Spiegel & Grau

Flavorwire Interview: Marc Maron on Life at the “Cat Ranch”

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The Internet loves nothing more than cats, but it’s rare that we look beyond the cute photos and memes to more seriously consider their place in our world. Flavorwire’s Highbrow Cat Week is an attempt to remedy that, with a series of pieces devoted to analyzing their impact on the cultural realm.

Marc Maron is having a very good year. His WTF podcast is now approaching its 400th episode. He just published a book, Attempting Normal , a thoughtful, candid, and frequently hilarious series of autobiographical essays. And his IFC series Maron is halfway through its first season; Maron is “thrilled with the way it came out. I feel like we really captured a tone in that, and the stories are compelling and yeah, I love it.” But we’re not here to talk about those triumphs. We’re here to talk about cats.

Maron records WTF from the garage of his home in Los Angeles, a domicile he has dubbed “The Cat Ranch” for the abundance of felines that dwell there — both his own and the strays that he feeds and cares for. In Attempting Normal, he tells the story of how he first became a multi-cat guy, discovering a box of feral cats near the dumpster of his Astoria, New York apartment. “I think the impulse to save animals is, aside from being empathetic and humane, also symbolic of saving some part of ourselves,” he writes. “I wanted these cats to be okay. I wanted to be okay.”

He started talking about the cats on his Air America show, and continued to do so on WTF, telling stories, occasionally featuring a meow from little Boomer, sharing the story of his heartbreak when Boomer disappeared. (“Boomer Lives!” became a hashtag and rallying cry for his fans, and the name of his production entity for the TV show.) It’s become part of his virtual identity and comic persona, so I knew he was a must-get interview for Highbrow Cat Week.

Flavorwire: For background, how many cats are on the Cat Ranch, as of today, and where did they come from?

Marc Maron: Well, I’ve got two cats that are from the original Astoria dumpster cats, and I then had another cat, Boomer, that was a shelter cat that I got in 2003 or 2002, and he disappeared recently. There’s another cat buried there on the Cat Ranch called Butch who was from New York but had a heart issue, and then there’s a deaf, black, stray, feral cat that hangs around and then there’s another striped, feral cat that hangs around.

Now, when you tell people that, when you meet someone new, or when you would meet new women before you met [his live-in girlfriend] Jessica, what kind of reactions do you usually get, as a single guy who takes care of a lot of cats?

Yeah, I don’t know, I never really read it as a liability. I think that people — well, I mean, I think back then there was a couple that would respond with, like, you know, when you have three cats on your bed, you’re — I’m used to it, but somebody who’s not is like, “What is happening?” And a woman who I didn’t date, she just looked at cats like rodents. She hated them and just could not see them as anything other than some sort of nuisance. But it’s sort of like adapting to, like, when Boomer peed all over everything, you adapt to them. You adapt to the fact — it’s amazing, I’m covered in hair constantly. I can’t have black clothing — it’s just the process of getting hair off of things. But when you live with them and you love them, you don’t think too much about it until it’s really kind of bad. It’s always interesting to me just what you’ll adapt to out of love for these animals.

Now you grew up with some cats, but mostly dogs, right?

Yeah, I grew up with a lot of old English sheepdogs who came and went, and there was a few cats around that were kind of strays or cats my mother saved, but they were pretty hearty cats. We lived on a bit of property out there in New Mexico, and they were all sort of hunters. There were a lot of half-eaten snakes and lizards that were delivered as gifts. And then that story from the book with that horrible, large field mouse that Garfield ate under my desk, yeah. Simultaneous to me having some sort of sexual experience in my childhood bed, my cat was devouring a mouse. It was all very carnal.

As a culture, we tend to think of guys having dogs and women having cats, and you’ve got the whole stereotype of the crazy cat lady tied into that. Why do you think those roles exist, and do you think they’re changing?

I think the crazy cat lady thing has sort of always been around. I don’t know when it started, but there’s definitely a type of person that I guess is usually female, if the stereotype is going to be true, that really find a lot of solace in saving and helping cats, and I have found that there’s a fairly healthy contempt for humans just beneath that. I also think there’s a lot of control issues there, too. But when I found the original batch of Astoria cats, there were five of them, and a mother and some crazy cat lady came over to my place and gave me cages and we actually inoculated cats in my apartment and we tracked a couple to get them fixed and stuff. So I don’t know.

I guess the cat guy’s always seen as a bit feminine, but my cats react to my personality. Both of my cats — the indoor cats that were originally feral, Monkey and LaFonda — are pretty skittish and pretty, you know, they’re reactive cats. They’re not relaxing. They’re tricky, and LaFonda now has sort of chosen Jessica over me, and that’s hard to take. But Jessica loves that cat and they’ll sleep together and she won’t sleep with me on my side of the bed. But LaFonda’s a little crazy, too, and that relationship with that cat, Jessica takes some hits. For some reason, both of my cats, I guess, not unlike me, have a hard time with intimacy, and if you get to close to them, they kind of freak out a little bit.

Part of your persona — so I feel like it’s safe to assume this is part of your personality — is a kind of, if you don’t mind my saying, emotional neediness. Some might say that the those emotional needs would be better suited by the kind of immediate affection and enthusiasm that seems more typical of dogs. But you disagree. Talk to about why you are so drawn to the cat personality.

I think that when you’re needy, there’s a shame to it. No one wants to be needy. It’s never an attractive trait, so when you are needy… I wrestle with it. I’m very aware of it. So I wrestle with my neediness, and there’s a part of me that, out of that struggle, I sort of defy people to like me, in a way. It’s a very tricky bit of business. I want my emotional needs met, but then it’s hard for me to respect people that want to meet them, so I think cats more fit into that for me because, you know, they don’t care. They’re very selfish animals and my cats are difficult and I like having to earn the love and I like that they’re sort of temperamental about receiving it because I can relate to that. Whereas a dog is just so open and needy in a very specific way, that there’s part of me that sort of thinks, “Get a hold of yourself, man! Have a little self-respect!” And the other thing with dogs is that there’s a lot of slobber involved and smelly, and look, I love them, but it’s also practical for me. Cats are very self-reliant and can live in almost any space available, whereas a dog, I think you’re really denying it a quality of life if you can’t really get it out to run and walk and stuff. And I’m on the road a lot and I don’t really have a yard that could accommodate a dog in a good way, so that plays into it too.

It feels like — through things I’ve heard, through the “Boomer Lives” hashtag — you’ve become kind of like a cat hero, someone who is a representative of us cat owners. Do you get that feeling, like when you talk to people at shows?

Well, I think that I’m a unique cat owner in that there are assumptions around cat owners, that there’s a fragility there or sensitivity there. I’m fairly brash, and people don’t really characterize me as a stereotypical type of dude that would own a cat, but my cats and I have a specific relationship. The things that I like about cats is that they’re endlessly sort of interesting because you don’t know what’s going on with them, but also that I find that the relationship being kind of on the cat’s terms, I kind of respect that. I don’t know what the stereotype is, but I’m not that delicate a guy, you know what I mean? And because of that, my cats are a little nuts.

Maron airs Friday nights at 10 pm on IFC.