No assessment of the podcast created by Marc Maron, called WTF, should ever begin with negativity or what it means to the person doing the assessment. The show belongs to Marc Maron, but, really, it's not about him and it's not about the person being interviewed. It's about having a conversation that is open and honest.
Consequently, Jay Caspian King of the execrable Grantland site uses his own angst and neediness to run the show down and fulfill his daily/weekly quota of bullshit for the masses. This is unfortunate, since a good piece about WTF should begin and end with the fact that Marc Maron is doing a fantastic job of facilitating great conversations.
King makes it entirely about himself, and that's lamentable:
But for those, like me, who are at their happiest when listening to other people stack one layer of false modesty on top of another layer of false self-awareness, Southern California, and all its gyms and its phalanxes of actresses who hike up Runyon Canyon, can feel a bit alienating.If this is entertainment to you, then your issue is not with the show. It's with whatever is alienating you from the rest of society. Why project that on someone else's art?
As someone who listens to the WTF podcast for an average of about 45 minutes a day, I wish there were a prettier way to describe what goes on. But outside of the occasional live show, which usually involves a bunch of comedians you've never heard of desperately reminding you of all the reasons you've never heard of them...This is a patently unfair attack on something that Maron does very well, and that is host a live event that he records for his show. Ever heard of Joel McHale? Amy Sedaris? Will Arnett? Jonathan Katz? Those folks, and many more, have done the live shows and they are very entertaining.
As a listener, it's hard not to interject yourself into the back-and-forth. There have been times, usually early in the morning, when I've put on a WTF podcast and found myself talking, stupidly, about my own problems. And strangely, these mini-therapy sessions in which I'm talking to Maron and my steering wheel have been far more effective than anything I've found in a professional's office; perhaps it's worth wondering if Maron might be unknowingly pioneering some new technique whereby the unrelenting and unabashed narcissism of the therapist encourages the patient to indulge and discuss his own problems, at least a little bit.I'm sorry, but I listen for the conversation. That is the artistry of what Maron does. He talks to people in an old-school way that is very open and honest. The Carrot Top show was the worst episode, period. And it failed, for me, because Carrot Top refused to talk for himself and, instead, allowed his sidekick to sandbag Maron. Rather than act confrontational, Maron allowed the conversation to unfold as it happened, and with the sidekick's lame excuses being the most revealing aspect of Carrot Top's public persona. Aside from that episode, I can't think of any others that were even remotely difficult to listen to.
The most interesting shows are when people expose who they really are--such as the episodes with Gallagher and Carlos Mencia. The best shows are the ones that are raw and honest, such as with Louis CK and Todd Glass.
The Glass episode, in particular, is humanity exposed and examined; honesty and self-awareness are run through a particularly interesting kind of wringer. I don't know how King's assessment of Maron, and what he does, can even exist without at least mentioning that show. He may listen to the show, but, brother. He ain't hearing it.
I think this is his biggest cheap shot:
Maron's interviews exist somewhere outside of the polite Tonight Show format, where one humbler, funnier person asks a self-involved, possibly vapid person some questions that have been prescreened by an army of publicists. Every Letterman and Leno interview goes down easy in the same way. Every Maron podcast self-combusts, picks itself back up, and drags itself across the 75-minute mark. The repetition of his specific traumas — "the Lorne meeting," cocaine, and comedy clubs — creates something of a narrative structure for every unctuous, predictable talking point. Maron is narcissistic, chauvinistic, and still living in the drugged-out comedy clubs of the late '80s and '90s, but he somehow pulls all these things into a powerful, compelling, and, most important, funny neurosis.
Maron has a history, and his conversations reflect that. Is he supposed to adopt a persona that appeals to a broader demographic and show us that so that his traumas are hidden away? Most emphatically, hell no. The appeal of the show is that it stays true to the way it was started--as a way of restarting Maron's career after being burned out working in political radio. The idea behind the show is deceptively brilliant. Let's sit in the garage and talk. Let's have a conversation about adult things. And that's why people have connected with it.
It's sad when someone allows their own issues to get in the way of what they're assessing in the popular culture. Marc Maron's show is one of the real gems out there, and the enthusiasm with which people continue to greet new episodes reflects that. It is a show that succeeds because it is giving people what a lot of other great podcasts are also doing--they're just dealing openly and honestly with the conversation that happens between people. Beyond that, you don't have to overthink it or inject your personal demons into the mix.