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Comedian Marc Maron in a blue shirt

Comedian Marc Maron: We Need 'Groupthink Empathy' During COVID-19 Outbreak

Marc Maron wants you to know that he named his Netflix stand-up special, End Times Fun, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.




This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Marc Maron has a new stand-up comedy special on Netflix called "End Times Fun."


MARC MARON: I don't know what's happening, people. I don't know. But it's pretty clear the world is ending. I don't want to shock anybody.


MARON: Seems to be happening, though.

GROSS: Maron recorded the special and gave it the title "End Times Fun" before the coronavirus. It was listed in The Daily Beast as one of the 10 best stand-up specials to stream under coronavirus quarantine. In a review of "End Times Fun" in The New York Times, Jason Zinoman wrote, Maron is the rare comedian to ask the really big questions, the existential ones that take on more urgency in a crisis.

Maron has been doing comedy for a long time, but now he's an actor, too. He starred in his own series, "Maron," playing a character like himself. He co-stars in the series "GLOW," and in "Joker," he played the producer of the late-night TV show hosted by Robert De Niro's character. And of course, he hosts his popular interview podcast "WTF." Before we talk, let's get back to the clip that we just heard from "End Times Fun." Here it is in context.


MARON: I don't know what's happening, people. I don't know. But it's pretty clear the world is ending. I don't want to shock anybody.


MARON: Seems to be happening, though. I thought we'd get out. You know, I thought we'd make it under the wire. I thought I would, you know. I'm 56, but I don't know - I think we might see it. I think we might see it. Certainly it's been ending environmentally for a long time, and we've all kind of known it. We knew it.


MARON: But I think on a deeper level, the reason we're not more upset about the world ending environmentally is, I think, all of us in our hearts really know that we did everything we could. You know, we really...


MARON: Right? I mean, we really did. I mean, think about it. We - you know, we brought our own bags to the supermarket.


MARON: Yeah, that's about it. Like, we brought the bags...


MARON: ...Right when they told us. We brought them. And it just wasn't enough, it turns out. Just not enough to, you know, get us over the top with this.

GROSS: I recorded this interview with Marc Maron Thursday, just a few hours before California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to stay at home. Marc Maron lives in LA.

Marc Maron, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for doing this. How are you?

MARON: I'm OK, Terry. It's great to talk. Great to hear your voice.

GROSS: And yours.

MARON: I'm all right. Thank you. I'm OK. You know, I'm trying to stay inside. I'm trying to isolate and quarantine and not be exposed or expose anybody. Who knows who has it and who doesn't?

GROSS: You know, I can't believe your special is called "End Times Fun." What were you thinking of when you came up with that title? Because it was before the coronavirus.

MARON: The title really was just a way to frame the work I've been doing over the last couple of years, certainly around the environment, the world of politics to a certain degree, with a - kind of balance that between things about my life. But oddly - and I don't know that I've said this publicly too much; maybe in one article - that was not the original title of this thing.

After I recorded it, I was very committed - you know, even before I recorded it, to calling it "Jeremiad" because I felt that it was my jeremiad. It was, you know, my sort of kind of a prophetic, existential, angry rant or sort of - it was a whole piece in my mind that fit under that title. I was thrilled about calling it that. I was excited about it. I was going to put the definition of a jeremiad up on the screen after the title credit. And Netflix, Robbie Praw at Netflix, the comedy guy, is like, there's no way you can use that title.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: And I thought, why not? He goes, because no one will know what it is. No one will - they'll see it; they're not going to know what it is. And it took me a few days, but I realized that he was probably right. So I just thought, "End Times Fun," and that stuck. Yeah, it's terrible that the cosmic timing worked out in my favor, but it's also good.

GROSS: (Laughter) So is the virus bringing to the surface anxieties that you already had but you'd kind of quieted down recently?

MARON: Not till this morning (laughter). This - for some reason, this morning was not great. But for the most part - it's an odd thing about being a recovering hypochondriac, which I am, which I - you know, I really had wrestled with that all of my life. But when it does hit me, it hits me pretty hard. But it doesn't hit me too often.

I, for the most part, have been relatively calm about this in the sense that I had framed it in my head that, you know, we had to do the right thing to protect those who are vulnerable, to sort of get into a herd mentality, a kind of groupthink empathy. And that all made sense to me. And I never really thought of myself as part of the vulnerable population to where this would be a mortal threat. But for some reason, this morning, that framing fell apart, and it was - you know, it was a rough half-hour. But I'm OK now. But for the most part, I'm not freaking out about that. I'm not - you know, I'm not freaking out about too much of anything for some reason.

