Marc Maron, Stewart Lee, Hari Kondabolu and the WTF Podcast
For those of you who have followed my comedy career, or at least this blog, you'll know that I am a giant fan of British comedian Stewart Lee. He is one of the sharpest, most deliberate and courageous comics I have ever heard and his work has made me rethink a lot of my approach to stand-up. I can honestly say that one of the biggest gifts from my time studying in London was being introduced to Stewart Lee's comedy. (And a special thanks to my friend Bernard Keenan for that!) All this being said, you can imagine my excitement when Marc Maron told me that he was going to interview Stewart in London last month for his WTF Podcast.
I had first suggested Marc interview Stewart when I opened for him at the SF Punchline last October. Marc seemed interested in the idea, though he admitted he knew very little about him or about British comedy, in general. I had been in London the previous December for my LSE graduation when I saw Stewart work out some new pieces during one his "Scrambled Egg" shows at the Hen and Chickens. He had graciously bought me a beer before the show and allowed me pick his brains about his comedic philosophies, career and even about the background of certain pieces on his DVDs. He was just as articulate, thoughtful and funny off-stage as he was during his show an hour later.
The whole experience reminded me of years earlier when Marc Maron bought coffee for an anxiety-riddled 20 year old version of me at the Olive Tree Cafe above the legendary Comedy Cellar in New York. I had picked Marc's brain about doing a solo show, developing an act and what it would take for someone to realistically make a career of stand-up comedy. After Marc started WTF, I knew the two of them had a lot of talk about since they were both comedians who have made a career out of honest, thought-provoking art that challenged audiences, perhaps to the detriment of their economic well beings. After months of pestering him, the day had finally arrived and it was well worth the wait. You can listen to the episode here: http://wtfpod.libsyn.com/episode_98_stewart_lee
I grew up in New York City and most of my early experiences with comedy were going to shows at the Comedy Cellar. The Cellar would offer free passes during the weekdays and all you would have to do is pay for 2 drinks. For the price of 2 sodas, me and my highschool friends watched the biggest comedians in the country showcase their newest material. It was amazing...and I was mesmerized to see comedy live and up-close. Marc was always my favorite comic during these early shows because he made me question what I thought stand-up comedy had to be. In addition to the constant racism, sexism, homophobia that seems to part and parcel with the form (especially in the various mainstream basements we perform in), it seemed important that the comedian not be too thoughtful. If you were too thoughtful, you would kill any shot of making people laugh. You covered the surface. Don't dig too deep because you'll confuse people, alienate them or find a flaw in whatever flimsy logic you put forward. He was evidence to me that you could do more with the form and of course, when his record "Not Sold Out," I listened to it repeatedly and with a fine-toothed comb. The record was one I treated as a "How to..."
I first met Marc when I was a student at Wesleyan University during my study-away from Bowdoin College (I went from Maine to Connecticut). I had convinced a professor in a Sociology class about Popular Culture to let me write about stand-up and I used this as a way to talk to comedians and understand what a career in stand-up comedy looked like. Marc let me interview him over the phone and answered questions more honestly than I ever imagined. After the chat, I listened to my cassette tape over and over. I was amazed that he let me interview him and confused as to why he was so open about his career being where it was at it was at that point.
Now...with all that being said...you can imagine how cool it was to be asked to appear on a live taping of WTF this past April at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Oregon.
Photo by Morgan Murphy
There's a mental adjustment comics have to make when they've reached a point in their careers when they are performing alongside those they looked up to as young comedy fans. Your comedic heroes become your colleagues and sometimes, your friends. You are still in awe of their abilities, but they're more complete people now. I treat this podcast as a personal milestone. You can listen to it here:
On the episode, I confronted Marc about the dynamic of some of our interactions, as well as him claiming I do "an Indian version" of him, which he finds "flattering" from WTF, ep. 49 with Kumail Nanjiani. He was a good sport about letting me say what I said during the podcast and was quite kind afterwards.
In fact, here is a text exchange Maron I had in Portland the day after our WTF "discussion":
Marc: Stewart lee just texted me that he finds u annoying.
Hari: That's funny. Stewart Lee told me that he thinks you do a Jewish version of him which he finds flattering.
Marc: You were funny last nite. Maybe we should travel together.
You don't mind selling my merch do you?
Hari: Only if you're selling copies of the American version of "Never Mind the Buzzcocks."
Marc: Those are collectible. Hard to find. Cult stuff. Maybe u could put a dvd together of all your killer sets.
We can sell that.
You don't have to fill the whole dvd.
12 to 15 mins is fine.
Hari: I'm currently at a store called House of Vintage. Will I find your career in here?
Marc: No but you could find some clothes that look like mine. Is that why you are there?
Hari: Sorry for the late reply. Stopped giving a shit.
Marc: That was a hurtful out. Stop stealing my angle.
Btw. Word on the street is you're 'difficult to work with.'
There's nothing wrong with pursuing writing.
Hari: You win.
Marc: Thank god. I'm exhausted.
Hari: Want to join me and my friends for a drink? We're at Mulligan's. 3518 Hawthorne.