WTF? How a podcast established a unique transmedia dialogue

Curator's Note

Comedian Marc Maron has built his own niche in popular media since the inaugural episode of his WTF podcast in 2009. As his semi-weekly, interview-based podcast gained in popularity, Maron expanded his media reach to include social media, a book, and television program on IFC. Maron’s podcast format revolves around a ten to fifteen minute solo introduction focused on his daily ups and downs, followed by an interview with a well-known comedian, actor, musician, or author. While many listeners first discover the podcast because of a familiar guest, it is because of Maron’s opening confessional that die-hard fans tune in on a regular basis. The upfront honesty with which Maron contemplates the mundane has created a close intimacy among host and listeners.

What makes WTF stand apart from other podcasts is how the persona of Marc Maron has evolved through additional mediums as a form of transmedia dialogue. The term transmedia is usually followed by the word storytelling, which is a way to tell a fictional story across multiple media platforms. Maron’s transmedia approach is distinctive, however, as it mixes documentary with fiction, all while resembling a collaborative discourse rather than pure storytelling. Maron’s engagement with his audience is continuous and easily accessible on multiple platforms; familiarity with him as a character and/or actual human being has developed a kind of fellowship surrounding the podcast. The lines between fiction and reality are then blurred when Marc Maron the television character is included in this dialogue.

Maron’s podcast, on-stage, and online identities are creative nonfiction, while Maron’s television character is a form of informational fiction.  Both of these narratives draw upon Maron’s real life experiences and personality. Marc Maron the podcast host is completely open and brutally honest, with longtime listeners following his relationship woes, parental issues, and neuroses. The podcast serves as a true aural documentary of Maron’s life. Marc Maron the television character is a comic who runs a podcast out of his garage, examining a slightly fictionalized version of the same personal problems. This intermingling of biography and fiction generates a fascinating character study that is ultimately relatable to all of us, and one that has organically built a community that rallies around both the host and whatever medium he presently inhabits.


Thanks for this post Brad! The cantankerous, pathetic, or neurotic comedian persona has become a genre unto itself in the past decades. Arguably Woody Allen was the original innovator of the (implicitly) autobiographical neurotic auteur. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David then took up the reins. Marc Maron and Louis CK have become powerhouses through their transmedia careers. (Jim Jefferies made a failed attempt at the autobiographical formula with his FX series Legit.) As someone who works on gender and media, I've been most interested in the way these comedians offer particular sorts of masculinities. Seinfeld and David's television selves were neurotic and self-sabotaging narcissists. They were self-mocking caricatures. Maron's anti-social and self-destructive behavior, however, often gets balanced out by the way he is figured as a helpless victim of circumstances beyond his control. Maron's monologues—in his standup, on his podcast, and on his series—tend to project a befuddled man disabled by his own neurosis and beset by outside forces—particularly women. Maron's compulsive discussion of his childhood trauma and substance abuse recovery are particularly integral to his podcast. I'm not sure what my larger point is here, but I wanted to see if you had any thoughts on Maron as fitting into a pre-existing "genre"?

In lieu of repeating what Kathleen wrote, I do feel that Maron has created something unique when compared to the other comedians you mentioned. One aspect of the podcast I would have loved to include in my original post but could not due to text length constraints is why it was originally conceived. You have to look back to where Maron was when the podcast started: down on his luck, having professional difficulties, and questioning his purpose in life. The podcast was created as a means of dealing with the disappointment and frustration with his comedy career. The podcast is what really allowed him to find a new audience, and he's obviously much more well known now than before the podcast began. I think a combination of the confessional nature of his output plus his overly active audience are what set him apart. As Kathleen also mentioned, many other male comedians have now gone the podcast route, and he seems to have built the blueprint for how it can be successful.

This post brings together my favorite subjects - comedy, podcasting, Maron, WTF, and the blurry line between information and entertainment in popular media. To your question, Jeff, it does seem that Maron has created something different from his neurotic, male, Jewish, comic predecessors. He has been very open about a very low point in his life that ultimately motivated him to start his WTF podcast. So his "shtick" was borne of some kind of psychic necessity rather than as a crafted, developed persona or TV character. What we see on "Maron" is really just a slightly exaggerated version of the real Maron on the podcast who has earned millions of fans through the sharing of his authentic self. Many other comedians and podcasters credit Maron with paving the way and inspiring them to conduct similar honest-talk interviews - many of them are men. This is something new in broadcast media where historically women have led the psychologically-oriented, confessional programming.

I don't think I want to dispute with either of you, Kathleen and Brad, on the issue of Maron as an innovator in the medium of podcast or as transmedia pioneer. Though I do want to push back a little on praising Maron as a unique voice of male confessional "authenticity" and "honesty.” I’m a little skeptical (perhaps cynical) about applying these terms to media figures, but that is not my main objection. I would mainly disagree with the assessment that Maron is a uniquely confessional male voice. He was perhaps the first to deploy the voice effectively within podcasting, but the male “confessional” is central to modern American culture.

Let’s not even go into the tortured white heterosexual male protagonists featured in the novels and stories of Hemingway, Roth, Cheever, Carver, Bukowski, etc.; or the alcoholic/recovering alcoholic memoirs of Frederick Exley, Augusten Burroughs, James Frey, etc.; or the tortured figuring of the white straight male in contemporary American television, e.g., Don Draper, Walter White, Jimmy McNulty, etc.

Putting these texts to one side, I would point to prominent stand up comedians who use, to lesser and greater degrees, confessional styles, for example, Lenny Bruce, particularly in the heartbreaking routine he performed after his obscenity trial, or Rick Reynolds in his darkly philosophical "Only the Truth Is Funny.” Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope present an angry version of confessional stand up. Bill Hicks raged continuously on stage about his career. Richard Pryor was perhaps the most brutally confessional comedian ever.

If we ignore the artificial boundary between “stand up” and “performance art” (a boundary that Bobcat Goldthwait and Any Kauffman effectively erased), then we should also consider Spalding Gray and Eric Begosian (cf. Michael Peterson’s "Straight White Male Performance Art Monologues"). No one, I would argue, was more neurotically confessional than Gray.

So, I say all of this not to dismiss Maron. I’m a fan of his podcast, his standup, and his series. However, in recognizing Maron as an innovative podcaster and a talented comedian, I would want to carefully avoid celebrating straight white men for, yet again, claiming a new medium in which to work out their anger, fears, and psychotherapeutic issues. I *don't* think either of you are doing this, but I think it is worth hammering out this aspect of the conversation.

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