On Monday’s episode of the WTF podcast, Marc Maron spoke to Barack Obama about his family, the political realities that have shaped his presidency, whether he’s really as Hawaii-cool as people think, and what horrific events like the recent shooting in Charleston say about race relations in America. “I can’t really understand how this is happening,” Maron said as he awaited the president and snipers assumed their positions on his neighbor’s roof. “They just swept my house with a dog,” he added later. Secret Service had flooded his Pasadena, California home. The interview was a bit surreal for Obama, who lived nearby when he attended Occidental College. But he wasn’t nervous—it’d be pretty bad, Obama said, if the president were nervous about doing a podcast in a garage. Below are some highlights from the hour-long interview.
Obama on Maron’s garage wall décor:
A lot of pictures of yourself—you know, it’s a little narcissistic.
Obama on gun violence:
I will tell you, right after Sandy Hook, Newtown, when 20 6-year-olds are gunned down and Congress literally does nothing, yeah that’s the closest I came to feeling disgusted.*
Obama on Charleston, specifically:
The point I made in the immediate aftermath of the killing was that I’ve done this way too often. During the course of my presidency, it feels as if a couple times a year I end up having to speak to the country, and to speak to a particular community about a devastating loss, and the grieving that the country feels is real, the sympathy, obviously the prioritizing, comforting the families, all of that’s important, but I think a part of the point I wanted to make was that it’s not enough just to feel bad. There are actions that could be taken to [prevent] events like this.
Obama on race relations in America:
I always tell young people in particular, “Do not say that nothing’s changed when it comes to race in America unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950s, or ’60s, or ’70s.”
What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives: that casts a long shadow. And that’s still part of our DNA. That’s passed on. We’re not cured of it—racism. We’re not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public.
Obama on his daughters:
The biggest fun I’ve had is watching my girls grow up. And they are … they are magnificent. Look, hopefully every parent feels the way I do about my daughters. But I think they are spectacular. And when Michelle and I came into office, the biggest worry we had was is this going to be some weird thing for them, and are they going to grow up with an attitude, or are they going to think that everybody eats off of china?
You know it turns out that they’ve just become—they’re kind, they’re thoughtful, they treat everybody with respect, they don’t have any kind of airs. They’re confident. but without being cocky. They’ve got great friends they’ve been able to—they’re not stuck in the bubble the same way I am. You know, they go to the mall, they have sleepovers, they go to prom, Malia’s starting to drive.
So my biggest [source of] fun has been watching them grow up. Now, unfortunately they’re hitting the age where they still love me, but they think I’m completely boring. And so they’ll come in, pat me on the head, talk to me for 10 minutes, and then they’re gone all weekend. Right? They break my heart! So now I’ve got to start thinking, Well what’s going to replace that fun?
Obama on convincing Malia to appreciate the Secret Service:
I had to explain to her, “Sweetie, let me tell you something: If you think that you’d be over at your friend’s house until 11:30, and then I’d be coming to pick you up, you’re crazy. So the only reason you’re out is because you have a detail. Otherwise, you’d be home. Because I wouldn’t be chauffeuring you around.”
Obama on getting old:
I’ve been trying to work out pretty hard just to stay in shape. That’s useful. But it’s not—you know, I used to play basketball more but these days I’m—I’ve gotten to the point where it’s not as much fun because I’m not as good as I used to be, and I get frustrated.
I was never great, but I was a good player, and I could play seriously. Now I’m like one of these old guys who’s running around, and the guys I play with, who are all a lot younger, they sort of pity me and sympathize with me. They tolerate me, but we all know that I’m the weak link on the court. And I don’t like being the weak link.
On comedy, specifically Louis C.K.:
Maron: Do you like comedy?
Obama: I love comedy.
Maron: Who are your guys?
Obama: Well [Richard] Pryor was an early one. Dick Gregory, when he was really on the edge. Seinfeld is a whole other different type. Louis [C.K.] I know is a buddy of yours, I love.
Obama: Yeah, I think Louis is terrific.
Maron: Oh boy, you just made his life. You just made his life.
Obama: He’s wonderful in such a self-deprecating but edgy kind of way. And basically good-hearted even when he’s saying stuff that’s pretty wrong.
Obama: Yeah, wrong. There’s a goodness about him that comes through.
On learning from experience:
Obama: I was talking to somebody the other day about why I actually think I’m a better president and would be a better candidate if I were running again than I ever have been. And it’s sort of like an athlete—you might slow down a little bit, you might not jump as high as you used to, but I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless.
Maron: For real. You’re not pretending to be fearless.
Obama: Right, you’re not pretending to be fearless. And when you get to that point?
Obama: And also part of that fearlessness is because you’ve screwed up enough times that you know that—
Maron: It’s all happened.
Obama: It’s all happened. I’ve been through this, I’ve screwed up, I’ve been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls, and I emerged, and I lived. And that’s such a liberating feeling. It’s one of the benefits of age. It almost compensates for the fact I can’t play basketball anymore.
Correction, June 22 2015: Due to a transcription error, this post originally stated that President Obama said “26-year-olds” where he said “20 6-year-olds.”