Maron was always working. He pitched some TV shows: one where he was a strip-mall lawyer, one where he was a "renegade chef," one where he was a director who'd won an Oscar for Best Short Film but screwed up and moved back home to start a wedding-video company. But he had a knack for torpedoing his own career, with a poorly timed joke or a surly refusal to play ball – like the time he met with NBC about a late-night talk show, and the executive asked him what kind of stuff he'd like to talk about, and he said, "You know – drugs, abortion . . ."
In 2004, Maron took a job on the fledgling liberal radio network Air America, excoriating the right on his morning show. But after butting heads with network executives, Maron was fired, brought back, fired, brought back, and fired again. "But if none of that happened," he says, "I wouldn't have gotten the podcast."
Maron likes to joke that he busted his ass in clubs for 25 years, and the thing that made him famous was bullshitting in his garage with his friends – and he's not wrong. Before the podcast, Maron says, "I'd ruined a marriage or two. I was known to be bitter and hostile and pompous and a bunch of other things that were probably true. But once I started talking to people, I evolved a capacity I never had before, which was to be an empathetic listener. I still step on people a lot, and I interrupt them with my own bullshit. But I was a better person. I was humbled."
Maron isn't all better. For instance, he still resents Jon Stewart. "I guess they call it a bête noire," he says. "He was my fuckin' enemy. Because I thought I could be him. We're both middle-class Jews, my family's from Jersey, I'm a smart guy too. . . . He'd be on TV, on the cover of magazines and shit, I'd be walking down the street and see his fucking mug, always smirking. He seemed so calculated and ambitious. In my mind, I was a rebel, and he was just a fuckin' phony. One time in Boston he walked in when I was onstage and I was like, 'Look, it's Jon Stewart, host of MTV's Spring Break. How's it feel to have sucked Satan's cock?' I was just relentlessly envious and angry at him."
Not long ago, Maron reached out to mend the fence. "I'm thinking, 'I'll have him on my show, I'll apologize, it'll be a great episode.'" He phoned Stewart's office and got a call back from Stewart himself. "He's like, 'Hey, Marc, it's Jon Stewart.' And I'm like, 'Hey, man, I know you don't really do interviews, but we have a history, and it would be great if you could be a guest.' And he's like, 'Why would I do that? I don't know if you remember what a dick you were to me. I'm not actively angry at you, but there's no love here.' And then he said the most condescending thing, but it was brilliant. He put me in my place. He said, 'Look, I've always thought you were very creative, and I'm sure whatever you're doing is nice. And if you wanna have coffee, I might be willing to do that.' I have not called him back."
Looking back, Maron has no illusions about his missteps. "If you're arrogant like that, people just want to see you fail," he says. "But if you're tempered by the struggle, it's like, now you're just cranky. People can root for that. I'm not a superstar. I'm not Louis C.K. But I've found my little thing – and that's a great place to end up."
This story is from the September 13th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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