As part of Slate's celebration of 10 years of podcasting, Mike Pesca is talking to other podcasters all week on The Gist about the past and future of the medium. Here's an excerpt from one of those interviews, with Marc Maron, whose two-part interview with Louis C.K. we've declared the best podcast episode of all time.
Older episodes of WTF are generally behind a paywall, but to mark this occasion Maron has re-released the two-parter as a single episode.
An episode of WTF has been named by Slate as the best episode of any podcast ever. Marc Maron is here with me. Hello Marc.
How are you, man? That’s a hell of a thing. I guess it’s an award? Or what do you call that? They’ve named it. I’ve been dubbed. I’ve been coronated.
It’s a designation, but it really is an implied coronation. You are correct.
I like being designated. I want to thank them. That’s a very nice thing.
With your Louis C.K. interview, did you have an agenda that was different from what you usually have for interviews?
I’d always wanted to talk to Louie, because my relationship with Louie was sort of strangely deep for me. It wasn’t like we were best friends or inseparable, but he was very important to me in my life in coming up as a comic, and we understood each other. I felt like I was important to him. What drove me to talking to him—besides that he was the biggest star in comedy and we do have this history—was that we also have this trouble between us. There are a couple of moments which I talk about in the conversation that I was present for in Louie’s life, and I don’t think he really remembered that I was there. And I was sort of hanging a bit on that. He had always lived his life in a very challenging way—Louie would challenge himself by overspending, by doing crazy things to see if he could sort of get out of it, or if it would push him along. But there was a few points in his life that I remember very clearly that I think were pivotal. And that’s what I was going in with.
And all the emotional stuff that sort of happened, all the talking about our history, that all happened very organically. I really didn’t know what was going to happen with Louie. And I felt like when I finally got him to do the show, and I tried to get him to do it for like a year or so, I think he really thought, “All right, all right, I’ll do this for Maron. I don’t know what this thing is, but I’m going to help him out.” I don’t think he had any idea what would happen with that conversation. Nor did I. I really think he was like, “Come over to my house and we’ll do this thing that you’re doing.” But really what I wanted to talk about was the day that he found that video of Putney Swope, the Robert Downey, Sr. film, in that video store. Because he couldn’t rent anything, he bought it in a bargain bin. I was with him that day, and I think that day changed the entire way his brain worked. And that was what I was hanging on. And the rest sort of fell into place the way it did.
Did you think of it more like, “Wow, I got to a real place with my friend,” or did you think of it more like, “I just did a great interview”?
No, I didn’t think of it as a great interview. He and I had never talked like that. You got to realize that. You know, comics—a lot of these guys, like Dave Attell, I’ve known those guys half my life, and I’ve never talked to any of them for more than 10 or 15 minutes.* And also you got to realize that in casual conversation, Louie likes to talk. He likes to talk about Louie. The fact that he and I were able to really have a conversation around our relationship and around my jealousy and around how he felt sort of abandoned because of my insecurity, and that kind of stuff … I don’t know. Dudes don’t talk like that, really, and it was a hard conversation to have. It helped me a lot as a person. I never really thought of it as an interview. It was very important to me that he and I try to repair our friendship and figure out how to do that.
The conversation ended on a high note: “OK, we’re going to really try.” It’s been about four years. How did that go?
Good! I was in New York, I went over to his house, he showed me his stereo equipment and his home theater, and we had some coffee. It’s good. We’re in touch—and just enough. You know, if I’m in New York, he invites me to stay at his house if I need to, and we hang out if there’s time. He’s a busy guy, and I’m busy now, too, but we do make time to spend a couple hours together when we can. It definitely worked, and I really got my own sense of self in check. Even though he’s at a very different level than I am, I’m able to be happy for him, and to be entertained by him as a friend. He’s a special guy, and he’s not—I don’t know how many really close relationships he has. I’m a pretty panicky, crazy guy who’s gone through some pretty difficult times, where it didn’t look like I was really going to get out of them. He’s always been the type of guy who was able to make me laugh and also make me see what is going on in a very simple, concise way that helped me through it, with very little effort on his part. And I think I’ve always been a pretty good sounding board for him when he’s needed a specific type of sounding board. That’s kind of back in check. He’s got a lot more responsibilities than I do. He’s got children, and houses, and different types of vehicles that operate on land and ocean.
