When I was ten years old I had a babysitter who was a beautiful graduate student at an Ivy League university who loved to read celebrity gossip tabloids to “turn her brain off.” After I’d finished my homework, she and I would watch the only reality TV show I’ve ever loved, The Hills, and read magazines about Brangelina. This all ended when I was with my mom at the grocery store and I tried to buy a tabloid, and my mother, a Woman of Taste, asked what on earth I was doing. I said, copying my babysitter, “it’s to turn my brain off,” and my mom flipped out and made me to go to my room and read something like Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm.
What my mother didn’t understand is that we live in an era in which smart people are able to consume stupid media and extrapolate brilliant insights about the world from what they see. I mean, like, hasn’t she ever heard of Adorno? There would be no one better equipped to teach her this lesson than comedians Steven Phillips-Horst and Lily Marotta, hosts of the podcast Celebrity Book Club, who have turned the exegesis of celebrity memoirs into some of the best social commentary and entertainment around.
In each episode of Celebrity Book Club, Marotta and Phillips-Horst discuss a celebrity memoir that they have read. They cast a wide net when it comes to book selection — they’ve covered the memoirs of entertainers like Sinead O’Connor and Demi Moore, the cookbook of The Hills star Kristin Cavallari, Elizabeth Warren’s children’s book, and also the Bible, which they called the memoir of “the world’s biggest celebrity, God.” A forthcoming episode will discuss the memoir of Austrian impresario Sir Rudolf Bing, the former general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. Marotta tells me another reason for the variety is not only to keep listeners engaged, but because oftentimes people throw out the celebrity memoirs they’ve bought and read, so she finds bizarre gems at charity shops in Brooklyn.
The subject matter of the show frequently matters less than the chemistry of its hosts. Phillips-Horst and Marotta met in middle school, and it shows when they cut each other off with perfect timing. Celebrity memoirs have always been a part of their friendship — they once skipped school together to attend model Heidi Klum’s book signing. The duo grew up together in the academic hub of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The show reflects their “just-outside-of-Boston” upbringing, not only because both comedians frequently slip into Southie-Boston accents, but also because, like Matt Damon in Cambridge-set Good Will Hunting, they’re wicked smaht.
In addition to their love of reality TV, they’re also masters of discussing more “serious” memoirs with their insouciant humor. To open an episode on the memoir of the Civil War general and President Ulysses S. Grant — which is titled “Ulysses ‘Horse Girl’ Grant” — Phillips-Horst asks his co-host: “How the hell are you, bitch, I haven’t seen you since you forded the Allegheny!” Marotta, who was obsessed with the Civil War as a child, used to come home from school, dress up as Rutherford B. Hayes, and play “Civil War general.” But it is a joy when they often gravitate toward the silliest subjects because they have a genius for reading deeply into the most vapid inanities imaginable. When Lauren Conrad, a reality TV star, thanks the Hyatt hotel for introducing her to “the British Club Sandwich” in the acknowledgments section to her packing book, the long analysis of what on earth this means made me laugh so hard on the subway a woman asked if I was OK. I would have loved to have had this podcast to listen to as a kid. Maybe I’ll suggest my mom listens too.