It seems that people with - or maybe I should just say me, with extreme anxiety for most of my life and really a kind of natural propensity to dread, I was sort of ready for this on some level. The neuropathways of this type of thinking that everyone's feeling have been well-grooved over the years for me, and there's something almost like a Ritalin effect going on with me. And also, doing nothing is something I'm - you know, I spent the first decade or two of my career doing - you know, just wandering around or sitting at home thinking and writing things down. I mean, that was the life of the comic.

So to answer your question, I'm not freaking out too badly. I'm a little scared in a reasonable way. I might be internalizing a lot of my fear and anxiety.

GROSS: So what happened this morning that made you more anxious?

MARON: Well, I just was - I was, like, having a hard time, like, breathing. But I have no other symptoms. And, you know, I've had that all my life when I stress out. You know, I've been one of those people that I have - when I've had panic attacks or when I have stress-related physical symptoms, it does sort of happen in my chest. So it's certainly - the only way I can differentiate is that I have no other symptoms of anything so I - and I feel OK now. So that was really what happened.

GROSS: I think you just put your finger on something that a lot of people are experiencing 'cause when anyone gets really anxious and kind of panicking, you kind of stop breathing. Do you know what I mean? (Laughter).

MARON: I do that all the time.

GROSS: Your breath becomes, like, really shallow.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: And you feel like, oh, yeah, one of those symptoms is, like, a tight chest, and my chest feels kind of tight; maybe this is it. But it can just be anxiety, and you have to tell yourself to breathe.

MARON: Yeah, I'm a big breath-holder. I - you know, I've been told by many people all my life to take a breath because I'll sit and hold my breath a lot. My chest is the stress place for me. It's not my back. It's not my neck. I don't get headaches. It's definitely the chest, the breathing thing.

GROSS: So I remember we spoke a few years ago about how you were a hypochondriac when you were a kid, and your father was a doctor.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: But you just described yourself as a recovering hypochondriac. I didn't know you'd been recovering (laughter).

MARON: Yes, it's taken...

GROSS: That's good.

MARON: ...Me years. Well, yeah. And it's really as simple as, you know, training your brain not to go to the worst-case scenario immediately and draw that kind of attention to yourself or to put your brain through that. So most of the time, if I experience something symptomatic, I'll be - my thought - my first thought is like, well, let's give it a few days, you know, not like, oh, my God. So I generally do that. And oddly, you know, given the nature of where we're at with the possibilities or the availability for testing on this thing, that's what everyone sort of - you know, everyone's in that kind of place right now with this particular illness, is that you're going to have to give it a few days because there's nothing else you can do.

GROSS: These are dark times for hypochondriacs.

MARON: That's for sure, Terry. And a lot of people are freaking out and - but I can say because - you know, all - I don't - there's something about freaking out about your health or about immediately thinking the worst thing and about then putting that out into the world or living in that anxiety. If there's - there's definitely a selfishness to it. It is a self-centered activity. And, you know, to kind of, like, get hold of yourself and say like, well, I'm going to - let's see what happens. You know, let me get a night's sleep. Let me wait, you know. If the symptoms aren't, you know, that you have to go to the hospital - you should know what those are - you know, you can usually kind of get through it, not unlike any other sort of anxiety.

GROSS: Well, I think, you know, one thing for hypochondriacs who are prone to thinking that they have to call a doctor immediately, it's like, you are being told now to just kind of calm down unless you really think you're very sick. So I think it's - in a lot of ways, people will have to follow your advice (laughter).

MARON: Yeah. Well, I mean, that's where I grew my hypochondria, is that, you know, my father was a doctor. So he was always right there and he (laughter) - and if I was really freaking out, he could just refer me to one of his friends and drive me over there to his house. So those days are far behind me.

GROSS: So some of your "End Times Fun" special is about being Jewish but not having faith. And you say, but if I'm terrified, I'll go mystical, and sometimes that doesn't make sense. So are you going mystical?

MARON: No, I'm not right now. I'm going very practical. And I think it's like - I think it's not about having faith; it's about having God. Maybe I don't remember my special, but, you know, I don't have a functioning God or sense of God, but I do have my Jewish identity. And I tend to, you know, oddly, through a series of rationalizations, I can find my way to faith. And going mystical is really something my brain kind of naturally does.

You know, and I think it is the seed of conspiratorial thinking as well, which I was once - I had a problem with that before it was popular with wrong-minded people. But there's been plenty of conspiratorial thinking on both sides of the ideological spectrum. But I think that going mystical is your brain kind of really, you know, striving or compulsively or anxiously trying to make sense of something that you can't make sense of through logic, or you're ill-informed.

