Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron has been known to cultivate deeper relationships with his fans than many other stand-up comics. Much of this is because of Maron’s extensive transmedia representations (in other words, how he’s portrayed through various nonfiction and fiction texts). See, for example, Maron’s podcast, stand-up act, blog, collection of biographical essays, autobiographical TV series on IFC, and active social media accounts.
Maron also cultivates intimacy with his fans because his transmedia representations lay bare literary theorist Kenneth Burke’s “equipment for living” theory. In short, all of Marc Maron’s work functions as therapy; as such, it demands a response.
Equipment for Living
In his essay “Literature as Equipment for Living,” Kenneth Burke believes that artists create as a way of coming to terms with difficulties in their own lives. By creating a novel or a film or a podcast, the artist confronts and resolves personal challenges. We can see this, for example, with Steven Spielberg. In this 60 Minutes interview, the filmmaker comes to terms with his mother’s affair and father’s absence through characters in his own films (here’s the transcript).
But more obviously than Spielberg, Marc Maron creates his art to confront and resolve the challenges and anxieties he faces: jealousy of other comics, anger about his relationship with his father, guilt over romantic breakups. And this way of processing and making sense of the world encourages an intimacy with his fans that, say, the transmedia representations of comedians like Dane Cook or Sarah Silverman, do not. But first, a bit of background…
Marc Maron 101
In 2009, career stand-up comic Marc Maron launched his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, from his Los Angeles garage. The podcast, which currently averages 3 million downloads per month, led to other ventures. In April 2013, the comedian released Attempting Normal, a collection of biographical essays. The following month, IFC aired Maron, a series based on the comic’s life that critics have labeled “fictional-but-totally-autobiographical.”
In addition to podcasting, authoring, acting, and directing, Maron performs stand-up comedy nearly every week in the U.S., is extremely active on Twitter, and joined Instagram a couple of months ago. In short, because of these various platforms and the information disclosed therein, some fans of Marc Maron claim to know more about him than their own families.
To an extent, I am among these fans. I have listened to many of Maron’s podcasts, I’ve read his book, I’ve seen every episode of Maron, I’ve experienced his stand-up in person, and I’ve talked with him at least three times on Twitter: once, for a class in which I taught an episode of Maron, the other two times as I was preparing this essay.
Maron in the Details
Because of all this, I do feel as though I “know” Marc Maron better than other stand-up comics I favor like Wanda Sykes, Ray Romano, Kevin Hart, or Jim Gaffigan. But it’s not just my familiarity with Maron’s work; it’s also the way the work so noticeably lays bare Burke’s “equipment for living.”
For example, unless one truly studies (or writes an in-depth news story on) Steven Spielberg’s films, one will not notice that the director creates motion pictures as a way to work through his own daddy issues. The same thing goes for a Taylor Swift song. Sure, we know Swift’s lyrics may be a response to a current love or a previous breakup, but we don’t generally know the intimate details of that situation: names involved, exact conversations, sexual habits.
Maron, however, relishes in details. He uses all of his work as therapy. For the most part, we are the analyst; he is the patient. Sometimes, this is reversed through his podcast conversations: guests like comedian Carlos Mencia and actor Melanie Lynsky are the patients, and Maron and we become the therapists.
Either situation produces an honesty and a rawness—two words often used to describe Maron—which encourage, or perhaps force, a deep camaraderie with fans.
The Podcast: Form and Word Choice
Returning to Kenneth Burke’s “equipment for living” theory, which John McGowan nicely explains in his 2003 pragmatist project, Burke proposes that an artist creates to come to terms with difficulties in his or her own life. As my video indicates, Maron’s coming to terms with things is most heightened in his podcast’s monologues, which usually run about 15 minutes. Specifically, we can see this in the podcast’s form and Maron’s word choices.
Unlike his TV series, biographical essays, and Twitter, Maron’s podcast has no cap on time or space. He can confront and potentially resolve issues all he wants, and he does. It is in the monologue and sometimes in conversations with his guests that Maron lays bare his feelings about religion, addiction to Nicorette gum, flying, music and poetry, being a “shitty person,” and his father or former girlfriend. Fans listen as the comic grapples with his fears, shortcomings, and anxieties.
In addition to making the most of the podcast’s form, Maron comes to terms with things by talking to listeners as though they are in the room with him, and as though he knows them. Take the first example in my video. He begins with, “Some of you guys know my dad…”
Well, no, we don’t really know Maron’s dad. But because Maron discusses his father on the podcast, in his book, on his TV series (Judd Hirsch), and via tweets, we know plenty about his views on his dad—a surgeon who was never at home during Maron’s childhood and whose absence theoretically made him a hypochondriac. So in essence, we do have a relationship with Maron’s dad, one-sided that it is.
Finally, adding to this intimacy, honesty, and rawness is the way the listener receives this information. Maron confronts and resolves personal challenges via his podcast, which is then transmitted to the listener through earbuds. To this end, Marc Maron is literally in our heads.
This is only one part of Kenneth Burke’s “equipment for living” theory. The other part is that by engaging with an artist’s work, readers or viewers also “come to terms” with difficulties in their own lives.
Generally, this is a symbolic action, according to Burke. For example, a fictional character like Hamlet or Seinfeld’s George Constanza or Scandal’s Olivia Pope may serve as a surrogate for our own issues of guilt, jealousy, and/or stupidity. By watching them pay the price for us, we purge our guilt vicariously.
Maron, however, tends to take the symbolic and make it literal. In so doing, others who engage with him often choose to do the same. And like Maron, they’re unafraid to share.