Marc Maron: So, what’s on your mind, Guy?
Guy MacPherson: Well, you’re on my mind, Marc. You’re coming back to Vancouver doing comedy and a podcast.
MM: That’s the plan.
GM: Congratulations on 100 episodes, by the way.
MM: Thank you so much.
GM: I need some background. When did you start this?
MM: I guess it’s almost a year ago. I think we started it in September of last year.
GM: Did you anticipate it would take on a life of its own like it has?
MM: I did not anticipate any of this.
GM: What were you thinking?
MM: I was thinking like, well, we’ll do this, we’ll get a few hundred people, maybe a few of my older fans, some of my radio fans, and I thought maybe if we get a thousand people, twelve hundred people, we’d be doing great.
GM: And now I read something where it’s, how many downloads a week is it?
MM: I think it’s like a couple hundred thousand a week.
GM: Yeah, that’s amazing. Did you have a template or something you modelled it after because it’s unlike the other comedy podcasts that are out there.
MM: I don’t know what’s out there. I mean, I know the names of them but I don’t... I mean, I’ve listened to Jimmy Pardo’s... I’ve listened to a couple here and there. But no, I didn’t have a template other than I would talk, then I would talk to somebody I knew, have a real conversation, and then maybe do a third act that was sort of a Kaufmanesque and Wellesian in its way of fucking with the audience’s head as to whether or not it’s real or not. That was the only template we had. And it seems like those third acts are getting fewer and fewer.
GM: That’s key: You said you wanted real conversation. That sets you apart. The other podcasts, and you’ve been on some of them, and they’re great and fun, but they’re more riffy. They’re riffing with each other and joking around.
MM: Yeah, I just don’t know how long that goes for, you know? I’ll do that with certain guys for a little while if I have them on the show, if that’s where the speed is or where we’re at. I don’t mind doing that, but I don’t know what the hell the point of doing that every week is. It’s no different than morning radio or afternoon radio. ... I just think that separates it from radio.
GM: I was talking to a young comic here in Vancouver recently who assumed that your neuroses, anxieties, whatever you want to call them, were, if not shtick, at least comedic exaggerations. And I was saying, “You know what? Maybe he even tempers them a bit.” What’s your take?
MM: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s like, I think everybody’s gotten so accustomed to assuming everything’s bullshit that they can’t really sense authenticity. I don’t think that I’m exaggerating really. I think you might be right. I think that if I was left to my own devices, and I didn’t have the outlet that I have, they would probably be much more consuming and difficult. Some days are better than others, Guy. (laughs) That’s all I can tell you about that!
GM: I know you hear a lot from your listeners and you take the time to respond to a lot of them. Do you sense any misconceptions about you, other than the one I just mentioned? Because you’re pretty real on your show.
MM: I think that’s the most difficult and the best thing about it is that the people that listen to my show really do know me. They know me better than most people, outside of maybe some of the worst parts of me [which] I don’t share as much, as immediately. But they know me pretty well. And usually their sense of who I am is pretty on the money. I mean, some people tend to misunderstand me. They’re not even worth really mentioning. Sometimes, because I have a certain amount of rawness to it and a certain amount of weird, neurotic honesty to what I do, it rubs people the wrong way and they get very angry. But not very many. I’m not even sure why. It’s just sometimes you say something. When the tone doesn’t have much of a filter on it, you can get very quickly under people’s skin and you want that to be in a good way. But, you know, you can’t have all the cake.
GM: I was thinking that your show is kind of like the real-life version of My Name is Earl.
MM: Ha, yeah. As far as making amends to people?
MM: Well, there’s an issue to that. In order to honour my own voice on this thing, and to talk to other people, I just came to a point in my life where, you know, I’m a fairly isolated guy, I don’t have a lot of close friends. If given a choice, I’ll sit around by myself moreso than not, even though I like talking to people. So in a way this show really forces me to have relationships and to talk to people that are my peers. And I like talking to them. I like hearing about their stuff. And I think in a different point in my life I was much more defensive. And I still can do it at times. I owe a couple people apologies from the last few months. But there are some people that those moments are far in the past and I need to bring them up. And it feels good to do it. It’s just sort of weird because there really are a lot of them. (laughs)
GM: It proves how forgiving people are.
