"WTF" with Marc Maron Podcast
The following is the fifth entry in a series of articles covering the booming comedy podcast scene. For the purpose of explanation, a podcast is a program-driven form of digital media (audio or video) released episodically by download through web syndication.
Veteran stand-up comedian Marc Maron’s tumultuous professional career and personal life can be understood simply by listening to him talk about even the most mundane topics in his life. However, this is what has made him so appealing to a niche audience made up of comedy nerds. Chances are you never heard of Marc Maron. His stand-up career began during the comedy boom of the 1980s and was mentored by the likes of Sam Kinison. Soon into his career, he got caught up in the hard partying lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. After seeing his contemporaries obtain stardom while stuck performing in the clubs, Maron began resenting many of them and wasn’t afraid to let out his feelings on top of his daily rantings of personal anxiety, lack of confidence, and his two failed marriages. Yet, with the rise of the podcast format, Marc Maron breathes new life on the internet.
Nearly 12 years sober, Maron is making a name for himself by becoming one of the most interesting and engaging hosts on his “WTF” podcast. Primarily an interview-based show with actors and comedians, the appeal of the program is his ability to get guests to open up about their own personal and professional tragedies, feelings that they’ve kept bottled inside, or just their own struggles in making it in show business. Maron, formally a radio host for the now-defunct left leaning “Air America” station, elevated his career by starting his own podcast in September 2009. Releasing two episodes a week, Maron has attracted such stars as Ben Stiller, Conan O’Brien, Amy Poehler, Robin Williams, and Judd Apatow.
Broadcasted primarily from the garage of his “Cat Ranch” in Los Angeles, Maron sits down with a guest for a candid, no-holds-barred free form interview. Each episode opens with a monologue by Maron, usually consisting of his neurotic ramblings of his day-to-day life or sometimes he’ll read an email he received from a fan. It’s in these monologues, however, that new listeners understand how Maron’s brain operates. He’s alienated and resentful while at the same time undergoes an existential series of thoughts in order to explain why he’s the way he is. Perhaps this is why he is so trusted by other comics. Because of Maron’s brutal honesty about himself, guests’ tend not to shy away and feel comforted in discussing their own issues organically out loud, almost unaware they’re being recorded.
When guests open up about their own issues, for the listener it makes this public figure appear more human. In the Robin Williams episode, Williams was not shy about his past alcohol abuse and relapse, his divorce, and his career. In an interview with Carlos Mencia, Maron prods him over accusations of joke-stealing. During the two-part Louis C.K. interview, Louis steps back from the mic for a moment during an emotional discussion of the birth of his daughter during a struggling time in his career. In the Dane Cook episode, Cook is blunt in confronting anonymous mean-spirited comments he’s received on the internet and how he’s dealt with the criticism. Dave Foley describes the nightmare that was his first marriage. And in an infamous interview with watermelon-smasher Gallagher in a hotel room, Maron pressures him to address the criticism against his misogynistic and homophobic comments during recent stand-up performances. Only half an hour into the interview, Gallagher gets up, takes off his mic, and walks out of room.
Not every episode is a therapy session. In the Jimmy Fallon episode, Fallon remains modest about his successes on “Saturday Night Live” and his current “Late Night” talk show. Comedian Patton Oswalt talks with Maron about their mutual experience of trying to make it in show business. Judd Apatow talks about his obsession with comedy since he was a kid. As a special treat, Apatow airs never-heard interviews he conducted with stand-up comics Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, and Jay Leno in the early 1980s when he was in high school, posing as a college newspaper reporter. For the most part, every conversation remains consistently engaging and entertaining.
Almost two years in, “WTF” is consistently in the top 10 comedy podcasts on the iTunes charts with an average 400,000 downloads each week. Aided by loyal fans, Maron’s stand-up career has flourished. In addition, Maron recently shot a television pilot loosely based on his life with Ed Asner playing his father. For “WTF” virgins, the best way to approach the podcast is to listen to episodes with the actors and comedians you love. As you learn more about them, you’ll become more enticed to check out other episodes. Every guest has something interesting to talk about.