Trumping to Conclusions

In September 2009, after being fired by Air America for the third time, comedian Marc […]

WTF_with_Marc_MaronIn September 2009, after being fired by Air America for the third time, comedian Marc Maron began the WTF podcast. It was born of necessity. Maron was 45 years old with a mediocre comedy career behind him and nothing on the horizon. But he knew a bunch of other comedians, so he sat down with them and recorded hour-long conversations, hoping that people would listen. Since then, Maron has recorded almost 700 such conversations, starting with comedians but expanding to writers, actors, directors, and, last year, the President of the United States. With a technique honed in therapy and a series of twelve-step programs, Maron manages to draw out his guests and extract details that are normally well-concealed behind a public façade.

Whenever a former guest dies, Maron reposts his interview, giving people an opportunity to learn a little bit more about the person behind the obituary. Maron did so again last week after comedian Garry Shandling died. His interview with Shandling took place in May 2011, but a ten-minute section in the middle (starting at 36:25) stands out five years later:

Maron: So you’re trying to engage on a socio-political level with people or just raising awareness?

Shandling: Ultimately an emotional psychological level because . . . we can’t know what the problem is unless we know who we are.

M: I agree with that.

S: So anybody who doesn’t know their true self, they can’t know what the problem is. So there’s no winning unless you know who you are and the only real change can come from within. So when we talk about change, yes we can, people think of that as outside themselves, change outside themselves. They must change and become more authentic, otherwise the system is going to continue to fail. It’s an addictive culture bottoming out.

M: I completely agree.

the_larry_sanders_show_rip_torn_garry_shandling_jeffrey_tambor_01S: So why they completely understand that Lindsay Lohan has a problem of some sort, but they will not say “I have a problem of some sort.” What I say about Charlie Sheen is, “How many of you are still in denial and have the guts to call the rehab center and say help me, I can’t stop watching Charlie Sheen?”

M: Right.

S: “Oh, he’s on Channel Seven. Hold on. Cause I’m addicted to watching Charlie Sheen.”

M: I actually spoke with him, and the type of weird shamelessness around the insanity he’s experiencing, he actually is pushing out self-awareness. He’s saying, I will not be aware of what I think implies weakness.

S: Well, he’s not altogether wrong with many of the things he says. . . . Some of the issues underlying his particular behavior are for him to discover and for his friends to help as other friends would. But to make it a freak show is falling into the trap of your false self, because your [true] self wouldn’t be watching that . . . Because everybody’s an addict about something, so judge not lest ye be judged.

M: So you’re saying that culturally we need to go through a crying stage?

S: I think culturally we are bottoming out.

M: Right, but . . . how does the self-awareness begin?

S: Here’s how self-awareness begins. Once you bottom out, which by the way, no one is willing to admit yet. What we’re doing is we’re fighting against bottoming out. And yet when Charlie Sheen fights against bottoming out, we call that weird. OK? But when America does it, that’s winning and that’s America. So when Charlie Sheen says I’m winning, I’m sorry, isn’t that the motto of the American culture? We’re winners. We’re going into our third Middle East country. . . .We’re going to be winning, Mission Accomplished. . . . So that’s America. But everybody can see it when Charlie Sheen does it, but they can’t see it when they themselves do it. So nothing can get repaired with the lying continuing. It’s no different than a family relationship or anything else. It’s a lie in the family, which is . . . you’re the one who’s addicted to winning and to being the best and to having the best religion and the best this and the best this and the best that. . . . So there’s no true humility and gratitude, which is what an addict has to realize at the bottoming out place.

M: You can’t be driven by your ego or your false self.

S: So I think America should be sort of allowed to bottom out because . . . aren’t people embarrassing themselves trying to fight this bottoming out thing? It’s compounding the problem.

M: So . . . you’re saying that America is like the emaciated crackhead who’s wild-eyed saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I don’t have a problem?”

S: They’re saying, in fact, “I’m more than fine. . . . We’re winning. I’m still number one.” And, you know, I don’t think you can talk yourself into it, which is what spin is supposed to do.

Yesterday, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested for grabbing the arm of reporter Michelle Fields. His arrest was accompanied by the release of a video of the incident. People’s interpretation of that video—their conclusions about whether or not the incident actually occurred—seems to depend, not on what actually happened in the video, but on whether or not they support Donald Trump. In this unprecedented election season, the only true precedent for this type of disagreement is football’s instant replay, where one’s evaluation of “indisputable video evidence” depends entirely on one’s team affiliation. What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies, forever and ever, amen.

Garry Shandling, God rest his soul, was wrong. Our addiction to Charlie Sheen was nowhere near the bottom. Nor is our addiction to Donald Trump. Our addiction to winning, to triumph, is insatiable, bottomless, and we bottom out only when we die. Fortunately for us, death is the primary ingredient in every resurrection.

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