I listen to an embarrassing number of comedy podcasts each week. I don’t usually write about them here because I find the idea daunting. My past trying to cover SNL and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY has taught me that writing about comedy is very difficult beyond just saying “that was funny” or “that could have been funnier” over and over again.
Writing about HOLLYWOOD HANDBOOK is doubly daunting, given the show’s indescribable nature. It stars two comedy writers - Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport. If you start the show from the beginning, it does kind of, sort of start off as a parody of Hollywood guru types. Pretty quickly, though, it devolves into unstructured insanity. A number of funny folks in the Earwolf orbit (Scott Aukerman, Nick Wiger, Paul Rust) do a thing where they take great pleasure in telling jokes so bad or silly that we laugh more at their tacky audacity to make the joke at all than the joke itself. Sean and Hayes zoom in on that notion to the extent that it defines their entire personalities but transforms what would be pure cheese into surly rebellion. Nothing is real; everything is a joke. That’s basically all it is. If you learn to like the two personalities making the jokes, you will learn to like the show.
The cliche about HOLLYWOOD HANDBOOK is it takes fifteen episodes to get into. I don’t agree because I got into it right away (albeit with a lot of confusion), when Sean and Hayes highjacked COMEDY BANG! BANG! at the start of its ninth anniversary episode. But understanding the show did take a while because it has no structure or premise. Once things truly clicked for me, I found it rewarding to revisit old episodes with new understanding of what the hell was going on.
Eventually you start to see the whole HOLLYWOOD HANDBOOK world. You meet the constantly beleaguered Earwolf engineers. You begin to track the extremely long arc of Tom Scharpling’s appearances (tied with Julie Klausner and - oddly enough - Sinbad as the show’s best guest). Ultimately, it all becomes a niche inside joke satirizing comedy podcasts themselves, which is extra enriching if you also listen to a shitload of other comedy podcasts.
I’m going to give you some episodes to try out if you’re feeling ready to embark on a very long relationship with these guys. There is a lot of HOLLYWOOD HANDBOOK out there, but if you truly get hooked, a year’s worth of free episodes won’t be enough. Soon you’ll get a Stitcher Premium account so you can listen to the archives and the show’s weekly Pro Version. You’ll find yourself looking up related podcasts like THE REALITY SHOW SHOW and HOLLYWOOD MASTERCLASS. Eventually, you’ll join a Patreon so you can listen to THE FLAGRANT ONES, Sean and Hayes’ basketball podcast with the amazing Carl Tart.
But all that comes later. First you have to get into regular old HOLLYWOOD HANDBOOK. Here are some good point of entries that are not yet behind a paywall:
The Masked Engineer, Our Masked Friend
Sean, Hayes, and guest Shaun Diston play THE MASKED SINGER but with Earwolf engineers. It’s a weird place to start because you won’t know who the engineers are, but it sort of doesn’t matter. There is a madcap joy here that is totally infectious like joining a drunken sing-a-long in a bar filled with strangers.
Matt Besser, Our Cannabedian Friend
Pot culture is silly.
Sean Diston, Our Christmas Album Friend
The boys want to make a Christmas album so they improvise I forget how many Christmas songs. But it’s a lot.
David Sedaris, Our Storytelling Friend
March is called “Try Month” in HOLLYWOOD HANDBOOK land, and it’s a time where the boys actually try to get bigger guests. Sometimes bigger names don’t necessarily mean better episodes, but David Sedaris can hang.
Take those four, then scrub the feed for any episode featuring Tom Scharpling or Julie Klausner.
If you’re still in after that, you are in it for life. Get Stitcher Premium and go all the way back to the beginning. Listen to the versions with ads, because that’s where you get some of the show’s best long-running jokes.
Once you’re a fan, I am afraid you will become annoying to all your friends as you try to utilize Sean and Hayes’ jokes and speaking patterns while also constantly attempting to get others into the show as well. It’s a hard life and I wish you luck with it.