MM: Well, a lot of times it has no impact on them whatsoever. A lot of times what I think is something I did that was hurtful or weird, I made it a big deal in my head but they didn’t make it a big deal at all, which speaks more to my self importance and self-centredness than anything that they’re guilty of. Some people know my general disposition but some of these moments that I bring up, some people are like, “It didn’t really register.” And then it’s even more insulting. I’m like, “Really?! How could you not remember that one thing I said to you twelve years ago?”
GM: And then there are the others, of course, that say, you know, “This is what you did to me” and you don’t remember.
MM: Yeah, I like hearing about those.
GM: You never would have predicted that you would be the new, you know, Dick Cavett or whatever you are, where people are reaching out to you to talk with you, to have these real conversations on your show, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago when, as you say, you were maybe not as forgiving with them.
MM: I’d done talk show pilots before but I don’t really know what this is I’m doing, how it fits into the big world. But yeah, I didn’t anticipate whatever’s happening here but I do enjoy it a lot and it’s really the best thing I’ve ever done. And, yeah, now people kinda want to talk to me, but there are also some people who listen to it, like this week we’re doing two episodes with Jud Apatow and he got in touch with me. He’s this big fan of the show. So he knew there was some sort of emotional expectation to go to this place, you know? And after the second episode, I don’t remember if I did it on-mic or off-, he said, “Did we get there?” and I’m like, “Yeah, I think we got there.” (chuckles) “I think we did.” Because he’s a fairly self-aware guy and he knew from listening that there were some emotional stakes, that we had to push through some walls. We had to have some sort of catharsis.
GM: I remember when I interviewed you for my show, you mentioned Jud Apatow. You knew him and you’re an actor yourself, and you were kind of going, “Hey, Jud, I’m right over here.”
MM: You know, that’s been sort of the most challenging part about my show, in terms of who I was and who I am, is accepting that this is what I’m doing because I like doing it. And sitting down with peers that are infinitely more successful than I am financially and creatively, I don’t know that I could have done it in another time. And there are elements of it that are really quite heartbreaking for me. But I think I have to learn how to live with that.
GM: Heartbreaking because of them being better off?
MM: Because of my own disappointment, you know?
GM: Is there a sense of regret in the choices you made along the way?
MM: No, I don’t have any real regrets. The only regret that I have is really not knowing – and I think this is my strong suit, as well – I just never understood business. I don’t know that I ever understood fully that this was a business. I thought that I’m going to do what I do and do it to the best of my ability and I’ll be rewarded. I was never calculating enough or socially political enough to understand that this was a business. And also I’m a very sensitive person. My focus was not... I didn’t say I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to write movies and I’m not going to give a shit how they’re received, I’m just going to keep writing them until one hits. Or I’m going to be a television writer and just keep writing scripts or writing jokes for people till one hits. I was just like, I wanna figure out who I am and how to be true to myself and where I stand philosophically and comedically and just share what I do and then it’ll all come around. And it’s just not true. You have to have a certain amount of calculating ambition and understand your limitations and what you’re really trying to get. So my regret is not really knowing that or being instilled with that idea of business. I’m not saying that things can’t change or whatever, but honestly understanding that people who are tremendous successes generally work their asses off and are pretty focussed about that.
GM: Do you feel maybe now’s your chance to be rewarded?
MM: I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen, Guy. I mean, like, I’m being rewarded on the level of, like, the types of e-mails I’m getting are very deep and very personal, not unlike the show I’m doing. I’m having an effect on people’s lives where people are writing me telling me they feel less alone or they’re not as suicidal or I inspired them to quit drinking or smoking or this or that or I made them feel better because they were going through a divorce and I helped them out. You know, these are not just comedy fans that listen to my show. And they’re all very deep, sensitive people who are getting a lot out of this show and that’s certainly rewarding.
