What a F#@$ing Bummer
If you’re not familiar with the show, you missed out. Hendrie specialized in a kind of comic theater that was unlike anything else on the dial; he would do hour-long segments that sounded exactly like a regular talk-radio program, but with the notable difference that Hendrie was both the host and the guest. In other words, he would interview himself playing some character — and the character being interviewed was invariably advocating some position that was almost unbelievably inflammatory.
(My favorite example: the show where he played the part of a woman who had opened up a battered-womens’ shelter in partnership with a man who had previously been a coach for prizefighters. She explained very patiently to Phil that the root cause of the spousal abuse problem in America is that American women “don’t know how to take a punch.”)
The comedy of the show came from the fact that, after a few minutes of talking with his “guest”, Hendrie would open up the lines for calls — and take calls from all sorts of people who thought the “guest” was a real person. Hilarity would ensue as the callers, puffed up on righteous indignation, tried to argue with the “guest” — with Hendrie periodically chiming in as himself to stick up for the caller, only to then immediately respond as the “guest” with a blistering put-down of the caller’s arguments.
I’ve been listening to Hendrie since 2002, when I stumbled across his show while flipping the radio dial in the car one day and was immediately sucked in. Like most people, I thought it was a “straight” talk show at first; it wasn’t until I caught it a second time that I realized that I’d been had. The absurdity of Hendrie’s show was the most spot-on satirization of the talk-radio wasteland that I can imagine.
Part of what made the show so much fun was that over the years Hendrie developed a library of stock characters to play his “guests”. Each of these characters had their own unique tics designed to irritate callers into flipping their lid. Wikipedia has a very thorough list of all Hendrie’s characters, with some info as to what made each so funny. Their quote database, Wikiquote, also has “best-of” quotes for many of his characters.
Hendrie had been quite vocal for some time about the restrictions he had to work under thanks to the FCC’s post-Janet Jackson crackdown, and how much he hated them, so his decision to leave the radio biz is understandable. It’s a shame that he can’t take his act to satellite, which would be a much more natural home for his brand of humor; he hasn’t ruled out a satellite gig, but for now he says he wants to concentrate on TV — he’s currently appearing in a supporting role on the NBC sitcom Teachers.
Goodbye and good luck, Phil — your listeners will miss you.
UPDATE (May 15, 2006): I’ve posted a sample of Hendrie’s show, if you want to give it a listen to see what you’ve been missing.