The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We’re here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.
To celebrate WTF with Marc Maron’s landmark episode with President Barack Obama, this week we’re highlighting some of our favorite WTF episodes. For more recommendations, check out our guide to the 15 most defining WTF episodes here.
Episode 613 - President Barack Obama
Marc: Yes, Obama said the N-word. But I’ll get to that in a minute. The main thing is that it feels like podcasting just leveled up this week. Not that President Obama hasn’t ever been on a podcast before. Heck, he started out having his own when he first got into the White House. But this week he crosses a threshold – literally – when he steps into Marc Maron’s garage. It’s like the President is sitting down on the set of comedy podcasting’s version of The Daily Show. To be fair, Maron modifies his usual “thing” a bit. There’s no opening litany of listener types, portmanteaus that all start with the F-word. And there’s no busting of balls that can happen when the host is particularly comfortable with his guest (contrast Obama’s appearance to last week’s show with guest Godfrey). Maron is properly respectful and maintains his cool, regardless of how much he talks about almost losing it preparing for this episode. Obama comes across, as is his style, very personable and friendly, but I’m not sure we learn anything new about the man from this appearance. Again, the significance is more in where he’s appearing and what that means in regards to the prominence and importance of podcasting as a medium. The President is a facile speaker and his answers to Maron’s questions are smooth and fairly lengthy. (I kept imagining Obama in a mockup of Maron’s garage at the White House, with a staffer peppering him in advance with Maronesque questions, prepping for the show.)
Now, about that N-word. Naturally, the fact that the President utters it has mostly been taken out of context: “Obama said the N-word!” Frankly, in the way it’s being used – as a reference, really – there’s been a lot more made of it than needed. See for yourself: “”Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.” More like a teachable moment than something deserving of great hue and cry. Kudos to Maron for landing a great milestone guest and, by the simple act of having POTUS sitting in his garage, it’s likely that the importance of podcasting as a mass communications medium, has taken a big step forward. (Libsyn, the podcasting network that distributes WTF, reported more than 700,000 downloads in the first 24 hours after the show dropped early Monday morning.) Not to mention sending up a signal flare to politicians everywhere that – in podcasting - they now have a new outlet from which to campaign.
THE AFTERMATH: Want to hear Marc Maron’s thoughts and feeling on having played host to the president? His followup episode, WTF #614, dropped today. It features Maron and his producer Brendan McDonald chatting about the visit, how the interview came about in the first place, and the amazing preparations that led up to making sure “The Garage” was ready to receive the leader of the free world.
Episode 154 - Amy Schumer (March 2011)
Leigh: The urge to re-listen to this episode a few years ago was what made me finally cave and pay for premium WTF content. Amy Schumer is an unstoppable force in comedy right now, and if you’ve been paying attention, you knew this was bound to happen. While the episode was recorded in 2011, you won’t find a young comic who hasn’t found her voice yet. She’s just as open, honest and unapologetic as she is today. So if you’re hoping to listen to this episode and prove your theory that she’s just hitting a string of good luck right now, take your headphones elsewhere. And, not that this would have happened had Maron interviewed her in 2015, but it is certainly refreshing to hear an interview where Schumer isn’t asked about her looks or to give advice to her younger self. Schumer shares what she was like in high school, her experience on Last Comic Standing and what it’s like to follow her favorite comedian, Dave Attell.
Episode 604 - Terry Gross
Elizabeth: Marc turns the tables on Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, on stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Terry is a notoriously elusive figure—she doesn’t share much about herself in the media, partially based on her upbringing and because she feels that people like to create their own image of people on the radio—so what Marc manages to uncover is truly remarkable and very unexpected. After a bit of battling over who gets to ask the questions, Terry talks about growing up in Brooklyn, her childhood ambition to be a lyricist, and her older brother, whose complex job description makes Marc wonder, “Is this good radio?” Marc latches on when Terry mentions that she was previously married, and the adventurous history of the radio host begins to come out. She describes hitchhiking across the country with her now ex-husband, riding in the back of a pickup truck with migrant workers and axes, and eating at Christian missions in San Francisco (despite being Jewish). She also talks about her failure as a junior high teacher (she was fired after six weeks and given low marks for dignity and self respect), which Marc sums up as her being a teacher with the personality of a substitute. Both experiences helped lead her to radio and to the show that she’s been working on since the 1970s, first as a local program that lasted three hours and now in its current form as a national broadcast. It’s a revealing episode that shows Marc Maron can more than hold his own alongside one of the country’s best interviewers.
Episode 518 - Mike Myers
Kaitlynn: I love Mike Myers and not just because our hometowns are neighbors or that I’ve driven on Mike Myers Drive (it’s a real street, Google it). No, it’s because my formative years featured involved Austin Powers 1-3 in theaters, reruns of Saturday Night Live on three different channels, and his character’s immersion into pop culture. He was the current national comedy hero and Wayne’s World became my favorite movie. In recent years Myers has been absent from the world of film, had a few kids and comes onto WTF to speak about his directorial debut for the documentary Supermensch. The interview is a surprising departure for Myers, who has rarely given interviews, especially which touch on his personal life. True to WTF, his childhood and career path are discussed and the listener finds out about his serious filmmaking goals. The interview covers the span of his huge career from starting at SNL without ever seeing an episode and idolizing Phil Hartman. He addresses the rumor that’s plagued him throughout his career—being hard to work with. His perfectionist tendency comes from ownership over every element of the final product when he writes, produces, and acts in a film. He threatened to quit Wayne’s World if they didn’t use “Bohemian Rhapsody.” When producers conceded, the song went to #1 for the second time and the scene turned into an instant classic. It isn’t the only time Myers’ gut feeling proved successful—he suggested Shrek have a Scottish accent. Marc asks all the right questions to lead the discussion and listeners can hear the hard-working, smart and profoundly sensitive man behind the persona. The 95 minute interview is an inspiring look at the usually private Myers which fans and non-fans can completely appreciate.
Check out more great WTF episodes here.
Elizabeth Stamp is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.