Marc Maron on What Podcasting Has Taught Him About Relating

Marc Maron


I’m Alan Alda and this is Clear and Vivid, conversations about connecting and communicating.

Marc:                                                 This thing has saved my life. It’s re-integrated me with my community. It’s re-integrated me with my ability to empathize and listen, and it’s gotten me out of my own head, and If I’m experiencing that, as the guy running the show, the people that are listening to it are experiencing that as well.Hundreds and hundreds of people really get some sort of nourishment for their soul and mind and heart from what I’m doing with my guests, and I’m incredibly grateful that I can offer that.

That’s Marc Maron, talking about his enormously popular podcast, WTF. Marc has an uncanny ability to bring out the real person in each of his guests. No matter how well we think we know them, we learn something new about them. I was really curious to know how he does it.


Alan:                          00:01             Marc, thank you for being on the show. I got to tell you, when I heard your interview with Barack Obama, I was stunned. I had never heard him be so authentic, so relaxed, so, apparently, truly himself, and I thought, what is this magic that Marc Maron was able to do? What do you think contributed to that?

Marc:                         00:26             I don’t … It’s hard for me to know exactly why I’m able to lock in with people and allow them to be that candid. I do listen very intently. I do have, I think, an innate urge within me to connect with people in an authentic and emotional way, that probably goes back to my childhood. Also, I don’t know, I just try to meet people halfway with where they’re coming from in terms of my own problems, and also there’s a certain amount of, I think, courage involved, in showing up for conversations.

Alan:                          38:20             When you started the podcast, you started with nothing, I read. You were sneaking into a studio because you still had the key, and stealing time in the studio.

Marc:                         38:44             Kind of. I had several on air jobs at Air America which was the liberal talk radio network. I was fired from there a couple of times, and the last iteration of the job I had was a streaming video show, and it was the last sort of gasp of Air America, but I had a year contract on this thing, and then the year came up, and they stopped the show but we still had our offices. They were good liberals, they didn’t throw us out of the building, and they had radio studios there, so me and my producer were like, “Can we figure out how to do these podcasts? Let’s get some stuff in the can.” We knew the guy who was the night tech. We had security cards, so on off hours we would go in and record.

My producer knew how to do everything, and we’d bring guests up sometimes on the freight elevator. We’d talk them in from the street, and we did all …

Alan:                          39:41             That’s great.

Marc:                         39:43             Yeah, it wasn’t anything criminal, it was just, we got to do this.

Alan:                          39:49             That probably gave it a sense of life it wouldn’t have had, even on your part.

Marc:                         39:54             Yeah, it was exciting, but we didn’t know what the show was going to be, and the first, probably, 11 or 12 were done there, and then I moved back to LA and I went out into my garage, which was being used basically as a storage bin at that time, I set up a table, I set up my computer, I got really good mics but I didn’t have the booms for them. I just stuck them on little podium stands. The mic you have, I used those, too, right there, the SM7. I’d just stick that on a table stand, which is not what it’s for, but that’s what I did.

Alan:                          40:40             How did you arrive at the title WTF? I know what it means, but why did you use it?

Marc:                         40:48             I don’t know. Initially, when we started the show, it seemed to me that my premise was, the great philosophical question used to be, what is the meaning of life, but now I think it’s WTF? The idea was it would be an umbrella sort of idea for a lot of different things that could happen on the show. It was a philosophical drive, but it didn’t really hold, but we didn’t change it because we’d already done the art for the show. We’d already named the show. We put the …

Alan:                          41:21             It’s like sneaking into the studio, make do with what you have.

Marc:                         41:24             Yeah, we haven’t changed the logo of the show since we started and it’s this weird old picture, graphic of me with a beard and long hair and different glasses, but we haven’t … It just stuck. It was just what it is, you know.

Alan:                          11:24             Does doing an interview in a garage, do you think that adds an element that puts people at ease?

Marc:                         11:31             Yeah.

Alan:                          11:31             It seems less formal, more homey.

