WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 17, 2014
 
Blog RADAR
WTF WITH MARC MARON
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Since late 2009, stand-up comic, feral cat wrangler, author and radio personality Marc Maron has hosted WTF, a podcast that alternates between (sometimes simultaneously providing) brutal honesty, hilarious insight and rants that would make the most anger-prone father proud. It's an intense, engaging and addictive listen, with Maron often interviewing comic peers such as Patton Oswalt and Dave Attell, as well as authors - his friend Sam Lipsyte has also been a guest.

The addictiveness of the program is appropriate, as addiction is a common WTF topic, whether it is Maron's need for nicotine gum and constantly shined boots, or Bob Odenkirk's addiction to rage. I spoke with Maron over the phone shortly after he had recorded an interview with accused joke thief and purveyor of stereotype-driven humour Carlos Mencia, and found him articulate, alert and insightful.

Q: You're in San Francisco right now, doing shows at the Purple Onion. How's that going?
A:
It's great. I didn't really know what to expect. The Purple Onion is sort of a historic venue that's gone through a lot of weird times – I don't know the history of it exactly, but I do know that at different points in its history you had Mort Sahl, the Smothers Brothers, Lenny Bruce [and] Phyllis Diller there. Zach Galifianakis taped a DVD there not long ago, and it was a punk club for years. It's filled with lots of good ghosts. It's a perfect venue for comedy: it's in a basement and the ceilings are low.

marc_maron_inset.jpgQ: I take it you're attracting a lot of WTF listeners to your shows.
A:
They seem to be coming out. I wonder how they feel about it; I seem to be attracting a lot of solitary people. The podcast seems to be speaking to people’s loneliness and their inner dialogues, so they feel less alone. I had this experience in Bloomington, Indiana, where the club owner said, “We did well with ticket sales, but I've never seen so many single tickets sold to the shows we've done here…”

Q: How did you start WTF?
A:
Brendan McDonald is half of WTF, he's my partner. I've been working with him for a long time and he's a brilliant and inspired producer and person. After I got fired for the third or fourth time at Air America and he was out of work too, I was like, “Well, let's do it, man. We're finally free. We're untethered. We don't have to answer to a corporate structure or be political unless we choose to be. Let's try this podcast thing.” Air America was too stupid to take away our pass cards, so we started going into the studio after hours to record the first eight or nine podcasts. That's where it started.…

The partnership basically works where I do my part and he does his part: I tracked down guests, I set up the studio in my garage, I asked some other podcasters for help – specifically, Jesse Thorn from The Sound of Young America and Jordan, Jesse, Go!, who has been very supportive. I learned how to do some stuff – I create the sound files, I send them to Brendan and he puts them together. He edits the interviews, he gives them a pace, he lays down music beds and he makes it into a produced show.

Q: You give him space to do his part.
A:
He has total freedom to do his creative end of it, and I do my creative end of it, and we never argue about it. We discuss things about structure. It's my belief that with the comedians that I talk to, because of the choices they've made with their life and the amount of freedom they have, they're all innately philosophical and are innately socially outside of the norm, emotionally and otherwise. I find that instead of doing comedy or necessarily focusing on something that someone's working on, if I can get an extended period of authentic conversation, real engagement, it doesn't matter who I'm talking to, if the authenticity is there, I find that humour and authenticity and wisdom come out.

Q: How was your recent interview with Carlos Mencia?
A:
I'm not sure how to handle that right now. I didn't feel like I got through where I wanted to get through to with him, in terms of the controversy that surrounds him.… The thing is, unlike most of my interviews, there was an agenda there. There was an agenda on my part with [WTF's] Robin Williams interview, too, which was different because I just wanted Robin to talk to me, to focus and be as open as possible, just have a conversation with me. That was the challenge but it turned into a wonderful experience for both of us, and I think exposed a side of him that nobody's really seen before. With Carlos, you're dealing with a very divisive figure who has gotten a fair amount of shit, more than anyone I've ever seen. He's probably the most hated comedian I've ever witnessed.

Q: There's a lot of loathing directed at him.
A:
Some of that has subsided, so I wanted to deal with him in a conversation about that, but what you're dealing with is what has become an active comedy policing force by comedy nerds and certain comics. How do you handle that issue – when you have people calling certain comics out, and also using that action to elevate themselves and their credibility? When you have people who aren't the ones being stolen from calling out a thief, it's self-serving on some level....

But the issue of stealing material and whether or not he did or not, it became interesting to me because he wouldn't talk about it in the way I wanted him to talk about it, and I started to realize that if that reputation has been hanging over him his entire career, there's got to be more to the story. I wanted to give him an opportunity to explain himself and to give him some respect in terms of his ambition and paying his dues. What I came away with from our conversation was that either he really doesn't care in a deep way about what he did or how people feel about him in the [comedy] community because he's so fucking successful, or I'm being used somehow. I'm reaching out to some people in the Latino comedy community who were his friends, and I want to hear what they have to say.

Q: Your interview style involves a lot of honesty on your part. How did it develop?
A:
The way I developed it was after doing conventional radio for a long time and doing stand-up for a long time. “Confessional” is one word for it, “honest” is another word for it.…

I'm a fairly intense guy. I'm a little bit “too much information-y.” These people who come into my garage, they know me. If it goes there, I'll let it go there. I have an innate feeling of when we're going there, and what the individual I'm talking to can handle and when they get uncomfortable. I just listen deeply to who I'm talking to and feel out where to go with the thing....

I feel like I'm actually connecting and giving people some relief and enabling them to know that these struggles are common and they're not alone. And I think the reason [the interviews] have an effect is I'm talking to clowns; I'm talking to funny people. I'm talking to people who have chosen to do something very risky, and they somehow manage. A lot of the tones of the emails I get are “You're so crazy and have all these problems and are so honest about them, but you seem to be doing OK and that makes me feel like I'm OK.” How can that be bad?

Marc Maron performs May 27-29 at Yuk Yuk’s in downtown Toronto. WTF can be heard at www.wtfpod.com and can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/wtfpod.

2 Comments | Add a Comment
Marc Maron performs at Yuk Yuk's Downtown Toronto May 27-29. Tickets are under $20! www.yukyuks.com for more info and to make a reservation. He's going to be hilarious!
That is Bonkers! What an awesome way to get cred - being the guy who sells the most single tickets. That is at least 100,000 points.Maron should do a Sean Hannity and start a dating site like 'Hannidate'. Though I wonder if Maron attracts swarms of singular [and single] ladies.
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