But I fear for my future. I’ve been in show business for a long time and I’m very happy with my stand-up and I’m thrilled about the podcast, but you never know how you’re going to sustain yourself ultimately. So that’s frightening. And in relation to what I said on your podcast, yeah, I mean, I didn’t bring that up with Jud because you start to realize it’s no one’s responsibility to take care of anybody else, you know? People take care of their friends if they’re pretty good people. You see that in show business. And that’s one of the liabilities to being a guy who’d rather hang out by himself because he can’t figure out who to call or how to emotionally engage with other people in a way that is not draining or difficult, is that after being in the business for 25 years, I mean, everyone knows me, but no one calls me to hang out. (laughs)
You know, show business is all about coming up with a group of people. There’s just different generations of cliques and groups that sort of come up together. They come up as performers, agents, writers, publicists. You know, I didn’t realize that until years later that every few years there’s a new crew of people that have aligned themselves with each other and if they made the right decisions, they run show business for a little while.
GM: You mentioned that you didn’t bring up work with Apatow for whatever reason, but you also mention that you never really understood the business part. Don’t you think it’s the kinds of people that go, “Hey Jud...”, the sort of squeaky wheels, that are getting the parts?
MM: Maybe, but, you know, I’m proud to a fault. It’s weird when you have that type of pride where you’re like, “I’m not going to do that.” And all of a sudden when you get into a desperate place, you’re left with no choices but to do that. And I’ve been in both positions.
But the thing about Apatow specifically was that I’m not going to put that out there. I wish I was going out on more auditions and stuff. I don’t really have anyone sending me out on that stuff. I guess that’s my own fault. I don’t know. And it’s not that easy. I’m a 46-year-old, fairly specific type. So the other thing you have to wrap your brain around is, you know, what am I really available to do? (laughs) You know what I mean? But what was interesting about Apatow in that interview was that I was pretty depressed going over there. I had hit some sort of wall a few weeks ago. I felt a little depleted, which is one of the liabilities of doing the type of podcast I’m doing or doing the type of broadcasting I’m doing--
GM: And the frequency with which you’re doing it.
MM: Well, some guys do it every day but all of a sudden it’s like, what else do I have to share? What else do I have to give? If I keep looking inside of myself, you get a type of exhaustion that is fairly profound. And I was feeling sort of hopeless. And on top of that, compounded by that, I’m driving down to Santa Monica to talk to Jud. I go to his office and I’m setting up my equipment. I’m going to this guy who makes funny movies and he’s a big-shot and I’m in the lobby there plugging mics into my fucking recorder, and it was just sort of like, Wow, man, this is a little heavy. I feel a little heavy-hearted about this situation. And then I get in there and we start talking and he’s just a lovely guy and we had a great time. And the thing that really connected us was that we actually love comedy and comedy had a similar effect on both of us when we were younger. It provided us a lot of relief and it made us feel less alone and that things were going to be okay. And we both had a fairly distinct experience of that when we were younger. So I left the interview with Jud actually feeling uplifted and proud of myself and happy to be doing what I’m doing, which was sort of surprising.
GM: Do you find those moments when you are heavy-hearted or are feeling down make for more compelling listening, strangely enough?
MM: I come from a fairly depressive father. I know what that looks like and what it feels like in the room to be too heavy-hearted. So I have to be able to manage whatever’s going on in the conversation. You can’t be too heavy-hearted to where you can’t function. I know what that looks like. Because that means that the expectation on whoever you’re talking to would be too great. So, I mean, I wasn’t in that place. And I’m usually publicly not in that place because because I have anger to buffer that, or comedy, to stop me from being that guy. But what carried me through that particular moment was that it’s exciting to talk to people that are successful and have done things that you like and have made it, to a certain degree. It’s a little bit exciting. I know you’ve probably felt that before.
