The 400th episode of Marc Maron’s influential podcast, WTF, went up this morning. His guest is Iggy Pop—one of an increasing number of musicians who have joined Maron in his garage, along with the now literally hundreds of comics whom the long-time stand-up has interviewed.
While new episodes of the podcast—specifically, the 50 most recent—are free, older installments cost a couple bucks each. (There’s also an app that gives you access to the entire run of the show, and a DVD you can purchase with the first 100 episodes.) If you haven’t been listening from the beginning, which episodes should you purchase first? Below is my attempt to pick 10 that are essential listening for any comedy fan. I didn’t deliberately keep musicians or other artists (writers, actors, directors) off the list—the episode with Aimee Mann, for instance, is terrific—but when it came time to settle on just 10, it was all comics.
Rather than list them in chronological order, I’ve gone ahead and put them in the order I think you should listen to them, though that order is probably even more arbitrary than the process that led me to picking these 10.
Anyway, fans should let me know which ones I was crazy to leave out in the comments.
1. Louis C.K., Episodes 111 and 112, Oct. 4 and 7, 2010.
This two-parter from two-and-a-half years ago is still the highpoint of the series and maybe the best interview I’ve ever heard. It brings together everything that’s great about WTF: 1) insight into the mind and working process of one of the world’s best comics; 2) deeply personal revelations; and 3) a reckoning between Maron and his guest over their complicated past together. Even if you don’t plan to listen to any of the other episodes below, listen to this one.
2. Carlos Mencia et al., Episodes 75 and 76, May 24 and 27, 2010.
These two episodes aren’t as representative of WTF as the rest on this list, but they are too riveting to exclude. In the first, Maron asks Mencia about all the vitriol Mencia has attracted within the comedy community, on account of his repeated joke stealing. Mencia defends himself, and Maron seems at least somewhat persuaded. But he was bothered enough by it that he called up a few other comics who knew Mencia better, and those conversations—plus a can’t-miss-it follow-up with Mencia himself—make up the second part.
3. Mel Brooks, Episode 358, Feb. 4, 2013.
I’m tempted to present this as a two-parter also, since the subsequent episode, with Brooks’ great friend Carl Reiner, is an essential sequel. But I’ll put this one on the list: Brooks, just shy of his 87th birthday, is sharp as ever, and Maron, as a student-practitioner of both comedy and (cultural) Judaism, is a perfect interviewer to bring out his best.
4. Todd Glass, Episode 245, Jan. 16, 2012.
Perhaps the newsiest WTF episode to date, in which Todd Glass, already a guest on the show once before, comes out of the closet, and talks about why he’d remained in it for so long, and what it’s like being a gay male stand-up.
5. Maria Bamford, Episode 72, May 13, 2010.
Perhaps I’m biased, as a big fan, but then anyone who loves comedy has to at least respect the brilliance of Maria Bamford. And, like Maron, Bamford is willing to open up and make herself vulnerable, nearly always the key to a really good episode of WTF. This is a surprisingly tender interview by Maron, taped on the ride home from a comedy convention/camp called MaxFunCon.
6. Dane Cook, Episode 85, June 28, 2010
This is another episode with an alleged joke thief—but Cook is not nearly the burglar Mencia is, so the episode is less about alleged thievery than it is about success and how one attains it and what it might mean when a comic who is perhaps not as original or as respected as his peers manages to outdo them all commercially. It gets awkward—in the best way.
7. Robin Williams, Episode 67, April 26, 2010.
This is the last of the joke-thief episodes I’ve got on here, I promise. I was tempted to include the Jay Mohr episode, too. What can I say? Maron has really interesting conversations with people who have, arguably or otherwise, stolen a joke or two. Williams, surprisingly subdued throughout, also talks about falling off the wagon years after he got sober.
8. Marc Maron, Episode 200, Aug. 11, 2011.
Once you’ve listened to the episodes above, you may want to understand a bit more about the man who actually hosts the show—and this special episode, in which Mike Birbiglia turns the tables, is a good place to start. It’s a bit celebratory, fittingly so, but Birbiglia doesn’t go all that easy on him. (Birbiglia is another comic whom Maron once resented for his success, and his own WTF episode is also worth a listen.)
9. Patrice O’Neal, Episode 95, Aug. 2, 2010.
O’Neal was a brilliant comic and a complicated man, and listening to him explain his sometimes repellent views is frequently funny and fascinating throughout. O’Neal died about a year after this episode was recorded, and this interview will make you wonder where his mind and heart would have taken him if they hadn’t given out much too soon.
10. Zach Galifianakis, Episode 20, Nov. 9, 2009.
WTF has evolved considerably from its beginnings, and Maron’s position in the world has changed as its audience has grown. So I wanted to include at least one fairly early episode that would hint at his emotional trajectory over the last few years. The Galifianakis interview stands out in part because Galifianakis is a funny and interesting guy, and partly because the note of resentment in this interview is an essential aspect of early WTF.