WTF with Marc Maron is not only a pioneer in the podcasting world but also exists as a cultural indicator. It shows a desire on the part of consumers to hear content that reveals something deeper about the artists/comedians/celebrities that produce it.

WTF gets hundreds of thousands of downloads per episode, and has had over 100,000,000 downloads overall. Maron has interviewed hundreds of guest. Artists, musicians, comedians. He even interviewed President Obama. His podcast has a scope that is not typical of others. While there may be a seemingly endless amount of podcasts to choose from, there is something about Maron’s that makes it unique, and successful.

Maron’s podcast defines him now. He is sort of pigeon-holed by it, not by others, but by himself. In his semi-autobiographical IFC show Maron it defines the opening credits, and a structural component of every episode is that he interviews a guest and manages to relate it back to the overall story of the episode. In his book Attempting Normal he opens the book by discussing the podcast and integrates transcripts from special episodes of the podcast between different chapters.

His description of the podcast is incredibly telling of why his podcast has resonated.

“I started asking people to come over and talk to me amid the clutter of my life. People came, hundreds now. The podcast evolved into a one-on-one interview show. I shared many powerful conversations revealing things about the people I was talking to and about myself that I would have never known. Things that will never be said the same way again. It happened organically. I needed to talk and people talked to me….Hundreds of thousands of people have joined in on these conversations as listeners, which has affirmed on of the strange beliefs that has shaped my life: People want to share but they usually don’t.

People don’t talk to each other about real things because they’re afraid of how they’ll be judged. Or they think other people don’t have the capacity to carry the burden of what they have to say. They see the compulsion to put that burden out in the world as a show of weakness. But all that stuff is what makes us human, more than that, it’s what makes being human interesting and funny. How we got away from that, I don’t know. But fuck that. We’re built to deal with shit. We’re built to deal with death, disease, failure, struggle, heartbreak, problems. It’s what separates us from the animals and why we envy and love animals so much. We’re aware of it all and have to process it. The way we handle being human is where all the good stories, jokes, art, wisdom, revelations, ad bullshit come from.”

Our Parasocial Relationship With Comedians

There are a few comedians whom I follow so closely, that I feel like I truly know them. This relationship feels genuine, because of the amount of content of theirs I consume, and how honest the content feels. The ones I feel I know the best all have podcasts, which is interesting to note. Marc Maron has hundreds upon hundreds of hours recorded of him interviewing guests, in which he also reveals a lot about himself. Pete Holmes is the same. Bill Burr, a comedian who you might not think of as the kind of guy to wear his soul on his sleeve in his comedy, has a twice weekly podcast that is just him, talking. Sometimes his wife will guest, and rarely he will have another comedian as a guest, but it’s just him. So although he might not rely on personal narrative in his standup, I feel as if I know him because of my continued listening to his podcast. From the podcast I know about his home renovations, his love of his dog who he had to give up because of aggressive behavior and a baby on the way, the baby girl his wife recently gave birth to. I know all of this about him, and of course, I’ve never met him. And I’m sure he only lets me know what he is willing to reveal, that there is a lot about him I don’t know and would never know unless I became best friends with him. (Not likely, but, I can continue to believe that this will happen.)

Because I feel so intimately acquainted with these comedians, I would feel particularly betrayed if I came to find out that they were not as they seemed.

Which brings me to Amy Schumer. Schumer, unlike the guys I just mentioned, has no podcast. She rarely even appears on podcasts or long form interviews like many comedians do nowadays. But because of her tell-all style, I have a similarly intimate parasocial relationship with her. I believe this idea of “she could be my best friend” (which other female celebrities like Mindy Kaling often get told) is what catapulted her into the level of success she has experienced. Her movie, Trainwreck, was semi-autobiographical to the point where it seemed like she had only changed a few spare details of her life.

But what is curious about Amy Schumer is that she has admitted part of this is an act. In Judd Apatow’s book of interviews, Sick in the Head, she admits she’s never had a one night stand. It seems her stories of sexual promiscuity might be largely inflated. This feels like a betrayal. But is it her responsibility to disclose her full self? Or do I just feel like she must because I felt a particular kinship to her. This is a quandary that I want to continue to unpack over the course of my research.

Some Goody Comedy Goodness

In my pursuit of finding rhyme and reason in the comedy world, I have been watching a lot of comedy, some of which may have less academic merit to my project, but hey, it’s still good stuff. Here’s a small little collection of some things I came across this past week. These clips are outliers from my arguement, as they are not relying on personal narrative to drive the comedy. But, man, are they great.

My favorite things about comedians is how they undermine the pomp and circumstance of Hollywood. Norm MacDonald is number one in this department.

C’mon. Will Ferrell is killer. Watching videos like this one gets me through trying political times like these by remembering there is silliness.

This is the only guy who should be on talk shows. Will Ferrell’s hilarity on talk shows might not fit into my semester long discussion of personal narrative, as he rarely appears as himself on any of these shows. However, these kinds of clips show how successful paratexts are when comedians are involved.




Tig Notaro had cancer. “Hello, I have cancer, hello,” were her first words on stage at Largo in 2012. After having been hospitalized for C-Diff and losing her mother, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before her double mastectomy, she went on stage to talk about it.

The set went viral. Louie C.K. published the comedy album on his website. I don’t want to make too many sweeping generalizations about Tig’s career, but the album seemed to resonate in ways that her comedy had not before. In the album at one point Tig says, “What if I just transitioned into real jokes?” and members of the audience shouted out, “No! This is amazing.”

There is something special about the set she did, and it represents an interesting trend in comedy that could even demonstrate general trends in television and popular cultural tends.

Personal narrative seems to be driving comedy in a more intense way than ever before.The set was praised by comedians, hailed by critics, and catapulted Tig as a sort of cult comedy hero. Since that set, Tig’s career has exploded. The story about the set and the surrounding year was chronicled in a Netflix documentary. The year was recorded in her memoir, “I’m just a person.” Tig now has a show on Amazon that deals with these highly personal issues called “One Mississippi.”

Tig is not just a standup who talks about cancer. She’s incredibly dry deadpan style that began her career. Her standup special “Boyish Girl Interrupted” tackles her personal tragedies, but mostly demonstrates Tig’s dry style and ability to take a silly story and make it into a ten minute long bit.

This bit on Conan is great, because it addresses her cancer, but it’s not serious. Before I explored Tig’s catalogue, I avoided her because I thought of her as “serious dreary comedian.” But even though a lot of her material tackles serious issues, she also spends most of her time doing silly bits like this.

So her personal narrative is not all Tig relies upon. But it is what gave her a multi-platform career. She is not alone in this. Louie C.K.’s personal style is conveyed both in his standup and his FX show, “Louie.” Pete Holmes, a standup, has a new show coming out HBO chronicling his early years of becoming a standup comedian and the personal trials he went through at the time.

Is personal narrative essential to the multiple platform comic? This is what I will aim to explore over the course of the semester.



Welcome to my blog: Funnier Than Fiction. This blog will be dedicated to my study of comedy, and how personal narrative drives stand-up comedy and other forms of comedic storytelling. I decided to study this because comedy is the only thing is the world that makes sense to me, sometimes. When I was in high school, and everything felt wrong, I could listen to music in my car and watch comedy in my room. Those were two primary modes of escape. Comedy is still the way I feel I can escape from the mundane every day, or the absurdity of existence.

I’ve always felt a pull towards personal narrative in storytelling. I was always more interested in non-fiction essays than novels, and I always had a predilection towards stand up. It makes sense now, as I am pursuing a career in stand up comedy, so it makes sense that I would like it. But I think my taste for it also comes from the fact that it is rooted in some truth. My favorite stand ups were always the guys (and ladies) with the least pretense. The ones who were truly themselves.

Over the next few months, I will examine stand ups and storytellers who use their comedy as a venue to express themselves and try to parcel out whether or not this mode is superior to other styles of comedy.

I’ll be posting on this blog a few times of week, sometimes with more academic essay-style posts, and sometimes with clips from YouTube I cherish. I’m excited to be here.