LOS ANGELES - If you want to know how a comedian behaves in a confessional, just listen to the podcast "WTF With Marc Maron."
Maron got Onion writer Todd Hanson to talk about his bouts with depression and a suicide attempt. Dave Foley shared how alimony payments for his first marriage destroyed his second one. Norm Macdonald admitted he has gone broke three times because of a gambling addiction. And in January, Todd Glass came out of the closet.
"That's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but you made it pretty easy to do, with just the right amount of compassion and jokes," Glass said in a late-night phone message to Maron after the show. "I would have never fathomed that, after all these years, it would have been you that helped me do this."
In short: Maron was once despised by his peers. As popular as he was with audiences -- he's made more appearances on Conan O'Brien than any other stand-up -- Acme Comedy Co. owner Louis Lee banned Maron from his Minneapolis club.
"He upset a lot of comics," said Lee, who took the unusual step after observing the comedian's boorish behavior at a festival where he ran way over his allotted time and talked loudly from the audience when others were on stage. "He was not real friendly to people."
"Before the podcast, I was not a draw. I was a difficult personality," said Maron. "I didn't realize I was there to be pleasant, perhaps build an audience. I was like, 'I'm here. Let's freaking do this. What do you mean I can't do two hours? I don't care if the waitress is mad at me.' That's changed. I've grown up a bit."
Maron's talent was never in question. For 25 years, he's been one of the most unpredictable, gutsiest, thought-provoking comics on the circuit. But he was going to the deep end for the wrong reasons.
"I'm not sure my anger and my edge was something I decided upon," he said, opening up about his neuroses, his addictions and his self-loathing in an otherwise empty hallway of a Los Angeles hotel. "I was genuinely an angry guy. I was genuinely afraid of my audiences and needed to push their buttons to make me feel like I was getting through. My material was overly provocative because that's what I was feeding on."
He could also be a tyrant to his fellow comics. The Onion's Hanson, who has known Maron since 2000, was such a fan, he found himself overlooking his friend's flaws.
"People would say that he's obviously a really tortured guy and a real asshole, but he's a real genius so that made up for him," Hanson said. "I think Marc and I have both grown up enough now to realize that if you're an asshole, being a genius doesn't make up for it."
Maron said a bitter divorce, going broke and not being able to secure gigs led to rock bottom. He dealt with his alcohol and drug addictions, hosted a short-lived game show on VH1 and had his own program from 2004-05 on Air America Radio. But it was the launch of the podcast in 2009 that really turned things around.
The shows are taped twice a week, usually at Maron's house. Basically, he pours out the details of his personal life and then gets guests such as Robin Williams and Bill Maher to do the same. It is frequently No. 1 on the iTunes comedy chart.