Marc:                         11:33             No, definitely. I think that all the interviews that I did in that garage and now continuing into this new environment that I’m in new, when people have to walk through your life to get to where you’re going to talk, it does create … I had one bathroom in that old house, you know? If anyone needed to use the restroom, they’d see my stuff in the bathroom. I got two bedrooms in that place. If they want something to eat or they want a water or a coffee I got to stand there and make it for them in my kitchen, and then we went out to my garage which was cluttered with my entire life’s worth of stuff, and it was a lot, but it definitely was an environment. It was definitely a disarming environment, but I also think, because now that I’ve changed garages and I’m not … This one isn’t as cluttered yet and it seems a little more professionally set up.

I’ve put a lot of faith in, I thought that the myth of my old garage, like, what am I going to do without that garage? How am I going to do my show?

Alan:                          12:31             Yeah.

Marc:                         12:32             That all the magic was in the garage, but to tell you the truth, in this new garage which is not as cluttered and which is a little more focused in terms of the recording environment, I’m talking to people longer, I’m more focused. I think they’re more focused.

Alan:                          41:43             I really wondered, when I saw you’d got Barack Obama on the show, how do you ask the president of the United States to come to your garage and do a podcast? Who do you call?

Marc:                         41:55             He asked us.

Alan:                          41:57             What?

Marc:                         41:57             Yeah.

Alan:                          41:58             I didn’t realize that.

Marc:                         42:04             What happened was, some of his staffers, I think, were fans, and the year before it happened there was talk of it happening. They thought it would be a good thing for him to do, a fun thing for him to do, so I had fans in the White House, and then it sort of started to come together. They were like, “We think this is going to happen.” I talked to my producer. I’m like, “What does that mean? Do I go to Washington? How do we do this? This is kind of a big deal.”

He said, “No, they want to come to the garage,” and I was like, “That’s ridiculous. The president …”

Alan:                          42:04             I love that, that they wanted to come to the garage.

Marc:                         42:38             Yeah, yeah.

Alan:                          42:46             Why, do you suppose his aids knew that that would have some effect on the interview, that they wanted to slip him into your conventional interview style?

Marc:                         42:58             I think that was what they were looking for. It’s not a political interview.

Alan:                          43:01             No, I know.

Marc:                         43:02             Once I got out of political talk radio, I really sort of made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t engage in that. I thought that the issues that affected us most were deeper, that they were existential issues and they were things that people all struggle with, but I just wanted to be disconnected from the political dialog. We honored that, so I think, coming into it, the idea was, at that time, it was his last year in office and he was trying to reinvigorate interest in politics and he was dealing with some things that we had to talk about at the beginning of that interview, a shooting and some supreme court stuff, but ultimately, I think they just wanted him to kind of re-engage with the public in a unique way, so he wouldn’t be seen as a lame duck at that point in his presidency, and he did do a lot of things shortly after that interview.

I was almost a reintroduction of president Obama to the public, in a way.

Alan:                          44:08             That’s how I felt when I heard it. I felt I was hearing a side of him for the first time. It was the same person who sang amazing grace in the church.

Marc:                         44:21             Yeah.

Alan:                          44:22             It was a real person.

Marc:                         44:24             Yeah.

Alan:                          44:26             Everybody has to take on a persona when they become a politician, but this was what was behind that mask.

Marc:                         44:34             Yeah, I think I felt that. I was very happy to feel that.




Marc:                         01:25             Barack Obama aside, my structure is kind of fluid. I don’t write down a lot of questions. I don’t have a list of questions. I’m really relying on the conversation to take off on its own.

Alan:                          01:44             Yeah, that’s what I do, by the way, and I’ve talked with people who interview other people a lot, and they see a difference between what they get out of the other person when they do that, what you just described, and on the other side of it, what happens when they read a list of questions, because you’re wedded to the questions instead of to the answers, which is kind of backwards.

Alan:                          14:39             What do you do … This is interesting. What do you do when somebody comes in with a list of answers that they want to give regardless of what your questions are?

Marc:                         14:49             Yeah, that happens.

Alan:                          14:49             You know, politicians do that all the time.

Marc:                         14:50             It happens with fans of the show who sort of produce their own version. They’ve got a pretty good idea what happens here so they’re going to do it the way they should do it, and they basically produce the show in their heads before they get here.

