Comedian Marc Maron On Sobriety And Managing His 'Uncomfortable' Comfort Zone The comic recently played out his own fictional relapse on his IFC show, Maron. He says relapse is "a very real fear of mine. I'm glad it happened in fiction and not in real life."
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Marc Maron On Sobriety And Managing His 'Uncomfortable' Comfort Zone

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Marc Maron On Sobriety And Managing His 'Uncomfortable' Comfort Zone

Marc Maron On Sobriety And Managing His 'Uncomfortable' Comfort Zone

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARON")

MARC MARON: (As Marc Maron) All right, everybody, before we get to today's interview, I think it's time to address the pink elephant in the room.

GROSS: That's comic and podcaster Marc Maron playing a fictionalized version of himself in the first episode of the new season of his IFC series, "Maron." The elephant in the room his character is referring to is his addiction to Oxy, the opioid pain medication which his character started taking last season for back pain. Because of the addiction, he's lost everything. He could no longer afford his home, so he's living in a storage unit. And he hasn't done his podcast in over a year.

In that clip, he's actually just talking into his cell phone alone in his storage unit. Eventually, his friends stage an intervention and Maron goes to rehab, and the season unfolds from there. The real Marc Maron is famous for his autobiographical, confessional comedy and for his podcast, "WTF," in which he talks about his life and interviews a guest comic, actor or musician. Last year, President Obama traveled to Maron's garage, where Maron records his interviews, and did a long interview for the podcast.

Let's hear a scene from the first episode of this season of "Maron." Maron goes to a bar to find two of his old friends, who are also comics - Dave Anthony and Andy Kindler. He wants to get Louis C.K.'s phone number from them so he can convince Louis to do an interview that will help him revive his podcast. But Maron is still addicted to Oxy and his friends have had it with him. Maron speaks first.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARON")

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Long time.

DAVE ANTHONY: (As Dave Anthony) Not long enough.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Andy.

ANDY KINDLER: (As Andy Kindler) Hey, how have you been, Marc? I ask that rhetorically because I know you haven't been doing well.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) It's all right. How are my cats doing?

KINDLER: (As Andy Kindler) Monkey is mean and LaFonda (ph) is terrifying.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) I know, right? Sometimes...

KINDLER: (As Andy Kindler) Yeah.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) ...I miss them. Thanks for watching them for me.

ANTHONY: (As Dave Anthony) So why are you here? You done destroying your life yet?

MARON: (As Marc Maron) No, not yet. It's a work in progress. But thanks for asking.

KINDLER: (As Andy Kindler) Where you living? You got a place?

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Yeah, I've got a - I'm in a - like a studio apartment situation.

ANTHONY: (As Dave Anthony) I heard it was like a storage unit? Is that...

MARON: (As Marc Maron) ...It's multi-purpose, all right? It's like an artist colony, OK? Look, I'm trying to get ahold of Louis, all right? I'm trying to get ahold of him, but I think I have an old phone number or something. Can you guys just give me his new number? Can you just - come on, man, it's for my career.

ANTHONY: (As Dave Anthony) You know, I - I don't know, I'd have to check with him first.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) This is [expletive], man.

ANTHONY: (As Dave Anthony) No, Marc. You know what's [expletive]? It's you getting hooked on drugs and then you burning your friends over and over and over...

MARON: (As Marc Maron) ...Yeah, well, you suck. You suck, too.

GROSS: OK, that's a scene from the opening episode of this season of "Maron." Marc Maron, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Great to talk with you again. So...

MARON: ...It's so nice to talk to you, Terry.

GROSS: I have to tell you I found the opening episode very upsetting - just, like, seeing you so strung out and seeing how your personality is changed by the drugs and the desperation to get more money to buy more drugs. And I know that there was a period in your past where you had drug problems and that you've been, you know, sober for a long time. And in showing us this version of you it's like, oh - it was just upsetting to me to see you that way because, you know, I kind of come on board in your career and certainly in interviewing you once you're sober. So what was it like for you to go back to that? To that version of yourself, which I assume was what you drew on?

