President Barack Obama sat down to tape Marc Maron's hit podcast "WTF" Friday in Highland Park, which has a large enough audience for the president to feel it's worth his time, even if it leaves some asking "WTF?"
We had one of the first interviews with Maron after he interviewed the president. We don't think that counts as us vicariously interviewing the president, but that's what we'll tell all our friends. (We're just one degree away!)
"The president of the United States of America came over to my house and sat with me in my garage for about an hour and four minutes, and we talked about many things," Maron says.
Obama came to the iconic garage where Maron does most of his interviews. The last time we talked with Maron, he told us how the early days of the show were basically celebrities giving him therapy — now he's had a chance to get therapy from the president. He says that Obama definitely gave him some therapeutic advice that he'll be able to use going forward, and Maron says his emotional needs were met.
"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 says.
He says that he thinks that happened and that the president felt very real and tangible, with the conversation being one with someone who was present, engaged and thoughtful. Nothing was off limits, Maron says.
"They didn't tell me not to do anything. I mean, he's a professional. They assume he can handle himself at this point in time. He's the president," Maron says. "It was a different experience than anything I've ever had before. You're talking to somebody whose personal narrative is public."
That meant that there are few things Obama hasn't already spoken about, but Maron says he did manage to find some candid moments during their conversation, including Obama saying some things he's never said before.
Maron says the most surprising thing for him was Obama's optimism.
"He saw any sort of progress as incredible. Any kind of incremental growth," Maron says.
The president did further address the shooting in Charleston, Maron says.
"I didn't know if he was going to come, which would have been completely understandable," Maron says. However, he says he was honored that Obama chose to keep his commitment to the show.
Maron says that the Secret Service didn't laugh, but they were concerned about him.
"They were all very polite and very gracious, and incredible — 'Did everything go all right for you?' Concerned about my experience," Maron says.
He says the president also expressed the same concern. He asked at the end of the interview, like he does with all his guests, "Are we good?" Obama told him that he got into the interview very intensely, right into it, but that he wasn't complaining.
"I was like, I got an hour, and I want to try to manage this a bit," Maron says. He tried making sure they avoided getting into the weeds and covered everything.
"He was concerned about my experience. I think maybe he thought it would be more fun," Maron says.
The president has experience with funny interviews; he talked with Zack Galifianakis for his Funny Or Die show "Between Two Ferns," where Obama used the opportunity to push the Affordable Care Act to millennials. Maron says he didn't feel that Obama was trying to pitch an agenda on his show.
Obama told Maron that the reason he was doing the show is he felt it was a place where he could get people interested in politics. Maron himself used to host a political talk show, but says he's since detached himself for politics because he feels he's better at exploring more personal issues. He got into some of those with Obama.
"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 says.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters that the president had a chance in the interview to reflect on his approach, his perspective and “how his upbringing informs his decision-making.”
Obama just got his own account on Twitter recently, the first time he's had one that's not run by other people — that enabled Maron to tag him in this photo on Twitter.
They also talked about how Maron basically did stand-up comedy while Osama bin Laden was being killed by SEAL Team 6 and how Obama was able to put on that public face for a correspondents dinner, keeping that secret. He says they also talked about the craft of being the president.
Maron says the president gave him one laugh.
"I said I used to run the country from my couch. There was a period I was doing it," Maron says. The president responded that a lot of people do that.
Maron's neighbors crowded the area, according to the White House pool report, including a literal juggling clown. Neighbors found out about the visit thanks to no parking signs going up in the area Wednesday — KPCC's own John Rabe spotted one of those signs hanging on a nearby cactus.
Some members of the neighborhood told the press pool that they didn't know that the podcast was taped there or even what "WTF" was, though Yolanda Lem told the pool reporter "I've heard the initials."
Another neighbor, Trish Escobedo, said she was going to head home to find the podcast's website. Websites aren't usually how most people listen to podcasts, but it's a sign that this could be an interview that reaches far beyond the usual podcasting audience, while also giving the president access to the hip audience the show tends to draw.
They also found time to briefly talk comedy, Maron says.
"We talked very quickly about comedy and who his comedians were," Maron says. The names: Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K.
"Which I'm sure is going to make Louis just thrilled," Maron said somewhat sarcastically.
The interview was actually from the White House pitching Maron.
“I think it’s highly unusual. I’m fairly certain this is the first time a POTUS has been interviewed in a garage," Schultz told the White House press pool.
The actual Maron interview with Obama on "WTF" drops Monday — we'll have to wait and see how much Maron asked Obama about what he thought of Maron's cats. Maron does expect the interview to bump up his show's numbers.
"I would think so. It would be sad if it didn't. I would be concerned for the country if it didn't," Maron says.