Celebrity Memoir Book Club Is Secretly a Friendship Podcast

Comedy Features Celebrity Memoir Book Club
Celebrity Memoir Book Club Is Secretly a Friendship Podcast

Comedians, friends, and hosts of the Celebrity Memoir Book Club podcast Ashley Hamilton and Claire Parker are not enjoying their current read. When I speak with them over Zoom, they’re in the midst of Australian influencer Tash Oakley’s book Excessively Obsessed, which is proving to be a milquetoast, by-the-numbers manual for how to start a business. As Hamilton and Parker remind their listeners at the top of every episode, this is not a podcast that’s going to feed you a beat-by-beat summary of the book of the week; Celebrity Memoir Book Club is all about how they feel about the work in question. And the feelings Excessively Obsessed evokes for them are begrudging respect and boredom. 

“Tash Oakley has had me blocked on Instagram for going on eight years at this point, so not when I was anyone with any sort of pop culture criticism presence. I was ready to go in and fight fire with fire, but all I can say is Tash, you’re a hardworking CEO and entrepreneur, so good for you,” Parker tells me.

Hamilton is a little less complimentary: “It’s just the driest, dullest book with a lime green cover. And you can’t put a lime green cover on the driest business book of all time. That’s crazy.”

Hamilton and Parker first met in the Brooklyn comedy scene around 2017. Hamilton began doing stand-up in Los Angeles then moved to New York, and when you’re doing open mics in the same borough all the time, she says that “eventually you meet and you become friends, or you don’t.” Thankfully for us, it was the former.   

The pair bonded over loving Taylor Swift and pop culture in general. They started their first podcast together, Hold On One Second We’re Talking About Britney Spears, just a couple months into their friendship, around Britney Spears’ birthday (December 2, in case you were wondering). The pair good-naturedly made fun of Britney on the show, but when rumors about her conservatorship came to light, they ended the podcast for ethical reasons. 

“We were like, ‘We’re comedians, we don’t understand the law. We’re not really willing to do the research.’ So we just bowed out,” Parker recalls. 

“At that point, the research [for the podcast] was prying into a human’s life,” Hamilton adds. “And I’m glad people did, but it wasn’t going to be us.”

Their next podcast, We’re in a Fight with Claire and Ashley, ended because, well, “we ended up fighting a lot—like, a lot a lot,” Hamilton says with a laugh. 

Third time’s the charm, though; Parker and Hamilton began Celebrity Memoir Book Club in September 2020, amidst the wave of famous people putting out books in order to make the most of lockdown. Focusing on celebrity memoirs rather than other areas of pop culture also solved an ethical dilemma for them.

“This is information that [celebrities] are putting out there for public discussion and consumption, and so we can read these books and discuss them and not feel like we’re crossing anyone’s boundaries in that way,” Hamilton explains.

Despite that, they have had some negative celeb reactions to Celebrity Memoir Book Club, in particular actor Busy Philipps’ response to the episode about her book This Will Only Hurt a Little. The pair criticized her husband’s (whom she’s now separated from) hands-off approach to their second child, as detailed in the memoir. Philipps called them out on her own podcast for poking their noses into her business—the business she had shared in This Will Only Hurt a Little.

“I get people not fully understanding the consequences of what they’ve published, because to me, I think that there are major consequences of writing about your baby in this way,” Hamilton says, later adding, “This is a published work, it will exist when your baby can read. There are consequences there. But also, that’s not my fault.”

When it comes to memoirs, Hamilton and Parker prize honesty most of all. Some of their favorite books they’ve read for the podcast include those by Viola Davis, Molly Shannon, Minka Kelly, Jennette McCurdy, and Michelle Zauner because they’re well-written, genuinely soul-searching, and fascinating. Others, like Alec Baldwin’s, are so oblivious and self-indulgent that they’re fun to pick apart on the podcast.  

And they don’t finish everything they start. Parker dubs Whoopi Goldberg’s memoir “a bathroom book of vignettes of nonsense,” and they didn’t want to talk about Marilyn Manson’s on the podcast because Hamilton says, “It like felt like what he wanted was for people to read it and say, ‘You’re so fucked up.’” The duo also usually avoid comedians’ works because they tend to be so rooted in the present and Parker confesses that “it’s too close to the bone.” In the instances that they break the comic rule on Celebrity Memoir Book Club, they often get a dud like Colin Jost’s A Very Punchable Face, which is just as uninteresting as the SNL star himself. But for many fans—myself included—these take-downs are the most entertaining listens, with Parker and Hamilton joking about the utter vacuousness of these works. 

The fans are at the heart of the podcast for the duo, along with their friendship. Hamilton and Parker started this venture on their own and have reached #7 in the U.S. Comedy Podcast charts, largely because of how well they connect with their listeners. They host fan meet-ups, often around Celebrity Memoir Book Club live show dates, and plan to set up a speed-dating of sorts for people who want to make friends in their neighborhoods. Part of caring about their listeners means that they don’t spam them with ads while still trying to make a living as podcasters, which is how Parker and Hamilton ended up recently partnering with Vox Media. 

“We very much try to keep our advertising on brand and at a minimum because we want our listeners to remain engaged and we want to care about what we’re talking about,” Hamilton tells me. Vox Media makes sense as their partner because they respect Celebrity Memoir Book Club’s focus on quality control and, in the words of Parker, “We are two New York sassy gals, and I feel like our voice is aligned with their voices.”

Advertisements or no, at the end of the day this is a friendship podcast. Parker and Hamilton’s journey together has been documented weekly via their various projects since the early days of their relationship.  

“We used to be able to just meet up and talk for an hour, and now I feel like we’ll meet up to do a one hour episode and it takes us, on average, four hours because we just gab and gab and gab,” Hamilton says affectionately.

“We try to treat our friendship—and like I always tell people—treat it like a [romantic] relationship and have an anniversary, have check-in dates that are long standing things,” Parker explains. 

Whether you’re meeting up to record a podcast about celebrity memoirs or to just grab a drink, dedicating time to your friends is always worthwhile. As Parker says: “It reminds you to tend to the garden of your love.”

Celebrity Memoir Book Club is available wherever you listen to podcasts.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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