MARON: Well, I - at the time that I was having drug problems, I did not have that much to lose. And I was a little more managing of the issues than the character in the show. And I was a younger man. So I did not get as far down as this character did, but my first experience with rehab and with having that happen in my life - I remember it. And I certainly did not approach it the same way this guy would. Like, I see a lot of people - being in recovery, you do see people relapse with long-term sobriety, and it's horrifying.

So what I did with this was I just really played it as straight as I could and really felt what I thought would be what one would feel. There's a certain denial that comes over you when you are in a relationship with drugs where you justify that things really aren't as bad as they appear, that - I'm living in a storage unit.

And somehow, the way I played it was because of the drugs, there was part of me that had to think that I was, you know, still keeping it together. And I think that was - that's a really real thing that happens when you get that strung out.

GROSS: But did you find yourself, like, drawing on mannerisms that you remembered from when you were using drugs or, you know, ways you'd express anger or frustration?

MARON: Sure. But I think they were more - when I used drugs, I was younger. It was mostly weed and coke and booze. And, you know, I'd sort of mix it up. I was never really an opiates guy.

GROSS: So was it at all kind of frightening to go to this place where the character who's based on you has been, you know, sober for 16 years and now he's kind of addicted to painkillers? I mean, the thought of losing that sobriety must be pretty scary. And you had to put yourself in that position to play the character.

MARON: It's horrifying. It's horrifying. It's one of the - it is really the essence of what keeps me sober, in some respects. There - you have to have a very real terror and fear of drugs and alcohol on some level to stay sober. I think that the core of it is really knowing in your heart and in your mind that you cannot use those things, you know, safely or with any control whatsoever. And that's buried pretty deep in my mind. But again, I've seen what happened in the show happen to people. And coming out of the last season, it was sort of an epiphany to do this season like this. It wasn't planned at the end of last season when I relapsed on drugs. But I think for me, it's a cautionary tale...

GROSS: ...I just want to keep saying your character relapsed on drugs. You didn't (laughter).

MARON: I did not. It was...

GROSS: ...For the people tuning in in the middle of this. Yeah.

MARON: Some people were very concerned about it 'cause the first three seasons were so tied to my life. And then at the end of season three, you know, I get a back injury. And then I slip on drugs. And that is what happens. So exploring this, for me, was really - it was - I guess, I don't know if cautionary tale is the right word for it.

But it was something - this season is actually more real emotionally, I think, than the seasons that were based on my actual life because I was able to explore the possibility of this thing with some knowledge of what would happen and what life would look like. And also that by humbling me like this in this season and making me - it's humiliating and it's embarrassing.

And I've got nothing to lose anymore. And I've got nothing, literally. It was really interesting for me, as an actor, to work from that place 'cause I'm not really an actor. And I think I've gotten better over the seasons. But this was really challenging, and it was this completely fictional landscape that is a very real problem and a very real fear of mine.

So it was very - it was exciting and sad. But, like, I'm glad it happened in a fiction and not in real life, you know what I'm saying, Terry?

GROSS: I know what you're saying, Marc.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So what point was your career at when you started doing drugs?

MARON: Well, it was a...

GROSS: When you started doing drugs and it became a problem 'cause you (laughter), yeah...

MARON: Oh, it was a sad time. You know, like, the first time I got sober was 19 like '87, '88 - it was '88. And, yeah, I'd been in Hollywood as a 23 - 22, 23-year-old. I got, you know, really out of control on coke. And I went back home to - I was in Hollywood for a year and I went back home to New Mexico. And I got sober that first time in an actual rehab.

And then, like, I was sort of in and out for years, you know? It took me, like, 24, 25 years to get the 16 in a row that I have 'cause that never really locked in. But the last bottom, I guess, I hit - the real one was, you know, I was in an awkward marriage. You know, I was using cocaine and drinking behind my wife's back.

And I would go on the road. And it was getting ugly. And I really just was laying in bed, you know, next to a sleeping woman with my heart pounding just really, you know, wanting to die. And my career was, you know, I'd surrendered to the idea that I was not going to be a big comic, I was not going to have a TV career.

