If you follow comedy or radio at all, chances are you have heard of Marc Maron. He has not exactly been obscure, but he has basically been a modestly successful comic with a personal life that has been a serious train wreck – or at least containing the cornucopia of ailments (marriage difficulties, drug addiction) that would fill up any standard E! True Hollywood Story. Maron is a funny guy – even back in the day you could see that:
But of course now, his fame has finally started to come via his WTF podcast. The podcast is frankly, the best radio show going – long form interviews and occasional comedy revues which are an anethema to the not only short attention span theatre of MTV and Michael Bay films, but also the pretentious preciousness that too often infects more high falutin venues like National Public Radio. Maron with Bill Maher this past week explained that the show and his recent career turn was about getting away from things like politics and into the dive of the human spirit or whatnot. It is a bit hokey to say, but the show really does work on that level. Even though the guests are mostly comics, the subjects Maron touches and the insights he gets are the sorts of things that could make a more professional “journalist” jealous.
I have listened to a ton of his podcasts over the last few months (he adds two a week and ITunes keeps a good archive of recent episodes), and what I am struck by is the presence of Maron in the interview. Each podcast starts with a ten minute or so monologue, which is always funny. Marc’s stories are amusing, and very much in the fastidious tradition of Jewish comics of yore – his style is energetic, nervous, vulnerable. If you listen to the podcasts for any length of time, you feel like you KNOW Marc – and the things that he likes and the worries and neuroses he has. He is an open book, and it bleeds into his interviews as well.
Indeed, most of the guests he books seem to be people he knows, has known or has had impressions of. Often, there is apologizing to do or something – sometimes they are chance meetings. Marc often spends the early parts of the interview confessing his feelings – and trying to reconcile them. This is disarming to the listener, and I imagine to the guest – how can you keep your celebrity guard up when he is so willing to let his down. The honesty here becomes fascinating. The interviews proceed in this manner and the insights he gets are amazing. In particular, his interview with Robin Williams was probably the best interview I have seen with him. It is completely conversational, and Williams goes through the flights of fancy that he uses on television so often – but he levels with Marc – admitting to the depth of his alcohol relapse, and explaining how much he worries about his career still. Of course, he also made Louis CK cry – they were old friends, and listening to Louie discuss Marc’s transgressions in their friendship is heart wrenching. More recently, his interview with Todd Hanson, founder of The Onion touched a dark place, and the result was not just good conversation but something truly moving – it is a very good episode to get, I don’t want to spoil it.
Maron is just gifted at conversation – and the conversation is as good as there is. The Todd Hanson and Henry Rollins episodes are probably my favorite of the batch that is up there now, though the Garry Shandling, Patton Oswalt and Richard Lewis ones are good too. Occasionally he does live WTFs, and those are less intimate interviews and more funny revue format with a lot of performers. These are much lighter but a good amusing podcast also. Overall the quality of interview is just terrific – this is the sort of long form stuff that you just can’t hear anymore on radio or anywhere else. He has deserved a break – he has always been a quality comedian, and it is nice that now some notoriety is coming his way. His show has given me more to think about how people are – the human condition in general. I cannot recommend it highly enoigh.