Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “The Phil Hendrie Show Flashback”

Posted by Maximum Fun on 16th August 2009

In 2005, the late, lamented David Foster Wallace wrote a profile, in the Atlantic, of John Ziegler, then a local KFI late-night host. In it, he rapidly expands his observations, as was the Wallace way, from the one guy to the station employing him to the talk radio industry as a whole. Along the way, he describes The Phil Hendrie Show, another KFI program at the time, better than your Podthinker ever could. Thus, deference:

What happens every night on this program is that Phil Hendrie brings on some wildly offensive guest — a man who’s leaving his wife because she’s had a mastectomy, a Little League coach who advocates corporal punishment of players, a retired colonel who claims that females’ only proper place in the military is as domestics and concubines for the officers — and first-time or casual listeners will call in and argue with the guests and (not surprisingly) get very angry and upset. Except the whole thing’s a put-on. The guests are fake, their different voices done by Hendrie with the aid of mike processing and a first-rate board op, and the show’s real entertainment is the callers, who don’t know it’s all a gag — Hendrie’s real audience, which is in on the joke, enjoys hearing these callers get more and more outraged and sputtery as the “guests” yank their chain.

But Wallace doesn’t much like The Phil Hendrie Show, which places him unambiguously on one side of the stark divide between those who “get” Hendrie and those who don’t. Here, “get” doesn’t mean “possess the intellectual capability to understand;” it just means “find hilarious.” Your Podthinker, through the show’s original run which ended in 2006, found it hilarious. What a delight then, to discover The Phil Hendrie Show Flashback [iTunes] [RSS], a daily podcast of “classic” (read: late-90s to early-00s) Hendrie segments. Though his program is now resurrected in a new iteration somewhere, your Podthinker hasn’t heard it — and with this regular drip of solid vintage material, some time may pass before he does.

When one doesn’t get Hendrie, it might well be because they’re looking for laughs in the wrong places. Sure, it’s amusing hearing Hendrie do his usual cast of voice characters — the vapid Chris Norton, “gay man and gay journalist” Doug Dannger, Brigadier Admiral of the Citizens’ Auxiliary Police Force Jay Santos — and sure, it’s funny when callers actually engage these fabricated dimwits. But the seat of the humor is in Hendrie’s mastery of the slow build; he raises the level of ridiculousness incrementally, like the water temperature on the apocryphal frog in the pan. He’ll begin a segment, allegedly part of a series on “health and the family,” with a guest who’s ostensibly the head of a group against breastfeeding. [MP3] Hendrie then lets it slip, argument with woman by argument with enraged woman, that the guy has based his entire movement on the sole fact that, upon first seeing his wife’s breasts, he “lost all bowel control.” Furthermore, he belives that women who breastfeed just want to “get their cookies” by so doing.

Or take the fellow who’s mad about Kobe Bryant’s rape charge getting more media attention than his own back in college. [MP3] And it turns out that he suspects that Bryant’s has received more attention not because Bryant’s more famous, but because he’s black. And that the caller was accused of raping a man instead of a woman. A man in a wheelchair. Hendrie has said that his show was/is meant as a study of the ignorance of talk radio callers, and that certainly comes through in both the densely inept, stubbornly repetitive characters he creates as well as those who vainly attempt to talk sense into them. But for your Podthinker, it’s all about the mastery of the reveal. Is “it’s all about timing” something comedians still say?

Vital stats:
Format: semi-satirical talk radio best-of
Duration: ~30m
Frequency: daily

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]