I was doing segments for a regional show in New York on something called the Metro Channel. And I'd really sort of resigned myself to failure and to hopelessness. And then - so that was like, when would that have been, '98, '99? I think I got - you know, I'm coming up on 17 years.

So, yeah, I met somebody - a woman - who just happened to be beautiful and stunning and sober and a fan who, you know, kind of reached out and said, you know, I can get you to meetings, I can get you help. And, you know - and I don't know if I really wanted to get sober. But I wanted to be with her. So it worked out (laughter) kind of.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Marc Maron and his new season, season four, of his series "Marion" is on IFC. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is comic Marc Maron. And his series "Maron" on IFC is in the middle of its fourth season. He plays a version of himself. He plays somebody named Marc Maron, who, like the real Marc Maron, is a comic and has a podcast in which he interviews other comics and writers and musicians and actors.

But in this season, the character of Maron is trying to stay sober because he's gotten addicted to opioids after hurting his back. And so in this season, he goes through rehab and then tries to transition out of that back into life.

So I want to play another scene from this season. And this is in the second episode. You're in rehab now. There's been an intervention. You're in rehab. You've just gone through detox, so the drugs are out of your system. And you're having your first meeting with the sobriety counselor. You're in the counselor's office. You're wearing a hospital gown. And the counselor, played by Craig Anton, speaks first.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARON")

CRAIG ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) OK, here's your stuff. It's better luggage than I had when I came in here. All my clothes were packed into small 7-Eleven bags (laughter). Look at me now, though. So nothing changes if nothing changes, right?

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Yeah, I guess. Can we just get through this? I'm a little wiped out.

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) I get it. You're embarrassed. You feel like crap. So has everyone else who sat in that chair. Everyone here has been where you are or worse. Before I came here, my situation was dark - real dark.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Really?

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) Oh yeah. I used to live with my mom, man - on her couch. Grown man living on his mom's couch, drinking every day, watching cartoons - some dark, dark times.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Wow. I had no idea it was possible to be an addict and to be really boring.

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) Sure, start attacking. Do whatever you can to avoid your feelings, but feelings are not facts, Marc.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Jesus, I'm not avoiding my feelings. I'm just tired. I just detoxed. I want to lay down.

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) OK. I'm going to give you some stuff to read. Look, you may think this is the worst day of your life, but it's actually the best day of your life.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Look, I'm not some 20-year-old, OK? I've been through this before. I know all the sayings.

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) OK - so cards on the table. I know more about you than my usual patient. I followed your stand-up, I listened to your podcast, so I know you.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Why would you tell me that?

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) Because the honesty in your podcasting - I think it's important. And I think it'd be helpful to show the podcasting world that you're sober and back.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) No. No, man.

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) Talking about it is a big part of sobriety. You know that. Let it out.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) I'm not doing my podcast.

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) Oh, no, that's not what I meant. I do a recovery podcast. It's called Let Go and Let Pod. I would love to have you on as a guest. It's a good time to talk.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Yeah, and a bad time to be stupid. I want to go. Can you tell me my room number?

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) Nine.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) You're not going to tell me?

ANTON: (As sobriety counselor) It's Room 9.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: The scene from Marc Maron's series, "Maron." Let Go and Let Pod has to be one of the worst titles ever. I love that you came up with that.

MARON: (Laughter) We were so excited about that dumb nine joke. (Laughter) You know, he would speak German for a second.

GROSS: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MARON: It just came up on...

GROSS: It's very Mel Brooks (laughter).

MARON: Yeah. It just came up on the set. Jim and Michael Jamin came up with it. And I could - we could not stop laughing about it. It was - like, it was one of those jokes where he just, you know, thought of it on the spot, not even to put in the show, just because that's the way his brain works. It's a very quick kind of - yeah, Mel Brooks-y type of joke. And I was like, let's just do it. We're having so many laughs. We did the joke, like, three or four times and everybody cracked up the same every time. We're like, let's just put it in.

GROSS: So there's all these, like, you know, kind of sayings that the counselor has, like nothing changes if nothing changes, feelings are not facts...