Alan:                          15:06             How do you handle that?

Marc:                         15:07             You kind of wait it out. You try to get them off it … It eventually it becomes … Everyone, especially public personalities, they have a public script, and I can feel when it’s happening. Sometimes you just got to find a window to get around it, or bring something else up, or talk about something else so they get off of that. Hopefully something will come up, and usually I’m pretty good at sensing where it is and pursuing those things, and I can get around it.

Alan:                          05:23             I get the impression from things I’ve heard and read about you that sometimes, you’re able to get very close to somebody you never knew before the conversation started, so there must be something about that conversation that opens the door in people.

Marc:                         05:41               , I think most of us, given the opportunity to be open and candid and not really be responsible, in some ways, for the relationship afterwards, is, it’s an odd but real thing. I think that if somebody comes in who I don’t know, and for an hour, I’m attentive and I’m curious and I want to connect with them emotionally, there’s less to lose in doing that than there is in an intimate relationship that goes on for months or years or days or whatever. This is a one shot deal, we’re going to connect, and there’s nothing invested in it. You know what I’m …

Alan:                          06:24             Yeah, I do, I do. It’s a really interesting experience to me. On the science program I did, I interviewed hundreds of scientists.

Marc:                         06:33             Yeah.

Alan:                          06:35             It was about their work, but I hoped that the real person would come out, even though we didn’t get into feelings much, but they were very authentic. I would often see the real person emerge in the same way that I saw Obama emerge in your conversation with him, because it was an effort to connect.

Marc:                         06:56             Right.

Alan:                          06:57             This connection that you consciously go for, it seems to me to be part of the essence of good communication. On this show that I do, we talk a lot about communication and relating, and how you can do it, how you can do it better, because we all need to do it better. For instance, here’s a question I had thinking about you before I came into the microphone. I wondered, because you’re so good during that hour, of connecting with the other person in a conversation in front of the microphone. Is that what happens at home?

Marc:                         07:35             No, not really.

Alan:                          07:38             Maybe you just need to do it an hour at a time.

Marc:                         07:41             That’s right. I’ve talked about that before. I think that the sort of … I’m in recovery, which is a part of my story. There is …

Alan:                          07:54             Do you mind if I ask, recovery from what?

Marc:                         07:57             Yeah, I’m in AA. I’ve been sober and drug free for close to 19 years, and there’s something about the premise of that program, which is … I don’t represent the program, but when you talk to somebody else about them, you get out of your own problems. You get out of your own head. You show up for somebody else, that’s time you’re not spending obsessing about you, and that is very cathartic, and it’s an important tool of the program, and also of communication and of just the soul. Here’s what I think the fundamental thing is, and addressing, do I do that at home in my own relationships? No, I’m kind of … When you get comfortable with somebody, all your idiosyncrasies come out, all your petty little defensiveness … The elements of you that are defensive or guarded or anxious.

A lot of times when you’re in an interpersonal relationship for a long time, you kind of break into patterns that maybe were there when you were a kid or maybe weren’t serviced when you were a kid, but a repetition of emotional patterns unfold in longterm relationships and it’s sort of, that’s what holds them together a lot of times, is predictability, whereas …

Alan:                          09:16             Pardon me for interrupting, but, do you ever think, “I just had a moment where I didn’t really connect with her. She asked me something and I gave her a terse answer because I’m busy thinking about this other thing and I’m entitled to think about what I’m thinking about.” Then, does it ever cross your mind, “A moment like that maybe could be a little better if I did with her just now what I do with strangers in front of the microphone.”

Marc:                         09:45             Right. Yeah, that does happen, but a lot of times, and I think you know, too, I think that’s helpful. I do think her and I are working on communicating better all the time, but I think, also …

Alan:                          09:59             By the way, I know exactly what you’re talking about because I do the same thing.

Marc:                         10:04             Sure, you’re just sitting there, you’re thinking about your own thing, you’re barely listening, and they’re saying, “Hello?” You’re like, “Yeah, hi. I think I heard part of that. Go ahead, give it to me again.”

Alan:                          10:18             Yeah, right.

