It’s been many months since I wrote about a podcast, although I casually mention them when I write about comedy, which seems to happen weekly now, but I’ve been inspired lately by many, choosing to listen to interviews and discussion over music. I also seek it out, and as I’ve mentioned with music and fashion and other art-forms, I do the opposite. So clearly I’m wrangling on some sort of addiction here, but it feeds my soul so much and fills me with this strange hope and belief that I can foster whatever form of satire I’m pursuing into something worthwhile. The top of the list for me is What The Fuck (more notably, WTF) with long-time stand-up Marc Maron. Marc is a comic’s comic. If you enjoy stand-up comedy and have followed the movement even loosely over the past couple decades then you should know who he is. I’d be willing to bet many of you don’t simply because you’re living normal lives, not obsessing over weird podcasts and the intricacies of humor. Leave that to geeks like me. The staple in choosing what to write about comes from an enthusiasm placed in my brain that I then want to share, ultimately to a public who doesn’t give a fuck. But my hope is those who are reading this do, and even if you don’t listen, you’re now aware of this existence, of this phenomenon that is podcasting and how much great content there is now via this medium.
Marc is in his late 40’s. He’s lived everywhere a comic should live, now settling in Southern California, still touring clubs like genetically motivated comedians do, and frequently now conducting interviews out of his garage, with some of the best comedic artists of our time, from many decades ago through today. Since I was a kid, watching old Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, and Richard Pryor films (there are many more you can fill in, Steve Martin, Dan Akroyd, etc.), I longed to get to know these people better, know them for who they really are. A far-fetched notion and dream, but I felt their stand-up, sketch performances or film/TV roles, coupled with interviews on Johnny Carson provided a glimmer into their psyche, into how they became who they were. Sometimes it was not a pretty picture, and for others, it proved to be very enlightening and encouraging. Nothing I’ve seen in the past has provided the depth of background into these human beings like WTF, and for that reason, I am addicted.
Marc’s stand-up has evolved into this self-effacing, abrasive, intelligent rant, daring you to dislike him as much as he dislikes himself. He seems to be a man of integrity, painfully honest regarding his mistakes and past and present forms of psychosis, and seems easily nonconformist, not adhering to cultural role-playing or our societal script. In the beginning of the WTF podcast, Marc takes us through his current metamorphosis and growth, either via the description of who he’s interviewing that day, how that person has affected him or merely his take on them as a comedic artist, and ultimately how certain psychological revelations has informed and manifested into his comedy and his interaction with others. Or he may simply be experiencing some personal challenge, whether it be a relationship, an encounter on the road, or just too much time alone. I resonate with how his mind seems to work. He’s constantly questioning, wondering, dissecting and exploring the inner workings of his and others’ minds. On top of his insight, he knows his shit. He comes from an important class of comedians, knows deeply the inner workings of comedy legends and the lesser known artists also involved during each era and therefore he’s a part of a very small cluster of human beings that can call themselves comics. Stand-up is his forte but Marc is aware and involved with comedic artists of varying genres and so the beautiful conversations that emerge are beyond informative, cut much deeper than entertaining and are a catalyst for epiphanies and growth as an artist and a human being.
This seemingly natural wordiness and inquisitive mind leads Marc to be an excellent conversationalist, beyond what we see as a smart interview or a top-notch journalist, Marc very casually and effortlessly takes his cohort on a ride through the depths of comedy, the why and how, exposing the truth and meat of every story. He typically starts at the beginning of their careers, taking a linear road trip with occasional stops to let what is clearly an interesting and very genuine moment unfold. We learn how artists, both well-known and practically unknown, became who they are at this moment, how familial, religious, political, geographical, psychological influences made a mark on how their journey transformed, how their careers evolved, grew or stifled, through peaks and valleys. Naturally, the most memorable episodes of WTF are not with well-known comics everyone already loves, although those provide insight and previously unknown information as well, but for me the interviews with artists I was either completely unaware of or only vaguely familiar were so pleasantly surprising and thought-provoking.
Marc has referred to himself as a farm-team comic, alluding to perhaps his perceived mid-level of success in the comedic world. Similar to some truly remarkable music, film, painting and other art out there, your level of value and success is often determined by your financial worth, your level of fame, the amount of twitter followers you’ve acquired or some other arbitrary measure of achievement. It should be obvious that despite this lack of millions, in dollars or followers, Marc and many other artists out there have been propelling some genius, unique work for a long time. And I believe it’s because he hasn’t risen to a Dane Cook level that he continues to progress and is now changing our world with such a special podcast. Sure there are certain “stars” he’s excited to interview or hopeful to get into his garage, but he knows more than anyone the depth of talent out there deserving of a conversation with him. The podcast has catapulted him to more fame, more followers, potentially more money, but he remains true to the club comic scene and to his objective as a podcaster.
The podcast has opened my eyes and delved me deeper into my comedy geek world, but it’s also affected my depth as a human being. I’m grateful to know more about so many artists I already respected and to have the exposure to dozens more I never knew. Recently, I’ve re-listened to episodes with those we’ve lost, Patrice O’Neal specifically. I cried, actual tears, upon not only hearing the news of Patrice’s stroke, but in particular hearing the sad news of his passing. These artists, and Patrice in particular, are as one of a kind as you can get. Him, Marc and others deserve more success than this difficult world has given them but they’ve retained their integrity and a painful level of honesty, disguising harsh truths in the most clever, wise jokes. They give me hope and courage. If I can be true to myself in my endeavors as a teacher, writer and human being, then I can feel less like a rat in the race and more of a success internally, and hopefully the external will show itself eventually.
I find it confusing and daunting to process just how important comedy is to me and the world. There are people I know fairly well, who I’d never wish any ill-will or negativity of course, but who’ve left for whatever reason and I felt sad for their loved ones and them personally, but held no sadness within myself. I’ve never met Patrice, Marc and many other comedians out there, but their impact on me has been nothing short of profound, and with the podcast, we not only get to know those we already love and respect even better, but we also remember them, honor them and have a format to share them with others. And that is a damn gift. It makes you ponder your own impact and inspires you to absorb more and to have the courage to influence in your own positive way. It is my dream to meet these artists and have my own conversations someday, and because of this incredible podcast, the bar is set high and I’m grateful to have learned and been affected by this.
This podcast has well over 200 episodes and is free, with many avenues to subscribe. There's also an excellent app for iPhones and Droids. I'll warn you, it's addictive, but in the best way.
Listen. Actively. Reflect. Laugh. Project. Enjoy.