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: You may not think - you may think this is the worst ever life, but it's really the best day of your life. And the funny thing about all those statements is, like, they're - embedded in all those horrible cliches are actual truths (laughter).

MARON: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So can you talk a little bit about what it's been like for you in the past in rehab to - as somebody who's kind of, like, allergic to cliche - what it was like for you to get, like, these truths that come packaged in these, like, horrible cliches?

MARON: Well, it took a long time for me, you know, even to sort of engage with the structure of the program. And - you know, and it's a little dicey dealing with the program publicly because there is, you know, part of the traditions of the program that say that you shouldn't deal with it publicly. But it was my belief that if it was handled with some subtlety and with some respect - that it would not be demeaning to the program. And it would actually raise awareness.

You know, I had no - I'll get around to what you're asking me. But, you know, I didn't really - we didn't really take into consideration too deeply the fact that there is a horrendous opioid, you know, epidemic going on with addiction and these things. So it was just sort of some sort of, you know, weird coincidence that this was the narrative of the show. So I really wanted to make sure that the way we captured this thing, even in all of its seeming - not - like, there is something hackneyed about those adages. But when you're new in sobriety, eventually one or two of them will stick and actually become helpful.

That's the odd thing about those silly sayings is that he's reeling many of them off. But in my early sobriety, you know, once you sort of understand these things, they're very small packages that can reveal fairly large habits and thoughts that could help you. And however anyone takes this in, how I captured rehab and that experience - see, I've already gotten a lot of emails from people who are either in the program or need the program that really kind of responded in a positive way to it. The adages and the little sayings were just - the repetition of them, I think, we exaggerated a bit. But it's certainly a reality and I do think that some of them will actually will - they help you. They actually help you. Like, I make fun of it, but eventually, you know, a couple of them will stick with you. And you hate saying them. And you hate hearing them said, but the ideas behind them are solid.

GROSS: Would it be crossing a line to ask which ones work for you?

MARON: No. You know, there's - let's see. Well, the classic one is sort of - is one day at a time, which, you know, as trite as it may seem is a very powerful idea if you, you know - if you tend to be filled with panic and dread and you're projecting a future that is horrible or you don't understand how you're going to stay sober, you know, in a week or two weeks or a year or anything else - to really somehow pound it into your head that all you have is today and that that one day at a time business is a very sound philosophical and practical way to look at life because it keeps you in the present, you know, not so horrible.

First things first is another one that really is about, you know, putting your sobriety before anything else because everything else will follow if you can do - if you sort of keep a priority around staying clean. I mean, there is sort of a genius to the simplicity of it all because it is designed to work for really anybody that is capable of cognitive thinking.

GROSS: Were you in a program that emphasized a higher power? And did that work for you?

MARON: Sure. Well, yeah. I mean, you know, the higher power is part of it. But the genius of it is that it's, you know - it's of your own decision, of your own understanding. And that's a lot of leeway, Terry (laughter).

GROSS: Yeah.

MARON: So, you know, how you behave spiritually is really up to you. I personally - and this is where it gets a little tricky in being publicly sober - is, like, I am no spokesman for the program. And, you know, I'm only affiliated in that it helped me get sober and continues to. But it's really of your own decision. And, you know, and what you - really, the trick of it - the trick of the higher power and the idea of that type of thinking is really to get it hammered into your head that you are powerless certainly over your addiction - and in most other things.

And if you can live with the anxiety of knowing that without some sort of spiritual connection, then that's the way you're going to do it. If having some spiritual connection makes you feel better in that powerlessness, then you're free to do that as well. They're all suggestions. They're not rules.

GROSS: Right. So can I ask you what you used as a higher power? Or do - we...

MARON: Sure. I mean, like, for me, like, really - it was really that there's another cute saying that I heard in the rooms that is not a program saying. But it was God doesn't wake up and think he's you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARON: So - you know, like, so it was more humor for me than anything else. And, you know, certainly the group itself or the program itself can function as a higher power. And then just sort of, like, you know, understanding some kind of universal order that, you know - I do have faith in people. And I have faith that things are going keep going. I am very vague about a sense of God actively in my life.

