna do anything. I might make money on it but it’s gonna make it like radio. If I can’t say ‘Look, I bought this thing, I got a deal on this, I like it, it’s OK, try it out’, then it’s good. It’s old-timey. But there’s no one telling me what to do. But yeah, I’ve turned down people, sure.
Paul: That’ must be a nice place to be, where you’re enjoying going on the road, you’re selling tickets, and you can turn advertisers down. You sold out the Punchline in San Francisco?
Paul: And do you find that the quality of your shows, is it 100% people that know who you are coming to see your shows?
Marc: No, but also I’m choosing to do clubs, I still do comedy clubs. I’ve done a few rock clubs but I don’t love it. That’s more my people. But it turns out I’m not a massively popular comedian, I can’t sell theaters. Maybe one day I will, but there’s also some part of me that thinks ‘I’d like to get people who don’t know me to laugh at me.’ I still like that.
Paul: Alright, let’s go back to the dark part of your life. One of the things that I hope this podcast, people can get out of it, is that people will realize they’re not alone and experiencing depression and the way that it manifests itself in your life. Because for the longest time (a) I didn’t know I was depressed, and (b) I didn’t know what to do about it. I thought that it was a problem that was unique to me. What can you say to somebody out there who is not happy, feels stuck, has a lot of dread and anxiety in their life, and they don’t know where to turn? Given the experience that you’ve had, what advice would you give them?
Marc: Well, if you make a list of what things make you feel good, if they’re not horrible you should at least know what they are. If they’re not doing more damage, you should at least know what they are, and figure out whether or not you can do any of those things. And then it’s just weird the way the brain works—
Paul: Cause one of the hard things about depression, one of the characteristics, is difficulty to making decisions, which is such a fucked catch-22.
Marc: I’ve had that too. And my podcast sort of functions in the same way without it being about that, but to know that this is something that a lot of people struggle with. And at some point you definitely shouldn’t be alone but you should try to take some responsibility for your disposition, in the sense that ‘What do I need to do to help myself?’ And just knowing that people that have these problems do okay, and they can do okay, is important. But taking the step to figure out how to help yourself…I’m pretty stubborn and I just—
Paul: And one of the biggest myths, I think, is that someone or something is gonna come rescue you and pull you out of this, and you don’t have to be the one to initiate the change.
Marc: Well I think I still fall into that world where you end up draining people in your relationships, you end up using other things to make yourself happy. I mean I still do that to some degree, but I also still talk about my feelings. And I think the best thing you can do is find some support from somebody you’re not expecting to take care of you, people who are like-minded, some sort of support system to get you into a place where you can see little things that you can do to move forward in living your disposition. I think we all get overwhelmed, and we all are indecisive. But getting active around something and not connecting the dots to make it into Satan’s face or a tidal wave that’s going to consume you is tricky, because that’s the way our brains are wired. And I believe it’s completely possible, and I think there’s even some scientific studies around this, that through contrary action, through cognitive decisions, that you can start to re-groove your brain to behave differently.
Paul: I absolutely agree.
Marc: And I have found success in that, in a way. You go against your instinct, because your instinct is obviously faulty, and you make different decisions. And it’s awkward at first and you deny yourself some things, or—
Paul: And there’s a leap of faith involved.
Marc: Right. And you act a little differently, and you just keep doing that and certainly different feelings will start to occur. I really believe in that.
Paul: Talk if you would, because I’m assuming you’re a believer and one of the keys to feeling fulfilled is having somewhat of a spiritual life, and feeling a sense of usefulness to your fellow man. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Marc: Sure. I think usefulness is definitely true. To feel that people are getting something out of it and that you are giving something of yourself to others. I certainly feel that. I don’t know that I have a relationship with God that I actively maintain. I don’t know that I have a sense of what that God is. But I am of the mind that faith is possible without a specific God. I don’t have that thing—
Paul: You believe that there’s an underlying structure in the universe. There’s positive and negative energy and we can either align ourselves with it or—
Marc: I don’t even go that deep. I just look outside and I go ‘It seems OK, things are making sense. I don’t have to ask why a tree’s a tree, or wonder when someone’s gonna take all the trees away from us. My brain doesn’t go there. I don’t ever sit and go ‘I’m so lost.’
