Hayes Davenport was being fitted with the Iron Man costume, to star in the latest franchise installment. But there was a problem: The outfit was a little snug.
“They're like, 'This isn't really working,'?” he recalls on his weekly podcast, Hollywood Handbook, which he records with colleague Sean Clements. “And I'm, like, 'Well, let out the crotch a little bit. This is your job.'?”
Responds Clements: “If I had a nickel…”
Of course, the story is fictional, as Clements and Davenport are speaking in the voices of the arrogant characters they play – big-time Hollywood actor-writer-directors. They say their show's aim is to help others succeed in the business, but they mainly brag about their accomplishments. Despite their fame and riches, they still find plenty to complain about – say, the performance of their luxury cars, or how Julia Louis-Dreyfus is clogging up their inbox with sexual come-ons.
A hilarious, semi-improvised satire of social climbing, backstabbing, self-satisfied film industry personalities, Hollywood Handbook's targets are timeless. The way they inhabit these blowhards for the purpose of lampooning them, however, resembles the comedy of Stephen Colbert. It's perhaps the funniest new show to emerge in the past year on the Hollywood-based Earwolf network, which creatively dominates the rapidly expanding universe of podcasting.
In real life, the pair are successful television writers, albeit with wildly divergent backgrounds. Clements, 32, who lives near Larchmont Village, grew up in small-town Connecticut, attended only a semester of college and got his start cleaning cooling towers and doing massage therapy for Cirque du Soleil. He discovered a talent for performance and traveled five hours a day round-trip into Manhattan in 2004 to study improv at Upright Citizens Brigade, before landing roles in commercials and, eventually, in L.A. He now writes for Comedy Central hit Workaholics. At a Hollywood Handbook taping over the winter, he wears dirty white running shoes, and his brown hair is mussed.
The blond, blue-blooded Davenport, on the other hand, grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attended Harvard. (“My privilege was actually kind of a disadvantage, if you remember David versus Goliath,” he quips.) A 27-year-old Westwood resident who today is wearing fresh white Converse sneakers, he's an erstwhile Jeopardy! contestant who has never taken an improv class. He's funny without seeming to try too hard, and has written for everything from the Harvard Lampoon to Eastbound & Down and Family Guy.
The pair met writing on Allen Gregory, the 2011 animated Fox series starring Jonah Hill, which was quickly canceled. But they enjoyed each other's company so much that they co-hosted a podcast the next year called The Reality Show Show, focusing on unscripted TV. It was a slog. “We were doing a bad podcast that nobody liked,” Clements says. “We had to watch six hours of TV per week to get two bits.”
On Hollywood Handbook, their characters are more deadpan. They and their guests – like New Girl's Jake Johnson or Workaholics' Adam DeVine – are constantly stifling their own laughter, which only makes the whole thing funnier. Podcasting is in its golden age, with some of our generation's funniest personalities offering up thousands of hours of free content weekly. The default format is an interview show that doesn't involve much preparation. Hollywood Handbook, on the other hand, turns the format on its head through well-conceived fictional characters and endless bits.
At its heart are those characters – egomaniacs who are forever name-dropping. Take the humblebrag anecdote Clements told Davenport on a recent episode. “So I'm like, excuse me, Casey Affleck, I like you, you're welcome to crash at my house for another week or so, but I don't like you that much,” he said. “Get out of my shower.”
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