It’s compelling enough to get him comedy specials on HBO and Comedy Central, appearances on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman, the role of the “Angry Promoter” in the movie Almost Famous, and a gig as host of Morning Sedition on the progressive radio network Air America (he was dismissed partly for being too angry).
Maron, who has released three comedy CDs and is working on a fourth, started WTF in September 2009, and in August celebrated his 100th episode. He’s one of the few in the podcast world to achieve a modicum of success with the support of sponsors, and the show has been one of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes. The show can switch from interviewing comedy luminaries to uncomfortable conversations with his divorced parents, but it’s all very candid and honest. (An interview with porn star Dana DeArmond, followed by a chat with Maron’s therapist was awkward indeed.)
The candor on the podcast has progressed naturally from the 48-year-old’s style of stand-up. “I’ve always sort of done it on stage, and it just took me a while to realize that sometimes, especially in the form of the podcast, that it doesn’t always have to be funny necessarily,” he says. “Sometimes, the honesty of it is OK, but I just began to become confident that something funny will happen.”
Maron records most of the WTF episodes in his garage, doing interviews by phone, and that makes the show feel more comfortable. Los Angeles-area comedians drop by his place or, if he’s performing somewhere like, say, Chicago, he might go to the office of Ira Glass, host of public radio show This American Life, to interview him. He’s also had comedians such as Bob Saget and Robin Williams on the show.
Occasionally, the honesty is too much for some of his subjects. When last May he interviewed comedian Carlos Mencia on two episodes about accusations against the Hispanic comic of joke-stealing, Mencia became very defensive. More recently, last month comic Gallagher stormed off the show.
“There’s an electricity to talking to people about things that are explosive or vulnerable,” Maron says, “but many of the podcasts have moments like that, because I think a lot of us don’t have in-depth conversations about much of anything, including myself (off the show). If I’m talking to somebody I’ve never met before, like Bob Odenkirk or Louis C.K., when something emotional happens, there’s a moment of awkwardness. But then you realize, wow, this is really human, we’re all built to deal with this, but this is something we should be doing, so just stay in the present and let the moment reveal itself, you know?”
WTF and Maron’s comedy in general are very intelligent in a world of Larry the Cable Guy humor. He sometimes discusses authors like Jonathan Franzen; it’s not uncommon to hear the word “gravitas” on the show. Maron’s cynicism is so bent on scrutiny of everything—especially himself—that he doesn’t let cynicism go unexamined, and that raises him above the level of “cynical hipster.” In the conversational format of WTF, he seems to have found the perfect medium to get his sensibility, style and tone across without being either too abrasive or too loose and rambling, but conversational in a way that‘s extremely listenable: “It just suited me perfectly because it brought together all my comedy skills, radio skills and emotional skills into one form.”
While Maron is working on a comedic memoir tentatively titled Attempting Normal, it seems the catharsis of doing the podcast helps him keep a strange kind of balance in his life. “As you get older, you start to realize that, despite all of your whining and anger and despair and expectations and disappointments, there’s an end to this,” he says. “And there are a lot of things that are up to us to experience with our own perceptions. It just seems that if I keep talking, and keep expressing how I feel and keep listening to other people, that I can change the way I perceive things a little bit, and that can bring a little more peace of mind.”
Wiseguys Comedy Café
2194 W. 3500 South
West Valley City
Wednesday Feb. 23, 7:30pm