Paul: But you don’t believe that the world is just a swirling ball of chaos, and you better fend for yourself.
Marc: Well, the tree’s right there, it’s been there every day since I’ve lived here.
Paul: Well, what if a tsunami knocked it over, then would you feel differently?
Marc: Natural event. What are you gonna do? Shit happens. As thoughtful as I may be, for reasons that are beyond me—
Paul: You’re simpler than we think you are?
Marc: Something has gotten simpler. I don’t feel alone in the world. I don’t have any problem if nothing happens after I die. It doesn’t bother me. I’m not that freaked out about mortality. I get very uncomfortable when people start talking about organs or disease, and I know I’m in some denial about that, but I don’t really get hung up on ‘Everything’s so fleeting. Is this it?’ None of this is gonna matter. My brain isn’t there.
Paul: I don’t really find myself thinking about the afterlife. I feel like I need to put more energy into just trying to enjoy what the universe has given me at this moment. Because for so much of my life I couldn’t appreciate what I had; my life looked so good on paper and I thought about suicide all the time. That’s finally what got me to go see a psychiatrist…I was like ‘I’ve got a job that pays me well, a house, a wife who loves me, friends, and I’m thinking about killing myself once an hour.’ Not to the point of ‘I’m gonna go buy a gun’, but picturing myself going into the backyard, putting a gun in my mouth, and pulling the trigger.
Marc: Well I definitely did that too. The thing was--
Paul: How many times do you think, estimate, in your life, have you thought not necessarily “I’m going to go kill myself”, but “It would be such a relief to be dead”?
Marc: Well I do a joke about that. It’s one of my favorite jokes, which is that ‘I’m not depressed, but I do think about suicide a lot. And not because I wanna kill myself, I just find it relaxing to know that I can if I have to.’
Paul: Yeah, there is something nice about knowing—
Marc: Well then what I say is that it’s a spiritual reprieve of the faithless. Because if you don’t feel part of your community, you’re isolated or you feel alone, you’re consumed with that self-pity, there is a certain relief to that insanely selfish act.
Paul: You can quit this job but it’s obviously a horrible decision, and you and I both have friends who’ve suffered from depression who have killed themselves.
Marc: But before the podcast started and I was divorced and I thought I was completely irrelevant in the life I’ve chosen in my career and my comedy, I though ‘Well, I don’t have kids, I don’t have a lot of money, so it wouldn’t be that unusual for me to just accept that eventually I’m going to have to take my own life.’
Paul: How long ago was this?
Marc: About a year and a half ago. Because I was broke, and in my mind there’s nothing else I want or can’t do, I don’t—
Paul: I remember having this conversation with you in San Francisco, and you wanting to quit comedy and move someplace else. And I kept saying ‘Marc, what you do is different. Just keep doing’—
Marc: I just wanted to find a woman who maybe had a job, and just live a simpler life.
Paul: The other thing I also remember about that trip in San Francisco is we were staying next door to each other in the hotel, and you were having sex with apparently a sexually insatiable woman who was incredibly loud but not as loud as you.
Marc: Something was working!
Paul: Something was working, and we were working with Janeane Garofalo, and I called after listening to it for 15 minutes unable to go to sleep and I said ‘At least I should enjoy this with somebody else, if I’m gonna have to sit and listen to this.’ She came over but you guys apparently had reached orgasm by the time Janeane got down there, and petered out. But I’m so happy for your success, not only as your friend but as a listener, because it’s a great show to listen to and it’s everything that I think entertainment should be. It’s got some depth and it’s interesting and it comes from the heart, and I’m glad you could find time in your schedule to let me come by and pick your brain.
Marc: Always, always. And best of luck with this thing, this is I think a noble effort here.
Paul: Thanks. Something about it feels right to me, so I’m gonna keep doing it.
Marc: That’s the great thing about podcasting!
Marc: Do what you wanna do!
Paul: Yeah, so if you’re out there and you feel like you might need help and you don’t really know what to do, I don’t necessarily have the answers but I do know I have often felt the way you do, and I can assure you that you are not alone. So thanks for listening. And don’t forget to go to the website mentalpod.com. You can also type in mentallillnesshappyhour.com but you might get writer’s cramp, so go check it out, read the message board, post, ask questions, answer questions, take a survey, get crazy. Or stare at the wall with your jaw open.