You know, I have, at different points in my life, prayed, certainly at the beginning of my sobriety. You know, it was recommended that you get on your knees and pray to something. And I did that because that act of - I found that the act of humbling yourself - there was something very emotional about the act of praying. Whether or not I believed or not didn't seem to really matter. And I sort of keep it vague like that. I don't have a relationship with a higher power or a god, but I do know it's not me.

GROSS: Right (laughter).

My guest is comic Marc maron. His comedy series "Maron" is on the IFC cable channel. After we take a short break, we'll talk about whether he's maintained the anger his comedy has thrived on, even though he's become more successful and is in a relationship. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with comic and podcaster Marc Maron. He has a series on the IFC cable channel called Maron, in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself. When this season opened, his character had become addicted to Oxy, the Opioid pain medication he'd started taking last season for back pain.

He'd lost everything, including his home and was living in a storage unit until friends staged an intervention and got him into rehab. But he doesn't get along with his sobriety counselor and doesn't think he has anything in common with the younger people in the rehab.

In the series "Maron," your character is placed in a group with much younger people - with people mostly in their 20s. And he's in his early 50s. And he feels very kind of offended by it. And there's one session where he's in this group with people in their 20s. Everybody's talking about their problems. And I want to play this scene where he's talking about his problems.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARON")

MARON: (As Marc Maron) I don't want to be condescending to the breakfast club here, but I have, you know, real problems. I'd gotten to the point where I was having sex with a woman who was taking care of a man dying of cancer so I could take his pain pills. I struggled for years, man. I struggled for years to get where I was.

And against all odds, I carved out a career for myself. And I just pissed it all away. You know, I lost my house, burned all my friends. I was living in a storage locker. You know, and now, you know, I've got nothing, nothing. I have nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And, you know - and gluten.

ANTON: (As Chris) Let's not forget, you put together 16 years of sobriety. That's no small feat, my friend, especially to these young people. And maybe that's why your higher power put you right here.

MARON: (As Marc Maron) Yeah, Chris, there's no higher power. That's just some trick we play on ourselves to, you know, give us hope. You know, I - I mean, look, I don't want to do drugs. And, yes, I've been here before. But now it just seems, you know, pointless. Everything seems pointless. I've got nothing. I'm a 52-year-old man, and I've got nothing - no wife, no kids, my cats are, you know, staying somewhere else.

And I had my second chance. I had it. I'm sorry for interrupting. What were you saying about your high school boyfriend moving away? - 'cause that sounds hard.

GROSS: Oh, your character is so condescending to the person...

MARON: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...Who he's describing there who has problems with her high school boyfriend. But it sounds like in that session, that you're determined to, like, win therapy. Do, you know, like, your problems are going to be worse than anybody else's - more important, more sophisticated, more adult, more everything.

MARON: Right, well, that is really - that is something I remember about early sobriety is that you're going to outsmart it. You're going to outsmart - like, there's no way this can help. I'm belligerently sober. You know, you guys think you know what you're talking, but it's pretty stupid and shallow. I was definitely that guy in early sobriety.

I would share at meetings. I would, you know, I'd tell everyone how horrible the program was and how stupid everybody was and that I was furious about everything. And then, you know, that's - there's another saying that's great is, like, after I'd, like, spew this garbage in these meetings at, you know, 10, 15 days, 30 days sober, some old-timer would come up to me and go, you sound great.

You're just where you need to be. You know, and it was like...

(LAUGHTER)

MARON: ...It would be easy for me to think of that as condescending. But what else are they going to say? They're exactly right. I mean, there's, you know, there's no logic. You know, when you have addiction, Terry, you know, it's very hard to explain it to people that don't. It's hard for them to understand it.

But it is a driving force as deep and as essential as eating, you know - which some people are addicted to as well - that if you don't have the bug or the compulsion that kind of takes over your brain and renegotiates everything, you know, to accommodate it, it's hard to really understand it.