GROSS: So when you say you have faith, faith in what?

MARON: I don't know that things might be OK. You know, it's really being challenged lately. But I think that some of the kind of disposition that I have in the new special is a different disposition to me. Maybe it's because I'm older. Maybe I have sort of - some sort of early onset dementia.


MARON: But a lot of the things that used to really drive me crazy don't. I don't remember a lot of the things I used to. You know, I kind of live day to day. I've always been that way - in the last few years, I think it's because I've been terribly busy and overly anxious and in some sort of stress mode, where my body just relaxes. And I don't - I really don't know what my schedule is tomorrow. It's a little easier now; we all have the same schedule. What are you doing tomorrow? I guess nothing. But...


MARON: But, you know, I do think - to answer your question - that I've relaxed into something. I don't know if it's, you know, my sense of my own mortality or whatever. And I don't have children, so I'm not sort of, you know, presented with, you know, this kind of, like, are things going to be OK for them kind of thing I know, ultimately, things will be OK with me. I've done a lot of the things I want to do in my life. And I think that - I try to spread it out, or my brain wants to spread it out among everybody that things are going to be OK, but clearly we don't know that. But for some reason, my brain is doing that still, and I'm not going to poke at it too hard. I've - I know what the other thing is. I know what the opposite of that is.

GROSS: I'm going to take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actor Marc Maron. And he has a new Netflix stand-up comedy special called "End Times Fun." We're going to be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actor Marc Maron, and he has a new Netflix stand-up comedy special called "End Times Fun."

So, Marc, I know from your podcast - 'cause in the beginning of your podcast, you always talk about what's happening in your life. So your relationship broke up with your partner, I don't know, about a year ago maybe.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: So...

MARON: About a year ago, yes. Yeah, we broke up, and I've since been seeing somebody else. It's difficult. You know, even if breaking up is the right thing to do, it's still difficult.

GROSS: So are you living alone now or living with...

MARON: Yeah, I live alone. And - but I've been seeing the director Lynn Shelton. You know, we're both out of work so we're definitely spending time together. And she directed my last two specials.

GROSS: And your movie "Sword Of Trust."

MARON: That's a fun little movie. Yeah, she directed that. And she's directed me in "GLOW."

GROSS: You know, these are times that try relationships. Like you said in your - in a recent podcast, you know, you were saying that a lot of people that are living alone are feeling isolated, and that's really terrible. But a lot of people are living with families or friends or relatives...

MARON: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...And, like, they're getting on each other's nerves, probably. So it's like - it's just a test for everybody.

MARON: Oh, that's for sure. You know, just the - you know, without having the ability to just go, like, I'm going to run to the store, or I'm going to go do this or that for five minutes, a half-hour or just go to work, I mean, it's going to be a real test. People are really going to see what each other is made out of. That's for sure. And I don't know how long it's going to take for people to stop being, you know, snarky and cute about quarantine. I just don't know when that tone's going to change. I don't know how long this is going to go on for, but I'm just waiting for this shift from, like, these are the records I listen to to, you know, get me out of my house, please, you know?


GROSS: Are you good at being alone?

MARON: I'm OK. You know, I tend to - like, I lose track of time and days. Like, I've lived a life - the job I've chosen is a fairly solitary job, being stand-up. And there have been, certainly, long periods of my life where I've been solo and doing that. I tend to nap more when I'm alone (laughter). But I'm OK alone.

There have been times in my life where I thought, like, you know, this is really the best of all possible worlds is just to be alone and just see some people occasionally. But I guess as I get older, I'm learning that there's some merit to sort of opening yourself up to being in some sort of relationship. I think that gives life a bit more meaning and comfort, though, as I say - as we know, it can be difficult.

GROSS: So you live in California.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: And the state was overwhelmed by fires. And shortly after that ends, you've got the coronavirus. Has been feeling like a double end-times whammy for you?

MARON: It always feels that way out here. It's always kind of scary out here. And a lot of the kind of - the inspiration for, you know, that part of the special - the world is ending part - was really about environmental realities, is that you're dealing with the administration that we're dealing with is one thing. And dealing with a kind of belligerence and shameless intolerance on behalf of a lot of the people that buy into him is another thing. But to really turn a blind eye to what's happening environmentally is just insanity that I can't understand.

And I know that we're all very powerless on some level at this point in the face of it other than to speak out, which seems to be relatively ineffective. That - yeah - I mean, California, but even Florida. I mean, a couple of years ago, I remember visiting my mother. And you know, we were staying somewhere near the beach. And at night, you know, the coastal highway - or close to it was covered with water. The ocean had risen, you know, to a point where it was covering the roads.

