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Chapo Trap House
Will, Matt & Felix were marginal twitter personalities when they met as guests on Street Fight Radio, an “anarcho-comedy” podcast (and actual radio show) out of Columbus, Ohio. The trio convened to discuss Michael Bay’s 2016 Benghazi movie, “13 Hours.”
Shortly thereafter, they began recording Chapo Trap House as the 2016 primaries were happening. The political ideology of the show takes aim at the entrenched power in the Democratic establishment, mocking the shallow neoliberalism that drives rhetoric at the highest levels. They feel the Left has been crippled by Democratic leadership that values optics, logic and compromise rather than systematic change based on strong moral arguments. They envy the Right for their crassness, bad manners and never apologizing for what they’re asking for, no matter how illogical.
They have equal contempt for staunch centrists, and mock liberals’ eagerness to compromise in good faith because it’s based on the irrational belief that conservatives will listen, respond to their persuasive logic, and return the favor in kind.
Will Menaker, (@willmenaker) founder and ringleader, always the first to speak on any episode (“It’s your Chapo for the week” - most neutral, boyish voice of the gang). NYC native, background in publishing. Skidmore alum. Extensive knowledge of charlatan centrist pundits, pseudointellectual “experts,” and other hustlers in the world of nonfiction. His disdain for the pundit class drives the Chapo Reading Series, where they dive into the most useless columns and memoirs ever written. His dad was a New Yorker fiction editor, as well as editor-in-chief at Random House.
Felix Biederman, (@ByYourLogic) Hyde Park, Chicago native, technically Jewish, youngest of the crew (born 1990) most likely to make a political analogy using an obscure reference to trendy SoundCloud rappers, MMA, Metal Gear, porn stars/search terms. Definitely has one foot in the dudebro world of bodybuilding and MMA, and stuff like /r/NoFap, and makes a lot of jokes about it. Funniest and least pretentious of the gang, but also knows a lot about Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Often jokes about the “racism factory” that his family used to own, and his supposed (but undocumented) proclivity to say the N-word (it means “ignorant person,” he insists, through several layers of irony). He takes advantage of his Jewish heritage to do broadly anti-semitic impressions of Jared Kushner. His voice is easily the snarkiest and most nasal.
Felix also created a character named Carl Diggler, (host of “The Digcast”) a clueless radical centrist, Beltway horserace pundit fond of claiming “both sides do it,” and who draws political analogies based on his struggles in family court over the custody of his large son.
Matt Christman, (@cushbomb) Milwaukee, Wisconsin native, most likely to be full of idealistic rage. Married to a librarian. Knows a good bit about American history and socialist theory. Lived in Cincinnati for the first year or so of the podcast & so early episodes are marked by his skyped-in voice. Hates “prestige TV,” despite watching “Game of Thrones” and others. Hates video games, at least for rhetorical effect, and has publicly debated Virgil on the topic. He’s a chubby, bearded Midwesterner, and once you know that, you won’t be able to unhear it in his voice.
Will, Felix and Matt are the original core hosts, aka the “Chapo Dry Boys,” but they are sometimes joined or replaced by the other official Chapo crew:
Virgil Texas, (@VirgilTexas) (pseudonym, taken from “True Stories,” real name unknown) token POC co-host (as either ½ or ¼ Asian) most likely to call someone an “imbecile,” most Aspergery/professorial tone. He’s a Steve Kornacki fanboy and knows a lot about electoral patterns. Loves video games, (particularly Overwatch) and has debated Christman extensively on the merits of gaming. Co-created the Carl Diggler character with Felix, and played his assistant on “The Digcast,” Diggler’s now-defunct podcast.
Amber A’Lee Frost, NYU adjunct professor, Indiana native with a hillbilly pedigree, token female co-host, early champion of Chapo, former roommate of Felix, coined the term “dirtbag left.”
Brendan James: College friend of Will’s (they sound similar) who was the producer of the show for the first year or so, occasionally sitting in on mic.
Recurring Jokes & Characters
● The incel/volcel dichotomy. The hosts all jokingly identify as voluntarily celibate.
● Public figures having Twitter meltdowns are often referred to as “having a normal day online,” or “having a real normal one” - “normal” here meaning the exact opposite (basic irony) of normal. Felix often refers to himself as “a normal guy,” and Trump as “President Normal Brain.”
● A staple of the Reading Series are columns in which a conservative pundit relates a personal tale of petty grievance from their own life (like a bad customer service experience) and trying to extrapolate their minor hardships into problems with the world at large. Within this category is a rarer (yet surprisingly common) trope of the narrator being stuck in an elevator or theme park ride and treating it like a near-death experience.