But in terms of being condescending and a know-it-all and thinking that, you know, you're better than other people, that is definitely a part of the profile, a pathological self-centeredness. And the fact that there were only young people in this rehab is a very real thing. You know, I had to consult with my sponsor, who's also a licensed therapist and somebody who works at a rehab.

And he says this is a very real thing and a very sad thing, that most of the people in rehab are in their, you know, late teens and early 20s. And they're just inundated with people of that age group because of this Opioid thing. And so we had to figure out a way to play that. It seemed like a very good environment for me to be in to sort of counter the darkness with these great kids, or these younger people, that were in there with me.

GROSS: So one of the things that you do - I mean, you're famous for being so confessional in your comedy and for, you know, really talking about intimate things and people in your life. And you've talked a lot about relationships over the years. And you've had two marriages that fell apart. And you've depicted some of that in your series.

But for the the past, I don't know, two, three years, you've been in a relationship with someone. And that, you know, judging from your podcast, that seems to be going well. And I'm wondering if you've recalibrated your sense of boundaries in talking about your girlfriend in your comedy - like, how personal to get and whether to ask her before saying things if it's OK with her?

MARON: Yeah, I definitely recalibrated in terms of respecting other people's boundaries, I guess, specifically the woman who I'm seeing now who - it's just the day-to-day of it. The issue really becomes that when I used to do it on stage and certainly on the podcast, I would really kind of talk about what was going on. And then what happened - not with Sarah (ph), who I'm seeing now.

But what happened was that they weren't part of the dialogue. And they would hear it, and it would go out to a half a million people. And then, you know, someone would come up to them and say, like, well, yeah, I heard you guys are having a hard time or, like, I heard about that problem. And they were like, what are you doing?

You know, what - like, that it was made very clear to me by my last long-term girlfriend that when that happens, they don't have a voice. There's no other side to it. And unless I was going to, you know, put her on the air or make that show different - not something that she wanted to do - I had to really, you know, take that in and process the lack of respect in the one-sidedness of that dialogue.

So I became, you know, very careful about it. And, you know, I can speak in generalities a bit. But in terms of nuanced and intimate, you know, details about the day-to-day stuff, I realize that it was disrespectful and, at times, hurtful to only have my point of view on those things. So I keep it a bit more vague.

And the relationship I'm in now, she's, you know, incredibly sensitive about that stuff. And it eventually will become an issue, I'm sure. And it has a bit because she takes - she's a visual artist. And she's very earnest. And she takes, you know, things very literally. And so it's very - even if it's relatively harmless, the joke, after I get off stage, she'll go, like, you know, I didn't know you felt that way.

I'm like, it's a bit of an exaggeration. I'm a comedian. She's like, but do you really feel that way? And I'm like, oh, boy. This is a whole new problem. It's not about the joke itself. It's actually about the tone of, you know, what I'm saying, even in something that's not even that detailed. So there's always things to be negotiated.

GROSS: Yeah, well, here's something else I could see with a possibility when you're talking so personally about real people in your life, I think especially if you're, like, a spouse or a girlfriend, or, you know, someone's boyfriend, you want to be the person that your boyfriend or spouse or whatever confides in. You want to be that person who gets all the confidences.

But when I'm a member of your audience, like, I want you to be confiding in me. Like, that's why - one of the things I really value about you as a comic. I feel like you're telling me, your audience, these, like, really personal things that other people don't talk about that we kind of all carry around as little secrets.

But you're making them public, and it's to everybody's good that you're doing that. But I can see it being a conflict - you know what I mean? - like, when you're the person that you want Marc Maron to be confiding in...

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Or when you're the audience that you want Marc Maron to be confiding in.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: Like, if I was your girlfriend, I'd want you to be confiding in me and not the audience.

MARON: Yeah, it's a problem. Well, that as a general note is - that's an ongoing issue in my life, you know, that I have these relationships with my audiences and even my guests who come and go that are, you know, oddly more intimate than my intimate relationship. That's something I sort of have to deal with 'cause I still do that.

Like, you know, there - in my life, I have worked stuff out on stage or had feelings on stage where I've told an audience to really keep it between us. You know...

