No one is more surprised to find Marc Maron sitting securely atop a tidy little media empire than Maron himself.
As his self-titled series, “Maron,” enters its third season (10PM, Thursday, IFC), there’s a marked fork in the path between the fortunes of Marc Maron, the TV character, and Marc Maron, the actor who portrays him.
“Yeah, we’ve gotten Marc into kind of a pickle,” Maron says by telephone from his Los Angeles office. “By the end of this season, he’s not in very good shape. We’ll have to do a fourth season just to bring him back.”
That’s in marked contrast to Maron himself, whose recent past includes a 2013 comedy album and TV special, both called “Thinky Pain,” and a 2014 book (“Attempting Normal”). His future includes a talk-show/documentary hybrid for Vice called “Portraits.”
That’s not to mention the twice-weekly podcast (which has turned into a radio show) that launched it all, “WTF with Marc Maron,” the root of all the attention.
“It’s all pretty much beyond what I ever hoped for,” Maron says. “It’s astonishing, really. I’m just grateful I’m able to earn a living.”
On “WTF,” Maron mixes probing but insightful interviews — often with comedians, occasionally with other celebrities — with revealing tales of his own life, which also provide fodder for his stand-up act.
On “Maron,” he plays a version of Marc Maron who, over the course of the first three seasons, has wrestled with the uptick in his show-business fortunes, even as he struggled with his messy (two divorces and a strained relationship with both sibling and parents) personal life. In season 3, he succumbs to the notion that he should be doing a TV talk show and begins to pursue it actively – and unhappily.
“I think that Marc is probably a little bit more of a dick, a little more hostile and self-involved than I really am,” Maron says. “But that Marc lives in 22-minute stories, while the real Marc lives in real life. Over the course of these past seasons, we’ve tried to figure out which part works best in comedy.”
The podcast itself plays a role on the TV show, offering both the chance to expose that outlet with a variety of guests (including Elliott Gould to start Season 3) and for Maron to extemporize about his personal life in a monologue, as he does on the podcast, in service to a specific script.
“The podcast is still my priority,” Maron says. “It’s still a good chunk of my living. The touring is great; I’ve added dates since the TV show started. We make it all work. I can’t say I’m not exhausted. But I’m grateful.”
There’s both a long tradition and a recent one of comedians playing versions of themselves in TV sitcoms, from the early days of Jack Benny and George Burns to more recent efforts like “Louie” and “The Comedians.” And that’s not to mention “Seinfeld.”
“I never thought I’d get an opportunity to do a TV show,” Maron says. “I’ve got a great group of writers and, over the course of three seasons, I think I’ve gotten the hang of acting, as the character has become more well-defined. I didn’t set out to do anything other than honor myself and my sensibility in an honest and interesting way.”
Maron’s early career was marked by ups and downs, highs and lows, including spending a period as part of comedian Sam Kinison’s posse: “I was working the door at the Comedy Store in the late 1980s,” he recalls. “I ended up doing a lot of cocaine with that guy and losing my mind. Although I can’t say I have regrets.”
Maron’s sobriety (since 1999) provides him with material, as do his divorces. But, after riding the turbulent currents of both radio and cable TV, working hard but struggling for years, he found his niche with the podcast.
He started it in 2009, creating a foothold to relaunch himself and, in the process, becoming a popular brand in his late 40s. His success is built upon the quality of his work, but also on an appreciation for a great second-act revival for an under-appreciated talent, who got out of his own way to find the attention he deserves.
“I just played Symphony Hall in San Francisco, which would have been inconceivable to me two or three years ago,” Maron says. “It was touch-and-go for a lot of years. There was a definitely a period where it looked like it wasn’t going to work out. I started the podcast mostly so I could survive and not die broke. So I’m amazed at how things have turned around.”