Marc:                         10:19             Those kind of things happen. I think that’s an almost hackneyed trope of a personal relationship, that the sort of non-listening male or female who you just checked out and you got to re-check in and it’s hard to listen sometimes. I’m very focused about it when I’m in the studio or when I’m talking to, usually, complete strangers. With audio, there’s a distinct quality to it that is very visceral and it’s completely connected to your experience of hearing somebody else.

You can feel who they are emotionally, through their tone of voice and through how they’re coming across.

That’s really the reward of doing this, is that I’m doing something with communication, it’s really to try to reveal someone’s authenticity as best that they can handle and what they’re willing to do, just in conversation, because you can’t hide after a half hour or 40 minutes in front of a mic, really, because if you’re hiding, that becomes part of who you are.

Alan:                          15:37             I talk a lot and put a lot of stock in reading the other person, and that sounds like what you do, too. You’re talking about their tone of voice. Are you watching their face? Are you seeing how guarded they are and what they don’t want to get into or whether or not they’re actually connected to you as you ask them whatever’s on your mind?

Marc:                         16:01             Yeah, I can definitely feel that. I don’t know if I’m a great reader of people, but I can feel, once the conversation starts, I can emotionally sort of feel where there’s tension and where I need to pull back or let emotions happen or keep pursuing something. I don’t always know when they sit down. I don’t know that I’m a tremendous judge of character because I make assumptions about people and most of the time I’m wrong. It’s not that they’re negative assumptions or anything other than how I visualize someone to be, and usually I’m surprised. That’s part of the beauty of conversation, is that I think we all make assumptions.

We all judge to a certain degree, pre-judge, but if you sit down and really talk to somebody, you realize that whatever you were thinking before was some relationship you had in your head, had no bearing on reality, and as the real person reveals themselves, it’s much more nuanced and it’s deeper and usually a broader sort of palette of emotions. It’s just interesting what happens in conversation.

Alan:                          17:08             You know, what you remind me of is, and just what you were talking about, I’m often at a dinner table with someone next to me who I’ve never met before. Sometimes there are 12 people around a table, and there’s that awful moment where both of you think, “How am I going to start up a conversation with this person? I barely know their name.”

Marc:                         17:32             Yeah.

Alan:                          17:35             The only real conversations that take place that last through the whole dinner have the elements you were just describing, where you hear what they’re saying and you seize on anything that represents them and want to know more.

Marc:                         17:49             Yeah, people …

Alan:                          17:49             You have to kind of want to know more.

Marc:                         17:51             Right, yeah. Most people love to talk about themselves. They may not know it, but it’s certainly something they know how to do, or they know the subject matter to a certain degree.

Alan:                          18:10             Sometimes I go right to the heart of it because I want to get them to talk about something they really care about.

Marc:                         18:18             Yeah.

Alan:                          18:19             Sometimes I say, “What are you passionate about? What’s your passion?” They’ll sometimes think for a few seconds and then tell me about how they help sick children or something real to them and important. Only one time somebody paused for a while and then finally said, “Well, I like golf.”

Marc:                         18:40             Yeah.

Alan:                          18:40             I thought, “This is going to be hard.”

Marc:                         18:43             imWow, were you talking to our president?


Marc’s ability to listen and to connect ought to have helped him as an actor – and it has. It’s also had a beneficial effect on his podcast audience, just listening to conversations between Marc and his guests. The mysterious power of listening—when we come back…


This is Clear + Vivid – and now back to my conversation with Marc Maron.

Alan:                          24:58             Do you have a way of vetting the people you want to talk to, or are you willing to talk to pretty much anybody?

Marc:                         25:11             No, I got to be interested. There’s got to be an angle. I get pitched a lot of people whose work I just don’t know, and if I feel like I should know it, then maybe I can get up to speed and wrap my brain around it, but I’m a …

Alan:                          25:23             That’s an interesting thing you said. You have to be interested in talking to them. You have to want to know stuff about them or from them. That’s how I feel.

Marc:                         25:32             Or think that they would be interesting to me, right. You know, like, even if I don’t understand what they do or I don’t know what they do, maybe I need to learn about what they do and maybe it would be good to engage with them.

