I am not certain when the podcast as a form of entertainment / art / pastime really took hold in the mainstream; however, I am certain the medium has saturated most of my other interests, and that it’s a good thing.
It’s possible podcasts became popular when comedian Marc Maron started having his old comedy friends over to his garage to record his podcast WTF with Marc Maron. It began around 2009, a dark time for Maron, recently divorced and with little to no job prospects. As of 2012, episodes of his podcast received hundreds of thousands of downloads, with an average of 340k. That’s the last time that kind of information was made public, but I can only imagine the number of downloads per episode has grown as the comedian has put out a book, revived his stand-up career with multiple specials, and had guests on like current President of the United States Barack Obama, SNL creator Lorne Michaels, or old friend / filmmaker / comedian / writer Louis C.K.
The reason I took to Maron’s podcast is certainly not because of his introductions to his episodes, which serve as solo meditations on the many personal crises he seems to experience on a daily basis, mixed in with ads. The reason I took to his podcast is because of his ability to get his guests to open up. C.K. cried when he recounted the births of his children. Barack Obama spoke candidly about racism in the United States like never before. Julia Louis-Dreyfus detailed her years at SNL, as well as her time working with Woody Allen, first in a bit part in Hannah and Her Sisters and later with a more substantial part in Deconstructing Harry. Conan O’Brien spoke about his upbringing and wore an open disposition in favour of his silly late night persona — I hadn’t realized it before, but for how much Conan references his early life to make jokes, the man is an enigma.
There’s a real art to Maron’s ability to get his guests to open up. Often he starts with something that makes him vulnerable, the guests (figuratively, and, I’m sure, literally) lean forward, and the atmosphere of press junket is gone, replaced by that of an intimate conversation with someone who, by then, probably feels like a friend with whom they haven’t caught up in years. Anecdotes spill from the guests so quickly that sometimes Maron can’t find a way to go back to the ones he likes, and they’re lost in half-sentences, unfinished thoughts.
Without realizing, he puts the listener in that space too, a fly on the wall for what always ends up feeling like a secret meeting. Further evidence of this is the fact that I won’t play his podcast out loud if my roommates are home because I have to worry about what they think, if they like Maron’s curmudgeonly personality, or narcissistic yet self-effacing conversation style.
Note: Another great interview is with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. They go through every movie Anderson’s made, find out what it meant to him, and what project he’s working on at the time (Inherent Vice).
Jake and Amir
I first heard of these two when I was in elementary school. I liked their videos, but their weirdness felt a little grating. I realize now, as I revisit their Youtube page, I just didn’t understand their sense of comedy, nor had they come to perfect it. Now, I’d argue, they have — not in Lonely & Horny, their new vimeo series, but on their podcast, If I Were You, where “these two coy Jews” get to be themselves, riffing as much as they want, comfortable with one another to the point that at the beginning of one episode they spent a whole ten to fifteen minutes coming up with what can only be called a sad, sad, Frankenstein of a rap verse, featuring Amir’s love of puns and Jake’s disturbing, ladies man alter ego. And then they put on the intro song.
The sense of comfort and company these two comedians give me is very different from Maron. Their obvious closeness and their lack of fear in trying something new makes me feel like I’m one of the guys. Not only that, they’re the kinds of comedians who develop their own way of speaking, usually using inside jokes created on the podcast, that make new listeners — if they don’t start at the beginning — feel out of the loop. This is the same weirdness I found grating. Now I love it. The further they go down their own version of a rabbit hole with bits like “The Game Boy!” “Surge dude” and “Leslie the Alien” — the last one not from their podcast but their hilarious snapchat profiles, believe it or not — the closer they make their listeners feel.
Evidence of their rabid following can be found on their subreddit, so weird and so unique to them that you might need a translator to understand the comments and the bits.
Certainly, these two comedy podcasts have very little in common, but they incite such incredible obsession from their fans that the podcast medium as art, entertainment, and pastime is hard to ignore.
Other great podcasts I listen to are Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Nerdist, You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes, High and Mighty with Jon Gabrus.