And I remember asking my mother, it's like, what is going on? And she was like, I don't know. Maybe it's the pipes. I'm like, the pipes? What are you talking about? She's like, it goes away in the morning, you know? Like, I don't know, you know - and I think a lot of people - it's odd how quickly we adapt to even something that should be some kind of, like, you know, red flag to the 10th power.

So yeah, California is like that. Every year now for the past few years, because of the fires, you worry about your home. You worry about people you know. I'm once removed from people who lost their homes in Malibu. I mean, it's crazy. And then there's always the earthquake thing. I went through that the other night. All right. So now, at least we have...

GROSS: Wait, wait, wait. Was there an earthquake the other night?

MARON: No. But I did that in my brain the other night. Last week, you know, I was like...

GROSS: Oh, oh - like, the whole what-if thing.

MARON: Right. My friend Al (ph), I'm talking to him. I'm like, you know, at least we still got the basic utilities. And he's like, oh, yeah, if there's no earthquake. I'm like, oh, thanks.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: Thanks pal. Now I got to do that?

GROSS: So you mentioned your mother lives in Florida. How old is she?

MARON: I don't know what I'm supposed to say anymore. She's like 77, 78, I think. I probably know exactly. Hold on.

GROSS: That's close enough.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So are you concerned about her? Are you staying in touch with her?

MARON: Yes. I've been calling her, yes.

GROSS: Is it changing your relationship? It just always seems from your comedy that you've had a very contentious relationship over the years.

MARON: Like, I think it comes off that it's contentious. But it's really just me trying to maintain some personal boundaries. (Laughter) It sounds like - you know, I'm a little hard on her. In this special, there's a little bit of - yeah, I'm a little hard on her. But I think it's endearing in some way. But she does take a little bit of a hit in this special. Oh, I just touched my face - with my rubber glove on.

GROSS: (Laughter) Holy...

MARON: That defeats the purpose.

GROSS: It definitely defeats the purpose.

MARON: Oh, my God.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

MARON: So, all right. I'll be all right. But I really think it's about personal boundaries. But yeah, my mother and I are OK. And you know - and I check in with her to make sure she's all right. And it's definitely not contentious in any way. And yeah, I mean, all is forgiven for the most part. But yeah, I'm concerned about them, my father as well. He's getting old, and he lives in New Mexico.

But my mother seems to be - to have a sense of what's happening, but not unlike everybody else. There's that weird thing about - well, I guess it's maybe all of us all over the world - but something about being American where, you know, when these basic sort of freedoms - the freedom to shop - are taken away from us, it's kind of like - it's some sort of strange wakeup call. Like, we all feel strangely entitled to be able to live whatever kind of life we want and that even in the face of this thing, a lot of people are like, yeah, it's no big deal; I'm going to go eat. You know? I'm going to go out and do the thing.

It really is a difficult shift for a lot of people to make. And I'm not saying my mother's like that, but I don't think the full scope of what this means to people who aren't sick yet and holed up in their homes and whatever information they're taking in or whatever they're watching - I don't know that we really - it's hard to know what's happening. So I feel with my mother, she's, you know - she's like, well, we wanted to get toilet paper. And John (ph), her boyfriend - he called Costco. And you got to get there before they open and get online, so he's going to do that tomorrow. And I said to her - I say to her, well, at least he's got something to do other than make you crazy. So...


MARON: So that works out.

GROSS: My guest is comic, actor and host of the interview podcast "WTF" Marc Maron. His new Netflix comedy special is called "End Times Fun." We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with comic, actor and host of the interview podcast "WTF" Marc Maron. His new comedy special, "End Times Fun," is streaming on Netflix. We recorded our interview Thursday, just a few hours before California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to stay at home. Marc Maron lives in LA.

You do your podcast from home, and this is the first interview I'm recording at home. And let me explain, everybody - most of the people on FRESH AIR now are working at home. And I now have a microphone at home. I've recorded the intro copy - the introductions and everything for a couple of shows. But this is the first interview I'm doing at home.

And I have to tell you, it feels a little bit strange. First of all, I'm just, like - there's no reason to get out of my chair, you know? I don't have to go - I don't get up and talk to my producers. Even, like, the trip to the bathroom is, like, a lot shorter than at the radio station...

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...So even, like, that little bit of exercise - is just (laughter), like, totally diminished. Tell me what it - give me some advice about working at home. And another thing I have to say about it is that, I live in a pretty small home with my husband and our cat. And I feel like I'm taking up all the space here because I'm transforming our little home into, like, my studio.

