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Marc Maron on Comedy Podcasts, the Time Magazine 100 List, and Partisan Political Radio

Marc Maron, comedian and host of the popular WTF with Marc Maron podcast.
Marc Maron, comedian and host of the popular WTF with Marc Maron podcast.
Dmitri Von Klein

Marc Maron's reputation precedes him.

The comedian turned podcaster has a rep for digging deep with the guests on his podcast. New episodes are uploaded to his site twice per week, and no matter the guest -- notorious joke thief Carlos Mencia, author/musician/L.A. Weekly columnist Henry Rollins, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips -- the results are insightful, odd, funny, and often incredibly revealing.

Hearing his voice on the other end of the line was strange. It felt a little like I was a guest on his show -- but as expected, he was candid and open about everything we discussed, from the recent Onion A.V. Club article that suggested there simply were too many comedy podcasts to his thoughts on political discourse to his exclusion from the Time Magazine: 100 Most Influential People in 2012 list (like Governor Jan Brewer, he was included in the short list but didn't make the final cut).

Your podcast is really doing well right now. I read something not long ago that kind of speculated that at this point, there are just too many comedy podcasts.

Yeah, well, I have a problem with that speculation. You might as well source it if you're going to talk about it: It was from an article written by Scott Heisler at the Onion A.V. Club [see: Are We Nearing Comedy Podcast Overload]. The thing is . . . right now, you know how many people listen to podcasts. My belief is that when the Onion A.V. Club -- which has a very specific audience and is a very insulated opinion machine -- says things like that, all it does is reveal their elitism. To say that there are too many comedy podcasts when the medium is just taking off is incredibly condescending.

Really, the medium is brand new; we don't even know where it's going to go. Most people don't even know how to get a podcast, and most people don't even know what they are. So to start saying things like, "Uh, I don't know, I'm starting to get a little tired of this," [it's like you're saying] things like that in your house. So my feelings are, go outside. To say there are too many based on the 10 comics you listen to is crazy. There's thousands of podcasts out there. There's got to be some really interesting stuff out there. There's got to be a guy in his basement doing something that's interesting. I just don't know where the lack of fascination plays into this. Instead of saying "I'm getting tired of this" at the beginning of the medium, at the beginning of an explosion, something that is very exciting, why don't you put some energy into going and digging up a weird one? That whole premise is based on ten comedians.

Why not embrace something for longer than two weeks? Go out and find new cool shit. Or at least say, instead of saying there are too many, say "I hope this medium encourages people to go out and do interesting things." I'm just at this juncture in my life were I'm having a hard time with the hunger for content versus the ability to respect and get excited about achievement and offer criticism. In order for them to keep getting clicks -- this goes for anybody, you just churn through stuff -- I just think that's detrimental. Am I being weird or what?

No, that makes sense.

I'm not trying to pick a bone. I don't want a war with the A.V. Club. They've been very supportive of me, and I like and appreciate them. It's been a long time since there's been a new medium that's had as much freedom and possibility as podcasts. I mean, video is video. You've got YouTube. And then there's blogging, but for somebody to take a mic and dump shit out into the word for people to get in a very intimate way and have that thing get blown wide open, it's fucking exciting. A lot of people are trying to figure it out. Why at the peak of something is someone going, "Eh, there's too many"?

That's interesting -- comedy podcasts aren't a style or genre, but a medium.

I don't even know that what I'm doing is a comedy podcast. The question raised, which isn't really so much about podcasts -- the crux of the piece, really -- is that he was basically complaining that he was getting too familiar comedians he liked. And that they overexpose themselves in different formats. Like, if he hears something talked about in a podcast, and sees me working on a bit based on that topic, then sees it again, it's like, ruined for him. The bottom line is, outside of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, there's a lot of people in the world who never see me live. They're not going to hold me responsible [for that]. They're not going to come to a show and say, "Eh, I kinda heard him talk about that." But I mean it, I like them a lot. I'm not trying to pick a fight.

 

Marc Maron
Marc Maron
Dmitri Von Klein

I feel like the key to your success, from my limited grasp on it, is that you are extremely open. There's an honesty and conversational tone to your podcast and your act that is . . . I don't know, you seem like you invite people to talk and share.

[If he's worried that] the surprise is over with, the thing is, what I'm finding is that anything that happens on stage or the podcast is going to be different; it's going to be crafted differently. It's a different medium. If I go out there on stage, I like to improvise, but I also like to structure things so that it's a funny bit. A lot of times I think the podcast is very personal, and I'm finding that people . . .

[Long pause, while Maron checks his phone] I didn't make the Time Magazine: Most Influential People in the World list. Whatever.

Um. I just think that . . . experience of people who will listen to me in person on a one-to-one basis . . . That's an exciting thing, you know?

The David Cross episode was the last I've listened to. Talk about personal. That's just you and David rapping, sharing memories and anecdotes. I understand that's not for everybody, but I really enjoyed that.

I do think a lot of people like it. A lot of people will listen to my show [and] they're not necessarily [just] comedy fans. They like what we talk about. They like what happens in the conversations. A lot of people like that shit. People love that episode.

Ultimately, I think there are issues that we all share, beyond ideological lines based on a bunch of bullshit. I think that people have more in common than that.

--Marc Maron

You were on Air America for a while. Do you listen to political radio at all now, on either side of the aisle?

Eh, sometimes. I listen to NPR. I'll check it occasionally to see what's going on. I'll watch [Rachel] Maddow occasionally. I don't have time to do a lot of shit in terms of . . . oh man, this is driving me nuts.

What's driving you nuts?

Nothing, it's just this list.

The Time Magazine list?

Yeah, yeah. It just came out. I didn't make it. It's just . . . you know. It's not a big deal. It would have been a nice thing. But [to get back to] politics -- the last couple years I've realized that biased, partisan talk radio -- I realized that's not really my job. I have my beliefs. If I react to something I'll talk about it. I'm just not going to carry water for either side, outside of what I feel in my heart as an individual, and comedy as well. People want me to talk about it. It's like why? I want to talk about where my heart is at. I want to talk about where my imagination is at rather than just chewing on candidates. Ultimately, I think there are issues that we all share, beyond ideological lines based on a bunch of bullshit. I think that people have more in common than that. I mean, I just don't want to focus too much energy on that. If something gets to me, I'll talk about it, on stage or on the podcast. That's just what I do.

One of the things you do is speak to a broad spectrum of people. Different kinds of people -- you've been doing it a while, so you have to. You have to talk with different people each week. But you've done interviews and chatted with people who wouldn't be considered "cool" or "alt-comedy."

I've never set out to do that. I'll talk with people who have different views than mine about comedy. And mine have changed over time, through out the podcast and my personal, emotional situation has changed. If anything, I'll talk with people and just interview them as people. I'm not always on board with what the cool kids decide is cool. I think that a lot of people are underestimated. I'm not driven by any kind of code of what's hip and what isn't.

Marc Maron is scheduled to perform Thursday, May 3, at Stand Up Live.

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