This week, Marc Maron’s show Maron premieres on IFC. The show is based loosely on the comedian’s experience creating and hosting his WTF with Marc Maron podcast. Since the podcast’s creation in 2009, Maron has interviewed everyone from Carrot Top to Bryan Cranston to Jonathan Winters, and Maron’s candid conversational style paired with his signature blend of honesty, insecurity, and resentment has shone a light on the emotional backstories behind respected and despised comedians, actors, and musicians alike.
After nearly 400 episodes, it’s hard to identify the absolute best of anything without leaving a ton of great stuff out, but here is a list of some of the most important and defining episodes of WTF, the ones that make it obvious why this show is so good and important to podcasting as a medium.
Episode 67 – Robin Williams
In one of the early WTF episodes, Maron interviewed Robin Williams, who kept the joking to a minimum and, in a rare moment for a comedian famous for his public persona and endless improvisation riffing, talked candidly about drug use and sobriety, divorce, depression, and stealing jokes. Williams’ interview helped set the tone for the podcast as a place for comedians to talk about deeper, more personal matters beyond typical interview fare.
Episode 76 – Carlos Mencia Part Two
When Carlos Mencia came on the show in May 2010, Maron tried addressing accusations that the comedian had stolen jokes for his stand-up sets. Unsatisfied with Mencia’s guarded and seemingly planned answers, Maron reached out to some Latino comics who had worked with Mencia over the years, and in a follow-up episode Willie Barcena and Steve Trevino had a lot of negative things to say about Mencia. Maron confronted Mencia about Barcena and Trevino’s accusations, and in the second half of Part Two, Mencia opened up about how much other comics’ criticism has hurt him and led to negative behavior, and he apologized for bumping other performers from club slots.
Episode 85 – Dane Cook
Dane Cook is wildly popular in mainstream comedy and yet still a hugely polarizing person especially among fellow comedians, whether it’s for a bland sense of humor or for stealing jokes. Cook opens up about being self-conscious, and Maron confronts Cook with some of the topics later covered in a fictionalized way in Cook’s appearance on Louie the following year.
Episode 95 - Patrice O’Neal
In Maron’s 2010 interview with Patrice O’Neal, the late stand-up talked about being convicted of statutory rape as a teenager and the harsh realities of prison, as well as how race and an absent father affected his life and comedy and what it’s like to bomb on stage.
Episode 103/104 - Judd Apatow
When Judd Apatow was on the show, he told Maron about what it was like growing up as a major comedy nerd, specifically as a sixteen year old with a radio show in which he interviewed comedians. Part one of the episode includes clips from Apatow’s high school radio show in which he interviewed Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and Garry Shandling. Part two talks more about Apatow’s process and insecurities as a producer and whether his job makes him him happy or not.
Episode 111/112 - Louis C.K.
Louis C.K. and Marc Maron did shows together in the late 80s, and though they were friends, Maron always harbored a resentment of Louis C.K.’s success that eroded their friendship over the years, specifically when Maron asked that Louis stop calling him because their conversations were too one-sided. When Maron hosts C.K. on the podcast, a place he has created that encourages openness and honesty, Maron tries to confront C.K. about their friendship but C.K. turns the tables on him and Maron ends up discovering a lot about himself and what makes him a bad friend.
Episode 130 - Mike DeStefano
DeStefano talks about caring for his dying wife and how it proved he is not a piece of shit. DeStefano also goes public for the first time about his experience living with HIV for over 20 years and how he came to peace with his terrible disease through stand-up and Buddhism. In a truly inspiring interview, DeStefano talks about the importance of laughter and comedy amid a world of pain and fear.
Episode 145 - Gallagher
Lowbrow prop-comic Gallagher was not familiar with the openness typical of WTF when he came on the show, and he proved to be an uncomfortable and angry interviewee in this episode. Gallagher was so upset that he stormed out of the garage in the middle of the conversation, prompting a frustrated Maron to emit “Aw, c’mon Gallagher,” a sort of ridiculous catch-phrase for a ridiculous moment.
Episode 163 - Conan O’Brien
Maron interviewed with Conan in 2011 shortly after the NBC Late Night battle, when Conan was constantly subject to press from mainstream media. In the garage, O’Brien is able to talk without any public persona buffer, and him and Maron talk about Faulkner, insecurities, his feelings about the whole NBC thing, and using all that turmoil in his career as a relaxation technique.
Episode 183 – Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler talks about crossing paths with Maron in New York and Boston as well as her marriage and children and what it’s like as a pregnant performer. The episode also deals with Maron’s contempt for the improv scene and the early stages of the Upright Citizens Brigade in particular, something he also addressed in an earlier episode with Poehler’s fellow UCB founder Matt Walsh. Poehler is really good at defending against Maron’s criticism, and it’s clear that he also has a lot of respect for her.
Episode 190 – Todd Hanson
When Maron talks to the long-time editor and one of the original writers for The Onion, the connection between the two is evident, both from working the alt-comedy scene in New York around the same time and in a deeper way in the pair’s shared ability and interest in translating darkness into comedy. Like some of the other two-parter WTFs, Maron sensed something going unspoken in his first interview with Hanson and months later had a second conversation in which Hanson opened up about his long history of depression, a suicide attempt in 2009, and his recovery and rebirth after that attempt.
Episode 245 - Todd Glass
When Todd Glass was on the show in 2012, he had been doing comedy for over thirty years. The comedian joked about making a “big announcement” and then came out of the closet. Though WTF as a whole can be celebrated for its commitment to honesty and openness, Glass’s going public about his homosexuality is a testament to the trust and friendship he shares with Maron. Glass came out partially in response to the unfortunate abundance of gay youths committing suicide, and in his interview discusses the experience of denying his sexuality for much of his life as well as gay rights in the United States, prejudice, and homophobia.
Episode 297 - Fiona Apple
In addition to a strong roster of comedians, Maron has especially recently talked with some musicians with strong connections to the comedy world, including Aimee Mann, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, E of Eels, and Fiona Apple. Maron and Apple discuss the vulnerability that comes with her neuroticism and mental health issues, and the songstress opens up about how her lonely childhood led her to writing down her thoughts and ideas and sharing them through music.
Episode 359 – Carl Reiner
In early 2013, Maron had Mel Brooks on for a really excellent episode, and at Brooks’s suggestion Maron had Carl Reiner on the show shortly after. Reiner’s interview might not be as emotional driven as many of the podcast’s most celebrated episodes, but Reiner has such interesting stories to tell. He talks about his experience in the military, how he became a writer, then an actor, and then a director, what it was like developing The 2000 Year Old Man, and his relationships with collaborators including Brooks, Sid Ceaser, Dick Van Dyke, and Steve Martin.
Episode 369 - Lynn Shawcroft
Though Lynn Shawcroft is a comic in her own right, she was also married to the late stand-up Mitch Hedberg. Shawcroft talks to Maron about grief, loss, and drug addiction, a disease that Shawcroft and Maron both have suffered from in the past and that particularly affected Hedberg’s life and his relationship with Shawcroft.