WTF with Marc Maron put out its 1,000th episode this week. To celebrate, Maron and producer Brendan McDonald talked for over two-and-a-half hours about the origins of WTF, their podcasting processes, and, of course, President Barack Obama. They also answered a good amount of fan mail.
There is no guest and, while Maron mentions that they tried to get a guest and the three people they asked said no, there is something special about hearing just McDonald and Maron reminisce on nearly a decade of making podcasts together. It is so special, partially, because McDonald is rarely heard on the podcast at length.
It is seriously worth a listen, but if you don’t have over two hours, Laughspin is bringing you the best things we learned from this very special 1,000th episode.
Maron and McDonald knew each other long before starting WTF.
Maron and McDonald take about the first hour of the episode to talk about the origin of WTF and a lot of that time is dedicated to how they met. The two first connected while working at Air America Radio. They met in 2004 working on Morning Sedition, a morning show hosted by the GLOW star. McDonald remembers coming in as “a novice” (he was only 24) and recalls Maron making a…memorable impression immediately. “I knew you as a comic, I thought, ‘He’s doing a show. That’s weird.’” McDonald says, “You were immediately in my face: What do you do? What are you going to be doing?”
After Morning Sedition, they both stayed at Air America to work on The Marc Maron Show. The two worked well together at Air America. Maron liked McDonald’s efficiency and McDonald describes himself as a comedy fan who’d long known the comic’s work. He saw the opportunity as “my chance to work with a comedian. You were in your 40s and doing this for years, but you seemed unmodeled….You seemed new.”
The first five WTF episodes were very different from the podcast.
The first episodes of the podcast were made at the Air America studios after a night technician secretly let them in. Those first shows were recorded in one long recording session. Maron remembers, “It was a nerve-racking experience for me.” Over the phone, they recorded interviews with Jeff Ross, David Feldman, Jim Earl, Patton Oswalt, and John Oliver. They originally wanted to do segments and didn’t tailor the episode around these interviews—they just did them. McDonald saw the 4-hour chunk of recording as a proof of concept.
There was no business model before Stamps.com.
When they started in 2009, podcasting was still very new. Apple had only added podcasts to its iTunes platform in 2005. In the beginning, they didn’t know how this would make money, but they started by asking for donations. “I was doing the bank role and I didn’t know how to do it,” Maron recalls. After they started, podcasts by Joe Rogan and Chris Hardwick hit the scene in a big way and ads changed how podcasts made money. While it was originally against Maron’s punk rock sensibilities to have ads on the podcast, he eventually realized they should do it and their first sponsor was Stamps.com.
Nick Kroll, not Horatio Sanz, was El Chupacabra.
WTF did not shy away from experimenting in those early episodes. Maron would interview people in cars or on sets of movies. But longtime listeners will remember they used to do comedy segments when people would play strange comedy characters. Maron wanted people to question if the segments were real or not. Many listeners think one of those characters, El Chupacabra, was voiced by Horatio Sanz, but it was actually voiced by Nick Kroll. The Big Mouth creator later took that character to his Comedy Central sketch series, Kroll Show.
McDonald reveals other voices behind those early segments. The night club comedian was Jon Daly; the libertarian firefighter was Troy Conrad; Matt Walsh played the homebound caretaker for the elderly.
McDonald almost shut down the podcast because of Louis CK.
McDonald never told his business partner but in 2017, he was ready to stop the podcast because of the confirmed sexual harassment allegations against Louis CK. McDonald felt they were so closely associated with CK after his epic two-part WTF episode. He was ready to walk into the studio the next day and tell Maron they needed to stop. His wife told him to sleep on it and after he did, he decided to keep barreling towards 1,000 episodes.
Maron has a special place in his heart for two interviews.
When answering fan mail about episodes that increased listenership, Maron says, “Two names that jumped [the downloads]: Robin Williams and Obama.” He continues, “Obama’s was a 3 million download episode. It changed our business overnight.” Later in the podcast, he reveals that at one time there was a photo of himself and Obama hanging in the West Wing. The Williams episode is also important for both of them, McDonald says. “He made my life better for doing the show” and McDonald regrets not being able to tell him that personally before the legendary comedian died.
— marc maron (@marcmaron) August 12, 2014