President Barack Obama made another foray into the world of podcasting Friday when he sat down to record an episode of "WTF with Marc Maron." The episode will be posted Monday.
Maybe you're not a regular podcast listener. That's cool! No judgments. But for those of us who are voracious consumers of such recorded conversations, "WTF" is a staple. Maron, a longtime stand-up comic, records the conversations in the garage of his Los Angeles home, dubbed "The Cat Ranch."
"I think it’s highly unusual," White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters. "I'm fairly certain this is the first time a president of the United States has been interviewed in a garage."
Obama hasn't shied away from comedic TV staples like "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and internet shows such as "Between Two Ferns." He's even been on a podcast before, albeit recorded from the White House. He had one himself at one time, when he was a senator.
Still, "WTF with Marc Maron" is an interesting choice of venue. Yes, it would be inaccurate to depict the podcast, the creation of liberal-leaning Maron, as an underground entity when it regularly holds a top 10 spot on the iTunes charts; "WTF" reached 100 million downloads in 2013. But the it's probably not in a political junkie's media diet in the way of, say, "Meet the Press."
So you might be asking yourself: WTF should I be expecting?
"I'm spinning, because I want to do a 'WTF' interview. That's what I do. I haven't done political talk radio in years -- no desire to," Maron said on an episode earlier this week. "But now I'm gonna have a conversation with the president, which is inherently -- he's a political figure. I don't know if you realize that, but he's the president of the United States of America. ... But nonetheless, he's an incredibly brilliant and interesting man with a life I'm going to talk to him about."
Maron added: "If everything goes well, we'll do a classic -- can I refer to myself as that? Is there a standard 'WTF' style or interview? I think so. I'm not exactly sure or what they entail, but I know when I do them and I will hopefully do one of those with the president of the United States of America."
Schultz said the interview was "a very unique opportunity" for Obama to break away from the daily news cycle and "really offer listeners the opportunity to have more insight into how he makes decisions, what his day-to-day lifestyle is like, what he’s thinking about in terms of his family, his past, his future."
"WTF" is a good venue for that kind of conversation. For the unfamiliar, this won't be a short, network sit-down that's big on laughs without much time for depth. No Ellen-type antics here, no sir. Also, Maron's podcast doesn't simply serve as a vehicle for self-promotion on which guests go on and on about their latest projects.
Maron started the podcast in 2009, when his career was in a bit of a slump. As the Guardian wrote in a recent profile, "the podcast was born out of the feeling that he had nowhere left to go, personally and professionally. Its format, an hour or so of free-ranging chat with a single guest, served a purpose. 'I needed to talk to people,' he admits."
He began with comic friends and has branched out to interview the likes of Fiona Apple, Anthony Bourdain and David Byrne. There are most definitely laughs, but they punctuate conversations that range from the mundane, like concert experiences, to the more personal, like the deaths of parents.
Maron opens himself up during interviews and tries to identify common points of understanding with his guests. He wants to talk through a person's life journey: Where did they come from? What was their relationship with their parents? What was the moment that took them down a crazy path that led them to where they are today?
Sometimes the conversations are journeys unto themselves and we are just bystanders, listening in. A case-in-point: His two-part 2010 interview with Louis C.K., named by Slate as the best podcast of all time.
On Friday, Maron revealed some aspects of the Obama interview to SCPR; the president touched on the Charleston shootings and the night Osama bin Laden was killed. But he also talked about more personal themes.
"We were able to talk about him not honoring the script of his father, and why he was able to avoid those pitfalls that his father had happen in his life," Maron told the station.
"I really wanted to get a sense of him as a person, and him as a human, and try to separate my own expectations and my own mind-blowingness around him being president, and I wanted to feel like he was talking to me, and like we had some moments that were uniquely ours," Maron said. "He was concerned about my experience. I think maybe he thought it would be more fun."
Obama also revealed his favorite comics: Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K.
It'll be interesting to hear if Maron sticks to the typical bits that define his show, even with the president sitting right before him. For example, he begins each episode with a greeting that includes multiple variations of the same expletive that we can't publish here. Given the podcast name, you can guess what it is.
Will Maron drop the F-bomb during the "WTF" with Obama? We'll find out Monday for sure.