(LAUGHTER)

MARON: And I've done that many times where I'm like, OK, I'm going to tell you this, but, you know, no tweeting. I don't want it - you know, this stays in the room. And I know, obviously, that that's a tall order. But it's never really backfired on me. And I'm not giving away things that would, you know, necessarily, betray trust in a huge way. But they're just feelings.

I'm sharing feelings that I've not shared publicly before or with my significant other at any given point in time maybe because I've learned that sometimes you've got to let feelings pass, that sometimes, you know, you don't want to talk about everything because sometimes it's crazy and it's abusive or it's unwarranted.

So if I do that as part of my show and everyone gets a laugh or they feel like they're privy to something that's just between me and them, I think everyone gets something out of that. And a lot of times, what I get out of it is I'm glad we dealt with this 'cause now I don't have to screw things up at home.

GROSS: (Laughter) If you're just joining us, my guest is Marc Maron, and we're talking about the fourth season of his IFC series, "Maron," in which the character he plays, and he plays a version of himself, has gotten addicted to painkillers and then goes into rehab. Let's take a short break, and then we'll be back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is comic Marc Maron. And his IFC series "Maron," in which he plays a version of himself, is now in its fourth season. On the whole, it sounds like things have been going really well for you. You know, the podcast is going really well. You have your series in IFC. You're still doing stand-up comedy.

On a recent episode of your podcast, you were nearly apologizing to your audience about how well things were going. And you were talking about how Lin-Manuel Miranda gave you a shoutout when he was exiting the stage of "Hamilton." Lorne Michaels came to see you in the green room when you were doing "The Tonight Show" and sat there and schmoozed with you a while. Do you worry that, like, your persona and your comedy would have to change if you allowed yourself to experience happiness or enjoy success?

MARON: It's not - I wish I had that much control over it. You know, I worry about - like, I don't really know how to handle being OK. You spend a lifetime struggling to get someplace, and then you find your little place. And, you know, things are going well. You know, the work you're doing is relevant. You're making an honest buck. You know, you're saving a little money. A lot of the things that were, you know, so out of reach have now - are now happening and you feel a little more confident and a little more self-assured. And I'm talking about me - I don't mean to be doing in it whatever person I'm doing it in. But I do feel these things.

But my concern is that - not that my persona will change or that I have to do that. But I think I'd like to, but I don't know how, Terry. I don't - like, this is a very, you know, impending or whatever - it's a very immediate problem. Like, this morning, last night - you know, I've got to write new comedy. And, you know, I feel myself doing things, you know, instinctively to make myself uncomfortable. Like, I'm over eating. You know, I'm judging myself harshly. Like, it's almost like I have to write this new comedy.

So I'm figuring out - how do I get myself into some chaos, into some self-hatred? Like, but I'm not consciously doing that. It's just happening. And I'm watching the pattern. And I'm fighting it. I'm like - there's - 'cause, like, last week, I'm, like, there's got to be a place for me to come from with an open heart and with a certain amount of success and a certain amount of peace of mind. I'm wary to say happiness. But then, all of a sudden, you know, how relatable are you, really? Like, hey, things are going really great. But I'm still kind of sad. I mean, who the hell wants to hear that for an hour...

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: ...You know (laughter)? So - which is true, but, you know - how do I do that? You know, how do I do that without not seeming, you know, stupidly self-pitying or, you know, unappreciative? Like, I don't want to be one of those people that, you know, holds onto the things that make me feel, you know, bad about myself in order to keep moving forward. But, like, all those people that, you know, judge, you know, people or just self-destructive artists maintaining that lifestyle in order to be creative - like, I never really bought that until I realized that it's not something you maintain out of choice. It's something that actually happens inside of you, a pattern, an emotional pattern that runs deeper than your consciousness.

So that awareness might yield something funny. But I'm happy to say that I was right - that it's not a choice to maintain. But it's something, well, not unlike addiction that - you know, my comfort zone is uncomfortable. And it has been my entire life. That being sort of anxious and uncomfortable has really been my home base innately. And I don't know how to change that. And that's really the challenge for me now because some part of me wants to appreciate and find some joy and some happiness in life because I'm told it doesn't last forever (laughter).