Alan:                          25:44             I didn’t realize, for instance, about you, I knew you had another show called Glow, and I hadn’t had a chance to look at it, and I looked at it, I guess it was the first scene of the first episode.


Alan:                          26:05             You were wonderful.

Marc:                         26:06             Thanks, buddy.

Alan:                          26:07             I just thought you played that guy … To me, he’s a kind of Archie Bunker of the Me Too era.

Marc:                         26:15             Somewhat, yeah.

Alan:                          26:20             He says outrageous things and he behaves outrageously.

Marc:                         26:24             Yeah, he’s definitely a man of his time.

Alan:                          26:27             Yeah, and the other people in the show respond to him the way I would respond to him. Like Archie Bunker, he’s put into context. It’s not like he’s a model of behavior.

Marc:                         26:42             No, no, yeah, it’s definitely, he’s an example of a very familiar type of man that existed then and  still exists, but yeah, it was an interesting opportunity to be that guy in the middle of the cast of 14 women. It’s sort of the cranky coach character who seems a bit insensitive and self-involved and slightly … I don’t know if he’s misogynistic but he’s certainly sexist, so the back and forth is exciting, it’s good.

Alan:                          27:18             You clearly are more self reflective. You have standards about how you treat other people. I get asked a question like this a lot when I play a villain. Did you find any difficulty in being that guy?

Marc:                         27:36             I don’t claim to have been a perfect man my whole life. Certainly, I feel like I’ve evolved, and certainly, as I’ve grown up and gone through two marriages and dealt with my own problems, there was a resource of emotional badness that I could draw from. I had to learn empathy in a lot of ways, Alan. Part of what happened in the journey of this podcast was that I found I had to reconnect with that part of me that was always looking to other people for some sort of guidance and emotional connection and love, and I’d gotten very cynical over the years.

Starting the podcast, re-engaging with my ability to be moved by other people, was a profound lesson to me, and a necessary one, because I’d sort of gotten a little bit sour, a little cynical, a little bitter. I think that for me to go back into those areas of my life which would have been more similar to that character was, it was good that I had distance from it but it wasn’t too far away. It wasn’t that difficult, but I’m not that guy.

Alan:                          28:53             No, no, no, but the funny thing is, I think, we have our own versions of a multitude of people in us that we can draw on. A lot of our behavior that’s socially acceptable, we choose to behave that way.

Marc:                         29:11             Right, no, yeah.

Alan:                          29:12             But we’re capable of behaving in kind of scuzzy ways if we let ourselves.

Marc:                         29:18             Yeah, well clearly. You see it in the congress now. Given license, there’s no end to how horrible people can be, and yeah, that’s true, that we do have different people, but part of civilization, which I think, the reason that the idea of civilizations work and the idea that there are moral barometers of behavior, is to sort of try to keep people from engaging in the worst of themselves.

Alan:                          29:50             That reminds me of something I read in an interview I think you did with the New York Times, where you said, or at least it was reported that you said, ” I’m wired to destroy myself, so fighting that wiring is always challenging.”

Marc:                         30:06             Yeah, yeah, I think that’s true.

Alan:                          30:09             What ways did you … How far does that go, destroying yourself, in what ways?

Marc:                         30:14             I just feel likeI’m a very anxious person, and I always had to sort of push through a lot of insecurity and a lot of fear to stay present and stay engaged. I think that I’m wired to not destroy myself in, I’m not as self destructive with drugs or alcohol as I used to be, but even that, there was a line, that I obviously hit a wall with that, but I just think in terms of the level of anxiety and discomfort that I have can easily kind of manifest itself as an overwhelming paralysis that could become depression, and I know I have that. It’s really trying to stay out of those cycles of thought and to realize that I am an anxiety-ridden person and that I do have some depression in my family and to try to …

Alan:                          31:57             What do you do? How do you fight that?

Marc:                         32:01             With anxiety, it’s sort of … It’s gotten to the point where I dread things that are just regularly, every day things. I don’t know why my brain does that, but I can wake up in the morning and just be like, “Oh, God, I got to go get toilet paper,” and it’s like, at that level.

