Phil Hendrie's Cult Status in Radio Continues on Stage
Phil Hendrie knows what it's like to have at least half a dozen voices going through his head at any given time. After years of unleashing them behind a microphone, many of them have become even more famous than his own. If you've ever watched Futurama, King of The Hill, the movie Team America: World Police, Rick and Morty, Squidbillies, or Disney's The Replacements, you have heard Hendrie in action, bringing his odd, yet realistic and weird sounding characters to life through voices, a feat that he does every morning on his new Podcast, from studios based in Ventura County.
Hendrie's career in terrestrial radio spanned four decades as a DJ and talk show host. But his balls-out, satirical humor was created in the mid to late '90s, with the addition of fictional characters to his talk show, whom many angry callers thought were real. Hendrie was on the air in Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis, and locally in Ventura and many other major cities, including Los Angeles on KFI, which many fans argue produced some of his most legendary, and hilarious shows. Though he quit terrestrial radio in 2013, Hendrie remains a cult figure behind the mic. Hendrie took time to speak with the Weekly about his newly formatted Podcast, the nature of his comedy bits, the origins of his character voices, his love for heavy metal and hip-hop music, and his one-man show comedy act, coming to the Irvine Improv on September 11.
OC Weekly (Alex Distefano): Give readers a brief history of your career in radio
Phil Hendrie: My history in radio goes back to 1974 when I started working as a disc jockey in Orlando, Florida. I had gone down there to work in construction with a buddy and through some contacts that I had I ended up working as a DJ. I did this for 17 years, but it wasn't until the summer of 1990, that I decided to go into talk radio and do a fully realized theatrical stylized radio show.
I started out my show by doing character voices that some of the audience members believed to be real people; we'd get tons of phone calls, and it made for some hot comedy at times. We did that show for 20 years or so, but now I do a full improvisational satirical radio show of characters interacting together in the same studio. The show moved from taking phone calls strictly to me playing every character.
How is your new podcast format different from your show on terrestrial radio?
Before the format of my show was more difficult, it made for some great radio, and was damn hilarious, but it was tough because I was playing two roles. I was attempting to take callers who will talk to this fake voice and I was also attempting to keep the comedy level high for casual listeners so they don't think it's just another boring talk show. You have to be funny enough so long time fans are enjoying it. It was a balancing act.
Doing the podcast now, it is far more enjoyable and I think, funnier. I listen to both, and I think this one is consistently more humorous. And now we're doing it for fans that are subscribers. I don't have to deal with advertisers, or affiliate middlemen, and it's strictly a digital show. The business itself is smaller, tighter and better to deal with. The format of the show itself is much more fun for me to do, I have a blast, and if you enjoy yourself it makes the material that much more funny to people. Laughter is an infectious thing people love to hear laughter.
Did you always know you had a talent at creating different voices?
Well, I instinctively had this ability from a young age. I mimicked people. I began to listen to people and copy how they sounded from the time when I was younger. I noticed people would laugh and enjoy it. I found all those things I had listened to, voices I heard on the TV or in the movies, entertaining. I would mimic all these sounds and voices. And over time, that is how it just developed.
Do you take voice lessons or use any special breathing techniques, when switching so rapidly back and forth between more than three characters?
There is no technique, it's just something you learn, like self taught painters and self taught musicians; I come from a self-taught school. I just figured it out along the way and used what I had. I needed to create the perfect comedic satirical, presentation in a radio show format. I had to create these illusions of other people, and a certain kind of reality. The closer you get to reality the funnier things are, I think. I would listen to how people sound when they talk, the art of conversation, the volume and how people talk over each other. And I would try constantly to master all of that, taking breathes between words, and earlier than I normally would, and before transitions. I just practice and do it over and listen to it, until it sounds real.
I know it's me doing three, four or even five voices, but I can listen to my own show sometimes, and I'm convinced it's four or five different people in the studio with me. You automatically suspend your disbelief its funny you don't have to consciously do it you just get lost in it.
One of the most infamous, crude, offensive, sexist, and arrogant characters to have appeared regularly on your show is David G. Hall. Is this character based on a real person?
Davig G. Hall is actually a real guy, but he is completely the opposite of the character on my show. The real man is sweet, kind and professional, but he loves the character bit we do. He gets a kick out of it and once told me never to stop doing it, so it's an homage to him. He was a great program director and a mentor, for me when I was at KFI.
What do you think of talk radio today? What are your favorite types of music?
I don't listen to talk radio anymore; I find it too damn boring. I listen to a shit load of music, and I like some sports radio, but I think talk radio is pathetic blather, in my opinion. I used to do take offs on conservative and liberal radio on my show, but I can't stand it any more and it does a good job enough of satirizing itself. Radio is like a dead medium in my opinion. I don't think there's anything happening anymore it's sad. Perhaps if it comes back it could be a richer place for satire.
On a digital platform with no FCC to interfere, I can play what interests me, my favorite types of music. And what interests me now the most is metal and hip-hop. I play it all the time on my show, as bumper music. I've dabbled with the idea of playing more music on my show, but it might alienate some of my fans who have been traditional comedy fans, a lot of whom are white, fairly mainstream middle class people; and metal and hip-hop isn't their thing.
But, by the same token I'm not going to cater to make everyone in radio land happy; it is my show after all, and I play it when I want to play it, with long stretches if I have to go to the bathroom or whatever here and there. I do it to say that this radio show is always going to be one step ahead of everyone else. It's not like other shows out there I guarantee it. It's angry, aggressive, in your face, like most of the metal and hip-hop music we play and a lot of the music I love. It's funny how at my age I feel this way about hip-hop and metal, but I do.
If you were able to bring one character to life, who would it be, and why?
I would love to bring Bobby Dooley from the Western Estates, to life. I want to see what she looks like. I know she's probably a 40-something piece of ass. She's older and probably attractive, but she's also sociopathic. Fortunately though, she's not too sadistic. I would like to check her out and visit her every day, have coffee with her, follow her around for a day, see what's up with her lifestyle. I think if you were to ask 1,000 people this question, most people would say her.
Tell us about your one-man comedy act, coming to the Irvine Improv, Sept. 11. How will this performance be different from your two previous sold out shows at the Hollywood Improve earlier this summer?
I am going to improvise more. It's an all-improvisational comedy show; and I'm going to go off book much more than before. I am going to follow the bullet points of a show but by doing it by instinct. It's a funny thing, I struggle with scripts, memorizing lines and creating the character on paper. But improvising always works best for me in this comedy act and on my radio show. There will be some notable deviations from the last two Hollywood shows we did. Chris Norton, an adult film actor will have a more of role in the show, along with some other guests, and the introduction of new guys Bill Hassinger and Kip Karnell, two fishermen who will make an appearance.
What are your plans with the one-man comedy act after the show in Irvine?
This show is definitely going to go beyond California, but the opportunity and timing to do that has to be right. But we have a mobile set up to do our podcast on the road when necessary. After Irvine, we have one more event in the LA/Ventura area then my hope is to take it to markets such as Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Arizona, New York, St. Louis, and Atlanta. I also want to go to Toronto because my family is there and it's a great comedy market. But this will all take place over the next year or so.
I appreciate everybody that comes to enjoy us live or all my fans that have listened to my show over the years I truly appreciate all of the support it means the world to me. I want to do everything in my power to make them all laugh their fucking heads off. I think fans of my show are much hipper, smarter than most and are really good people. I love meeting them at events; most of them are people I would love to hang out with.
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