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Marc Maron Discusses the WTF Podcast and…Health Insurance? [Interview]

Photo By Brian Kelly

Marc Maron is guilty of many things. He’ll admit as much, and often does, on his popular WTF Podcast.

Along with countless personal and public sins, Maron is also guilty of an actual crime — unlawful entry. But that one minor offense might have been the best decision the award-winning comedian has ever made.

“When I started the podcast,” Maron explained, “I did them from the Air America studios. They had fired me and my producer, but we still had our access cards, so we’d hijack the place after hours to record. We did the first twelve or so episodes like that.”

Over 42 million downloads later, ‘WTF with Marc Maron’ is considered required listening by industry heavyweights like New York Magazine, New York Times, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair and GQ. Marc has sat down for in-depth and compelling conversations with icons like Conan O’Brien, Louis CK, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and Judd Apatow. To celebrate the milestone of 100 episodes of ‘WTF with Marc Maron’, ASpecialThing records is releasing a limited edition, two-disc CD set that includes the first 100 episodes of the show.

Marc jumped on the phone with us to discuss the early idea behind the podcast, his thoughts on comedy podcasts, the idea of being a rock star and…health insurance?

GuySpeed: What was the initial hope and reason behind starting WTF?

Marc Maron: Sorry if I sound distracted during this interview, I’m in the middle of filling out these health insurance forms. Well, at the time, I was kind of down for the count – I was broke, my career was in the crapper and I was going through a second divorce. Podcasting was a possibility because I knew other people doing it. I knew I was good on the mic, so I started breaking into the studios where I’d actually been fired from and started doing them.

GuySpeed: You do the WTF Podcast from your house, was it always in your house?

Marc Maron: No, when I started, I did the podcasts from the Air America studios.  They had fired me and my producer, but we still had our access cards, so we’d hijack the place after hours to record. We did the first twelve or so episodes like that.

GuySpeed: At what point did you realize the podcast gaining momentum?

Marc Maron: When you work with these servers, you can gauge the listenership and response. When we started we didn’t know what the show was even going to be about. We just kept going with it and agreed to just let it evolve. We just agreed (my producer and I) that we’d post new episodes on specific days and honor that schedule.

GuySpeed: WTF podcast is classified as a comedy podcast but isn’t that a misclassification since its funny people sometimes discussing some serious personal stuff?

Marc Maron: I’m a comedian; I talk to primarily comedians, therefore being classified as comedy podcast is fine with me. I think the term comedy has a depth to it that should be explored, as do comedians, because we’ve taken a certain risk with our lives. We have a lot of down time to explore ourselves and our culture and lives. I was confident that having long conversations with other comics would be the way to go. I feel many comics are philosophers, poets and psychologists. It’s their job to cut through bullshit, in life and in their own life, and I always knew there would be a huge range of topics to discuss. I’m not obsessed with getting laughs, there is enough of that on regular radio.

GuySpeed: A recent article on The Onion contemplated if there are “too many comedy podcasts.” Do you think podcasts are now what comedy clubs were in the 80′s and 90′s? Kind of cluttering the space and drowning out the truly talented people.

Marc Maron: The great thing about podcasting is it’s a level playing field. There are podcasts out there that are interesting, funny and attract a small, devoted audience and that’s all they really want. They appeal to their small group of people and that’s enough.

The problem I had with the Onion article is that no one has to pay for this stuff, so to sit from on high and say ‘I think there are too many’ it’s like ‘really? Did you really look around and check them all out?’ Judging from the small pool of people named in that article and the insulated community of that particular publication, I thought it was fairly damning in a condescending way. People should appreciate the medium and instead of writing an article about there are too many and you’re “getting to know the hosts too well” why doesn’t the author go out and find the next big thing and poke around into all types of podcasting and find the weird and interesting instead of just saying “I’m a little tired of these six guys.”

GuySpeed: Do you think publications sometimes do these pieces just to ‘shock’ or get attention?

Marc Maron: They’ve got to fill pages and create content. The pace of content goes faster than the actual appreciation of the work being put forth. You’ve got a lot of guys that are failed comics or failed in whatever their true passion is in life, so they are chipping away at shit in their day gig trying to stir the pot and create conflict so people go to their website.

Hang on buddy, hang on one second. I’m just trying to get through this one page. Ok, we’re cool.

GuySpeed: We often hear in interviews that ‘every comic wanted to be a rock star and every rock star wanted to be a comic.’ Is that true?

Marc Maron: I never wanted to be a rock star, I just wanted to be myself. My life was influenced by music, but I wouldn’t say my comedy was directly influenced. I’ve played music for a long time and certainly had musicians that I’ve admired.  The spirit of rock and roll, as I understand it, has certainly shaped who I am. A little bit of rock and roll and a little neurotic would be a good way to put it.

GuySpeed: Guests really open up on WTF and end up sharing personal feelings. Did you think that keeps some people from being on the show?

Marc Maron: Absolutely. But I think that’s a misnomer of the show. I’m willing to talk about anything. I’m never out to indict anybody. The shows aren’t necessarily lighthearted but we’ve never gotten so deep that we’ve scared anyone. I think it’s a misunderstanding, based on just a few episodes of the show that guests always have to bare their soul. I’m not this great mind-fucker and I’m able to get people on the show to discuss things they don’t want to talk about. I’ll talk about anything.  I’ve also given guests the opportunity to come to me and say ‘hey, I changed my mind, I want to leave that out of the episode.’ So I edited it out. I’m not some journalist looking to expose people. If someone is uncomfortable with something, and I haven’t put the episode up yet, I’ll edit it out. I’ll try to talk them out of it.

GuySpeed: Especially if it’s something interesting.

Marc Maron: You’d be surprised. There really isn’t much of it and it’s usually something like ‘I shouldn’t have said that about that person’ or ‘I might have gone a little too far there.’

GuySpeed: Speaking of screwing with heads, you’re writing a memoir, what’s that like?

Marc Maron: Hang on one second. I just really want to get past this one page. It’s almost done.

It’s a collection of memoir-like essays with a type of arc. I don’t really like writing books. I wrote a book but I don’t consider myself a writer. It’s a little daunting to write a book. I just did what I do, and tried not to hurt anyone in the process.

GuySpeed: How’s the IFC show coming?

Marc Maron: It’s a very new experience. I’ve done shows and written scripts before but I’m not in the process of meeting with show runners and it’s much different to develop a show from start to finish. I’m nervous and just hope I’m surrounding myself with the right people and that we all have the same vision of this show.

GuySpeed: Anyone you really want on WTF?

Marc Maron: Ugh, I think I f**ked up here. You know it’s weird, with health applications, because they ask about ailments and you say ‘I’ve got that’ and they ask who the doctor was that diagnosed it and you say ‘doctor? I diagnosed myself.’

GuySpeed: You’re self diagnosing now?

It’s just anxiety. You don’t need a medical degree to figure out I’m anxious.

For more information about Marc including upcoming live shows, podcasts and photos go to wtfpod.com.

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