In Defense of the Hack

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The Year of the Hack is now officially under way. First, there was the investigation of Hollywood Reporter columnist George Christy for accepting (and reportedly even demanding) graft from the entertainment companies he covered. Then, of course, there was the revelation that Sony Pictures had invented a movie reviewer to manufacture fake raves for such stinkers as "The Animal" and "A Knight's Tale." Sony may have come off worst in the debacle, but it also inadvertently hit the real, workaday entertainment-journalist hacks who supply the "real" quotes that have been enticing you into David Spade movies for years.

Recruited from obscure papers, Websites and radio and TV stations across the country, real working journalists have for years been flown to New York and LA to attend screenings and live it up on the studios' dime, in exchange for supplying glowing blurbs to use in the ad campaigns, and doing brief, puff-piece interviews with the stars for the fans at home. The junkets are literal proof that if you sit down enough monkeys with enough typewriters and unlimited access to the minibar at a screening of "Big Daddy," one of them will provide a poster- worthy blurb. The real joke, the conventional response to the Sony controversy went, was that the studio bothered to invent a blurbmeister when there are so many real, willing ones. It was like taking a blow-up doll into a whorehouse.

I don't attend this kind of studio-paid junket myself. I'd like to think it's a matter of principle but it's also a matter of circumstance — if you work for an established journalism outlet, you get all the interview access and free screenings you need; and anyway, in TV as opposed to movie journalism, the corporate baksheesh is not nearly so free-flowing. But after watching "Primetime Glick" (Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m.), for the first time I felt real sympathy for my colleague, my brother, my semblable, The Hack.

What Makes Jiminy Run?

Spun off from a recurring skit on Martin Short's short-lived talk show, "Primetime" is a celebfotainment show starring Jiminy Glick (played by Short, underneath mounds of fatty makeup). Glick is a sort of hack savant, a weird, ill-informed, self-absorbed and blustery celeb journalist who has somehow landed his own TV interview show; his comically uncomfortable encounters with celebrities make up the bulk of the show. (The first guests are Bill Maher, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld and Dennis Miller, which makes me wonder where the show's going to go once Short runs out of fellow comics who owe him favors.)

Spiritually, if not physically, Glick is a combination of the journalist junketeers that Short's met in his movie career and, it would seem, about half the on-air talent at E! network: He's loud and full of himself, given to mangling facts about his interview subjects and surprising them with non sequiturs. (He mentions the military-law show "JAG" to Steve Martin, who's never heard of it, then follows up by asking Martin's opinion of women in the military.)

Short has a talent for playing creepy phonies under layers of makeup (think of his toy-company executive on the "Saturday Night Live" parody of "60 Minutes," nervously smoking a cigarette with five inches of ash hanging on it), and he has an endearing love for weird, obscure show-bizzy humor (think of his Jackie Rogers, Jr., character, or his special "I, Martin Short, Goes [sic] Hollywood"). Who but Martin Short would give this corpulent showbiz hanger-on a name that recalls both Disney's Jiminy Cricket and "What Makes Sammy Run?"'s Sammy Glick? The interviews themselves are often unsettlingly funny, no small feat since this confrontation interview shitck has been well worn-out by comics from Tom Green to David Letterman to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. The skits that fill out the show are far less successful, like a Tom Green impersonation, done better earlier this year by Andy Dick on MTV.

Celebs Hate The Hack

But the most interesting thing about the show is that it shows us The Hack as celebrities see him. Glick is, after all, a hack impression done by a celebrity for celebrities. Short has said he conceived the character so the celebs wouldn't be conscious that they were talking to Martin Short. But since everyone knows who it is under that fatty suit, you don't feel you're watching Dennis Miller handle an uncomfortable interview, you feel you're watching Dennis Miller cut up with Martin Short. So Jiminy Glick really gives celebs an entertainment journalist drawn the way celebs see entertainment journalists: that is, as a fat, gross, grotesquely uncool pig. He gorges himself — in one publicity photo, he has a jelly donut dripping out of his slack mouth — he sweats profusely, he even endorses a line of adult diapers (apropos of which he engages one guest in a non sequitur line of conversation about "making a stinky").

He's greasy, he's blobby, he's money-grubbing in a penny-ante sort of way, and he's associated with excrement. In other words, he's exactly the opposite of a celebrity. So let's all laugh at him!

Now, Martin Short strikes me as a decent, self-deprecating sort of guy, without any particularly great God complex by Hollywood standards. Not the sort of person, that is, who would create a self-serving straw man (or, really, rubber- suit man) to work out some sort of Sean Penn-esque feelings of martyrdom by media. But to see this caricature — funny as it often is — come from the mind of this quintessential Hollywood nice guy only underscores the status of The Hack as our new, universal, feel-good pariah.

And We Do Too

The usual comparison of hacks to whores is more apt even than it seems: not only do hacks, like whores, sell something of moral value (their integrity), they also, like whores, earn the hypocritical contempt of both their pimps and their johns. The average person, hearing about the goings-on at movie junkets, resents entertainment-press hacks because they seem to live so large: Flying to LA! Getting wined and dined by Hollywood studios! Getting to meet celebrities! The average folks, of course, eat up the puffy interviews and oily celebrity moments that these same junkets generate in their local newspapers and on their local nightly news shows — if not, the junkets wouldn't exist. But that doesn't stop them from looking down on the high-priced lackeys who provide them.

Whereas celebrities despise hacks for precisely the opposite reason: because they're cheap whores. After all, some two-bit journalist's $500-a-night hotel room and champagne breakfast wouldn't dent the wallet of even one of their most C-list interview subjects. So compared with their interviewees — who sell their artistic souls for millions at a pop — these little worms from Peoria, Indiana (and as far as someone in LA's concerned, Peoria is in Indiana), clutching their crappy little tape recorders with hands still greasy from the buffet table, are a cheap lay to the point of contemptibility. And yet these "disgusting, fat, cornfed little trolls" pretend they're their equals! Asking personal questions! Calling them by their first names!

Of course, The Hack — offering florid blurbs and doing easy, fan-club-fodder interviews — is precisely the pond scum that holds the whole fragile ecosystem of celebrity together, even if celebs pretend to soar above it all like egrets over a reeking marsh. In fact, that's the other great service The Hack provides celebrities who are out flogging mediocre movies: he gives them someone to look down on. "Sure, I may have spent years honing my craft so I could collect a big paycheck for humping a mailbox. But at least I'm not some whore like that guy!"

And Jiminy Glick and his peers, of course, will always return to take more of our contempt, lapping it up like the cream-filled center of a buffet-table eclair. Their job, which they do so proudly and greedily, is to be a punchline we never get tired of. The punchline: "What, and leave show business?" I don't need to tell you the joke. It's the oldest one in the world.