● “Debate Club” - a common pathology among many in the pundit class, and from Aaron Sorkin to Ted Cruz, there is (to the Chapo boys) a misconception that reasoned debate and logic will be the deciding factor on most issues. This manifests itself comedically through interjections of “Sir! Sir! How dare you! That is an ad hominem attack and it will not stand!”
● Felix is fond of the deep cut, early Obama-era far-right conspiracy that Obama was not only a Kenyan Muslim, but also a dog-eating gay prostitute. Every time Felix does an Obama voice, there’s about a 30% chance he makes a joke about eating dog, and a 70% chance it follows the format: “Let me be clear… if you like your ______, you can keep it.”
● Similarly, “Democrat voice,” (an invention of Virgil’s, which evolved from Hillary’s famous “Pokemon GO to the polls” quote) done in a grating cadence, using the format “I may not be [hamfisted pop culture reference] but I can [hamfisted Democratic platform reference]”
● “Hip-hop-style” as a blanket euphemism for “black,” derived from football commentators saying “I’m sick of these hip-hop-style quarterbacks showing off all the time” or “I’m sick of these hip-hop-style, Black Lives Matter thugs.” Also in this dichotomy, “lunchpail quarterback” presumably means “white.”
● Early episodes of the show tracked a fascination with the 2016 Turkish coup attempt, Erdogan and “The Traitor Gulen.” Fans of the show (especially Patreon subscribers) are officially known as “Grey Wolves,” after members of the shadowy Turkish ultra-nationalist neo-fascist party.
#TCOT (“tee-cot”): “Top Conservatives on Twitter” - refers to the online wing of the Tea Party in the early years of Obama and Twitter.
Tankie: an ideological communist and modern day Lenin apologist. The type of commie that McCarthy was afraid of.
C.H.U.D. - “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller,” reference to a 1984 horror movie. Applied to your average, run-of-the-mill Trump supporting Pepe. Often “MAGA CHUD.” Lanyard - (see also: “lanyard-dick” or “bowtie”) a member of the D.C. Beltway wonk class, Politicon attendee.
Proud Boys - A “pro-Western” alt-right streetfighting gang started by Gavin McInnes, (founder of Vice Magazine) dedicated to “venerating the housewife” and not masturbating. Initiation ritual allegedly involves naming 5 kinds of breakfast cereal while being punched.
Ross Douthat: Conservative columnist. Catholic. Harvard grad. Wrote a memoir about his working class background & experience at Harvard, being generally jaded about the whole thing, fooling around with a “chunky Reese Witherspoon” and feeling jaded about that, too. During his internship at the National Review, founder and conservative intellectual giant William F. Buckley took him and some other boys out on his boat & talked them into skinny dipping, which Ross is not jaded and very romantic about. Was a recent guest on Slate’s Cultural Gabfest talking about (not really) banning porn.
Ron Fournier: Detroit native who cut his teeth covering Bill Clinton, in the late 80s, early 90s, first in Hot Springs and then at the Democrat-Gazette. Radical centrist, “both sides do it” kinda guy - major inspiration for Carl Diggler.
Jeff Jacoby: Conservative Boston Globe columnist and another major Carl Diggler inspiration, primarily due to his series of annual columns that he writes to his unruly son, Caleb. Caleb ran away from home at 16 and made it to New York from Boston before being found.
Jonathan Chait: Moderate liberal columnist at NY Mag and other places. His support for the Iraq War is something he’s gone to great lengths to obscure and walk back, but Will Menaker is dedicated to remembering it.
Rod Dreher: Reactionary conservative columnist who once fabricated an absurd secondhand story about a gang of trans teens harassing a mother and her child at a movie theater. Raised Protestant, converted to Catholicism and later Eastern Orthodox, so, clearly a psychopath.
Dan McLaughlin: aka ‘The Baseball Crank,’ a D-list Twitter pundit whose avatar is an anguished-looking anthropomorphic baseball who the Chapo boys have adopted as their own mascot and given a Mickey Mouse-type voice.
David Brooks: NYT columnist, you know who it is.
David French: National Review columnist, best known on Chapo for an incident where he went to Iraq for a year, during which he did not permit his wife to use Facebook or email other men… but she did. Variations of “stop emailing my wife, sir” are a common reference on the podcast.
Ben Shapiro: Conservative Jew, author of “True Allegiance,” an inadvertent gem of a novel, a transparent exercise in stroking neoconservative ideology via Jack Bauer fantasy, which several Reading Series are dedicated to. Also a courageous skeptic of the concept of transgenderism. Inventor of the catchphrase “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings.”
Peter Daou: Hillary Clinton’s Jorah Mormont and founder of Verrit, a social media platform for liberals that nobody understands, but, as best anyone understands it “verifies memes.” Ardent Twitter defender of Hillary and Chapo’s “most worthy adversary” who has called them out by name as being “dangerous” because Peter is also “extremely online.” See more…
Eric Garland: Neoliberal Twitter user, statistician, “futurist” and “game theory expert,” mostly referenced for a manic twitter thread in which he attempted to draft some new version of the federalist papers, fueled by “adderall and craft beer.”