MARON: (Laughter).

GROSS: Seriously. So give me some advice.

MARON: Well, I got to be honest with you. You sound more comfortable, Terry. You sound looser. You sound grounded. You sound like - you sound like - I think it changes your tone a little bit to be in your living environment, which is nice. I think that's a good thing.

GROSS: Thank you. You made me feel good.

MARON: Yeah, good. I - well, working...

GROSS: We'll see how long that lasts.


MARON: Well, you know, the thing about working at home, like, I try - I used to - it used to be a real separation for me because you still get into the same mindset, you know? Like, I would - in my old house, I would walk out back to the garage. And that was - it was time to work, you know? And it's the same in my new place, you know? I walk out to the garage, and I set up. You know, I've got my little cocoon there. I got sound panels up; I got my gear. And you know - and I lock in to do the work.

But there is something about being grounded amongst your own things and your own animals and the people in your life, whether they're in the other room or in the house, that does - I feel like you can feel at all, you know, coming through you and into the mic. And it adds something that I think is grounding and great. But you know, in terms of tricks, I mean, you know what they are. Like, you did it today already. You got to turn your phone off. You got to, you know, make sure, you know, the levels are good. Maybe you still got somebody doing that somewhere else. You want to make sure you have all your stuff ready to go. It's just basic stuff.

And you know, hopefully nobody makes any weird noises. Or with my - now, with my studio, yeah, I got to be careful that people aren't doing yardwork next door or whatever. But that's become sort of a texture of my podcast. There's going to be things that come and go. Maybe that's just going to be the future, Terry, where even FRESH AIR, you're going to hear a siren or two or (laughter) something happening outside of the street. Or your cat's going to knock some over. Or your husband's going to not know you're on the air. Those are things you're going to have to integrate into the show now, Terry.

GROSS: No, I think you're right. And I have to say, like, our cat has the loudest and most persistent meow I've ever heard.

MARON: Oh...

GROSS: So if he gets hungry, it will be heard (laughter).

MARON: Good. That's a good tease. Now everyone's going to be waiting for that.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: You're going to have to make it happen now, Terry.

GROSS: So - you know, I'm thinking, you interviewed President Obama...

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...In your garage when you were still doing your podcast from the garage.

MARON: I do it from the garage still. It's a garage studio still. I had to make it - it's a little...

GROSS: But it's a different garage, right?

MARON: Different garage, little fancier.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah. Can you imagine interviewing President Trump in your garage?

MARON: Yeah. I mean, I could. I mean, I doubt that it'll happen. But the agreement I've had with Brendan McDonald, my producer, is that, if he wants to - like, we don't really interview politicians, but we'll interview presidents. So if he's willing to do it on the same terms that Obama did, which is, you know, we - that, you know, we weren't - the questions weren't vetted and we get final cut, we have to be willing to do that.

GROSS: So what are you doing to...

MARON: (Laughter) I don't know what that would be like.

GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.

MARON: That would be crazy.

GROSS: It would be interesting.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: I don't think he's going to your garage, though.

MARON: I don't think so. And the weird thing is is like, you know, having, you know, grown up with a fairly narcissistic man as a father, you know, I kinda know what's inside there. And it's...

GROSS: What comparisons do you see between your father and the president?

MARON: Well, not many other than the sort of basic narcissism. I think that Trump is clearly, really, a rare case of - really, truly pathological narcissism. I don't think there is a huge amount of those. I think there are narcissistic people. But I think that my father was a bit - the complete inability to sort of place himself - you know, to take any real responsibility for things or to have a certain amount of, you know, real empathy and to - a kind of, you know, inability to kind of listen - some of those things. You know, my dad's not - and also the anger thing or the defensiveness thing. There's a little of that. But he's not as malignant as Trump is.

But I do know, you know - I kind of have a sense of what's inside there. And it's not pretty. And they have everything invested in protecting themselves from any self-awareness. So if you can get in there to where that self-awareness could possibly be or open up a small portal to it, there's just a sort of lifetime worth of vulnerability and anger in there that is completely chaotic and unmanageable and kind of scary, you know? So they've put - now they have this fairly weird shell that they've built for themselves. But the undefined kind of gooey center of a narcissist is a really scary emotional place.

GROSS: We have to take another break here, so let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actor Marc Maron. And he has a new Netflix comedy special that's called "End Times Fun." We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actor Marc Maron. And he has a new stand-up comedy special on Netflix that's called "End Times Fun."

So one of the things that's changed in your life since the last time we spoke is that you have an acting career now playing people who aren't you. You had your show "Maron," in which you basically played yourself, a version of yourself. But since then, you've been, like, you know, on "Glow." You have a female wrestling team set in the '80s. And in "Joker," you played, basically, the producer of "The Tonight Show"...

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Robert De Niro's producer on there. You're in an upcoming movie or TV show based on the Robert B. Parker Spenser mystery novels.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: So, like, is it interesting for - like, you've lived in your head so much over the years. Is it interesting for you to act and have to be, like, somebody else and get out of your head and even get out of your body, in a way - to have somebody else's body?

MARON: Well, I think that - you know, the way I've approached acting - and years ago, I mean, there was - as a comic, you always sort of want to act, you know? There was a period in the '80s and '90s where, you know, the idea was you do your comedy, and eventually, you'd get a show that was built around your comedy and you. And in college, I studied some acting, and I did some studying of acting later when I lived in San Francisco in the '90s.

But I always kind of wanted to do it. But I never had - I think there was a decade or two where I didn't even have representation. I didn't like going on auditions. I didn't feel that - it always felt that for TV stuff, that there was people that were better for the thing than me, that knew how to do it better and had a real craft or skill set. But oddly, over the years of interviewing people and learning how to be - to sort of, like, you know, open my heart to listening and being more empathetic or reengaging my empathy and also talking to great actors - as I began to act, I would talk to actors about acting - you know, people like Martin Landau, you know, Paul Dano. Almost all, you know, those - I remember specifically asking them about acting. But I'll talked almost to all of them now about acting, about tips, about how they approach it.

And so I don't feel that, like - what I've been doing in a lot of the roles, especially with Sam Sylvia in "Glow," was that - I've been offered roles that are obviously in my wheelhouse, OK? And one of the problems with having a podcast or being as public as I am and how I do my podcast is that people know me pretty well. So I don't have much mystique around, you know, who I am. So the liability of doing any sort of acting is there's always going to be people that are going to be like, oh, he's just kind of doing himself, which probably is true. But I think it's true of most actors. They just don't have a podcast every week, so people don't know everything about them.

But I guess what I'm getting at is, with Sam Sylvia, that guy is not a neurotic guy. I do understand that guy. You know, I think there's part of me that is like that guy, that - you know, I'm not active - it's not activated anymore. So the trick of Sam was really turning off a certain amount of self-awareness and turning off my neurotic self and living in that guy. So that was really a matter of kind of tapering or closing some valves in my personality, which is what acting is on that level. And so that was the challenge of that guy.

The guy in the De Niro movie - it's interesting because that's a good example of making adjustments on the fly because I did that scene - there was a little more to the scene with me and De Niro where we had a walk-and-talk. But Todd Phillips decided to cut it because he didn't want any frame of that movie not to include Joaquin's Joker character, which makes sense because of, you know, the idea of, like, is it real? Is it not real? There was a level that he was operating at.

But after the first take of that, when we did the walk-and-talk, you know, I'd been waiting around all day. We'd rehearsed. I'd met Bob. We'd run through it once. And, you know, and Todd goes, let's do one. And we shoot one. And I'm just, you know, loaded up, and I'm going at it. And we're walking, and we're talking. And he goes, cut. And we cut. And then I go sit down. I see De Niro walk over to Todd and then go back to his chair. Then Todd walks over to me, and he says, you're coming in a little hot.


MARON: And then he says, you know, you are - you know, De Niro's your boss. And I'm like, got it. Got it. Good adjustment. Thank you. And that was all I needed to sort of reframe that guy. But my nature is I operate at a certain level of intensity. And I think, you know, when I'm acting, a lot of times, I come - you know, I'm all in. And I'm - you know, I am coming in hot. But I'm learning how to sort of pull back and take notes, and I've always been pretty good at that.

GROSS: So I want to ask you about the scene in "Joker" that you're in because this is a scene where Joaquin Phoenix, who is the Joker in this, is in full Joker regalia. He comes to the "Tonight Show." There's - without getting into too much details of the story, but there's been rioting in the streets that he's partially responsible for...

MARON: "The Murray Franklin Show."

GROSS: Yeah.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: It's kind of like "The Tonight Show."

MARON: Yeah, absolutely.

GROSS: But it's "The Murray Franklin Show."

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: And De Niro's Murray Franklin.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: And so when Joaquin Phoenix comes up dressed as the Joker, like, you're saying to De Niro, the host of the show, like, you can't let him on. This is going to be crazy, you know? There's already rioting in the streets. Like, you can't let him on looking like the Joker. And De Niro's saying, no, it'll be good. It'll be good. And it does not work out well.

MARON: (Laughter) If only Murray had listened...

GROSS: Yes, exactly.

MARON: ...To me. If he had listened to Gene...

GROSS: If only he'd listen to you.

MARON: We got no ending of the movie then.

GROSS: What was it like for you to work with De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene? They're both so famous for their unusual ways of getting into character.

MARON: Well, the one benefit of doing the podcast for as long as I've done it is that I do realize these people are all people fairly quickly. And so the intimidation factor diminishes very quickly. I was fairly comfortable, really, when I got there. I think it's changed that part of me in all aspects of my life, to be honest with you - the humanization factor of talking to people for as long as you and I do. But working with Joaquin, with both of them - like, De Niro was very professional, but, you know, he just snaps into it. And it's weird when you watch guys work because it's sort of like, oh, my God, how are they going to piece this together? You know, because when he's doing his monologue as Murray Franklin, there was a lot of stops and starts. He didn't know his lines in some places. And I was like, wow.

But these guys, like, especially someone like De Niro, is such a pro. He knows - when I was talking to Jeff Daniels, he said to me about movie acting or TV acting - he says, you've got to learn how to work your face. And these guys are such innate pros with this thing. Like, you would never know what went on on set with either of them. But it was intense. But Joaquin wouldn't even talk to anybody. I mean, it seemed like the only person he was really engaging with at all on set was Todd, the director. Other than that, you know, there was no engaging with him. I think at one point, he said, Marc Maron, and then that was it.

And he made choices around that, too, in the scene. If you'll notice - the first time we did it, the take in the dressing room, you know, Robert and I were going back and forth and - with Joaquin. And Joaquin was looking at both of us, you know, as we talked and individually as we talked, but as the scene went on, by the third take, he wasn't even acknowledging me at all. And it took me a minute not to take it personally, but it was an amazing choice. And that's...

GROSS: Because you're just the producer. He wants to relate to Murray, the host.

MARON: That's all he was thinking. Murray was all of it.

GROSS: Yeah.

MARON: Like so - like, it was almost like I wasn't even there to him, and it was intense. But it was a genius choice, really.

GROSS: So he didn't engage with you or the other actors on set except for in scenes. I'm sure that was helpful for him. Was it helpful for you?

MARON: Yeah, it was fine. You know, I mean, you know, he's playing a weirdo. So if he's going to be (laughter) - if he's going to stay in that weirdo, you know, off camera, it's OK, just makes it more weird. So it was fine with me.

GROSS: So I think I need to take another break here. So let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actor Marc Maron, and he has a new Netflix comedy stand-up special called "End Times Fun." We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Marc Maron. He has a new Netflix stand-up comedy special, something to think about if you're looking for things (laughter) to pass the time, and his special is called "End Times Fun."

So since a lot of people are looking for ways to spend time at home, what have you been doing? Have you been reading or listening to music or watching TV, movies?

MARON: Listening to a lot of music. I've been listening to a lot of music, and I've been cooking a lot. And, like, I've stockpiled a lot of food and just trying to stay on top of eating healthy. And, you know, we figured out how to freeze, you know, greens and vegetables. We made some stock, you know, soup stock. And, you know, just trying to make sure I have enough food. Somehow or another I lucked out, and I think I've got enough toilet paper to last for a while. But I've been - yeah, like, I've been going through the Tom Petty live anthology on vinyl. That's been nice. There's a Light in the Attic vinyl of Native North American folk and rock music anthology that I've been listening to.

So I've been doing, you know, some serious listening sessions. I've been reading a bit. But we got the Criterion Channel, watching old movies I've never seen before - and yeah, like that, you know.

GROSS: I read about you in an article from last year that you started singing in public. I know you play guitar.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: But what's it like for you to sing? What are you singing? What do you think of your voice? And is it more self-conscious to sing and to play?

MARON: Oh, it was horrifying to me for so long to do that. But I've done it a few times here and there. I haven't done it so much lately. But, you know, just to cross - to sort of get over the fear of it. I had a very traumatic experience at a music camp when I was a kid, and I don't think I ever recovered from it. And I find that, you know, singing, to me, is so much more vulnerable than anything else. You know, and some people can just lock into it. It's like why I cry at musicals even if they're happy; I just can't believe the vulnerability it exposes to me. The humanity of people singing just really kind of blows me away because it's so - to me, it's just so scary.

And I guess the first - I usually - when I was playing publicly, there was a few songs I would sing. There's a - I think there's a couple of Velvet Underground songs and then a Grateful Dead song that, you know, I played with bands. It's always better to play with bands. And I think I did a Rolling Stones song once or twice. But playing, I'm getting better at. Like, I played the other night - or last week, before the quarantine, at a Bon Scott tribute that Dean Delray put together, you know, just some hard rock guitar. And it's just - it's something I think that if I did more I would get comfortable with, and it's really just a matter of that, of playing with people and figuring out how to do it.

I've played guitar for years and just figured out how to do it with others. I'm pretty good. I just need to figure out how to kind of relax around other people and not choke. And with singing, it's really about, you know, learning what I can and can't do as a singer. But I - I'm OK with it. I can be pretty honest about singing because I have no real skill set around it. And I love it, but it's still terrifying to me. To be off-key, to me, is horrifying. Just to be off-key publicly, to me, for some reason, is scarier than having my pants fall down onstage.

GROSS: (Laughter) I want to hear about the traumatic experience at music camp.

MARON: OK. Well, it was this really kind of like - it was outside of Philly, actually. It was called the Lighthouse Arts and Music Camp. And there were some people you might know from Philly. The Netsky brothers taught up there. He - one of them is...

GROSS: Oh, like Hankus Netsky?

MARON: Yes. Yeah. He and his brother - like, one of the brothers was the guitar teacher, and the other one was, like, the ceramics teacher. There was Hankus, I think Steven and then another one. There were three, and I think two of them were twins - but yeah, the Netsky brothers. Hankus was up there teaching saxophone, I think. So - and then there was another guy named Chet Brown, who was an R&B singer in Philly at some point in time. A lot of the teachers were Philly-based teachers. It was in Pottsville. Is it Potsdam or Pottsville, Penn.?

GROSS: Pottsville, yeah.

MARON: Pottsville, yeah. So I went there for a couple of years. But, you know, there was a lot of, like, seriously, you know, ambitious and gifted young musicians there. And the rock people were - we - there was a talent night, and you put together a band. And, you know, I put - for some reason, you know, I attracted the kind of, like, you know, ne'er-do-wells and stoners to put together this band, and we were going to play "Johnny B. Goode." You could not have a simpler song to play than "Johnny B. Goode," you know, in this amphitheater they had, in front of everybody. So we were one band, and the other band were this group of, like, just, you know, musical geniuses. So we - you know, I've got, like, a drummer who's high, you know, a piano player who's drunk.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: You know, and we're kids, and I don't even know how - where they found at - you know, whatever, people find a way. And we couldn't get through "Johnny B. Goode." And once I did the opening riff, I started in the wrong key, and I couldn't get out of the wrong key, and it was a disaster. And in my mind, the other band of young people that went on that night did, like, an - the entire side of a Genesis record.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: That's my memory of it, which I - really, I think that what they did do is one Genesis song perfectly, and then "Mystery Dance" by Elvis Costello. And they were just inspired and musically brilliant. And they closed the show, and I literally wanted to die. So that was the experience.

GROSS: Were you singing "Johnny B. Goode?"

MARON: Yes, and it was off the whole time. It was embarrassing. And I couldn't get back on. And no one - you know, and the band - it was just - it was a disaster. And I was wearing a tuxedo shirt because I thought it was cool.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK, well, I'm glad you've kind of overcome that anxiety.

MARON: Oof. Decades, it took.

GROSS: So finally, how's your cat Monkey?

MARON: Monkey's holding up, man. I don't - it was great. Like, you know, I thought he was on his way out. I'm sure he is on some level. But we didn't know what was wrong with his breathing. And it turns out, you know, after we tried to give him antibiotics and it was making him sick, and I got him a steroid shot, and it was some sort of asthma, it seems, because he's good. He's up and about. He's kind of running around. He's almost 16 years old. And he's all right. Yeah...

GROSS: Wow, that's old for a cat. Yeah, good. OK.

MARON: Yeah. And if I could just get Buster to stop beating up on him, I think it's all right. But I don't know if that's keeping him lively or not (laughter), but that's sort of an ongoing thing, the little upstart beating up on the old man.

GROSS: Marc, it's been so great to talk with you. It's great to hear your voice. It's great to hear you're well. Thank you so much for coming to our show. I can't thank you enough.

MARON: Oh, I loved it. I love you. I love talking to you. I'm glad you're well. I just have so much respect for you, and I'm always honored to be on the show. Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Marc Maron's new comedy special "End Times Fun" is streaming on Netflix.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Special thanks today to Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. Molly Seavy-Nesper is our associate producer of digital media. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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