Recently, comedy pioneer Jonathon Winters died. He was 87 years old. I’ve been aware of Winters since his stint as Mearth, Robin Williams middle-aged son on Mork and Mindy
— possibly as far back as that episode of Scooby Doo where he played an old woman and made helicopter noises. I liked him. He was funny. He was fun to look at — at once hugable and prickly — he was a 7 year old’s whiskey sour. But I’d be lying if I told you he stayed on my radar post 1983.
Enter Marc Maron, a comedian with a profound reverence for the men and women who paved the way for him. He puts his heroes on his show. He doesn’t care what these comics mean to People Magazine or TMZ. He puts them on because they mean a lot to him. He had Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner on in the same month I think. Great episodes. A complete joy to listen to. The podcast as we know it owes a lot to these gifted men.
After Winters passed, Maron re-aired the episode where the surprisingly lucid octogenarian did a soup-to-nuts retelling of his life on and off screen. The regularity with which this type of thing has happened has made the aforementioned protocol a necessity.
No, it’s not the first time: there was Patrice O’neal and Greg Giraldo to name two. In fact, Patrice Oneal’s last interview on this earth was with Jay Mohr, no small potato in podcastia. Obviously, statistics, even common sense, would tell you this kind of thing is bound to happen. I’m betting, given the lifestyles many comics lead, the possibility a former guest will die soon after an interview is significant.
But there’s something beautiful about these interviews. They create a record, a produced, but not overproduced, long-form dialogue with someone who couldn’t tell his or her “story” 20 years ago — with the frankness these shows inherently engender.
I’m not minimizing the reality and sadness of death. Like everyone else on the planet, I’m acquainted with it, and I have nothing but sympathy for those navigating through those dark months following a loss. But what Maron has given us, and aptly so, is a gift. It’s a living will of sorts. And we’re all benefactors. And we get something far more valuable than a pair of cuff links: a story. A story told by the person (sometimes icon) who lived it.