Elizabeth Holmes: Husky-voiced CEO of Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup that raised billions, claiming it had a revolutionary method of taking blood samples using very little blood.
Dan Nainan: A former investment banker who cashed out to pursue his dream of being a clean comedian who does corporate gigs. His signature joke is “I’m half Indian, half Japanese, so I get my sushi at 7-11.” Famously lied about being a millennial to get more gigs. Is actually 55 years old.
Steven Crowder: conservative dipshit “comedian” (best known as the voice of Brain on “Arthur,” briefly boosted by Andrew Breitbart and Fox News, but now on his own, originator of the “Change My Mind” meme) who made a “prank” video where he went to a Home Depot parking lot & hassled day laborers about their papers and yelling “I’m gonna call ICE on you motherfuckers,” and also wrote a very smug column about how great it was when he saved his virginity for marriage.
Dan Quinn: Not the Seahawks coach - a YouTuber from the MMA world who insists that he gets superpowers from smoking blunts laced with stevia. Felix quotes him like he’s Eckhart Tolle.
Rich Piana: Similar to Dan Quinn, Rich Piana was a well-known bodybuilder with a strong YouTube presence, a strong personality with a number of questionable views. Died last year at 46 from probable steroid abuse. Felix wrote a moving obituary for him.
Mike Cernovich: Citizen journalist and Periscoper (“keep those hearts comin’ folks”) who conned his way into the White House press pool (shown here in a Vice News piece). Wrote the self-help book “The Gorilla Mindset” while collecting alimony from his ex-wife. True alpha male.
Jack Posobiec aka “Jack Prilosec”: Kinda standard alt-right internet troll/personality, Pizzagate true believer.
At the Genius office, as people set up chairs on the floor below us, Menaker described the generic Chapo fan as a “failson”—which Biederman, who is twenty-six, defined as the guy that “goes downstairs at Thanksgiving, briefly mumbles, ‘Hi,’ everyone asks him how community college is going, he mumbles something about a 2.0 average, goes back upstairs with a loaf of bread and some peanut butter, and gets back to gaming and masturbating.” As for the women fans—who make up maybe twenty to thirty per cent of the audience, they guessed—“they all seem to be success-daughters,” Menaker said. “They’re astrophysicists or novelists, extremely on-point and competent people.”
Christman saw a political lesson in the show’s fan base. “The twenty-first century is basically defined by nonessential human beings, who do not fit into the market as consumers or producers or as laborers,” he said. “That manifests itself differently in different classes and geographic areas. For white, middle-class, male, useless people—who have just enough family context to not be crushed by poverty—they become failsons.” The “Chapo Trap House” guys are sincerely concerned with American inequality; at the same time, their most instinctive sympathies seem to fall with people whose worst-case scenario is a feeling of purposelessness. “Some of them turn into Nazis,” Christman continued. “Others become aware of the consequences of capitalism.”
[from “What Will Become of the Dirtbag Left?” by Jia Tolentino, in the New Yorker, 11/18/2016]
[“The Resistance” liberals] have nothing in terms of an argument or a coherent worldview or useful praxis, but what they do have is that they are speaking on behalf of a hegemonic liberalism that is going to get us all fucking killed.
Fascism arises because of the collapse of institutional legitimacy of liberal institutions - that’s how we got Trump, that’s how we’re gonna get what comes after him that’s going to be even worse, because if you think there’s not going to be more ecological and economic catastrophes in the future that liberalism is wholly unsuited to fucking deal with, and that that failure is not going to lead to fascism filling that fucking hole, you’ve got another thing coming. That’s what these guys are… who marched in Charlottesville, these are the people who are aware of the unspoken premise of this zombie neoliberalism that we’re living in, which is that we’re coming to a point where there’s gonna be ecological catastrophe that will either require the mass redistribution of the ill-gotten gains of the first world - or genocide, and these people are the first people who have said “Well, if that’s the choice, I choose genocide” and they’re getting everybody else ready intellectually and emotionally for why that’s going to be okay when it happens, why “they’re not really people” when we’re putting all this money into more fucking walls and drones and bombs and guns to keep ‘em away, so we can watch them die with clear consciences, it’s gonna be because we’ve been loaded with the ideology that these guys are now starting to express publicly. On the other side of them, you have people who are saying in full fucking voice: “No, we have the resources to save everybody, to give everybody a fucking decent and worthwhile existence, and that is what we want” and that is the real difference between these two, and you can tell that to the next asshole who tells you they’re actually two sides of the same coin.