It’s official. After alluding to the news on Monday’s episode with Will Ferrell, the hit podcast sensation WTF with Marc Maron reached 100 million downloads last night. Maron launched the show, which maintains free episodes and a premium subscription option, in his garage in Los Angeles out of professional frustration; it now averages 220,000 downloads per episode. Maron has accumulated 451 episodes of interviews with stand-up comedians, actors, rock legends, chefs and one sassy sex advice podcaster.
At some point in the past two hours, some WTFer became listener #100,000,000. You can all claim it if you want. It’s cool.
— WTF with Marc Maron (@WTFpod) December 12, 2013
WTF launched in September of 2009 after the comedian’s co-hosting gig for a live streaming Air America show ended. At the time he was still reeling from his second divorce and was performing his one-man show Scorching the Earth, which covered the evolution of his second marriage. By his own admission, his live stand-up career was struggling and he wasn’t receiving the accolades or bookings many of his peers received. Backed into a corner, he started a podcast, at first utilizing Air America’s broadcast studios in New York after hours. Eventually, Maron would move out of his Queens apartment back to the Los Angeles home he shared with his second wife. He nicknamed it the Cat Ranch in honor of his many (and now famous feline friends) and began recording his podcast out of his garage.
Before a time when every other comic had a podcast, Maron landed notable interviews early on with comedy icons. After interviewing Robin Williams, Dane Cook, Louis C.K. and a two-part investigative episode with Carlos Mencia, Maron inadvertently restarted a very public debate on joke theft and integrity in the comedy industry. Not limited to comedians, he’s even interviewed the likes of Jon Hamm and Breaking Bad hero/villain Bryan Cranston. Struggling financially just four years ago, Maron now has a line of merchandise on his website, a hit television show (Maron on IFC), several well-reviewed stand-up albums, and even tours the podcast doing live episodes in front of an audience with a whole panel of funny people. Basically: At 50-years-old, he’s killing it.
The thing that separates his podcast from many of the others is how deeply personal it is. Most episodes start off with roughly 10-20 minutes of Maron talking to his audience, sharing with strangers the goings-on of his week: his excitements, his worries, an occasional shitting of his pants with a Just Coffee plug, and personal struggles (even breaking the news of his cancelled engagement on-air). Many listeners feel like they know the comic as a friend despite never meeting in person. Since the beginning, he found himself answering intimate fan e-mails, attempting to relate to troubled listeners who open up to him about their life struggles. When he hurts, fans reach out to support him. In good times and in bad, they send him baked goods.
The story of WTF’s extraordinary popularity inspired a wave of young podcasters ranging from similarly structured interview shows (Pete Holmes openly admits to ripping off the idea for his own You Made It Weird show on the Nerdist network) to personal storytelling. No matter how successful it gets, true fans will not forget that it started with a guy just talking to interesting personalities. It’ll be exciting to see what ground he covers on his way to 500 episodes.