After being submerged in music all day long, almost every day of the week, boredom inevitably finds its way in. Despite switching genres and trying out some talk radio shows, nothing seems to hold attention quite long enough to get into or enjoy it. These are the times best remedied by some comedy, and the best place to turn to is the WTF podcast from Marc Maron. Not only is it widely regarded as the best of the comedy podcasts, its roster of guests spans widely known names from Robin Williams and Ben Stiller and David Cross to lesser known names, as well as some writers and others scattered in.
Maron, who has been in the entertainment industry in various capacities for nearly 20 years, from a small role in Almost Famous to multiple appearances on Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien to co-hosting a morning radio show on Air America, is nearing his 150th episode and still picking up momentum. He’s figured out a formula to make an efficient, conversational, and smooth show without coming off as an interviewing host, while somehow getting his guests to drop their guards and open up.
Explaining the formation and evolution of his podcast, Maron said, “You know, when I started this off, I had no idea what this was going to become. When I started this podcast, I was in a very bad place in my career and my life. I just lost a job at Air America, and it was the third time I lost that job. I didn’t even want to be back there, but I had to go back there to make some money to pay off my ex-wife. When it ended, they didn’t kick us out of our office or take away our security cards, so we started sneaking into the studios and set up the first podcast, not really knowing anything about what would happen or what the show was – we just had the tactility and I had friends, so we started making them. Then we started to get steady with them, and people started to dig them. When I moved back to my house in Los Angeles, I bought some mics and I cleaned out my garage a little bit and just started doing them from here. Over the course of the podcast, it sort of evolved into an open discussion about just about anything with comedians and writers and people I know – about me, about them, the struggle of creativity and the struggle of life in general. I just really became this outlet or this place where I would try to engage in authentic conversations about whatever came up and take it wherever it goes and it seems to have resonated with people.”
That open conversation has led to some very memorable moments, most recently with the Sledge-O-Matic creator and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rights holder (seriously) Gallagher. For the first time in the history of his show, his interview was cut short when Gallagher snapped and walked out of the room. Maron had started addressing the reputation Gallagher has earned with some racist and homophobic jokes made by Gallagher, escalating the dialogue. Shrugging it off, Maron said, “It’s cool though, it just became about material and it was comedy, you know, and I got a little politically correct and shit, but it’s still just sort of interesting.”
Also interesting is the now-legendary episode with Carlos Mencia, where Maron addresses the accusations of Mencia bullying other comics and lifting material and allows Mencia an opportunity to air his side. The following episode is a return of Mencia, with him backpedaling and trying to explain his delusional explanations from the previous episode. Then there’s the episode with Ben Stiller, who explains what life was like growing up behind the scenes in Hollywood to two very successful actors. Another great episode is one featuring Maria Bamford, where the two are on a road trip reflecting on life and making some very big personal realizations. However, nearly every episode has memorable parts, at least for Maron.
“Almost all of the shows have moments where I’m surprised because I’m talking to people that I’ve known of, or kind of know, or I don’t know at all who are beyond my reach on a celebrity level, so most of the moments that happen that I find interesting to me are the moments that they reveal themselves in their true frustrations or passions or challenges. And those things can be just one- or two-line exchanges. If it’s just looking at the whole podcast in general, there have been moments in all of them where I feel choked up or feel like I don’t want to give up this moment and let the listener have the experience of what’s happening here. These happen more so than not. You have the Louis CK thing, which was a very emotional process, or Judd Apatow, which was a fairly emotional thing for me. You’ve got Bob Odenkirk and Mike DeStefano, who showed his tragic, but beautiful, life surrounding his HIV status, and what he went through with his wife dying. Rob Delaney, around the element of struggling with sobriety . . . very few of them don’t have a moment where I’m blown away.”
It’s not surprising that nearly all of his episodes have memorable moments, as Maron doesn’t at all consider himself a writer and takes a more casual approach, which may be the key to his mass appeal. Naturally, it’s been a great source for new material to work into his act.
“I’m just talking off the top of my head and certain things come out of my mouth that I would not have put together and that’s how I’ve been writing and doing my comedy in general. I have my ideas and I talk about them in front of people, but now I talk about them alone and in my garage on a mic – it’s still just that same flow of thought. It’s certainly helped my career process and my stand up and my act. It’s also helped me think things through as a person and it all sort of comes together.”
The intensity Maron possesses (just on a normal basis), coupled with a very logical perspective on life, sets his WTF podcast far from any other comedy podcast out. He tends to be abrasive at times, which provides great reactions from his guests, especially since they are in an intimate setting, opening up to each other about life experiences and lessons. Immediately after hanging up the phone with him, reflection on the conversation kicked in, and more questions that didn’t relate to the podcast started popping up. He genuinely seems like a fascinating person, and would be the perfect person to sit and just fire questions at about his struggles and interactions and philosophies; the type of guy who is blunt and doesn’t put up with any bullshit, but will converse and keep things interesting.
Fortunately, Marc Maron will be in the Twin Cities this week from Thursday, February 10, to Sunday, February 13 at Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy at the Mall of America. Tickets are available through their website or by calling 952.858.8558. For those who aren’t able to make it out, a good portion of the episodes are up on his podcast website, and the last 50 episodes can be downloaded by subscribing to his podcast on iTunes or via RSS. Previous episodes are available with purchase of the WTF podcast app for the iPhone or Android.
Editor's Note: Marc Maron has a few great comedy CDs on Minneapolis based Comedy label Stand Up! Records; "Final Engagement", "Tickets Still Available" and "Not Sold Out". Stand Up! Records also released a "Best Of WTF with Marc Maron" Vol 1 CD that can only be gotten as a major subscription holder at wtfpod.com. If you love great comedy, definitely check out Stand Up! Records!