GM: The difference is with me is that I’m just another journalist that they have to talk to. But with you, they know you and are fans of yours so I would imagine it would be different.
MM: It was exciting because he loves the show. And a lot of people like the show. And that’s worth a lot. And it’s also very satisfying to me and I’m very proud of it and I’m grateful that people like the show. I just get a little scared sometimes, that’s all.
GM: Has the show changed your relationships or interactions in your daily life?
MM: In terms of professionally?
GM: No, just how you interact with people. Have you softened at all?
MM: I think that it’s serving a lot of purposes. It’s helping me generate a deeper type of comedy, it’s making me a little less neurotic in some respects. It helps me when I see so many people have similar experience to me from the feedback I get from people coming to shows – that sensitive, sort of slightly angry people are most people. I don’t know, it’s just making me feel a little more connected and a little less alone and a little healthier and a little appreciated. Those things are good things.
GM: Your interviewing style, or conversational style – this personal, inward-looking, self-centred discussion – really works and it’s kind of counterintuitive. Talking about yourself draws similar reactions reactions from people and it gets them talking. It draws them out.
MM: Yeah, I don’t know how that evolved.
GM: So that was not a conscious decision; that’s just you getting in there and setting up the mic and talking.
MM: Right. As I hear it now, and people like you can see that happens, I don’t want it to be too conscious, but that is sort of what I do. I do think it is oddly disarming to talk about yourself when you’ve invited someone over to talk.
GM: And it’s something that you don’t hear or see on other talk shows because they’re expected to ask this and this and this. But you get to those points through a different way.
MM: Yeah. I don’t want it to be a pitch fest. Some people aren’t capable... Some people can only do so much and are only willing to go certain places in the moment. And I don’t want them to go any place that they can’t handle or whatever. So I’m just dealing with other comics, primarily. I’m not dealing with... I just get a sense of what’s happening. I just want it to be real and fun for me and to have a good conversation where we forget that we’re actually recording something. Most interview shows and most talk shows are really about selling product of one kind or another.
GM: So it has affected your stand-up. You say you’re reaching a deeper level.
MM: I’m doing what I do here in the garage when I talk on the mics and there’s a lot of things I talk about without the confines of an audience or the expectation of laughter. This is a very free stage I have in here talking into my mic alone. And some of that stuff is making it onto the stage. Some of this stuff that I talk about improvisationally in my garage is starting to develop itself on stage as well.
GM: Is the podcast becoming more important or equally as important as the stand-up?
MM: It’s definitely equally as important, if not more important. I mean, I really enjoy performing for people that know me and want to see me, so it’s helping with that. I went out to the Comedy Store last night and it was a little bit soul-crushing because you get a certain openness with this and you get a certain amount of openness when people are coming to see you, where you can trust them more and you know that they know you so you can really do stuff. To go into a fucking dark cave where it’s just a room full of drunk retards is just part of the job but I’d rather the other thing, you know?
GM: It’s becoming world-wide, right? People listen from all over and you’re going all over and they’re coming out to see you.
MM: Yeah, yeah. I was in London. A lot of What The Fuckers in London came out. And Canada. Yeah, yeah. They’re coming out and they’re driving distances to do it.
GM: Almost every comic I know lives or dies off their last show. Is that the same with the podcasts?
MM: I don’t know. They seem to live a lot longer. There’s a hundred of them out there.
GM: Right, but you’re putting out two a week. Do you want any do-overs when you finish one and go, “That wasn’t as good” and it stays with you till the next one?
MM: In a given interview you wish you’d asked certain things and you can’t unless you go back and do it. I have a certain amount of control. They’re not going out live and if I want to do follow-up, I can. You get a Mencia thing... If we want to do two episodes, we can. I don’t have a lot of regrets. I mean, some of them are different than others. But we’re not going to put one out that we think is flat.
GM: Have you held any back because of that?
