[14 August 2011]
Comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, is the number one podcast on iTunes, boasting as many as 450,000 downloads in any given week. This popularity seems all the more triumphant when we remember that what is “in” and what is of artistic merit often fail to go hand in hand. A comic veteran (he is often referenced whenever talk of the New York alternative comedy scene of the mid-‘90s arises) who often begins his podcast with a rant heavy on the neuroses, Maron’s bluntness does not quite scream accessibility; what’s more, his interviewing style brings about far more poignancy and insight than lightheartedness. Maron seemingly keeps a reserve of more conventionally comedic conversing for his “live” podcasts, panel shows recorded before an audience in a mid-sized concert venue. As a heavy indicator of his steady and surprising popularity, Maron’s podcast at Brooklyn’s Bell House on Monday, July 25, marked his third visit to the venue this year.
As with his other Bell House appearances, Maron recorded both an early show (featuring the likes of crafty humorist Amy Sedaris and fellow podcaster Julie Klausner) and a late show (featuring, among others, 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit and a surprise appearance from Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers). Both shows sold out before guests were even announced, a move that likely ensures future Bell House podcast recordings and lays testament to Maron’s prowess as a host.
Rotating guests aside, the real treat of experiencing WTF live is witnessing Maron’s interactivity with the crowd firsthand. A recurring feature on WTF involves Maron reading and reacting to the many emails he receives. One such email that was read aloud Monday night took higher precedence because it came with an urgent plea attached. A diehard fan planning on proposing to his wife during the recording had sought out Maron for help in writing something special for the occasion. Maron neglected the email; his expressions as he read the email made both his caddishness and compunction glaringly apparent. The incident also allowed Maron to pull out his other show-opening standard—that of ranting—as he related a recent argument with his girlfriend (whose well-being was referred to in another email, when a fan mentioned he heard Maron’s significant other on a previous podcast and feared of Maron corrupting her).
After thanking individual crowd members who had brought gifts (another staple of the live recordings, and also a sterling opportunity for Maron to mention his eating disorder) and reading a few more emails, Maron brought out his guests. The full late show line-up consisted of Rachel Feinstein, Gabe Liedman, Julian McCullough, Jodi Lennon, and the aforementioned Scott Adsit and Seth Meyers. Although some of these guests were better known than others, Maron awarded each one an equal amount of time. The wide range of topics covered insured that no matter how alien any particular comic’s style may be the stories they shared would delegate the crowd’s collective tedium to another borough. Over the course of the evening, conversation swung from touring bible belt states, to going to Jewish camp, the best ice cream flavors, Jon Hamm, being a cancer survivor, and the benefits of using one term for male genitalia over another (and when each should be used).
Each guest stayed on stage for the recording’s length, advancing along a folding table to make room for the next guest. This proves another attribute of the live setting, as the audience can observe the comedians reacting to one another’s anecdotes, or even contribute to them. Based on this, the terminology for male genitalia dilemma was the thing the panel was most passionate about (and, when it was revealed that Adsit’s mother was present, achieved a higher level of inappropriateness) . However, no asides from July’s recording were as on point as utterances from the March taping, during which writer Sarah Vowell remarked that being at the podcast was “like being in a room with the internet.”
During a recent interview on Slate.com’s Culture Gabfest podcast, Maron remarked that he feels “emotionally connected to all comics.” After seeing a WTF live show, it could be said that the same applies for comedy fans as well. It’s this connection and openness that ensures Maron’s popularity is of formidable strength, no matter how rampant his self-scrutinization runs.