WTF are you laughing at?

Rebekah Hunt

Originally published in PSU Vanguard

Marc Maron is an open wound. It may be hard to understand why that is a compliment at first, but listen to his raw and riveting podcast, “WTF with Marc Maron,” for just one episode and you’ll fully understand. Not only that, but there’s no way you’ll be able to listen to just one episode. “WTF” is an interview/confessional-style show in which Marc talks about his personal growth and struggles and interviews people from all walks of showbiz about their own. His guests range from huge stars like Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ira Glass and Judd Apatow, to comedy cornerstones like Louis CK, Patton Oswalt and Bob Odenkirk, and even hardcore comedy-nerd icons like Dana Gould, Maria Bamford and Thomas Lennon. What makes “WTF” compelling, though, is not Marc’s ability to draw from a simply amazing pool of interviewees; it’s just Marc himself.


He started out as a standup comedian in the vein of the Sam Kinneson-style, angry-guy, mic-eaters of the 1980s. By his own admission, he was pretty much an angry jerk most of the time and managed to offend almost everyone he’s ever known. Years of successes, failures, heavy drug use, tragedy, addiction, recovery and multiple divorces have left their scars. As clichéd as it may sound, though, he seems to have emerged from all of it pretty much reborn. In this new podcast format, he has abandoned the attack on the rest of the world and become almost shockingly vulnerable. This is where being an open wound becomes a good thing. His unmasked pain is so totally disarming that he is able to draw out his interviewees in a way that even veteran journalists couldn’t (Ira Glass even remarks on this in his own interview on “WTF”). The only person I’ve heard even attempt to BS him is Carlos Mencia, and that is an absolute must-hear episode.


That is not to say that life’s little rock tumbler smoothed out all of Marc’s rough edges, but at least the gem that he is can be clearly seen now. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, younger comedians were moving en masse away from the traditional, scripted show format and starting to just talk about whatever they wanted. No one was wearing suits anymore, and pretty much everyone was angry.


This was a huge evolution for standup comedy, but the natural by-product of any new movement is that someone starts selling it, it gets saturated and people hate it more than the old stuff. What the marketers of comedy were selling as “raw” was essentially a bunch of angry dudes who were really drunk saying really filthy stuff. This was really loud and got old really fast. In the wake of all this yelling, “angry” comedians that were actually funny and talented were pigeonholed as one of “those guys” and thrown out with the bathwater, never to be heard from again.


This could have happened to Marc Maron. He was young enough, however, to be a part of the next wave of comedians who are often called, much to their chagrin, the “alternative” set. These comedians were less marketable but were more relatable and possessed a self-awareness that made them compelling despite their awkwardness and apparent alienation from the world. They were angry too, and they also did jokes about personal issues, but they were more introspective, analytical and just plain more depressed than their forebears. Marc landed somewhere in the middle ground between these generations of comedians. Instead of floundering in the grey area or combining the two and somehow “bridging the gap” or some such nonsense, he emerged as something totally unique. Marc has struck a balance between world-weary cynic and wide-eyed ingénue that is bizarrely endearing—one can’t help but be drawn in.


Marc is so painfully close to whole and his brokenness is so genuinely human, that he’d be tragic if he weren’t so damned funny. He’s still angry, but his guns are mostly aimed inward. His self-evisceration doesn’t turn into the whining self-pity that makes many Gen-X comedians unpalatable, however. He is clearly a man on a journey and the energy with which he has undertaken this discovery and growth is infectious. So, while the old insult-comics have faded away and the Gen-Xers have pouted themselves out of the market, Marc is sauntering right past them into the new generation’s VIP area just by being himself and being funny. And he is very, very funny.