MM: Uh... Segments, shorter interviews. We’ve done a couple of bits that we haven’t put up yet. But oddly we had one in the can for a couple of months and we ended up using it. It’s really just a matter of what’s going on and how many we have. I think early on, there was maybe a couple interviews that we didn’t use because they weren’t long enough or they didn’t go anywhere. But really, almost all of them go up.
GM: The bigger the show gets, do you find yourself holding in some opinions?
MM: Like what?
GM: I was thinking of what you told me about British comedy the last time you were here and your opinion on it, and then saying in your intro after having been there about having these opinions on British comedy and maybe you condescended to it. But you had never mentioned it on air leading up to it.
MM: I think what we learn ultimately is that a lot of things are said out of ignorance. It’s like that stuff you put up about Dane Cook, in terms of what I said about Dane Cook. Yeah, I still felt all those things. I wish you would have sent it to me before. I wish I’d remembered how clear I had said that stuff about Dane Cook because I don’t think I had changed my opinion of him. I wasn’t as clear about what I was angry about and ultimately what I was saying is that he’s indicative of something in the culture and I find him uninteresting. And when he reached out to me to do the interview, I felt like I handled it like that. But I wouldn’t have been afraid to say that to him; I just didn’t have it at my fingertips. And I think what you’re addressing is, I think a lot of things that are said out of ignorance... I mean, my experience of British comedy was fairly specific and narrow. So once I get over there and you start to realize there’s a lot of cats over here that are trying to do something, and then you talk to a guy like Stewart Lee and you’re like, “This guy’s great.” So what I’m doing, even in saying it like I said after the fact, is that I didn’t know. And whatever I’d said and whatever my judgments are, they were narrow-minded because I had no idea what was going on over there. So that’s what you learn. If anything, this podcast is making me a little more forgiving. If there’s one thing I sense I’m doing is that I’m bridging a certain gap in making certain comics people. You talk to somebody like a person, they become a person. We take broad strokes and we make assessments and criticisms and we dismiss things very quickly. And it’s usually more nuanced than that.
GM: I just saw a clip from your old web TV show where you met with Carrot Top. You said you had been making fun of him for years but hadn’t seen his act until then.
MM: With Carrot Top it was a weird opportunity. I don’t know why I felt like doing that at that particular point in time, but I had some moment where the big change in my head from when I was younger to now is that it’s just show business. It’s just show business. People are just entertainers, whether they’re clowns or jugglers or people that work on the trapeze or people that sing. Who the fuck... It’s just show business. I mean, anyone’s standards as to what stand-up is or whatever, whatever the tradition is that came out of the ’80s, I mean, Carrot Top is just Carrot Top. After a certain point, it’s like, he’s not taking anything away from me. Is he lowering the bar culturally? Maybe. Maybe he did at one time. Does he represent something not unlike Dane Cook that I find is a sad indicator of where we are culturally? Perhaps. Is he the enemy? I don’t think so. So I just realized that after all those years of Carrot Top being this, you know, go-to whipping boy, I’d never really seen him. (laughs) And I just went there and watched his show and talked to him. That’s all.
GM: Similar to that is with Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook, it’s great to have an informed opinion, but there are so many parrots out there that are like, “I heard he does this therefore I hate him” without actually having heard them.
MM: And also you don’t know these guys. The weird thing that it comes down to, more than politicians – I’m not sure they are people; I know comedians are people – usually opinions are based on their act or just assuming that their act is who they are. These are just guys. So it’s just sort of interesting to hear them, even for me because I don’t know them. Most of these people [his guests] I don’t know that well. So just talk to them as people and see what happens. Let other people listen to them talking like people.
GM: Do you enjoy being the comedy judge, sitting in judgment of guys like Mencia and Cook?
MM: I would never talk to anyone as long as I talk to them on the show. I don’t think Dave Attell has ever talked to anybody that long, ever. Do I like it? I find it very compelling. I found those episodes to be very compelling. The Carlos one was difficult because I was in this position where I did the one and I felt like he evaded the questions and I didn’t know enough and I was in an awkward situation where I had to do the second one, which really turned out to be pretty fascinating.
