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

In the fourth season of the IFC show <em>Maron, </em>Marc Maron's character becomes addicted to opioids and loses his house, cats and podcast.
Tyler Golden
In the fourth season of the IFC show Maron, Marc Maron's character becomes addicted to opioids and loses his house, cats and podcast.

Things are going well for Marc Maron. He has a new comedy special; he has interviewed both President Obamaand Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels on his podcast, WTF ; and his IFC show, Maron,is in its fourth season.

But on his TV show, the fictional version of Maron is hitting rock bottom. After 16 years of sobriety, Maron's character relapses this season and ends up living in a storage unit.

The comic has had his own struggles with addiction, and he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that acting out his own fictional relapse was both challenging and terrifying. Relapse "is a very real problem and a very real fear of mine," he explains. "I'm glad it happened in fiction and not in real life."

Maron says that while he is grateful for his personal and professional successes, much of his onstage persona is built on anxiety, self-hatred and anger. "My comfort zone is uncomfortable, and it has been my entire life," he says. "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."

Interview Highlights

On how his experience compares to that of his character, who becomes addicted to opioids and loses his house, cats and podcast

At the time that I was having drug problems, I did not have that much to lose. 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. ...

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. ... 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. [My character is] 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 still keeping it together. I think that's a very real thing that happens when you get that strung out.

On his own experience getting sober

I was sort of in and out for years. It took me like 24, 25 years to get the 16 [years of sobriety] in a row that I have, because that never really locked in.

The last bottom I guess I hit, the real one, was I was in an awkward marriage. 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 lying in bed next to a sleeping woman with my heart pounding, just really wanting to die. ... I had 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 really had resigned myself to failure and to hopelessness.

That was ... '98, '99 — I'm coming up on 17 years. I met somebody — a woman who just happened to be beautiful and stunning and sober and a fan — who kind of reached out and said, "I can get you to meetings. I can get you help." I don't know if I really wanted to get sober, but I wanted to be with her. So it worked out, kind of.

On deciding to portray a 12-step program on the show

It took a long time for me even to sort of engage with the structure of the program. It's a little dicey dealing with the program publicly because there is 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. ...

However anyone takes this in — how I captured rehab and that experience — 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. ... I am no spokesman for the program, and I'm only affiliated in that it helped me get sober and continues to.

On 12-step program adages

The adages and the little sayings — the repetition of them — I think we exaggerated a bit, but it's certainly a reality and I do think that some of them, they help you. ...

The classic one is "one day at a time." As trite as it may seem, it's a very powerful idea 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 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 "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.

On talking about his relationships less in his comedy

I've definitely recalibrated in terms of respecting other people's boundaries. ... I used to do it onstage and certainly on the podcast ... And then what happened ... was that they weren't part of the dialogue. They would hear it — it would go out to half a million people — and then someone would come up to them and say, "I heard you guys are having a hard time," or "I heard about that problem." And they were like, "What are you doing?"

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. Unless I was going to put her on the air or make the show different — not something that she wanted to do — I had to really take that in and process the lack of respect in the one-sidedness of that dialogue. So I became very careful about it.

I don't really know how to handle being OK.

On reconciling his current success with his anxious, self-hating onstage persona

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 things are going well. The work you're doing is relevant; you're making an honest buck; you're saving a little money. A lot of the things that were so out of reach are now happening and you feel a little more confident and a little more self-assured. ...

This is a very immediate problem. ... I got to write new comedy and I feel myself doing things instinctively to make myself uncomfortable. Like, I'm overeating, I'm judging myself harshly — it's almost like I have to write this new comedy so I'm figuring out how do I get myself into some chaos and into some self-hatred. But I'm not consciously doing that, it's just happening; and I'm watching the pattern and I'm fighting it.

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