Comedian Marc Maron’s podcast WTF is all the rage nowadays. For 17 months he’s been building a steady, loyal audience, eager to hear him rant, rave, opine and hangout with friends, enemies, and frenemies, most of whom are fellow comedians he’s known over his two decades in the Business. Thanks to recent articles in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, he has more listeners than ever—and frankly, with coverage like that, I hesitated to write this post. I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to those accolades, but I’ll give it a shot.
First, some history and context…
In 1998, my very good friend Jonah Kaplan (who I quoted in my last post) was making a short film, with the working title “It’s Not What You Think.” It’s a simple notion—a guy walking to his girlfriend’s house—and the complications that arise because he’s neurotic. Being very narration-intensive, Johah shrewdly decided to cast a stand-up comic in the lead, hoping an expressive voice would overcome any inexperience acting in front of a camera. He made several visits to NYC comedy clubs and set his sites on Marc Maron, whose energy bore some resemblance to his own. (Jonah’s very emotional, observant, and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.)
Since I had already done some sound editing for Jonah on a prior project, he brought me on-board in the early stages, which made me privy to his creative process. I recorded most of the narration sessions, which is when Jonah and Marc worked together the most intimately. There were several sessions, all progressively shorter than the last. In the end, there was almost 10 hours of studio time for a mere 10 minutes of voice over.
Although Jonah’s script was in great shape, there was room for Marc to bring his personal touch. This process of personalizing the voice over was intense to behold: Jonah, a neurotic Jew in his late 20s, paying $150 an hour for studio time, struggled before the neurotic-but-intimidating Jewish comic. Marc was critical of some of the dialog and didn’t spare Jonah’s feelings. A couple of times he raised his voice, barking, “What do want me to say?! Huh? You want me to say this…” and he would spontaneously say something so incredibly funny and perfect for the film that Jonah would begin laughing through his fear and say, “Yes! That’s perfect!”
In six years of engineering similar sessions, this was definitely the most collaborative one I’d ever seen, with results that genuinely improved the finished film. (Marc got a well-earned “additional dialogue” credit.)
The end result was named “Stalker Gulit Syndrome,” and it played well on the festival circuit. I was lucky enough to see it at in Austin and NYC, and the same thing happened both times: the reaction to the film’s first line (which is only 3 words) was overwhelming. Every man in the audience said to himself, “That’s me alright,” and every woman said, “I knew it! I knew that’s what they’re thinking!” It was fascinating how quickly Jonah put us IN THE FILM. Mere seconds. (Naturally, I have a link for it at the end of the post.)
Time marched on. Jonah and I remained friends, and I knew Marc was still on the comedy club circuit. A few weeks ago, I heard about is podcast, WTF. I was immediately drawn to it because comedy analysis amazes me (i.e. Steve Martin’s autobiography, Born Standing Up; the documentary Comedian with Jerry Seinfeld; The Aristocrats). Why we laugh; why we need to laugh; what power does laughter have over our emotions, our thinking, our bodies; and so on.
But I quickly noticed that Marc’s brand of existential rap (i.e. in the podcast’s opening he yells out, “What’s wrong with me?!”), as well as the turf covered by his guests, sounded uncannily like…me. Marc’s 47 and I’m six years younger, and being in your 40s which carries its own brand of crazy, one that’s new to me. It dawned on me that as someone who doesn’t indulge talk shows or talk radio, there isn’t anyone in the media I listen to that I can identify with. There isn’t any public figure out there that says things that make me respond, “That’s me alright.”
Marc and his guests are expressing my fears, my anxieties. For example, Paul Provezna discussed his career-crippling stage fright a few years ago, which he finally realized was a reaction to no longer being a young comedian. And Louis C.K. and Marc dissected the ups and downs of their 20 year friendship, one peppered with love, jealousy and regret. And many humorously vent about the conditions of their bodies as they enter the “other side” of their lifespan. And in all of these instances I’m nodding my head in agreement or shaking my head in relief or wondering how the Hell did they climb into my head and pilfer my thoughts and feelings.
Does this mean the podcast doesn’t have value for others, for those that don’t fit that demographic? Obviously not since it’s drawing huge numbers. Does this kind of probing make it any less entertaining? Probably a little. But comedy has been entertaining me my whole life, and it’s always nice when it cuts deeper.
So, check out WTF, if you haven’t already. And if you drop Marc a line (he responded to my fan e-mail within a day), be sure to ask him about “Stalker Guilt Syndrome.” I’d love to hear him talk about it on the podcast.
And speaking of Jonah Kaplan’s film, here ‘tis, all 11 minutes of it. And play it LOUD—it sounds great!
If you like what you see and want more, check out Jonah’s interview with director Spike Jonze. Good stuff, good stuff.