Celebrity Book Club sees hosts Lily and Steven unite over a love of Hollywood gossip and printed matter, delving into forgotten memoirs from Janice Dickinson and Andre Agassi to Chasten Buttigieg and Jessica Simpson
Nearing a full year into the Covid-19 pandemic with the nth lockdown underway, everyone could use a good, ol’ gossip session. On top of the current global crisis, we’re facing another ongoing and urgent quandary – a lack of gossip, drama, scandal. Getting together with BFFs to discuss the most meaningless, unimportant facts you heard about people you don’t even know for an hour straight. Ever thought all that bitching could be packaged up into a podcast? Well NYC comedians and best friends Lily Marotta and Steven Phillips-Horst have beat you to the punch, with Celebrity Book Club – a riotous podcast series discussing books written by famous people you probably forgot are famous. Make that martini extra dirty, as the duo deep dive into the diaries of scandal-baiting starlets, balls-to-the-wall realtors, surprisingly salacious realtors, and “boring gay politicians’ even more boring gay husbands”. It’s eye-popping gossip served with some searing cultural analysis.
Both growing up in the Boston area, Steven and Lily met at age 13 and quickly realised their joint love of famous people and words written about them and by them (or more likely their ghost-writers). The first ever celebrity book Steven read was a “supermarket-sized J.Lo biography”, while Lily originally embraced her love of male style icons, seduced by the “wonderful beard” of 19th US president Rutherford B. Hayes. In their wider careers, they’ve orbited spheres where the pop culture they adore thrives. Lily is primarily an actor and comedian, appearing as Monica Lewinsky in web short Monica and High Maintenance, while supporting herself as a maid in manhattan a la 2002 J. Lo. Steven has been a political speech writer for pundits like Deblasio, Scott Stringer, and Carolyn Maloney, and is renowned for the subversive live show Talk Hole. It wasn’t until the pop culture obsessives and US Weekly worshippers stumbled upon American sitcom actress Leah Rimini’s 2015 memoir tackling her exit from Scientology that the podcast idea proliferated.
“We really wanted to gossip about this scene when Tom Cruise left Suri to cry on the kitchen floor during the dinner before their wedding,” adds Steven.
Though they kicked things off with the podcast in 2019 with Remini’s Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, they’ve levelled up with the first official season launched last week, focusing on 2009 memoir Open by Andre Agassi, the legendary tennis player and ultimate 1990s style icon. The series expands gossip sessions into cultural analysis with eviscerating wit – on Rosie O’Donnell's Find Me, where she gets scammed out of thousands of dollars of medical care by someone with multiple personality disorder, Anna Kendrick’s musings on getting blackout drunk at premieres, and Gabrielle Union revealing her dad had a fully separate life with another woman.
“We needed a book that was off-brand,” says Lily on their more off-the-wall choices, as Steven adds: “People think – oh, a gay guy and a fag hag having a podcast, what are they going to talk about? Like Mariah Carey?’ We don’t want to be so obvious, so there is some strategy involved in there too. We don’t necessarily do things people think of when they think of camp culture, and, going forward, our strategy is to pick people who are from different industries so that we have some different worlds to go into.”
“People think – oh, a gay guy and a fag hag having a podcast, what are they going to talk about? Like Mariah Carey?’ We don’t want to be so obvious, so there is some strategy involved in there too” – Steven Phillips-Horst
Listening to Celebrity Book Club makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a very private, sometimes salacious, but always whip-smart conversation between two friends. In that debut episode, they go into Agassi’s bumpy relationship with Brooke Shields, the homoerotic discourse around his trainer, his neon Nike fits, and the (not so) casual drug use. In the second episode, they up the camp with ex-supermodel and America’s Next Top Model judge Janice Dickinson’s 2002 book No Lifeguard On Duty. It ricochets from wild nights at Studio 54, through the AIDS crisis and the passing of her close friend and fellow iconic supermodel Gia, down to her not-so-secret tension with Tyra Banks.
Forthcoming episodes hopscotch pop culture and all its most fascinating and borderline unhinged moments, delving into the pages of memoirs that may seem more unexpected, by Momofuku founder and chef David Chang, LGBTQIA+ activist Chasten Buttigieg. “When we just started doing it, we just wanted to do the most iconic memoirs we read – Leah Rimini, Terry Hatcher… And now we’re planning it out so we have this diversity.”
And what makes a good and gossip-worthy celeb autobiography? According to these pop culture experts, it’s honesty and a pristine lack of self-awareness that makes a stellar memoir. “Lady Gaga is the most pretentious person alive, so it would be funny to read hers,” says Steven. “But I don’t think she would be funny – she doesn’t have a sense of humour at all. She takes herself extremely seriously. Jessica Simpson is so completely un-self-aware and doesn’t know what she sounds like.”
If they had the chance to adapt one of the podcasts for the screens, they agree it would have to be Janice Dickinson’s. As Steven says: “It could also be like The Crown, where different people play her at different stages of her life in each of the six seasons.”
Whether it’s Elizabeth Taylor, the inventor of MyPillow, or the ex-CEO of Chipotle, it’s that guaranteed excitement of an uphill battle or the stomach-pitting drop of watching a trainwreck in slo-mo that makes celeb tales so entertaining. From a car-crash starlet to a burrito chain mogul, the glamour can be as innate and alluring as it is disturbing. As Steven puts it: “To be a celebrity, you have to have made it, and so there’s always at least a little bit of an old school glamour vibe of coming to a big city with two pennies in your pocket. New York City, baby!”
New episodes of Celebrity Book Club are released every Wednesday on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts