The Comedy Couch

 MARC MARON - February 9, 2004

GUY MACPHERSON: What is your day like as a comedian?
MARC MARON: Well, you get up sweating, saying, 'Am I
funny?' And then you just do the work.

GM: Is it writing?
MM: Well, you spend a lot of time thinking. I do. This
is what I generally do. I get up, I cook myself some
breakfast, a pot of tea, I go read the news on the
internet, check my e-mail because I'm a compulsive
fucking e-mail person. Like, you know, if I have
enough e-mail in the morning it sort of validates my
day, somehow, if it's good, you know what I mean?

GM: And not just spam.
MM: Not just spam or... like I'm on some weird mailing
lists, some weird sort of Jewish mailing lists that
somebody put me on. Like, I get these Daily Reflection
things from this Hassidic organization, you know?
(laughs) And sometimes they're too heavy... It's a
weird thing, you
know, to do work as a comic it's very easy to do just
about everything else. You can play an hour or two of
guitar, have some more coffee, then go build
something. But generally I try to organize my bits and
think about new bits. Right now I'm just talking to
somebody. I'm going to be a part of this new liberal
radio network that they're launching at the end of
March.

GM: I haven't heard about that. That's great. You guys
have enough conservative ones.
MM: That's for sure. Yeah, this is a whole new
situation. Al Franken has signed on. It's going to be
a whole day of programming. They actually bought
several stations. I'm going to be co-hosting the
morning show with somebody. Hopefully it'll resonate,
you know? But the day is really,
for me, is about thinking and writing, engaging in the
world a bit. Yesterday I had some Mormons come over.
These two women came over, missionary Mormon people,
just doing the neighbourhood. And I always sort of
frighten them
somehow. I don't know how. But I somehow started
talking to them and they had their little books of
Mormon and I had my weird memoir that I wrote, The
Jerusalem Syndrome. So I struck up a trade with them:
I'll take a book of Mormon if you take The Jerusalem
Syndrome. (laughs) And they did! They were like,
'You're going to read the first three chapters of
that, right? And we're going to come back and talk
about it.' And I'm like, 'Only if you can talk
thoroughly about my book.'

GM: That'll be interesting if they come back.
MM: They won't come back. If they do, they'll bring
three other people. I always make them nervous.
They're not as aggressive as some people. I find that
the people that go door-to-door, if you're not really
susceptible to the big mind-fuck, they won't waste
their time. But if they see a way in...

GM: I thought it was the Jehovahs who went
door-to-door.
MM: No, the Mormons do it sometimes. I have found that
the Jehovah's Witnesses focus on black neighbourhoods,
and I think the Mormons have this thing about Latino
neighbourhoods. Because when I lived in Queens, that
was very much an immigrant neighbourhood, and this
neighbourhood that I live in now is very
Mexican-American. So I think they have this thing,
since a lot of these people are already programmed for
the Jesus, they figure they can just shift them over a
little bit, and expand it.

GM: So they've set up a deal with the Jehovahs: 'Okay,
we got the Hispanic neighbourhood...'
MM: '...and you get the black neighbourhood. It's just
our numbers are good in those areas.'

GM: What about performing? How often are you out
performing?
MM: I try to get on every night if I can. In New York,
you know, it's certainly possible. I'm pretty much a
staple there. I was just in New York for two weeks.
There I go on every night, really.

GM: At clubs? Or rooms?
MM: At the Comedy Cellar primarily. And here and
there. Stand-up New York. At comedy clubs, yeah. And
they do a showcase format where you have anywhere from
four to ten or twelve people a night doing 15- to
20-minute sets. Then I did a big show up at Symphony
Space in their small theatre. Sold out this 175-seat
theatre. That was really pretty exciting.

GM: Where's that?
MM: That's on the Upper East Side, 95th and Broadway.
It's a pretty well-known theatre space. I always work
out some of the stuff... Kind of, you know, kicking
around the new broad one-person thing stuff.

GM: Broad?
MM: Broad in the way that, you know, in deciding what
exactly I'm going to cover. I work kind of
improvisationally. I know what I want to say, I know
where I want to go. It's a matter of getting there. So
I did a lot of stuff I hadn't done before.

GM: I'm a big fan of yours and yet I've never seen
your stand-up.
MM: You mean you've never seen me live?

GM: I've never seen you live, or your stand-up. I've
only seen you on talk shows. Or Dr. Katz.
MM: Interesting. So you've only seen me sitting down
doing my funny.

GM: Yes. And I realize it's from your act.
MM: Sometimes when I sit down I'll throw sort of
half-baked ideas out there. But that's interesting.
Wow. I should show you my CD. Do you have it?

GM: No, I don't have it.
MM: I did this CD a few months after 9/11 that was
filled with weird, seething reactionaryism.

GM: I did sample a few bits on your website.
MM: Really? I gotta check what's up there. I gotta see
what's on my website. (laughs) I got two people
working on my website. I had these... One was, I
think, in reality a stalker of mine for years, this
guy, Jason. I learned something about stalkers.

GM: What's that?
MM: If you just take them to lunch or talk to them for
a little while, you'll eventually disappoint them and
they'll go away. So this guy was a real techie. He
used to hang around comedy clubs and he'd wear glasses
like mine, and stuff like that (laughs). But he was a
real bright guy
so I just hired him to do my initial web work, and
he's been helping me ever since. I've got this other
girl who was also a big fan and she started doing it.
Sometimes I lose track of what's going on up there.

GM: The stalker thing is interesting because that's my
theory on huge celebrities who shun the paparazzi. If
they just stopped and waved, and said, 'Hey, how you
doing?', they'd be left alone because nobody wants
that picture. They want the pictures of the guys with
their heads down...
MM: ...running away. Or about to hit them. Yeah, it's
a very true thing. It's one of the great liabilities
of me -- I make myself pretty accessible. Which kind
of freaks people out. You know, sometimes if you're on
stage, they just want to see you on stage,and when you
get off, they
just want you to go, 'Thank you for coming' and walk
away. Not like, 'Well, I got nothing to do.'

GM: 'Let's hang!'
MM: Yeah, exactly. That's like the greatest scene in
Almost Famous. Did you see that movie?

GM: Yes.
MM: It's the scene where Lester Bangs gets out of the
radio station and this kid is there. He's like, 'Hey,
I'm a big rock critic. What do you think, that I just
hang around with my fans?' And then they cut to the
two of them in a coffee shop. That was so real.

GM: And you were in that movie.
MM: I was in it. It was a very powerful 45 seconds.
That took three days to shoot. If you get the
director's cut, it's almost all about me.

GM: How does your straight stand-up differ from your
one-man show?
MM: Jerusalem Syndrome was really a series of stories.
The book covers some of it. It's weird, I did a
reading the other day up in Chicago. I had a big show
to do and I had a reading at Borders Books for six
people. And I was
reading the book, and I hadn't read it in a long time.
I had forgotten how really candid it was. And I
actually found a mistake in the book that really stuck
in my craw.

GM: A typo?
MM: No. In the book I do this whole bit about visiting
the Philip Morris factory, being taken into this
theatre and there's this montage. They show all these
other corporations that Philip Morris owns, like Kraft
Foods,
Miller beer, and Nabisco. And I said it looked like
the food pyramid in hell. And they put 'from hell'
which is very annoying because it's very hacky. The
way I said it in the show is 'in hell'. Fuckers. They
think they know how to change things. But so the
difference between the
one-man show and my stand-up is that... Jerusalem
Syndrome was built almost entirely in alternative
comedy venues and small theatres through improvising
and story-telling. There's really not much stand-up in
there. It's all very funny, but it's mostly me looking
back at my life through
this strangely narcissistic, pseudo-spiritual way.
Like basically the premise is that I've had Jerusalem
Syndrome all my life because I think I'm that special.
My stand-up, really, is more socio-, cultural,
political observations and sort of exploring my own
kind of neurosis through sort of formed stuff. But I
think Jerusalem Syndrome is thematic. It's a thematic
sort of memoir, kind of tweaked a bit based on real
stories from my life.

GM: So that's the difference? It's the theme?
MM: I think the theme, and also, probably, the
storytelling element. I do tell some stories on stage
when I'm doing stand-up, but mostly they're more
observational and they're a little more clipped. Each
segment of that
show is a good 15-minute story about my life. So it's
really a matter of drawing from events as opposed to
observations, I think maybe... The other one-man shows
you see on my website were pretty fragmented. I seem
to be moving towards dealing with my parents,
reckoning with them on stage a bit, because I no
longer hate them. It's sad that it took to be 40 years
old before I could let that go. So I've been trying to
work out bits around my family, which I don't
generally do because for some reason I just couldn't
figure out how. I'm trying to infuse a little more of
that into the show. But I think the thing you'll see
up there is a lot of my current political stand-up and
some other stuff. I don't know how... What's going on
up there? Are you guys in tune with the whole trip
down here?

GM: Yeah.
MM: You know the world is ending and it's our fault?

GM: Oh yeah. We get all the American channels...
MM: I know you do. Like sometimes, you know, you get
places and it's kind of weird if you don't travel.
It's like they don't really care! It's not a priority
for them.

GM: No, no, no, it goes over well.
MM: Oh great. I'll do some of that, and I'll do my
straight standup because you haven't seen it and most
people haven't seen it. I have been doing this 20
years and have remained in relative obscurity no
matter how much television I do. It's pretty exciting
that I haven't garnered the tremendous following
because everyone I perform for barely knows who I am.

GM: Well we know who you are but in a different form.
As a guest on Conan.
MM: I used to do stand-up on there years ago. I guess
I should probably stand up again. When I was a kid and
I watched Letterman, I just always liked the guys who
were comfortable enough to sit down.

GM: Is that a choice a comic has?
MM: It's a choice that I had. Like, I'd never seen
Richard Lewis do standup. But I would see him on
Letterman sitting down being Richard Lewis. I'd see
Jay Leno sit down and be Jay Leno. There were just
guys that sat down. And I just wanted to be the guy
that sat down. I did standup about two or three times
on there years ago and then I just wanted to move over
to the couch and do it that way. And because of that,
we've developed somewhat of a rapport.

GM: Talking about your parents, you said that your
mother was always supportive of what you did.
MM: Yeah. She was like an artist/painter kind of
person. As supportive as someone as insecure as she is
can be. Support is always loaded, you know, in the
sense that she always wanted me to do... It wasn't
always, like, 'Yay, Marc!', but she always made sure
not to diminish my creative compulsion. There were
periods in my life where we would compete. Like when I
was in high school, I would do photography,
silk-screening and drawing and stuff. There were times
when I could tell she was telling me
it was okay just because it threatened her painting.
(laughs) I'm giving you too much information. That's
my problem with interviews, man. You're going to have
to sort through this big mound of shit and figure out
how to make me look relatively sane and funny... My
mother is pretty
supportive.

GM: And your dad selfish. But now you're coming
together. Obviously they've read your book, they've
seen your act.
MM: Really, my parents have always enjoyed what I do.
I think all father-son relationships are just sort of
battles to the death. And I think that with the
standup, I was really sort of able to detach from
anything that he could possibly have any control over.
It was a very liberating thing. Like, there's no way
that he could do it. And that I have success in it
separates me from him. He's a doctor. So that's really
created a new type of dynamic with us. And he also
loves when I make fun of him right to his face, which
is a great relief.

GM: Ah. That's what I was getting at. I was wondering
how he felt in the book when...
MM: That was a pretty low punch. I intentionally
didn't write about them at all in the book. I didn't
want to give them any page time.

GM: Except for your dedication.
MM: Yeah, I love that dedication. [It reads: 'This
book is for my mother, Toby, who claims she did the
best she could, and for my father, Barry, whose
selfishness propelled me into the darkness.'] To me,
it's like some
sort of weird poetic thing. It's a real gut punch.
People read it and are like, 'Jesus!' Yeah, I think he
probably has put it in the back of his brain
somewhere. Because he is a manic-depressive, which is
very exciting half the time. The other half not so
exciting. But the weird thing
about my comedy is a lot of it, early on... My mother
used to, I'd come home from school and she'd say, 'Why
don't you go make your father laugh?' I'd have to talk
him off the ledge. 'Take the gun out of your mouth,
Dad, it's
a GOOD day! Come on, let's get something to eat.' But
you know, that's the way that goes.

GM: And he's still that way?
MM: Well, now he's evolved into an unemployed baby.
(laughs) He does all these weird things. My dad gets
these big ideas and he sits around waiting to win the
lottery. He was a postman for a while. He thought that
would be
exciting. Anything he does is subject to the whims of
his
neurotransmitter tides, you know?

GM: So he was a doctor, then a postman?
MM: He was a doctor and then he retired. And then he
got bored. So he got a job at Walmart for a while. He
thought it'd be cool to work at Walmart. He quit after
a couple of weeks and he called me up and says he quit
working at Walmart, and I go, 'Why?' He goes, 'Because
they don't know how to run a business.' I'm like,
'Really? Walmart's having trouble, huh? Maybe if they
had a bipolar ex-doctor at the helm, they could really
turn a profit next year.' But yeah, he's a character.

GM: Do you still believe comedy is the purest
expression of truth?
MM: Yeah. I do. Because I think that comedy starts
with an individual voice in relation to a confusing
world. If it's good. Anyone's personal truth is about
as truthful as you can get. All the other truths are
relative to context. If we're going to get
philosophical about it...

GM: Ah, so it's personal truth.
MM: Yeah. I think so. An individual is a context as
well, if you go on forever with those kinds of
discussions. I just think that if comedy is done well
and there's a risk being taken by a human being on
stage that puts their heart on the line, it's an
overwhelming thing. If you watch Richard Pryor when he
was great in that first movie, you can really see a
guy who's really not hiding anything -- other than the
fact that he was turning around and doing blow between
bits. But you know, everybody has a
different diet.

GM: That sounds very noble: the purest expression of
truth. Yet you also have said 'there's a fine line
between telling jokes and smelling your own breath
inside a plastic head.'
MM: It's a weird thing because stand-up is... As an
entertainer, the clown tradition, the comic character
is somebody who is kind of making himself available to
be mocked. And it really took me a long time to let
that
happen. I took myself very seriously for years. I
really insisted that everybody had to have the same
thoughts that I did, and that people were as neurotic
and hostile and bitter as I was inside. And it was
only a matter of a series of jokes that would reveal
that to them; that we're
all the same, we all have the same existential
despair. And then I started realizing maybe that's not
true. Maybe there are some people that have had one
decent parent and a little bit of self-esteem and
really don't ruminate in the way that I do. And that
was a very liberating thing
because now I'm able to let people laugh at me along
with the people that laugh with me. Like, some people
will identify with me and laugh deeply because they're
relieved that somebody is as kooky as they are. And
then there are the people that are going to laugh at
me for being nuts. And that's fine. There was a period
in my life where it's like if you were laughing at me,
I would get angry. (laughs) The plastic mask thing is
essentially that you are going to appear to some
people... You don't have
any control over how youre interpreted. I mean, you
could take a plastic mask off, clearly. But there's
some part of it metaphorically that you're going to
put on that head for somebody. Somebody is not going
to look at you and go, 'Wow, we are kindred spirits'
but 'Wow, that guy is a
fucking idiot' or 'That guy is crazy.' They'll laugh
right in your face, and you gotta let that be all
right.

GM: I don't think as many people ruminate as much as
people like you and me do.
MM: Well, some people believe in things. And in ideas.
In ways of life. In political movements. In religious
institutions. In God. I read this book that changed my
life. Did you ever read The Denial of Death?

GM: No.
MM: By Ernest Becker. He's sort of an anthropologist,
philosophy, psychology guy. He's an intellectual. It
won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in '74. I found
it in the Goodwill because it had the type of title
that I gravitate towards. He said that the primary
difference
between people who are neurotic fundamentally, i.e he
says that neurotics are really the most sensitive
people because they can't stay out of themselves long
enough to find comfort in something else. Do you dig?

GM: Yeah.
MM: And he said primarily what people do, they have a
core need to believe in something in order to define
themselves. People are able to transfer their idea of
who they are onto something bigger, like religion or a
sporting team or whatever it is. If the transference
is successful, it alleviates a tremendous weight off
their lives; they can move through life with a certain
amount of comfort because they are defined by that
bigger thing. And people who are incapable of holding
on to a bigger thing
have a rougher go at it.

GM: Interesting.
MM: Am I just rambling?

GM: No, no, no. And these people never question that
thing.
MM: Well, I think that's part of the game. I think
that's part of the game that they play with
themselves. I think Freud knew that, too. You choose
the lie that you can live with. Because if you don't,
life is going to be this terrifying, completely
erratic, chaotic mess of terror and
defensiveness and inability to sit still for very
long. I think people like us -- and I'm assuming that
you identify with me -- you find a lot of different
things to make up your personality. But I think that
if you start to look at all the different things that
we like, there's also a group of people that likes
those things in a similar way. As unique and
individual as we are, there always seems to be some
sort of cultural demographic that seems to be chasing
the same dream.

GM: Yeah, but it's a smaller demographic.
MM: Yeah, definitely, but it still is a similar thing.
Maybe it leaves a little more room for us to
experience our insanity because we feel faith in doing
it among that group. But yeah, I know, the big
belligerent masses who just want to watch sporting
events and believe in black and white politics and
Jesus... it's difficult.

GM: Speaking of black and white politics, with this
radio show, it's going to liberal. Is that going to be
one side of the black and white?
MM: What they're really gunning for is... It's not
going to be called the Liberal Radio Network; I think
it's going to be called Air America or something.
They're really gunning for a more centrist...
encompassing diversity, I think, is the real thing
they want to do. They want to
satirize conservative politics but they also want to
embrace voices that are diverse in their foundation. I
think it's going to embrace a liberal idea in terms of
engaging people that have different points of view. I
think if you were to sit there and say, 'What are
liberal politics?', people would still be like, 'Uh,
you know, people should help people.'

GM: The problem with all these talking-head radio and
TV shows that they have with the right wing is that no
one's consistent. Everyone is just 'My party does it
this way. And even though your party did it that way
when I
criticized it, now I'm just saying, “Well, you guys
did it, so we're doing it.”' And I'm going, 'Well, if
you didn't like it then, why do you like it now?'
MM: Yeah, it's a constant spin going on. Anytime they
make a mistake, they're very quick to go, 'Hey, hey,
hey, we're past that.' They're literally, I think,
issued some sort of dispatch or newsletter of ways to
talk. I just bought this book by this guy, George
Lakoff, he's a linguist professor out of Berkely. He
wrote a book called Moral
Politics: The Conservative and Liberal Mind. He really
believes -- there's proof to this -- that after the
'60s, these conservative think-tanks were set up,
Heritage Foundation and all these other places, to
never allow the
cultural discourse to become anti-capitalism or
anti-American. So they literally set out to change the
tone of language. And I think that a lot of what the
conservatives have done is they've really become good
at this weird, narrow-minded spin that will enable
them to push through their very specific ideas of what
reality is. And there's so many of them that even if
they're caught in a lie, or something like that, it
doesn't matter because it's already been established.
Once you plant a seed in someone's brain, you get
those followers. It's like what we were talking about
before: No matter what happens, it would take a
tremendous misstep or miscalculation for them to
believe that their guy fucked up. Even if you catch
him with his hand in the cookie jar, they're going to
be like,
'Yeah, but he lost something.'

GM: Or else they'll just turn on the offensive.
MM: Exactly! It's unbelievable. It's just fucking
sports.

GM: You have this really well-deserved reputation as a
thinking man's comic, as opposed to a guy who just
gets up there and tells jokes. But I loved what you
told the NPR host, who was trying to separate you from
her vision of the typical comic who obsesses about
sex.
MM: There's nothing wrong with obsessing about sex.

GM: I know! That's what you told her. But she was
trying to set you apart. I think a lot of times people
say, 'A stand-up comic in my mind is a guy who wears a
thin tie and stands in front of a brick wall and is
sexist,' or whatever. And you responded that you work
blue and you believe a comic should talk about sex and
other uncomfortable topics.
MM: Yeah. It's a very weird thing with those people.
You have this weird contingent of people like us, who
are, you know, hipsters who are somewhat enlightened,
self-aware, capable of appreciating irony. I've
noticed within that type of person... Like, when I was
a kid -- because
I'm 40 now -- our heroes were dirty guys. That's just
the way it was. Now, I don't know, there just seems to
be this whole generation of hipsters that are, in a
lot of ways, kind of asexual. And I don't know when
that happened or why it happened culturally, that
where talking about sex
became a thing that people were above, not for moral
reasons. But I believe it's where a lot of excitement
is. And I think it's not a hackneyed place to go; it's
a very difficult thing to do blue comedy. Not everyone
can do it. I don't think that talking about sex
necessarily has to be sexist; I think it might need to
be crass, but it doesn't have to be dumbed down or
stupid. I mean, it's a very real thing. And I think
the greatest standups have done it. And I think when
people talk about it, it's like this epidemic. Like, I
don't know a lot of dudes that work blue. It's not
easy to work blue. You gotta have some cajones to pull
this stuff off. You can't be a mild-mannered guy and
start talking about fucking. You just can't. So the
cats that do it, there just aren't that many. And when
someone like Terry Gross says, 'Well, you guys are
sexist and all you talk about is sex,' I'm like, 'Who?
Who? I don't know who you're talking about.” It just
doesn't exist anymore.

GM: Yeah, it's just the image that exists. The reason
the hipsters have become asexual, maybe, is because
the Heritage Foundation has stamped that topic out.
MM: I don't think they have, though. There's never
been more porn and more strippers in culture than I
can remember ever. I don't know why that is. I haven't
figured out what that conspiracy's about or why it's
been so
allowed, but strippers are like mainstream shit; porn
is like mainstream stuff now. It's gotta have
something to do with the internet. I don't know about
where you live, but here porn is everywhere. And I
don't know when that happened. I don't think anyone
wants to cop to that being their conception of what
sexuality is. I think that what's happened is that a
lot of people just sort of went underground with it
because they didn't want to be identified with this
kind of complete and utter
objectification and perverse world. Some people would
rather keep that secret. (laughs)

GM: In your book you wrote that a guy named Gus
Blaisdell...
MM: Oh, Gus Blaisdell. He just passed away.

GM: ...That he was the smartest, funniest man you ever
met. And it reminded me of this quote from Dick
Gregory. He said, 'I think the funniest humour comes
from the guy in the street who's not in show business.
A comic is another form of being a whore. The
housewife has sex
relations, but she's not a whore. A prostitute is
because she's selling what everybody else is doing for
free.' Now, I don't know if you believe that the
funniest people are laypeople, but in this case Gus
Blaisdell was.
MM: But he was a very intellectual guy who had had a
pretty interesting life in terms of what he lived
through. He was one of these '60s intellectuals who
had seen the real deal. And he also had a very good
sensibility about it and was a great storyteller and
he was just a
funny guy. My experience as far as laypeople, I don't
know. As far as the type of things I like to talk
about, I have found that, yeah, laypeople are funny
and I've gotten a lot of funny moments. But usually at
their expense in a lot of ways. They don't know that
they're being funny. So in that level, yeah. But you
know, like some of the funniest people I know are
usually writers, actually. Like my buddy Sam Lipsett,
who is a novelist. When I get together with him, we
really have some good laughs. And my buddy Jack
Boulware, who's also a writer. He's a columnist in San
Fransisco. I just find that people I can talk to who
understand me, then you can really go some places and
really find some good times and some funny. As far as
laypeople on the street, yeah, they're characters.
They don't necessarily know they're being funny. But
that's true. There's a lot of philosophers and
prophets out there that have no idea that they're
being that. And they're funny.

GM: Maybe the funny writers are just people who don't
have the balls to go on stage.
MM: Without a question. It gives them a lot more
freedom, too. Writers who have success at writing,
it's a very gifted thing to have. Being on stage, you
have to reckon with... Half the job is babysitting.

GM: I haven't finished the book. I'm only on chapter 7
or 8.
MM: It's a quick read. It's got some faults, that
book.

GM: But early on, you say you don't believe in
coincidences. Does that mean you believe in fate?
MM: (pause) I've grown to believe that it's relative
to my perception. You know what I mean?

GM: What is?
MM: Those moments that seem to transcend coincidence.
When you say, 'Oh my God, I can't believe this is
happening.' You know what, dude? It's one of the
philosophical problems I have in my head. Like, I know
that as many
things I think may fall into my lap because of a
reason, millions of things fly past me that I don't
even recognize. So I know it's relative to my
perception. And probably is completely connected to
that. But I'd like
to believe in fate a little bit, yeah. Do you?

GM: No, I don't. But yes, I understand how the feeling
is there to want to believe in it. I have this debate
with friends of mine who are obsessed about some woman
or something. 'No, it's NOT fate that you met or you
happened to see her again!' A lot of times I think
it's an excuse for obsessive behaviour.
MM: Yeah, I think you're right. I think it's also
related to what we were talking about, the need to
find something to define you as in that moment. You
know, if you're really looking for something and you
really want something to happen and you need something
to give, you're willing to take whatever scraps are
thrown your way, and connected to the bigger thing,
you know?

GM: So intellectually I'm not superstitious or
anything like that, but lots of times I'm like, 'Well,
I don't want to tempt fate.' Or the whole karma thing.
Intellectually I'm against it.
MM: You're against karma! (laughs)

GM: Who thought that up? Who knew that if you do
something, it came from a past life?
MM: Well, there's something to say about taking
actions that you may be aware are, on some level,
morally unacceptable. So, I think the way karma works
is it's your conscience that's distributing that. You
will suck bad
shit towards you if you are putting out that vibe. I
mean, it's all relative to what you're putting out
there as you move through the world. I just know that
by attracting certain people. Like, if you've been
alive long enough, you're like, 'Why do I keep
attracting women that are like
this? How did I get another one?' You could say,
'Well, I guess all women are like that' or 'Fuck, I
must be putting out something that is the other side
to this thing.'

GM: It's also an inherently selfish philosophy because
I'm not helping you because it's an end unto itself;
I'm helping you because it's going to help me later.
MM: Yeah, I think all that stuff -- all that fate
stuff -- is definitely a by-product of some kind of
narcissism. My dad is a pathological narcissist and he
started getting really -- and this is a guy who is a
rationalist, he doesn't believe in God. But he
believes in fate. Right?
Which is weird. So he started getting obsessed with
Christian Revelations with end-time prophesy. He's
married to a born-again Christian. This is a
middle-aged Jewish doctor and his wife is a
Mexican-American born-again. And he started to really
get into Revelations and Apocolyptic signs and
everything else, and I started to realize, well, that
makes perfect sense. As this aging narcissist, who's
in his sixties, the idea of the world ending at
roughly the same time he does is a tremendous relief.

GM: 'I'm not going down alone.'
MM: Yeah, exactly. I won't miss anything.

GM: That's the thing, isn't it? You don't want to
leave the party too early.
MM: Yeah! (laughs)

GM: I have a question about alternative comedy. I take
it there's almost a superior attitude among the comics
in the alternative scene, like they're better than the
stereotypical comic.
MM: Well, there is some of that. But you know, some of
these guys who were really alternative have really
managed to transform comedy and accumulate a
following. And I think if you asked if they were
superior, they would
say yes. All the good guys really did start in comedy
clubs, guys who would be considered alternative
comics. Like Dave Cross and those cats. But you know,
I think that he always really went out of his way to
be... he was naturally different. He was not going to
be stuck in any sort of mode. And he's really done
great things. We were good friends years ago and I
used to live with him, but even when he was doing
comedy clubs, he was completely baffling to mainstream
audiences. And now he's really
found an audience for himself. And Janeane Garofalo
was another one who really started in regular comedy
clubs, but really was a prime mover in the alternative
movement. I think it was initially just to give outlet
to... I think that the comedy club franchises were
really very specific. It's like Clear Channel or
anything else -- we need you to entertain these
monkeys that come here. And if you don't do that, you
don't work. It's not working for you here. So I think
they really sought out, as culture started to change
in the early '90s and into that hipster thing we were
talking about, to really find these different avenues
to start talking about things that were appealing to
that community and relatable to that community. It's
still, I think, a really small community, but it's
enough to support it. And then it became very
amateurish because alternative comedy, by and large,
is not defined by being paid to do comedy. It's really
just about setting up a room somewhere -- a coffee
shop or a bookstore or wherever -- and doing comedy.
And now in LA, that's really sort of given way to just
tons of comics running what are really just open mics.

GM: So it's a place where maybe they have the freedom
to go, whether they're good or not.
MM: I think also there's just regular comics trying to
be regular comics. The bigger rooms in LA or New York,
like the Luna Lounge and stuff, it was funny for me
because I like not having the pressure to show up and
do my act. I like being able to experiment, because I
do a lot of my writing through improvisation, which I
can do in a regular room, but ...

GM: So, as you say, it's kind of a workshop place.
MM: Yeah, absolutely.

GM: Isn't the goal to eventually get enough of a
following so that they can work clubs?
MM: It's a very weird thing, you know. Someone like
Dave is a great example. Dave Cross was always one of
the funniest guys I ever knew. But he completely
baffled regular crowds. Then when he came out here and
did the Ben Stiller show, and they built Mr. Show, and
now they found this tremendous following among people
who think Mr. Show is genius. And he was able from
that to do an HBO special. And now he has this really
nice career in show business. But that's the way he
went. I don't think he's for everybody. I don't think
NASCAR dads are going to see him. But there's a lot of
kids out there in college and kids from 15 to 35 that
like what he does. He was able to find them by being
out there on television as much as he was and in the
context he was in.

GM: In the beginning it might be 'Screw the clubs...'
MM: The clubs will always come around if you can put
asses in the seats.

GM: You were talking about the truth in comedy and how
it's the purest expression. So you have the truth on
one hand, but you also have to be funny. Who, in your
opinion, is the best proponent of this style?
MM: I just always believe that Pryor in his prime was
really the greatest example of standup, around that
first movie. Just because he was dealing with cultural
things, he was dealing with personal things, he was
dealing with crossing cultural lines, and he was very
candid. When you watch him, you really see who he is.
He really puts his heart on the line. And I don't see
a lot of that type of work being done anymore. And
certainly the stuff that he did is trivialized by how
many people have hacked him. But I really think he was
great. And I also think on some level that -- like I
have no direct experience of the comics the '50s --
but on the record there were people like Bob Newhart
and Lenny Bruce that were creating a new cultural
conversation that took a lot of balls. And in that,
you hear a lot of personal risk-taking and taking a
lot of creative risk-taking that was really beautiful.

GM: And you think it stands up?
MM: Yeah, definitely. Oh yeah, have you listened to
Bob Newhart? They're great. He's really an
underestimated standup, you know? But he was great.

GM: Anyone today?
MM: That I like? That's doing it? Well, you know, I
can only speak of my generation of people. There are
guys that I really like and I've liked for years
because they're my friends. But people like Todd Barry
and Dave Attell and Louis CK. These guys may not be
doing what those guys were
doing, or having the same momentum as that, but
they've really become great comics in their own right.
Those guys certainly reveal themselves and are the
real deal. What I think it comes down to now is there
are dudes who are the real deal and dudes who are just
sort of pretending to be comics. Robert Hawkins is
another guy I think is very funny. There's a lot of
cats down here that are around. Hundreds of us.


 
Return to Top