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Sunday, July 31, 2005

TALK RADIO THEATER: Steven J. Bosell is telling radio listeners exactly why he’s filed a lawsuit alleging "malicious weather fraud." A building contractor from Corona, California, Bosell says he’s suing the County of Riverside for false advertising because their Chamber of Commerce brochures neglected to inform him about the extreme summer heat. Having moved west from Tennessee after reading the pitch, Bosell wants to get reimbursed for his $800 a month air conditioning bill. First-time listeners to Phil Hendrie’s syndicated talk-radio program might smile and think, "What a nut." They might feel sorry for the host, who's probably just doing his best to manage a phone interview with an impaired guest booked by an inept producer. Some might sympathize with the host's attempts to explain to the guest why his legal claim is absurd. Hard-core listeners of Hendrie's Monday through Friday syndicated program know something else about Steve Bosell. They know he's a frequent guest and a perpetual litigant — and by the way, an invention of Hendrie. Literally. Host Phil Hendrie plays Bosell, live. In fact, Hendrie is the entire cast of the show. An amazing comic talent, this guy seamlessly changes his voice and uses sound effects to present a procession of bizarre alter egos (around 40 in all) who harbor deeply-held convictions that are at once bizarre and strangely plausible. Bosell’s periodic lawsuits triggers predictable outrage from real-life callers who call the show outraged, thus delighting Hendrie insiders: his longterm listeners. In a previous appearance, Bosell explained why he sued the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department for putting a blue dye in their public pool activated by the presence of urine. Bosell was embarrassed when, leaving the pool after urinating, the blue evidence was everywhere. For laughing at him, Bosell included his wife April and their minor children as defendants. "I am not afraid to use our court system,” Bosell tells Hendrie. “I will not be publicly embarrassed nor humiliated by anyone!" Yes, we’re talking comedy here, folks. That said, it’s worth nothing that real-life talk show host G. Gordon Liddy once recited a Bosell lawsuit as proof positive that the United States urgently needs to rein in its trial lawyers. Hendrie's screeners do their best to ensure that callers who make it onto the show are actually people who believe the guest they object to is real — as opposed to regular listeners eager to "crank" the host. Hendrie himself takes the view that there will always be enough callers who can't quite figure out the gag, even though Hendrie openly confesses — on the air — that he does the voices of everyone but the callers. Says the LA Weekly:
Hendrie has said he is not worried that exposure might ruin the show by tipping off potential callers — he believes you cannot overestimate the stupidity of the AM-radio audience, and his work is enduring testament to that fact. But his point is not to expose simple stupidity. His “guests” are sophisticated parodies designed to incite the easy anger of the self-righteous, whom he expertly lures by creating characters who run roughshod over their pieties — the sanctity and safety of American children, the meaning of patriotism, kindness to animals. He likes to create characters who have thinly veiled ulterior motives, which he reveals little by little, as if in a well-constructed one-act play. Listening to Phil Hendrie combines the pure, illegitimate pleasure of making prank phone calls with an intense, stoned reading of Marshall McLuhan. Hendrie’s show is a scathing and wholly original critique of what passes as dialogue and debate in vast portions of our culture. He uses the AM-radio call-in audience as “found objects” to reveal their own prejudices and susceptibility to manipulation, and he in a sense bestows on them an eloquence they themselves do not possess. Hendrie takes the average, depressing predictability of the average American psyche and somehow makes it into joyful comedy.
The host devotes some segments to his own views as a longtime Democrat who woke up after 9/11 and voted for Bush for pretty much the same reasons as Dennis Miller. (Ann Coulter's a fan, and she once made an appearance — as herself.) The show can be heard on about 100 stations. If you're not within radio hearing distance, you can pay a nominal monthly fee to get a "backstage pass" to listen live online and make MP3s for all your friends. As a longtime Hendrie fan, I've had a ball giving CDs to friends who believe (like Liddy) the show's on the level.
"When I first started listening, I thought it was completely real. It made me so angry that I tried to call in," said Romeo Reyes, a lab scientist at Loma Linda University Medical Center. "Now I listen to see what people's reactions are and I just laugh."