GROSS: What - life or joy - or both (laughter)?

MARON: Life. Both.

GROSS: OK. Well, this is reminding me - so you have this comedy special that's on EPIX TV.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: And you talk about - you make yourself sound like you're kind of lonely. And you talk about how it's getting hard to sell the 51-year-old dude with two cats as an endearing thing. But the thing is, you've been in this relationship for - I don't know...

MARON: Couple years.

GROSS: ....Two, three years.

MARON: Yeah.

GROSS: And you didn't mention that. And I was wondering why.

MARON: Oh, like, when did I record that? Like, it might have been more towards the beginning of it.

GROSS: Oh, maybe. Yeah.

MARON: And I don't know how I wanted to frame it, you know, because it's, like - it's a little - it's a lot less dramatic than a lot of the relationships I've been in. Like, you know, it's going, you know, pretty well. You know, she has her own life and her own creativity. She does something that, you know, doesn't threaten me creatively. And it's a completely different world, the art world. She's a successful painter.

GROSS: Right. She's a visual artist, yeah.

MARON: Yeah, her name's Sarah Cain. And she's just, like, got her own home. And, you know, it's not far from my home. So we're kind of living a fairly grown-up but, yeah, not dramatic relationship where we seem to have our own personal space and we share this space. And I've got to be honest with you - I do not know how to handle it, you know, without, you know - all this stuff that I'm talking about in terms of my relationship with creativity is the same with my relationship with women in my life. I don't know how to do it without drama and yelling and crying and insanity. This is all new to me.

And I'm just trying to believe and understand that this is really a healthier thing. Like, I have a very hard time with things, you know, just being quiet. Like, if I sit alone, you know, for 10 minutes with nothing happening, you know, which I guess some people would call meditating, I...

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: ...You know, I just lose my mind. I'm, like - how does anyone deal with this horrible silence and awareness that everything's almost over? You know, like - it's just - I do not know how to do it. Like, even if I'm just eating or - like, I will sit down in front of my TV. I'll watch TV. I'll play guitar. And I'll eat, like, at the same time. Like, it's just, like, every...

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: Now - everything's always going all the time. And when it gets really quiet - when I actually have a moment to go, like - wow, let's take a look at the life. Everything's going pretty good. And then within seconds, I'm like, oh, this is so uncomfortable. You know, (laughter) it's just uncomfortable.

GROSS: Yeah, I think meditation is about trying to overcome that feeling (laughter). So...

MARON: I know. I'm going to try to do it. Like, I downloaded an app. I'm set up.

GROSS: Oh, seriously?

MARON: I haven't engaged yet. I was brought through a five-minute meditation the other day. I've tried to do in my life. I understand it. Like, I think I can do it. And I understand there's these amazing benefits to it. But, like, I don't know. By time I try to meditate, I've already had, like, a pot of coffee...

GROSS: (Laughter).

MARON: ...And, you know, three nicotine lozenges. My brain, like, you know - when they say when you, you know, - what is it? When you see thoughts, just visualize them as passing. I'm like - see them? I'm living them. I can't - there's - I can't turn off...

(LAUGHTER)

MARON: Like, you know, I think I want to do things differently. And I want to feel the things that everyone says are so rewarding, you know, like, you know - joy, happiness, being loved and giving love. You know, like, they're all very alien to me. And I'm going to try to make those things happen or at least sit in those things for a little bit of time to see if everyone's telling the truth.

GROSS: It's terrific to talk with you again. And I hope you do end up doing another season, no pressure. Thanks...

MARON: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Thanks for coming back on the show.

MARON: I love talking to you.

GROSS: I love talking with you. Marc Maron's comedy series "Maron" is on IFC. It's in the middle of its fourth season.

Do you find yourself using the expression I feel like. And if not, do you become annoyed when other people do? Coming up, our linguist Geoff Nunberg rises to the defense of I feel like. This is FRESH AIR.

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