I have become a compulsive WTF listener. WTF is Marc Maron’s podcast. He started it in his late forties, does it primarily from his L.A. garage twice a week, and just passed his 500th episode a few weeks ago at 50. The format is a 10-15 min intro of his obsessive schtick (with commercials that he does for his shows, partners and sponsors woven in), a 60-90 min interview, usually with a comedian, musician, or actor, and a few final closing minutes of wrap-up and plugs.
I talk about WTF with most of my close friends now – Doug, Maile, Earl, Sam, Gray – because we’re all big fans inspired by its insight. And I’ve started recommending it to people regularly now, so I thought I should document its influence with an explanation. Here are things I love about it:
- he started it himself and still does it largely himself, without needing anyone in the industry’s approval, no middlemen, he is in complete creative and strategic control
- he started it relatively late in life, as a way to make things happen when they weren’t, and now gets millions of downloads a month
- having struggled 25 years in stand-up, he can talk shop and the history of the scene with the best comedians, but also with musicians and actors because of their commonalities and love for those cultures
- he’s a refreshing antidote to uptight interviewers like Terri Gross and is so unpretentiously authentic that even my old favorites like Ira Glass and Jad Abumrad come off as snobby hipsters in comparison
- his Woody-Alleneque obsessive insecurities combined with his David-Lettermanish self-deprecation and humility make him a genuinely interested and compelling interviewer who consistently gets people to open up and engage on a deep level
- he uses his own resilience and slow rise to fame to get his guests to map out exactly how they made it, fucked up, and learned from it
- he uses his own drug and alcohol experiences as well as his 14 years of sobriety to relate with his guests, talk addictions, recovery and both laugh at and address demons and self-destruction
- he is a guitar player with a rich history of music love, favorites artists and opinions about music history which he frequently uses to connect with guests, especially the musicians with whom he is a true fan not just a critic
I did not like Marc Maron the first time I listened to WTF, and skipped over the intro segment several times till I grew to know him from the interviews. But I soon came to appreciate the seamlessness of his evolving personal stories and even how he weaves in into his plugs and ads.
After discovering recently that there are a bunch of pirated episodes on YouTube, I’ve been putting them on while I work. Here’s a perfect example of a great WTF interview, with his old friend Louie CK. (For access to his archive pay $9yr for premium access via his site or app.)
This interview has a lot of the stuff that you will not find anywhere else.
- A long shared history with the guest and the scene
- The reconciliation of a friendship scarred with Marc’s bitter jealousy and the patient sense of humor with which he can discuss the past, admit his faults, and come to some resolution (or live with the ambiguity of the friendship). Many of his episodes end with his asking of the guest, “We good?”
- His genuine expression of love and admiration and modeling of how two men can wade through a lot of pride and hurt by unpacking the past and seeing it from the other side
Ultimately WTF is a success story about how to make it as an artist, how Marc is making it, and how each of his guests made it. Instead of the usual emphasis on the breaks and the milestones, Marc maps out all the stuff artists like me need to hang in there, get out of our own way, and do our own thing.
No other interviewer brings or brings out so much of the mess that everyone else is trying to hide. And it’s exactly what we need to hear. Bless this what-the-fucker for hanging in there, getting clean, doing his own thing, putting it out there and connecting with so many other artists and fuck-ups, from his guests to fans like me. Boomer lives!
7/1/14: I’d like to add this incredible interview with Todd Hanson (Onion writer) as an example of the type of raw reality that Marc illicits and facilitates. This is therapy.