GM: But another way you could have talked to him is like anyone else, any of your other guests, rather than getting down to the criticisms, which I understand you have to address.
MM: He had an agenda to come do my show and I had one as well. It’s just that the agenda I had on the first show was much different than the agenda I had on the second show. Having not prepared myself with the information or not having a history with Carlos at all or even being at the Comedy Store and knowing how widespread these accusations were. I was actually going into the first episode in defense of him, to try to get him to, sort of, clear this up. And then after he sort of snowplowed me – he just sort of steamrolled me with all this fairly well-prepared, well-thought out bullshit – that I was like, “What the hell’s going on here?” And I really had to go talk to the Latino guys and the other guys to really realize the scope of what he was accused of beyond this Joe Rogan event and the George Lopez event and this Bill Cosby thing. And then it just became this thing where it’s like, “Oh my God, I can’t put this out without a follow-up and without exploring this more.” And that’s where the second episode came from. So would any of that happened had we just been hanging out chatting? No. No fucking way.
GM: I think since your interviews he’s said something even more damning to himself about stealing.
MM: I think he said it in that movie, I Am Comic, to a certain degree. I think it becomes pretty clear that he’s a guy that’s never going to unfuck himself. On that second interview, there were moments where I felt like telling him to just unburden himself. “You’re just wrestling with so much.” And I think there’s something inside of him that’s really wired in fucked-up ways. It’s beyond me. It’s out of my wheelhouse.
GM: You said you’d done some talk show pilots in the past. Do you see this show growing into another medium?
MM: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’d like to find a place for it where I can make a little bit more of a living off of it because I’m working really hard at it. I’d just like to figure that out.
GM: The danger is always the Peter Principle.
MM: Which is?
GM: You rise to your level of incompetence. So it’s great in this format but if it moves to the next format there might be little tweaks and people would say, “I liked it when it was...” whatever.
MM: I think the way to do it is to leave this in this format and then to do something that is a companion to it, that uses it as a backdrop but doesn’t diminish this particular format.
GM: It’s becoming more commercial. At least, you’re getting more sponsors, which helps you. That’s a necessary evil, I guess.
MM: I mean, if I’m not going to charge for the show, what am I going to do? I’m doing two of these a week. It’s a lot of work. Me and my producer, we’d like to make a living. It’s a professional product. We’re consistent in delivering the shows and we put a lot into them. I’d like to earn a living doing this. Or a good part of my living. And I don’t want to alienate listeners and I want to respect the medium. I can choose my advertisers. I was selling dildos last month. I sold free audio downloads and coffee. I couldn’t move any Man Grates, which just is a testament to my audience. There’s not a lot of grillers. Sub Pop Records just sponsored one episode so that was cool.
GM: And another thing that sets your show apart is you don’t just get the usual suspects as guests, the comics who make the rounds to all the podcasts. You get them, you get well-known comics, you get unknown comics we’re learning about, musicians, writers, friends, family and your fans. And they’re all, in large part due to your conversations with them, fascinating.
MM: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing about people. Everybody’s got a story once they relax a little bit. My dad doesn’t even know he’s on the show.
GM: (laughs) You don’t tell him?
MM: No. He doesn’t know how to listen to it, so he has no idea.
GM: I guess his patients don’t know about it, either.
MM: I don’t know. His patients are primarily drug addicts so I would think they’d be listening but I don’t know. (chuckles)
GM: WTF is primarily a show about comedy, and a lot of your listeners are comedy nerds, but you’ve got that extra element where you can talk to anybody and it’s just fascinating.
MM: Thank you, Guy.
GM: You’re doing a live episode here. One of your monthly live ones, right?
GM: Do you have a preference: live or one-on-one?
MM: They’re different animals, you know? Live shows are basically a panel show; people on stage being funny. Don’t expect the same level of intimacy. And I think in a lot of the live shows we’re all playing for laughs. So it’s very different. I like doing them once or twice a month. I like both of them, but I like the longer conversations.