People loved the episode. Do you think part the reaction was, “This is the ultimate nonfiction male-bonding thing that I’ve ever seen or heard”?
Look, man, if that’s what you got, I’m happy you got that. I’m a very “in the present” person. I don’t think I’ve listened to that episode since I had the conversation with Louie in person. A lot of people got a lot out of it. I know I got a lot out of it. I felt that he got a lot out of it. It was one of the first episodes where the one thing maybe I learned technically was that when someone’s having an emotional moment, to let them have it, and if I’m having one, to let myself have it. That’s the interesting thing about it being two funny guys talking, is that we didn’t step on each other’s emotions. And that’s sort of the purpose that comedy serves. So whatever anyone got out of it, and however it helped them or made them feel or entertained them or gave them insight into him or me or into relationships, I’m thrilled that they got whatever they got out of it.
As our designee, here’s our “pay it forward” moment. You don’t have to wrack your brain, just give me a blink reaction: What is the best episode of any podcast you’ve ever heard? Just the first thing that comes into your mind.
Of any podcast I’ve ever heard, or of mine?
You can answer both ways if you want.
I think for me, the Robin Williams episode, in retrospect, was profoundly important in a lot of ways. Even before he passed away, it was important to me. And, for me, the Todd Hanson episode was a monumental episode. Todd Hanson was sort of the head writer of the original Onion. And that episode, I think more than almost any other episode, in terms of providing relief for people—and this is something I never really anticipated about the podcast. I never really anticipated anything. I just got into podcasting because I didn’t know what else to do. But Todd Hanson is a guy I’ve known for years. I’ve always wanted to interview him. He’s an incredibly brilliant guy.
I was staying at a hotel in Brooklyn, and he agreed to do it, and he came over to the hotel to do the podcast with me and he told me he’d been there before. And he told me that when he had checked into that hotel, that he had no plan of checking out, that he had attempted suicide in that hotel. Now, I didn’t know any of this. And I said, “Well, do you want to talk about this?” And he said, “I don’t know, but I told my therapist that I was going to be with you and they said that was a good thing,” and I’m like, “OK, OK.” So there was a lot of trust there. It was sort of a curveball. But we had that interview and we didn’t address that at all. We were in the hotel that he tried to kill himself in, and he didn’t want to talk about it. And I said, “Look, I’ll hold onto this, and if you feel like it would be beneficial to you, or other people, or whatever, if you need or want to talk about that day, you let me know.” So I just sat on that first hour, and a few weeks later, a month later, he said, “I think I do want to talk about it.”
So I went back to Brooklyn, I went to his apartment, and the second part of that interview, he walked through the day and the day before, where he earnestly tried to commit suicide. It was a life-changing conversation. And the reaction to that conversation, from people who either lost people to suicide and could not understand why or how someone could do that, or people who tried suicide before, of people who struggled with those feelings—the outpouring of reaction to that conversation was profound. Like it’s being taught in some psychology classes, and in medical school. Someone reached out to me from a medical school asking me if they could teach it in a class on how to have these conversations with patients. That was a big one.
You told the A.V. Club that you forwarded some of those messages to Todd, and that validated his choice to share his story. That wound up being one that was transcendent. We use that word casually, but I think that’s true.
Yeah, that was a hell of an episode. And, look, there’s very few that I don’t enjoy and that I don’t get something out of, if any. And I’m sorry if I don’t have an outside favorite. I feel that might be selfish of me. But I don’t know how to really budget my time. I find myself listening to music more than talk, generally.
Marc Maron is the host of WTF. You might know it as the podcast with the greatest episode ever. But it contains multitudes. Thank you, Marc.
Thank you. It was great talking to you.
This transcript has been lightly edited.
* Correction, Dec. 15, 2014: Due to a transcription error, this post originally misidentified a comic mentioned by Marc Maron. He referred to Dave Attell, not Dave Chappelle.