If you’re on TikTok and love celebrity gossip, you’ve probably seen New York City-based comedians Claire Parker or Ashley Hamilton on your FYP. Parker and Hamilton host the podcast Celebrity Memoir Book Club, where they “read celebrity memoirs so you don’t have to.”
“The whole premise of the podcast is like, ‘How do we talk about pop culture in an ethical way?’” Parker tells the Daily Dot. “Because we are snarky comedians. So it was this idea of, if we can hate people in their own words, if we buy the rights to the gossip, then we’re allowed to talk about it.”
When I met Parker and Hamilton outside of a Devoción coffee shop in Manhattan, Parker was carrying a copy of Miles to Go, Miley Cyrus’ 2009 autobiography. It was a Thursday, and the two of them were getting ready to record the next week’s episode. Typically, the duo has Tuesday through Thursday to read a book. Then, on Fridays, they outline plot points for the episode and record the podcast to be released the following Tuesday.
“I’m on page 33,” Parker says.
Luckily, the book is short, coming in at 262 pages—”triple-spaced, large print,” Hamilton later says in the finished episode. Later, Hamilton and Parker note that female celebrities’ memoirs typically write their books at around 250 pages, while male celebs often write double that. We briefly speculate on why.
“In the Anthony Kiedis memoir, he tells you about every time he cops drugs,” Parker says. “Like literally the logistics of driving downtown, going to the corner, left or right, parking the car, and you’re just like, alright buddy, we get it. You had a problem.”
“Women don’t do that,” Hamilton says. “Women are like, ‘And then I relapsed.’”
In other words, women often write straight to the point. Perhaps they are offered less space than men, or maybe this is indicative of the gender bias writer Lisa Whittington-Hill examined in a Longreads essay about celebrity memoirs earlier in the year. While men are allowed to write about whatever they want, women are expected to reveal all and to be “completely figured out by the last page.”
“There’s definitely a fear of being boring,” Parker says.
It can be difficult to keep things light and humorous when many of these memoirs touch on difficult topics such as sexual assault, addiction, and varying forms of abuse. Unlike other podcasts that don’t really recap the books, Hamilton and Parker take listeners through the main events, adding their analysis throughout. It’s often a balancing act to express empathy with a celebrity’s past traumas while also criticizing their own shitty behavior, and it’s not one that everyone agrees with. They often preface their episodes with a disclaimer for potential listeners who may not like what they do, which is try to look beyond the presented narrative and question motives, intents, shortcomings, or unreliability.
“At the end of the day our goal is to make a fun, lighthearted podcast but never at the expense of someone else’s trauma,” Hamilton says. “However there is room to think critically about it. We try to go deeper than just taking every word at face value and don’t feel like certain trauma makes people immune to criticism or removes all of their responsibility for what they write, especially considering that these are memoirs and autobiographies and these are stories they’ve chosen to make public.”
The two seem very aware of the function each memoir has in a celebrities’ greater PR machine. For instance, Miles to Go, “written” by a then-16-year-old Miley Cyrus and author Hilary Liftin, isn’t necessarily an earnest portrait of Cyrus. Rather, it exemplifies what image her management team wanted to set up for her as she wrapped up Hannah Montana.
“Essentially, they’re setting the stage for her next chapter,” Parker says. “‘What did they want her to do?’ is I think what we’re looking for in this book, as opposed to like, ‘What did she end up doing?’”
When choosing books, Hamilton and Parker say the best celebrities to cover, for their audience, are more niche ones.
“We did JLo and that was actually one of our worst performing episodes,” Parker says. “I think it’s just the market’s oversaturated with JLo info that there’s not much left to know. You don’t need to hear our opinion. But people like a Lena Dunham, Olivia Munn, anybody who you might have not thought of off the cuff… that tends to be what blows up for us.”
They also stray away from public figures that are too serious for a comedy podcast (they have declined requests to review Michelle Obama’s Becoming) and consider what memoirs will do well on TikTok. On their TikTok, where they have over 200,000 followers, they pull out some of the juiciest bits from a celebrity memoir and encourage people to hear more on their podcast.
“I would say our biggest contributors to our growth is TikTok and word of mouth,” Hamilton says. “We haven’t had that much promotion in any other capacity. Other than just finding people on TikTok and those people find us, like us, tell their friends. It’s been very organic.”
There is a fair amount of competition in their genre. There are several Celebrity Book Club podcasts and then there’s Parker and Hamilton’s Celebrity Memoir Book Club. Other shows in their category are a part of podcast networks that can get them more media placements. Luckily, TikTok has proven to be an effective marketing strategy for Celebrity Memoir Book Club—one that hooked me, and thousands of other Squirmy Wormies (their name for their listeners), into tuning in. Their Olivia Munn series, in particular, is what converted me from TikTok follower to podcast listener.
Celebrity Memoir Book Club is not the duo’s first podcast, but it is their most successful to date. They have been working together for the past four years, starting with a Britney Spears podcast that ran from 2017 through 2019. They used to “tease with love” and didn’t do a lot of research, but amid the rise of the #FreeBritney movement, they decided to end the show as the details coming out about Spears’ life became a lot more serious. After that, they started a podcast about female friendships and conflict, called We’re In A Fight with Claire and Ashley, which ran until August 2020.
“We loved the idea of starting a podcast and I think it’s a very natural and easy progression from stand-up,” Hamilton says. “So we thought of a couple ideas and decided to start a Britney Spears podcast because we really liked that. And I think that one thing about our first two attempts at podcasting, I think we knew that we had really good podcast chemistry. Our topics weren’t quite hitting.”
Celebrity Memoir Book Club launched in September 2020. Parker says it is the “first time we’re in the green” in regards to their podcast pursuits. They recently acquired an advertiser to help them monetize their content, and they have a Patreon that’s nearing 1,500 patrons. Now they’re workshopping live shows, starting with regular stand-up shows with comedy friends then live podcasts.
As for the future, Hamilton says she hopes the podcast becomes a sustainable full-time job for them. The stakes are higher now, as Parker quit her job and Hamilton went freelance earlier in the year, but luckily, the bet appears to be paying off.