Friday, May 16, 2014

WTF with Marc Maron: The Art of the Interview

Nothing beats the energy of two people engaged in thought provoking and unpredictable conversation.  WTF with Marc Maron is a podcast that airs twice a week on his website. Undoubtedly, Maron has reinvigorated the art of the interview - a format sadly lacking on television.  Quite simply, the interviews are the best you'll ever hear anywhere.  They are brutally honest, funny, inspiring, and much, much more.

Maron streams two full length interviews a week from his garage in Los Angeles. A veteran stand up comedian since the 1980s known for never quite hitting the big time or getting the same accolades as his peers (a recurring source of humor and angst on the show).  He's been very open about his early days in the mad world of Sam Kinison , struggles with addictions, and the ups and downs of a life in show business. In 2009, after hitting a career brick wall, Maron started conducting interviews with fellow comics in his garage. Now nearing episode 500, WTF is the hippest thing happening on the web or any other medium for that matter.

Each episode begins with Marc delivering a stream of consciousness rant of whatever's on his mind. Then he introduces the interview which usually lasts an hour or two. Maron's interview style swiftly shifts from laid back politeness to relentlessly probing. Since the majority of guests are comedians the episodes themselves are like a comedy school. 

There are countless highlights from the interviews and many stand out. Listening to back to back interviews Marc conducted with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner are invaluable as history, but also very entertaining.  Judd Apatow spoke movingly of finding an escape in comedy as a child to deal with bullying and the pain of his parents divorce.  In a two-part interview with Louis CK, both comics share stories about being friends back in the day and the professional jealousy that poisoned their friendship.  During the interview they worked out their differences.  Conan O'Brien opened up about losing the Tonight Show and making the transition from writing to performing. Another favorite moment came during a long chat with Bob Zmuda, Andy Kaufman's writing partner, who enthusiastically retold the story of Kaufman's strange, almost mythic life. At one point Maron exclaimed, "I feel like you're a blind Homer telling the story of Odysseus!"

WTF is much more than a school of comedy.  Lately Marc has spent more time with musicians, writers, and artists.  Recently, Lena Dunham stopped by and they devoted most of their conversation on nothing less than the nature of great art.  Michael Keaton discussed his beginnings in stand up comedy and then becoming an unlikely choice to play Batman. In another episode, Marc interviewed legendary character actor Harry Dean Stanton and achieved something of a transcendence.  

Interviews with musicians range from educational to the sublime.  Highlights from 2014 include Wayne Kramer of the Detroit proto-Punk band MC5 speaking about overcoming drugs, surviving prison, and finding solace in music.  Some of the hidden gems include people who aren't as widely known such as Patrick Stickles, leader of the indie-rock band Titus Andnronicus, who gave a gritty account of his struggle with depression.  John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revivial spoke openly about his influences and his songwriting process. Iggy Pop came in he gave a raw account of the music scene in Detroit and L.A. 1960s and 1970s. Iggy remembered everything.

The art of the interview is alive and well on WTF.  Maron's keeping alive a tradition, while building a priceless record of history, biography, cultural criticism - a document of modern America itself.  More interviews are sure to come and they are all well worth your time.

(The previous 50 shows are available to stream, but for $5 you can gain access to the entire archive at