Alan:                          32:33             I’m anxious, too, and I get anxious when I have to go in and meet a hundred people in a room.

Marc:                         32:38             That makes sense, though, that’s reasonable. I can’t get anxious because I got to make …

Alan:                          32:42             I can handle toilet paper.

Marc:                         32:43             Right. I can handle it, too, but I don’t know why I have to operate at that intensity.

Alan:                          32:49             Yeah.

Marc:                         32:49             I have two things to do today, and yesterday, I’m, “Oh, my God. I’m going to have to talk on the computer to Alan Alda, and then I got to talk to another guy later.”

Alan:                          33:02             You really got anxious about our talk, too?

Marc:                         33:04             No, no. It’s not even, it’s not about the talk. It’s like, I got to set the thing up. I got to put the head … I got to … You know, it’s got nothing to do …

Alan:                          33:11             It’s the mechanics.

Marc:                         33:12             Yeah, it’s got nothing to do with anything, I just operate at that level. There’s a lot of stuff coming in culturally now.

Alan:                          33:19             How do you fight that? I didn’t hear how you fight it.

Marc:                         33:21             I try to just stay in the present and get it back into focus. Going to meetings helps me with that, getting out of my head, talking to other people, I get relief from that, but I’m just wired to … I’m not completely wired to self destruct, but, like, for a long time, in my head was not a great place. I was angry, I was bitter, I was entitled, I was self pitying, and there’s no room for other people, so the primary way that I remedied that was, the medicine was really the podcast and talking to other people, getting out of myself, learning how to enjoy what other people do, and also, sort of, from the success that came from the podcast … I was at this a long time, the comedy and trying to do what I do and make a living at it, but the podcast changed everything for me.

With the popularity of the podcast, and now with my ability to do some of the things I always wanted to do and dreamed of doing which I let go of as something that would never happen, self esteem starts to happen in a genuine way.

Alan:                          34:23             Yeah. When you were doing comedy before the podcast, did it reflect your anger and discontent?

Marc:                         34:31             Oh, yeah.

Alan:                          34:31             It was the podcast that helped you more than the comedy did, it sounds like.

Marc:                         34:38             I think what happened with the podcast is that I was able to embrace all elements of my personality. I didn’t have to be funny. I could be inquisitive. I could be intelligent. I could say things that weren’t jokes. I could share about things that were harder to do than just jokes, so the people that got to know me from listening to the podcast, they really knew me to a certain level, and I felt that I was all represented, that I was true to myself and that that part of me … I was all out there, and that sort of enabled me to go on stage with a certain amount of fearlessness and a certain amount of comfort about who I was and belief in myself, which I don’t think I had.

Alan:                          45:22             What do you think … Do you think there’s a beneficial effect from listening to a kind of conversation that we’ve been describing, that you’re so good at doing, where two people are actually connecting and listening to each other? Do you think that has a beneficial effect for the audience, or is it just entertainment?

Marc:                         45:45             No, I know it does. I get hundreds of emails. I get emails every day, every week. “You helped me through a dark time. I thought I was alone. It’s really good to hear that that person has the same problem I do. I was going to kill myself and the thing you said the other day made me think twice about it.” I get heavy emails all the time from people who really rely on the show, who are able to sort of engage with it in dark times in their own lives, who have jobs that isolate them and it keeps them connected, and they learn things about their heroes that humanize them, which is helpful to everybody in pursuit of their own mental well-being and perhaps career dreams.

There’s every indication over the years that this sort of weird result of something, I couldn’t have anticipated it, is that hundreds and hundreds of people really get some sort of nourishment for their soul and mind and heart from what I’m doing with my guests, and I’m incredibly grateful that I can offer that.

Alan:                          47:52             When you make contact, just in a one hour conversation, with somebody who we know mainly through the mask that they wear in public, bu you make an interior to interior connection, there’s something … I get the impression there’s something a little healing about it and you’re saying you get mail that confirms that.

Marc:                         48:35             It heals me.

Alan:                          48:37             Yeah, that’s good.

