Marc Maron does stand-up comedy and the podcast WTF, which, for my earbud time, has risen to become one of the best interview-y concerns going. Tom Scharpling does The Best Show on WFMU. Tom joined Marc on WTF and talked about the journey toward doing his own media thing. Resonant words:
Tom Scharpling: I was like, “I’ve got to get good at writing. I’ve got to dedicate myself to finding a job. I can’t have something like this, that’s taking me off course.” So I quit for a couple years.
Marc Maron: Quit radio?
Tom Scharpling: Yeah, I quit the station.
Marc Maron: That was that juncture where it’s like, “The radio thing — I’m not even getting paid for that. I’ve got to get out of [working at a sheet music store] or I’m going to get old there...”
Tom Scharpling: Exactly; I was going to be trapped.
Marc Maron: “... and I’m going to focus.”
Tom Scharpling: “I need to start writing and just get myself out of this place in my life.”
Marc Maron: It’s a horrible place.
Tom Scharpling: Because you can feel that you might never get out of it.
Marc Maron: [strangled noise]
Tom Scharpling: There’s no guarantees. On any of this stuff.
Marc Maron: Ever!
Tom Scharpling: You know people who never get beyond a certain point, for whatever reason. It’s like, “There’s no guarantee I’m not one of those people. There’s no guarantee I didn’t hit the ceiling, whatever I’m hitting right now.”
Marc Maron: “I might be done!”
Tom Scharpling: Yeah, “This might be it for me.” But then, in your head, you think, “No, this is not it. I’m still going on a journey. I still have other places to go.” Maybe you don’t. Maybe this is the end of your line.
Marc Maron: That’s a horrible struggle, because I don’t know who you are in your mind, but in those moments — it’s almost a moment where, literally, there’s a part of your heart that’s reaching out to your parents, almost, like, “Take me to the place, mommy!” There’s this moment, like, “How do I get there?” Then you realize, “I’ve got to cry, then I’ve got to do this work.” But there’s something about that weird area where the fear of success and the fear of failure is the same thing. Like, “If I finish it, what if it stinks? And if I don’t do it, what if I’m still stuck?” That thing? You ever get that thing?
Tom Scharpling: The fear of success is not the thing for me. The feat of failure is almost all of it for me. I feel that looming.
Marc Maron: But it doesn’t stop you from doing things, which is good.
Tom Scharpling: No, exactly. I’ve always thought, you know the amount of geniuses that there are out there? There’s like five of them, maybe. It’s like, Paul Thomas Anderson, that guy is on a different plane from all of us. Then there’s, like, the bottom twenty percent, the Rupert Pupkins of the world that are just completely talentless, don’t belong...
Marc Maron: But keep going!
Tom Scharpling: They have to learn that themselves, when the cards get dealt: okay, wasn’t for me. But that middle stretch: all it is that separates the people is just how hard you work on it, and if you keep your head in the game. I was just like, “I can do okay in that mix. I know I’m not a genius, but I’m pretty sure I’m not Rupert Pupkin. I know I’m not a fraud.”
Marc Maron: Right. The authenticity thing’s important.
Tom Scharpling: It’s like, if I do the best I can do, that takes care of a certain amount of it. I’ve always operated with that in mind.
Marc Maron: We’re probably similar in the way of the amount of pressure we put on ourselves.
Tom Scharpling: Oh yeah. That’s part of why I quit.
Marc Maron: You hit a wall. It’s like, “What else am I going to do?” You feel like you’re spinning. You’re like, “I’ve done this. It’s not changing!”
Tom Scharpling: My thing is also, it’s a listener-supported station. There’s no way to ever monetize what I’m doing there. I’m working for the greater good of this noncommercial station, which I am completely on board with.
Marc Maron: But did that function also support, not your self-sabotaging element, but the idea that there’s something noble about it, number one, and also number two, there’s integrity built into it?
Tom Scharpling: Yeah. But you get tired at a point. I got so tired of this thing that just felt like it would never end. It felt like I had a certain amount of responsibility to the station to be earning a certain amount of money to keep the thing going, which was not really true. I do make a good amount of money when it’s the fundraiser, but the station has survived the big DJs coming and going. It’s always managed to survive. But I put an unrealistic thing on myself, thinking, “I have to be here every week.” The thing that was fun for everybody else kind of became a job for me, a job that I can only lose money on, this job that I can only lose money on — and it will never end. I just got sad.
Marc Maron: It’s like a sentence.
Tom Scharpling: Exactly.
From Put This On, Tom Scharpling’s three rules:
- DO THE WORK. Can you look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say that you did the best you could?
- BE THE BEST POSSIBLE VERSION OF YOURSELF. Don’t shortchange yourself or pull your punches because of some internal negative voice!
- WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU NEED TO DO. It helps. Do those three things and you’ll be more alright than not.
Ira Glass on being interviewed by Marc Maron:
Being interviewed by Maron reminded me of an old axiom about interviewing: that an interview is a party you're throwing and your guest will mirror your behavior. Marc is an insanely intense guy, and stares into you as you talk — it really feels like his eyes are piercing inside you — and then when he speaks he reaches inside himself and talks in the most heartfelt way possible. In a room with that, you'd have to be made of stone not to respond in the most soulful way you can summon up. He's emotionally present and he makes you emotionally present. I don't think that's any kind of calculated move, it's who he is when he's performing. And of course it gets amazing results.