My latest obsession: WTF with Marc Maron

I will admit, I’m a bit late to the podcast game; it’s probably a by-product of my old anti-Mac attitude. For what it’s worth, I now work on an iMac, write on a MacBook Pro, and play with an iPod Nano and an iPad. With my new found fondness for the Jobs product line comes an appreciation of a medium made possible by it: the podcast, and chiefly WTF with Marc Maron.

Unless you’re a comedy devotee or Air America’s only fan, you probably don’t know who Marc Maron is. The 47-year old came up in the alternative comedy world, first as a doorman at the famed Comedy Store before a stint as a member of Sam Kinison’s cocaine-fueled crew. He later shared stages (and apartments) with comedians like David Cross, Dave Attell, Louis C.K., and Sarah Silverman (pictured below with the latter three in a 1995 New York Magazine feature about a comedy Renaissance). But while his contemporaries received TV shows, headlining tours and film specials, Maron got… angrier, battling drug and alcohol abuse until getting sober at the end of the 90s.

In 2004, Maron joined the progressive radio station Air America, the Little Station That Could. After two stints (and as many firings) as a political pundit, Maron started WTF, surreptitiously recording the first few in the Air America studios. Ditching his political diatribes, he focused inward, ranting about his disappointments, from his two failed marriages to his bitterness about the success of his friends (and ex-friends). The title, and theme of the show, attempts to answer that everlasting question: “What the fuck?” – in all forms – from “righteous indignation” to “why not live a little?”

Every Monday and Thursday, from the comfort of his home in Highland Park, CA (aka “the cat ranch”), Maron publishes WTF. The show mixes a monologue and interviews, all with Maron’s vitriolic, self-obsessed-yet-self-loathing style. His subjects are comedians, writers and like-minded performers. He usually has a checkered past with the ones he knows, mostly due to his aforementioned anger and bitterness, leading interviews to take the form of public group therapy; “Are we okay?” becomes a frequent rejoinder. But through it all comes honest portrayals of comedians as complex, often damaged people. For true fans of comedy, WTF has become required listening.

Maron has done 185 episodes of WTF, so where is a newcomer to begin? Here are a few of the better podcasts available for free, as well as notes on a couple that are behind a very affordable pay wall ($9 a year).

Free For All

Henry Rollins (143) – Rollins’ evolution from punk standard-bearer to spoken word artist is one of the most interesting journeys in pop culture. Rollins speaks with Marc about the murder of Joe Cole and working with Charles Manson.

Dave Foley (146) – From Kids in the Hall to Newsradio, Dave Foley was at the center of TV comedy in the 90s. Wonder how he ended up hosting poker games on basic cable? Foley delves deep into his divorce and its life-altering aftereffects.

Michael Showalter (162) – After two decades on TV, as a member of The State and Stella, Michael Showalter is taking a break from the LA game and teaching at NYU’s Graduate Film School. The Brown University grad and Maron have the funniest conversation about semiotics you will ever hear.

Garry Shandling (177) – Another recent obsession of mine is the ahead-of-its-time The Larry Sanders Show. Shandling is a charming subject, whose self-deprecation is only matched by Maron’s.

Gallagher (145) – Yes, that Gallagher. The watermelon smasher has recently revealed a homophobic, racist streak which Maron aims right at – causing the first walk-out on WTF. So fuck Gallagher.

Worth the Money

Louis C.K. (111, 112) – Former best friends, Maron and CK get to the bottom of their falling-out and find a way forward. It is a shockingly personal and honest interview, as funny (Maron wonders why Louis named his show “Fuck you, Marc Maron”) as it is heartbreaking (Louis chokes up describing the birth of his daughter). For fans of either it’s worth the cost of admission.

Robin Williams (67) – The legend sits down with Maron for a very un-Williams hour: Williams avoids the pre-written jokes and the frenetic need to please that he usually displays in interviews. His honesty about everything from life and death to accusations of plagiarism is a breath of fresh air.

Carlos Mencia, et al (75, 76) – After a favorable interview wherein Maron doesn’t challenge Mencia’s self-serving push back about joke thievery, he speaks with former friends and brings Mencia back to get the record straight. The pair of interviews paints a portrait of a deeply disturbed man.

Zach Galifianakis (20) – Fresh off The Hangover, Zach talks with Maron on the set of Due Date. Probably one of the last interviews where Galifiankis pulls back the curtain as he did in The Comedians of Comedy.

Judd Apatow (103, 104) – Maron does a two-parter with the architect of the last decade’s comedy landscape. Clips of a teenaged Apatow interviewing Jerry Seinfeld are a great find.

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