Long-time readers of this blog know that our fandom of comedian Marc Maron goes back years -- back to April 1, 2004, exactly, when Morning Sedition hit the airwaves on the now-defunct Air America Radio. Maron has the singular distinction of having been fired from AAR three times -- and he's come out on the other side not just intact, but an increasingly major star.
Maron is a very funny, if exhausting, stand-up comic...but one thing that emerged from his experience on terrestrial radio is that he's a GREAT interviewer. I I don't know if he thought of WTF himself (I suspect that producer and all-around sane person Brendan McDonald had more than a little to do with it), but after over one hundred episodes, Marc Maron is making his -- wait for it -- mark -- in the world of podcasting.
One would think that Maron, who's sort of a bluesman of comedy in that without anger and suffering one wonders if he'd be as good at what he does as he is, would have lost his edge, now that he's successful, happy, and presumably making a living from the increasing number of stand-up gigs he has and the podcast donations he receives from the fans he used to hate simply because they thought he was brilliant. The great comedy bits from Morning Sedition may now only be available thanks to the generosity and server maintenance of P.J. Sauter, whose 24/7 feed can be played in the right-hand sidebar of this very blog, but there seems to be no limit to where he can take this thing.
A recent article in Austin 360 reveals that WTF gets about 200,000 listeners a week, perhaps rivaling that first-day audience for Morning Sedition. Maron has also provided a taste of what could be a very interesting book for those with complicated relationships with food in this article at Saveur (hopefully the first of many) about cooking Thanksgiving dinner at his skinny mother's Florida condo. And now, no less a Jewish Commie Heathen Intellectual Elitist NPR-er than Ira Glass calls WTF the New York Times of podcasting:
Right now, pretty much every comedian without a network TV show has his own podcast, but Marc Maron's WTF Podcast, here on the web or here on iTunes has distinguished itself as the New York Times of comedy podcasts, and by that I mean the definitive comedy podcast of record.
Being interviewed by Maron reminded me of an old axiom about interviewing: that an interview is a party you're throwing and your guest will mirror your behavior. Marc is an insanely intense guy, and stares into you as you talk—it really feels like his eyes are piercing inside you—and then when he speaks he reaches inside himself and talks in the most heartfelt way possible. In a room with that, you'd have to be made of stone not to respond in the most soulful way you can summon up. He's emotionally present and he makes you emotionally present. I don't think that's any kind of calculated move, it's who he is when he's performing. And of course it gets amazing results.
Another fun fact: he records the thing on a little digital recorder, with two handheld mics attached by long mic cords. The mics he uses are the kind a comedian uses onstage. So as the interviewee, you hold a mic like a standup comedian would the whole time. Very comfortable I'm sure, for all the standups he talks to.
Marc Maron struggled around the edges of the standup scene for years, watching his peers do things like get the gig hosting The Daily Show and such. Air America may have been a horrible experience personally, but it led to a situation in which he can do something he really loves, at which he's also really, really excels.
There's a lesson here. Perhaps it's just pure luck that allowed Marc Maron to stumble into something where he could be his own boss doing what he loves -- and now, with the podcast, make a reasonably stable living doing it. Or perhaps it's when we face adversity that we come face to face with what our true calling is.