Comedian Marc Maron is the host of WTF, a popular interview podcast.
Comedian Marc Maron is the host of WTF, a popular interview podcast. Seth Olenick
Comedian Marc Maron's popular podcast, called WTF, gets roughly 200,000 downloads a week — or it did. But that number seems to be growing. Maron tells All Things Considered host Guy Raz on Saturday's show that in the first half of March, he'd already had a million downloads.
Maron's podcast is deceptively simple in format: He talks for a while about whatever is on his mind, and then he sits down with a guest, often another comic, for an hour. Maybe a little longer. Maybe a lot longer. A lot of these people, he's known for years. Some of them hated him for a long time. Some of them were dear friends from whom he was estranged, and some of those bonds are still strained. Sometimes, there's a discussion that goes something like, "Oh, you hated me 20 years ago? Yeah, I hated you too!"
He talks to currently hot properties like Patton Oswalt and Louis CK, but he also brings around less currently hip guests, like Robin Williams and Gallagher. (The Gallagher interview ... that one didn't end so well, though it sure was exciting.) He even talks to people who aren't comics at all, like This American Life host Ira Glass, who opened up to Maron about how he relates to audiences on the radio and people in real life.
Some of these interviews leave impressions that are absolutely indelible: Janeane Garofalo once told Maron a story about being so stung by criticism that she literally flew cross-country with a coat over her head so no one would see her crying.
It's hard to miss how many of Maron's guests, most from the world of comedy, have a lot of anger, or hurt feelings, or broken relationships — not necessarily more tragedy than most people, he says, but a way of paying attention to it and exposing it in a way that a lot of people don't.
It's important, though, not to make it sound like these are somber, unhappy affairs. Maron and his guests are also experienced, able specialists who also spend a massive amount of time on the mechanics of comedy. They talk about venues, audiences, kinds of comedy, kinds of jokes, good and bad writing ... you can get a lot of unfiltered shop talk here in the loose format that podcasting allows.
What makes WTF so unusual is that Maron's interviews, despite the fact that they're often very funny and they're never mawkish, are bracingly candid in a way that feels almost accidental. Maron says this himself, that it's as if people somehow forget they're being interviewed if you talk to them long enough.
And it's talking — just talking — that he thinks is in short supply. Asked whether he feels like these long, searching discussions qualify as therapeutic, he hesitates to classify them as such — at least for the guest: "One of the things that has been lost in this culture is the ability for people to sit and talk for real, you know, for an hour. When was the last time you just sat and talked to someone for an hour? It's something that people can do. Is that therapy, or is that just some sort of human pastime that has become lost?"
He does say, though, that the project has changed things about his own perspective. "I feel like I'm living more in the present," he says. "I have more humility ... so if it's been therapy for anybody, it's probably for me."
At any rate, Maron hears from listeners who find his openness about his own troubles refreshing. "'Your neurotic rage, your neurotic rants relax me,'" is the sort of thing he hears. "I'm having a Ritalin effect on introspective, neurotic people, and I couldn't have hoped for that, and it's very gratifying. It's very moving to me."
At the top of the post, you'll find the interview as it's airing on Saturday's All Things Considered. But if you want to hear more, the Weekend All Things Considered podcast this week features a much longer version of Guy Raz's interview with Maron. In the longer version, Maron explains how he gets big names on his show, his time as a doorman at The Comedy Store, his relationships with Sam Kinison and Louis CK, and more. You can hear it below.