NEW YORK — When Marc Maron heard about a role that might be right for him on “GLOW,” a new Netflix comedy about women pro wrestlers in the 1980s, he got busy.
Well, he was already pretty busy as a stand-up comic and the host of a popular interview-based podcast, “WTF.” And he was just wrapping up four seasons as producer, writer and star of “Maron,” a TV comedy largely based on his life.
Now he was bucking for the role of Sam Sylvia, a chain-smoking, washed-up B-movie filmmaker who’s launching a last-ditch project: a bare-bones cable show to feature his so-called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Among the odd-lot GLOW dozen he rounds up are an elfin struggling actress (Alison Brie) and a has-been former soap star (Betty Gilpin). The 10-episode series debuts Friday.
“I know the owners of an eyeglass store up the street from me,” Maron says. “I pictured the character in aviator frames, so I borrowed a pair. I put on a Lacoste shirt and shot an audition scene on my phone.”
“We watched it,” said “GLOW” co-creator Liz Flahive, “and that was it for us. We didn’t even need to bring him in.”
“I don’t THINK I’m that guy,” muses Maron, who during a recent visit to Manhattan isn’t wearing those aviator frames but, instead, his own pair of what he calls “almost-round thinking glasses.”
“Sam Sylvia isn’t fundamentally neurotic and not very self-reflective, which I am — compulsively,” says Maron, teasing out similarities and differences. “But he IS a little grandiose and delusional. I’ve been THERE!
“The way I approached the part,” he sums up, “was to honor the script, listen to the director, and do what I know how to do as an actor the best I can.”
Despite some 30 years in show biz, Maron, 53, readily concedes that his dramatic career is in its infancy.
“But he’s a really good actor,” said Flahive, speaking by phone from Los Angeles. “He has so much depth and humanity, it was a deep well we got to keep drawing from. He has real chops.”
“So much of it was a new experience for me,” Maron says. “For one thing, I’ve never been around that many women! They were writing, behind the camera, all the other positions. And the women in the cast had already been working together for weeks to learn how to wrestle.”
Since “GLOW” is set in the mid-1980s, its female cast members were further taxed by their characters’ attire: unforgiving Jane-Fonda-Workout-era spandex.
“Every other second, they were … readjusting their leotards,” says Maron with genuine concern. “The chore of it!”
The run-down gym with its practice ring stood on an L.A. soundstage that, by odd good fortune, turned out to be near Maron’s Highland Park home — and even more importantly, his garage, from where he continued to originate his twice-a-week podcasts.
When “WTF” began in 2009, Maron’s subjects were primarily fellow comedians. But over time he has applied his conversational style (Maron bares all, so each guest feels safe doing likewise) to a much broader range of invitees, including even President Barack Obama in 2015. Among the most-listened-to podcasts, “WTF” gets more than 6 million downloads each month, according to the website.
As one of the best interviewers in the business, Maron keeps it low-key from start to finish: “The routine is, I meet my guest. They walk through my house. They use my bathroom. We go out back and we do the thing.”
Both his career and his personal life (which includes two failed marriages and a bout with drug abuse) were at a low ebb when he staked his claim as a podcast pioneer. But he realized that a podcast was something he could do on his own, with no investment and no one’s go-ahead, to stay in the game.
“I was desperate. I was like, ‘You’re forty-something, success didn’t happen. Now, how are you gonna survive?’ So I let go of my dreams. That’s when things started to happen.”
More than 800 podcasts and a career renaissance later, he prizes “WTF” as a form of talk therapy that’s different from his no-less-self-disclosive stand-up comedy.
“The podcast functions in my life as an important emotional and social outlet,” he says before conceding with a wan smile, “I’m still anxious and I’m still consumed with dread and panic sometimes. But not with my work anymore! And to me, that more than anything else indicates success.
“The people who like me, like me, but I’m not in everybody’s face. I like the level I’m at. I have my place. And it’s uniquely mine.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
“WTF” podcast: http://www.wtfpod.com