Well, here's one I never expected: President Obama is scheduled to appear on an episode of the podcast WTF With Marc Maron, to be posted this coming Monday. It will be recorded, as most episodes of the show are, in Maron's garage in Los Angeles. Maron announced the news at the beginning of today's episode of WTF, with guest Judd Apatow:
Brace yourselves. Are you sitting down? Okay. Take a breath. All right. If everything goes as planned, on Monday, I will post a WTF – an episode of this show that you’re listening to now – featuring myself in conversation, talking to at my home in my garage, me, talking to the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. That is what's happening Monday. If everything goes well tomorrow — I don't know when you're listening to this but I’m talking to him tomorrow, if everything goes well. If everything goes as planned, by the end of the day tomorrow, Friday, I will have an conversation in the can with the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.
If you're never listened to WTF it may not be totally clear why this is such a bizarre development. The show has a very simple format: episodes typically feature one guest, whom Maron interviews at length, usually delving into his or her personal life and hopes and fears and the whatnot. The guests are almost exclusively comedians, comedy writers, actors, and musicians. Looking through the past 612 episodes (Obama will be 613th) I can't find anyone who isn't somehow in the entertainment industry. The past five episodes featured Apatow, comedian Godfrey, punk musician Mike Watt, actress Constance Zimmer, and comedian and Inside Amy Schumer writer Kurt Metzger.
The most iconic episodes of the show feature comedians and disputes within the comedy world:
- Louis C.K. appeared in a two-part episode that delved into the collapse of his and Maron's friendship. When they were both struggling comics in Boston, they were very close, but drifted apart as C.K.'s career took off and Maron's (until the success of WTF) didn't. It's rare to hear people — men especially — talk about breakups with friends, and C.K. and Maron do so in a remarkably candid fashion.
- Dane Cook was the most successful standup in the world in the mid- to late 2000s, but he was loathed by fellow comedians as a sellout and, more significantly, a joke thief, with Louis C.K. his most notable alleged victim. Cook and C.K. would deal with this dispute on an episode of Louie, but before that, Maron confronted Cook about the accusations and, surprisingly, Cook engaged.
- Carlos Mencia also has a bad reputation among comics as a joke thief, and when Maron initially interviewed Mencia about the issue, Mencia's answers were pretty guarded and uninformative. In the next episode, breaking with the show's usual format, he reached out to comedians critical of Mencia and got Mencia to respond, finally eliciting a more honest reaction, where Mencia speaks forthrightly about how hurt he is by other comedians' criticism.
- Robin Williams's episode is difficult to listen to now, as he addresses his history with addiction, depression, and suicidal ideation, four years before suicide would claim his life. But it's also exceptionally poignant and powerful, not least because it's a big break from the jokey public persona Williams had in most other interviews.
- Todd Glass, a veteran standup who's been working since the 1980s, used his second appearance on WTF to come out as gay, at age 47, and talked with Maron about living in the closet for decades and being gay in a field like comedy, which can be aggressively macho.
Those are probably the five newsiest episodes to date, but there are plenty more good ones: Amy Poehler, Maria Bamford, Fiona Apple, Patrice O'Neal, Zach Galifianakis. If you want more episodes to catch up on, Slate's David Haglund and Splitsider's Jenny Nelson have excellent roundups to get you started.
In his announcement of the Obama interview, Maron mused, "Is there a standard of classic WTF-style interview? I think so. I'm not exactly sure what they are or what they entail, but I know when I do them. And I hopefully will do one of those with the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama." If you listen to past episodes, you'll see what he means. Maron has a long track record of eliciting raw, honest, emotional interviews delving into people's lives and fears and hopes, often with guests you'd never expect to open up like that. If he manages to do the same with the president, it'd be quite a feat.