Don’t talk to Danny Pellegrino about guilty pleasures. They don’t exist. That over-the-top reality show, the cheesy ’90s rom-com that still brings a tear to your eye at the end, the early aughts boy band you blast in your car when you need an energy boost. According to the podcast host and author, none of these types of things should be associated with guilt. Just pleasure — and a wee bit o’ celebration, which is essentially the foundation the Ohio native’s cult-loved podcast, Everything Iconic, is built upon.
For those unfamiliar with Pellegrino and his show (shame on you), the program essentially focuses on all things pop culture. From regalements of the Real Housewives and the “Scandoval” heard around the world to recap commentary on throwback treasures like Sex and the City and Meg Ryan rom-coms, no stone is left unturned or not dissected. Perhaps it’s that Midwestern warmth and ease coupled with hilariously cutthroat hot takes (Pellegrino’s OG “Jessica Thursday” posts on IG were deliciously fierce) that have made him an icon in his own right. At the very least, he’s an early aughts touchstone for nostalgic millennials like myself.
As it happens, Everything Iconic’s 2017 launch was somewhat accidental, or perhaps born out of necessity. Podcasts were not exactly on Pellegrino’s radar when he came to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actor and stand-up comedian. “I had come from doing standup and sketch comedy around town, and I had been going through some personal struggles,” he recalls. “And I thought at the time, I would stop performing completely because it was tough. I had clinical depression, and I was struggling with my anxiety. And so, the two of those things merging just made me feel like I was never going to perform again.”
It was then that a friend suggested a podcast to serve as a creative outlet. “She told me I could essentially perform from my house without having to get on a stage or be in large crowds, which was part of the struggle that I was dealing with mental health wise,” says Pellegrino. “Months went by before I ultimately picked up a microphone. I just had built a little bit of a following on my social media, doing memes about reality TV and pop culture. So I thought maybe there might be a little bit of an audience if I started a podcast. That’s really where it was born from — I didn’t really expect anyone to listen.”
But listen they did. Just six years later, the show clocks some 40 million streams annually and makes a regular appearance on the Top 10 TV/Film podcasts list on iTunes. Fans of the program now unite over phrases like “clutching my invisible pearls” and “ladies, amirite?” which reference some of Pellegrino’s signature sayings. Even his family members have developed a fanbase of their own. His mother, Linda, in particular, is a frequent topic of conversation, known and loved for her own adventures in Midwest suburbia (and the now infamous encounter with a “bold-*ss woodpecker” that once terrorized her yard).
These days, it’s clear Pellegrino has found his sweet spot as an aficionado of all things pop culture and nostalgia. But, interestingly enough, his flagrant passion for pop culture hasn’t always flown so free. “I grew up in a conservative town,” Pellegrino explains to me. “I have two straight male older brothers, and I was the youngest. So there was not a lot of female energy around my house. I gravitated towards [films] like Now and Then or The First Wives Club and things that were female-centric, which I think gay men tend to do because there’s not a lot of representation, especially in the ’90s, for gay men.”
The author — who tells candid stories of his Ohio upbringing in his 2022 book How Do I Un-Remember This?: Unfortunately True Stories and the upcoming October 2023 release The Jolliest Bunch: Unhinged Holiday Stories — explains that, growing up, he was often met with pushback or judgment of some sort when he embraced anything considered traditionally feminine or marketed for women. And while his written accounts of the great lengths he once went to to hide or disguise his love of such things take a more comedic and lighthearted angle now, in the moment, the internal battle was often a difficult one. “I always associated being in the closet with that feeling,” he says. “I think when I came out of the closet, I didn’t want to have to deal with that feeling of stuffing something I like down. Instead, I just wanted to be able to celebrate the things that I like and not feel guilty about it.”
It’s clear from the podcast’s origins that pop culture and nostalgia have also been crucial to Pellegrino’s mental health journey. “Pop culture always helps me when I’m in the eye of the mental health storm,” he says. “And so, when my anxiety is shooting up, one of the first things I’m going to do is put on Bravo. And I know that’s going to level me out. ... The reality TV stuff calms me down in a way. I think it’s because I’m not really dramatic in my real life. I’m not confrontational. I feel like I get it all out when I’m watching the shows, and the chaos on screen makes my own life seem less chaotic.”
He’s not alone in this sentiment. With hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers and millions of downloaded streams under his belt, the pop culture gospel according to Pellegrino is rapidly catching on. More importantly, it’s uniting communities and people, who are finding a common thread in the warm hugs that are reality TV and nostalgia. Countless celebrities — including Chrissy Teigen and Andy Cohen — have expressed their love and appreciation for Pellegrino’s lighthearted platform, and the podcast has brought in a steady stream of high-profile guests as a result.
“There’s been so many [great interviews],” he says, noting personal idols like Bonnie Hunt, Drew Barrymore, Kelly Ripa, and his “north star” Rosie O’Donnell, whose ’90s talkshow was an integral part of his childhood. “For a week after [Rosie], I was a mess. Because, that was the template I was following [for my own show]. So, to be talking to her was just a mind f*ck for me.”
While it may seem like the actor and author has already hit some major career milestones, there’s still plenty of territory for him to cover. And don’t worry — he’s on it. In addition to his aforementioned book of holiday stories, hitting shelves Oct. 24, Pellegrino is also a skilled screenplay writer. He recently sold a holiday script to a production company — that he cannot name — and a drama script is also in the works (“The goal is really to just write my own stuff that I could also act in”). Also, hopefully in the not-so-distant future, there’s the goal of a children’s book. “I have this vision board dream of doing a children’s book about cozy rodents,” says the author. “And so, I'm trying to make that. I’m trying to figure that out. But I don’t know if that’ll happen. That’s just a bucket-list dream of mine.”
Sounds iconic to me.