Hendrie DVD Review: A Portrait of the Artist as a Radio Man

Hendrie tells the story of Phil Hendrie, whose call-in radio show spoofed call-in radio shows and revealed his lightning-quick, improv skills, which rivaled those of comic legends Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams. Inspired by changes to the talk-radio format of the ’80s that saw the shtick of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern propel them into giants of the industry, Hendrie followed his muse and gave up being a music DJ to try his hand at talk radio, which garnered him a cult following.

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The documentary takes the audience through Hendrie’s early days in Los Angeles, CA when he started as a typical talk-radio host. He wasn’t very good and got fired. He then went up the freeway to Ventura and invented the character Raj Faheen as the country went into the Gulf War in 1990. The response to Raj signaled to Hendrie he was on the right track and he began to create a stable of characters that Hendrie as host would interact with, like a ventriloquist. He went to Atlanta but the audience didn’t get the show and he was fired. Believing in himself and his show, he found success in Minneapolis, in Miami, and then in 1996, he returned to the radio station in Los Angeles that fired him.

As an Orange County resident, this is when I first encountered Phil Hendrie. Recommended by a friend, the first show I heard featured a waitress who called in to share how a man had left her a $100-dollar bill as a tip, but came back to say he meant to leave a $10-dollar bill. She revealed that she went into the kitchen to pray on it and Jesus told her to keep the money. Callers, particularly those that identified themselves as Christians, were outraged by her behavior. It was very funny as she dismissed everyone, which only made the callers angrier.

In the next hour, a man called in to say he was suing a Chinese restaurant because he choked on the dessert as he didn’t know the cookie had a piece of paper in it. Neither Phil nor the callers could believe the man had never heard of a fortune cookie before. After a commercial break, the story got stranger as the man revealed that he had passed out from choking on the cookie and when he regained consciousness, a man was giving him mouth to mouth, which he felt was basically French kissing him. The callers were continually getting strung along yet couldn’t see it.

Seemed like a very funny group was responsible for the show and egging callers on; however, my friend told me Hendrie was both the host and the guest. That was surely not true as they weren’t just talking back and forth but talking over each other and the guest was clearly on a phone. Took me a while to accept the idea. When I saw Hendrie perform live, it was amazing to watch him in action as he not only alternated voices but the devices he spoke through. The Phil Hendrie Show was the funniest show of any medium at the time.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. The documentary assembles famous fans in the comedy world singing Hendrie’s praises, such as Judd Apatow, Dana Gould, Bill Hader, and Kevin Pollak. Not only are they fans, but all are mystified at how Hendrie did it. Hader called it “magical.” And the viewer can judge for themselves as the documentary plays old show clips and pairs it with wonderful animation by “Big” Bob Harper and Serge Volsky of a listener to a radio continually stunned at what he’s hearing.

Even though the show upset listeners and advertisers, it was a hit. While the audience grew, there was no shortage of callers who weren’t aware of the joke and had to challenge the foolishness they heard, which great for those in on the joke. Hendrie took the show into syndication, thinking that’s what he wanted and that he made it. But it wasn’t. As he entered new markets, he had to deal with angry callers and advertisers in each market.

In 2014, as radio was changing, Hendrie left terrestrial radio and went into the podcast world. He also changed the program, making it more of an improv sketch show with Phil and his characters. Gone was Hendrie fooling and angering callers. He is happier with this version of the show as are some of the interviewees. I find the original version funnier.

Hendrie serves as both a remembrance of and an introduction to the comedy of Phil Hendrie. As a longtime fan, it definitely has me pulling out CDs and finding clips online. Unfortunately, there are no extras. It’s really a missed opportunity to include some Hendrie classic bits uninterrupted. Stay through the credits as Garry Shandling calls in disputing Bobbie Dooley’s claims he is hosting a charity event for her.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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