There have been close to four hundred episodes of US comedy podcast WTF since it started in September 2009 and its list of guests read as a who’s who of comedy and the entertainment industry. During that time, the profile of host Marc Maron has increased enormously, and in the week that his self-titled TV series debuts on IFC (read our episode one review, here) how better to salute the man himself than with a run-down of WTF‘s ten best episodes…
Robin Williams – 67
Starting off the list with a giant of comedy is no bad thing, particularly one who has such a long and interesting story as this one. Williams’ manic energy and charisma made him a star but his battles with addiction over the years at times hampered his ability to fully capitalise on this. It’s an important episode as it really set the tone, in many ways, for the podcast. What was once often a forum for comedians to highlight their comedy stylings and promote their work was changed into a forum for discussing some of the deeper issues that affect those in the public eye. Williams candidly discusses his addiction, divorce and even one of the major crimes of a comedy performer: stealing material, a frequently discussed topic on the show.
Carlos Mencia – 75 & 76
One interview was conducted with Carlos Mencia, but Maron wasn’t entirely pleased with the way things went, particularly with regard to how rehearsed Mencia’s responses to accusations of his being a material thief seemed to be. This made Maron feel as though he had been played by someone who has in the past had a reputation for manipulation. Maron took it upon himself to reach out to those who had worked with Mencia in the past, including Willie Barcena and Steve Trevino, who painted the comic in a much darker light than his previous interview would indicate. Maron then confronted Mencia with his findings, in a manner not dissimilar to Columbo, which led to a great moment of truth as the comic went on to talk how negative comments from other comedians affect him, and to apologise for bumping other comics from their slots in comedy clubs. A fascinating listen which perfectly highlights Maron’s ability to ask difficult questions.
Dane Cook – 85
Dane Cook is massive. He sells out Madison Square Garden with no problem at all, and clearly speaks to a mainstream audience. As is often the case with its most successful exports, it would appear that Cook doesn’t have the full respect of the comedy community. One of the main accusations is that his material is rather bland, something that is quite common among mainstream performers, another is one of the running themes so far is that he stole material. Maron gets Cook to open up in a way that doesn’t seem rehearsed, as he did first time around with Mencia, and gets onto the topic of “stealing my essence” which has been referenced by numerous guests since, and was sent up by Cook himself on an episode of Louis CK sitcom, Louie.
Patrice O’Neal – 95
This is probably the episode I’ve listened to the most. O’Neal talks about some dark subjects and has some very controversial views but as a personality he’s absolutely magnetic. The charisma and confidence of the man was simply incredible which makes his passing in 2011 incredibly sad indeed. Following a stoke, he suffered complications that rendered him paralysed. In the episode he talks of his conviction for statutory rape, the effect not having his dad around had on him, his views on the dynamics of relationships and the place of women as well as his rather entertaining attitude towards bombing on stage which can be paraphrased as if ‘I’m gonna bomb I’m taking you all down with me’.
Stewart Lee – 98
Prior to this interview, Maron seemed to know little of Lee and his work and contacted him whilst in London on the recommendation of other comics. Now familiar with Lee, Maron often cites him as being one of his favourite stand-ups. Lee is of course known over here with years of stand-up and television work as well as a hugely controversial musical to his name. All are addressed in the interview and in stark contrast to O’Neal’s attitude towards bombing, Lee has a much more enlightened approach which when it’s shared clearly has a great impact on Maron. His attitude is basically one of pity, but not in a patronising way. It’s not an episode that is perhaps highlighted as one of the best and I’m not just putting it here because of a Brit bias, or that Lee is my favourite stand-up, but for the fact that Lee’s outlook on comedy and performing appears to have had a profound affect on Maron’s future work.
Louis C.K. – 111 &112
This is quite an emotional double header as the pair were for a time very close when were living and performing together in the late 80s, however their relationship became complicated when Maron resented CK’s success and saw it as a personal insult to him. This came to a head when Maron asked CK to stop calling him as felt the conversations were too one-sided. In the interview, CK explains the situation to Maron and makes him see that the fact that their relationship fell apart was perhaps more to do with Maron’s narcissism and paranoia than Louis leaving him behind. It’s a great listen and it gets very emotional at times, the situation is very relatable as I’m sure we’ve all had friendships fall apart over the years and listening to former friends talk through their issues is quite incredible.
Todd Hanson – 190
Another hugely emotional episode involves this interview with one of the original creators of The Onion. Both had a connection through working in the New York comedy scene and both have a tendency towards the darker side of life. The episode is made up of two conversations between the two of them as Maron was unsatisfied that he got to the heart of the matter fist time around, a few months later and the second conversation between the two revealed Hanson’s battle with depression that lead to his suicide attempt and his recovery following the event.
Todd Glass – 245
Another episode that demonstrates the show as a platform for performers to explore deeper issues is this one where Todd Glass teased a big announcement and used the show to come out after a career as a performer spanning thirty years. Glass attributed this to the weight of responsibility he felt following the suicide of a number of youths struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. He spoke openly about his experience of denying his sexuality, gay rights, prejudice, and homophobia. The fact that the announcement doesn’t come off as contrived is a huge testament to the manner it was delivered and the strong relationship Maron and Glass clearly have.
Michael Keaton – 349
The major thing I took from this episode is what a thoroughly lovely and charismatic man Michael Keaton is. Once a giant of cinema, Keaton’s star sadly has faded of late but this seems to have done little to affect his outlook on life. He’s someone who values family, having come from a large one, and who is thankful for the opportunities he has had over the years. He doesn’t shy away from any topic and talks candidly about whatever is brought up during the course of the conversation. Even if Maron is a little star-struck early on Keaton soon puts him at ease and the conversation flows throughout. There’s plenty here for film and comedy geeks alike and demonstrates why the world needs much more Michael Keaton than it has had over the past decade.
Mel Brooks – 358
From one giant of cinema to another, you hardly need me to tell you the profound affect Brooks has had on comedy over the years and the high regard he’s held in. He covers the entirety of his career including forcing Gene Wilder to take the role in The Producers which started a working relationship that defined both of their careers, his pride for his son Max, producing a number of films that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with him (The Fly, The Elephant Man etc) and his relationship with Carl Reiner, which opened the door for Maron to interview him in the following episode. It’s a fascinating story that covers Brooks’ rich career.
Thanks to Den of Geek writer and Film4 Deputy Editor, Michael Leader, for introducing me to the WTF podcast and helping me formulate this list of personal picks. Feel free to recommend your own WTF favourites below.
Hear the podcasts at http://www.wtfpod.com/
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