Marc:                         48:40             You’re listening through … You feel that happen. When I’m moved by people’s stories, I feel tears well up. I know when I’m feeling these things that whoever’s listening to it is feeling these things, so really, it moves through me,but also, like I said earlier, that this thing has saved my life.

It’s re-integrated me with my community. It’s re-integrated me with my ability to empathize and listen, and it’s gotten me out of my own head, to find that I have much in common with people who I thought were either above me or living in a different world than me or different than me. If I’m experiencing that, as the guy running the show, the people that are listening to it are experiencing that as well.

Alan:                          49:51             I don’t mean to draw a lesson from his in a didactic way, but it really sounds to me like you’re talking about the therapeutic effect of being interested in another person, of finding in them something of value and interest, instead of just rattling around in your own brain looking for it.

Marc:                         50:17             And actually talking, Alan, actually talking. I think that what we’ve lost culturally, because of, people don’t even talk on the phone anymore, they don’t even leave a message anymore. They’re just going to text you or email you, is that there was a time when a pleasant afternoon was, like, I’m going to go spend time with my buddy Sam …

Alan:                          50:36             Just shoot the breeze.

Marc:                         50:37             Yeah, we’re going to take a walk, we’re going to sit in the park, we’re going to have some lunch, we’re going to catch up. I used to do that. When I lived in New York, I’d wander around, before the internet, before cell phones, I’d stop at the bookstore. I’d talk to the guy I knew there. I’d stop at the guitar shop. I’d talk to that guy for an hour. Obviously, I was a comic, I didn’t have a real job, but I …

Alan:                          50:56             You had the time.

Marc:                         50:59             Yeah, but I really think it’s true, though. I think that the ability to sit down and just have a conversation about somebody with them for an hour is this lost … It’s not even an art. I believe it was a necessity of human existence. It’s not even a commiseration. It’s, we’re designed to handle … You know, when people are in trouble or they’re sad or they’re bereaved or, like now, a lot of people are terrified and anxious, is that your brain says, “I don’t got time to deal with that,” but we’re all equipped as humans to carry the burdens of others. It’s not that hard, you just got to sit there sometimes, and it means something.

Alan:                          51:41             It’s not always going to be a burden. Sometimes …

Marc:                         51:44             Yeah, that’s right.

Alan:                          51:47             You talked about taking a walk with somebody. I remember taking a walk with a friend and things come out when you just chat, and you don’t even know they’re going to come out, and he heard me say something that made him think, “He’s depressed,” and he told me that, and that really helped me because I didn’t realize I was depressed.

Marc:                         52:12             Right.

Alan:                          52:13             I saw somebody and started taking a pill for it and I felt an awful lot better.

Marc:                         52:19             That’s amazing, see, that’s true, and I think that means something and I think that’s part of why the show has an effect. It’s just people talking. Some people are better at talking on the microphones than others, but nonetheless, I think that one of the things that people feel when they listen to my show is that they’re hanging out in the room, you know?

Alan:                          52:41             Yeah, yeah, but people ask me all the time, because I talk so much about communication, they ask me, do you think modern texting and emailing and social media is hurting communication? I think, now, I’m going to start quoting you because I agree when I hear you say talking is important. It’s … Something happens when you talk.

Marc:                         53:09             Yeah.

Alan:                          53:09             And when you listen and talk at the same time, you’re letting another person in.

Marc:                         53:15             Yep.

Alan:                          53:15             It’s a vulnerable position. I’m not vulnerable to you if I text you something, if it’s a shot I’m taking at you, and I don’t have to pay attention to your answer, but when I’m face to face, or even voice to voice, I got to respond to what you say.

Marc:                         53:34             Right.

Alan:                          53:36             Then, we have something going that can add something or not, but I have to make myself available to some extent, that I don’t have to probably in an email.

Marc:                         53:47             That’s right. I think that’s true. I agree with you.

Alan:                          53:52             That brings me, because we’re almost out of time for this conversation, which I regret, because I’d like to include a beer in this and talk more with you. Maybe one time, if there’s …

Marc:                         54:05             I’ll have a soda.

Alan:                          54:07             Oh, yeah, right. Thanks for reminding me. See, I wasn’t listening that closely.

