Among leftist podcasts, “Chapo Trap House” reigns king of irony, king of revenue and king of the Bernie-bros. Chapo is a New York-based political comedy podcast, turning a Marxist eye to both foreign and domestic current events.
The show has a distinct brand of humor. From the name alone, the podcast’s obsession with irony is manifested. It is riddled with long-running inside jokes (dedicated fans may call themselves ‘grey wolves,’ a reference to a right-wing Turkish political organization), obscure Twitter references, and perhaps an unhealthy dose of irony.
The side-effect of being a part of the Chapo inside joke network is a thorough knowledge of certain current events (some relevant, some not), which may be enjoyable for those listeners willing to sift through this intricate web. It certainly was for me.
Founded in 2016 by Felix Biederman, Matt Christman and Will Menaker, the show has gone on to become the highest grossing Patreon account of all time.
As of today, 23,461 patrons contribute to a $104,731 per month salary, giving “premium” subscribers access to one extra episode per week in addition to the free weekly episode.
The original hosts were later joined by Amber A’Lee Frost and Virgil Texas, who, before joining the show, were frequent guests and often collaborated with the founding Chapo members.
The original Chapo hosts met at the confluence of “weird Twitter” and “left-Twitter,” a surreal subsection of the internet that breeds the irony and absurdity now abundant in the show. From Twitter, they also brought the crass vulgarity common to the internet but usually foreign to the world of political podcasts, earning them the sobriquet “the dirt-bag left,” a delightful, though controversial, internet subculture that has produced some of my favorite online content, this podcast included.
Even for dedicated Chapo fans, the show’s creators have rather nebulous backgrounds, despite their seemingly infinite wealth of political and historical knowledge. Menaker was a former editor for W.W. Norton, Biederman was an off-and-on journalist and mixed-martial arts enthusiast, and Christman was an unemployed librarian’s husband; nothing to suggest a future as the hosts of the most monetarily successful podcast of all time.
The Chapo hosts are leftists and started the show largely in response to the 2016 election, during which they supported Bernie Sanders. The show, however, often spends more time criticizing liberals and mocking conservatives and centrists than it does espouse a particular worldview.
Their scathing, irony-laced mockery of liberals and in particular, Hillary Clinton, was one of the main components in their ascension as minor celebrities on Twitter and in the world of podcasts.
In fact, mockery plays a role in almost every episode. The ongoing “reading series,” an irony-laden critique of articles from across the internet, involves the selective reading and mocking of an article from the week prior.
Previous selections of issues to discuss have ranged from the right-wing National Inquirer to the editorial pages of the New York Times, and the sporadic selection of articles mirrors the structure of the show as a whole – whatever catches the eye of the hosts in the news, from the most esoteric Twitter conversations to the most pressing current events, is discussed and critiqued.
Though well-loved by the nearly cultish following that it has garnered since 2016, myself among them, there are many criticisms of the show from the left and the right. Leftist critiques of the show often center on the lack of minority representation both among the hosts and among the show’s guests, as well as the divide between the views espoused on the show and the hosts’ real-life activism – especially in the wake of their tremendous pecuniary success.
Right-wing critics often identify the show’s vulgarity as a point of contention, though Chapo remains relatively recondite in right-leaning circles.
Regardless of your personal opinion, Chapo has certainly found its audience: an embittered and unabashedly leftist community, disillusioned by contemporary politics and looking for an outlet of like-minded people with whom to share their frustrations.
For these people, myself included, Chapo provides a kind of catharsis; an in-depth and off-kilter look at the world filtered through the humorous, ironic and always poignant commentary of the Chapo cast.