There are articles coming out every few weeks now about comedian Marc Maron and his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. The basic gist of these is that Maron has toiled only a few rungs above obscurity for most of his professional career, only to now be experiencing something approaching recognition/fame thanks mainly to the success and quality of the podcast. What's weird for me is that though I agree with those premises — WTF is very good, and Maron is indeed becoming better known because of it — I can't actually apply them to my own experience of Maron. He's as familiar to me as any household name, so while I'm able to understand in the abstract that he's now more famous (in a qualified way), I can't relate that knowledge to any sense of personal discovery. I grew up watching any stand-up special I could see on Comedy Central; I believe the first time I saw Maron was on the inaugural Comics Come Home special in 1995, when I was just 13. (It was also my introduction to Patton Oswalt.) I even saw Maron live in L.A. around 2005 or 2006, in a gig performed in the basement of a piano store. Seriously.
That doesn't give me bragging rights, though. I don't get points for being the kid who watched a staggering amount of Comedy Central growing up. This isn't about being first; it's about taking a moment to realize that "popular" is relative, and your experience doesn't begin to cover the breadth of culture or understanding.
This came home to me in a big way when Maron interviewed Kevin Hart a little while back. I've never seen Hart live or listened to any of his albums or specials, and my main (only?) memory of him as an entertainer is from his brief role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. This despite the fact that Hart is arguably the most successful comic in the country right now. He's popular in a way Maron has never been, and he's known and watched by thousands more people. He is, empirically, bigger. Yet Maron dwarfs him in my life.
What's interesting is that the simplest conclusions from things like this (I am just as blindered by my taste and experience as anyone) are always the most difficult to put into action (I should probably work harder to experience new [or new-to-me] artists). I'm still listening to Maron once a week or more, but I haven't dug into Hart's work beyond a few minutes spent with his latest special, which I stumbled across on cable recently. It's a reminder that we — I — can so easily confuse experience with knowledge. I love finding new comics, and musicians, and authors, but I also love the thrill of finding a new one that's been right in front of me all along.