Marc:                         54:13             If I have a beer, we’re both in trouble.

Alan:                          54:16             Yeah, so the way we usually end our show, I hope it’s okay with you, is I got seven quick questions. That only asks for seven quick answers.

Marc:                         54:25             Okay.

Alan:                          54:27             And see what you think. Okay, number one. What do you wish you really understood?

Marc:                         54:38             I wish I really understood music theory.

Alan:                          54:43             That’s interesting. Okay, number two, what do you wish other people understood about you?

Marc:                         54:52             I think they already understand it. That I’m incredibly overly sensitive and it takes a lot of energy to manage that.

Alan:                          55:06             Okay. What’s the strangest question anyone ever asked you?

Marc:                         55:14             Why comedy?

Alan:                          55:18             Why do you do it or why does it exist?

Marc:                         55:20             I got off stage once and some guy came up to me and just said, “Why comedy?”

Alan:                          55:26             Did you check what he was smoking?

Marc:                         55:28             No, because I was talking about big, heavy stuff, and I don’t know if it was an insult or if it was an honest question, but it never left me. I’ve asked it many times in my life.

Alan:                          55:41             Oh, that’s interesting. It turned out to be a touchstone question. It really is a deep question if you take away any snarky-ness from it.

Marc:                         55:50             Right.

Alan:                          55:52             How do you stop a compulsive talker?

Marc:                         55:56             Start talking about yourself.

Alan:                          56:00             You just trade places.

Marc:                         56:02             Exactly.

Alan:                          56:05             Is there anyone for whom you just can’t feel empathy for?

Marc:                         56:16             Yeah, I think there’s a balance to it. I don’t know if there’s anyone, that if I really put my heart to it, that I couldn’t feel it for, but sometimes I wonder if they deserve it and to what end is my empathizing for a monster a positive thing about me or that person.

Alan:                          56:37             This one I think we’ve already answered. How do you like to deliver bad news? In person, on the phone, or by carrier pigeon?

Marc:                         56:48             I’d like to think that I have the courage to do it in person as much as possible, and usually it’s the best way. I haven’t had to deliver too much bad news lately, but I think in person’s the best way, but it requires courage.

Alan:                          57:10             Last question, what if anything would make you end a friendship?

Marc:                         57:17             I think, I would imagine, profound betrayal of some sort, would do it, or if somebody publicly …

Alan:                          57:32             When I ask that question, I get scared because I always think, “I got kind of friendly with him during this hour, I hope I don’t do that some time.” Hope I didn’t do it when I forgot you don’t drink.

Marc:                         57:43             No, no, no. I think, in life, there’s only a few people you take with you the whole way. You’ve probably got two good friends.

Alan:                          57:52             If one of them betrayed you, that would be a big deal.

Marc:                         57:58             Yeah, like, to be, maybe, intentionally hurtful.

Alan:                          58:03             Yeah, yeah, yeah. Marc, thanks so much for talking with me. I really enjoyed the time you were supposedly interviewing me and I enjoyed this time when I was supposedly interviewing you because they were both back and forth conversations and I really appreciate it.

Marc:                         58:19             Yeah, it was great talking to you Alan, and good luck with the show. It’s wonderful that you’re doing it.

Alan:                          58:25             Thank you, thank you. I’ll be listening, bye bye.

Marc:                         58:28             Bye.

Alan:                          58:28             That was great, Marc, thanks so much.


This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.


My thanks the sponsors of this episode. All the income from the ads you hear go to the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Just by listening to this podcast, you’re contributing to the better communication of science. So, thank you.



Marc’s WTF podcast is one of the longstanding hits of the podcast world. And I can see why. I had a stimulating conversation with him when Iwas a guest on his show, and I’ll bet all his other guests did, too.


If you haven’t checked out the WTF podcast, you can listen and subscribe for free on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts or by going to his web site,


Marc’s web site,, is filled with other gems – like his books The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah, which is based on his solo stand up comedy show and his collection of essays titled Attempting Normal. And, you can always find Marc on Netflix – starring in the series GLOW.


This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill.


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Thanks for listening. Bye bye!