https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/05/23/magazine/alex-cooper-interview.html

Not everyone knows who Alex Cooper is, but she’s trying hard to change that. The 27-year-old host and producer of the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, Cooper has quickly become one of the country’s most popular podcasters, developing a following of millions of loyal listeners since debuting her raunchy sex-and-dating show on the aggressively laddish Barstool Sports site in 2018. Last summer, Cooper parlayed her success on Barstool into a more than $60 million deal to take that show to Spotify. The shift of platform was accompanied by a shift in content. When “Call Her Daddy” started, Cooper and her former co-host, Sofia Franklyn, drew attention for their swaggering sexual explicitness. (For somewhat convoluted reasons, Franklyn ceased hosting the show in 2020.) But in its current iteration, “Call Her Daddy” has broadened beyond blue talk to include Cooper’s probing interviews with clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and social media stars about topics like mental health, codependency and the ills of online life. (That’s not to say the show isn’t still raunchy. It surely is.) “It frustrates me when people try to pigeonhole me like, Oh, it’s just that sex show,” Cooper says. “I feel that sometimes people don’t want to acknowledge the show’s success: It must have been because of her looks or the salacious content. No. It continues to be one of the biggest shows in the world, and it’s not because I stumbled upon something.”

Your core audience is women between ages 18 and 33. What have you figured out about how to capture and hold their attention? When I look at some creators, I can see them thinking, I need to do this every week because this is what people come for. My episodes are so different every week. I love the unpredictability. After I went to Spotify, it took my listeners a minute to get a hold on, like: We didn’t get a sex tip this week. What’s going on? If you keep doing the same thing, it can almost become like a sitcom, where you think, I can miss today’s episode. I’m trying to make “Call Her Daddy” like a friggin’ HBO show, where you’re like, I cannot miss this week because I don’t know what’s about to go down. So I push into the uncomfortable moments of some interviews. People love to be uncomfortable. Listeners think they like to feel cozy. No. People love to feel a little on edge.

What’s a question I could ask you now that would create one of those uncomfortable moments? Oh! I don’t know if something could make me uncomfortable. I’m just going to be myself. I hope you like me. If not, that’s life.

The version of “Call Her Daddy” that you were doing for Barstool Sports was a lot more sexually provocative than what you’re doing at Spotify. Did you decide that the raunchier stuff was a dead end? Yes. The shift had already mentally happened when I was at Barstool, but the brand had become cemented. When you heard “Call Her Daddy,” you immediately were thinking of the crazy, raw, salacious comedy podcast. I had, my last year at Barstool, started to change the show when I took it over solo. I started to be like: We’re in a pandemic. I’m not having much sexual interaction. What else is going on in my life? That’s when I started to talk more about mental health. Then when I went to Spotify — I’m going to be honest with you, I did not think that the show was going to take the trajectory of having these intense interviews. The fact that I interviewed Amanda Knox? Since I’ve shifted from just relationship-dating conversation, my listenership has never been higher.

Barstool Sports, for a lot of people, is synonymous with misogyny. Has your thinking about the brand changed since you worked there? As much as it’s the bro culture, they never told me what to do with the show. Also, while I was there the woman I directly reported to was Erika Nardini, the C.E.O. The C.F.O. was a woman. My editor was a woman. That was my experience at Barstool. We can say whatever we want about Barstool, but they gave me my I.P. back. In the history of Barstool, not one person that left has ever regained ownership of the I.P. I was the first to do that. So I can’t have any complaints. But I totally get it. People want me to [expletive] on it.

I’m not asking you to [expletive] on it. I know that. But the best part was how many men by the end were terrified of “Call Her Daddy” at that office. We kind of ran [expletive]. So I had a good experience, but it was the right move to leave in order for me to grow and push the show in a direction that I felt was necessary.

The “about” section on the “Call Her Daddy” Spotify page says the podcast is “putting a modern twist on feminism” and “spitting in the face of misogyny.” How is it doing that? First of all, the definition of feminism has transformed. As time has progressed, as a feminist, I have tried to elevate past just “women deserve equal rights as men.” If we’re going by the definition of feminism as equality — politically, socially, economically — for all sexes, then “Call Her Daddy” stands for feminism. But while I identify as a female, through the show I’ve learned that we probably need to stop focusing on the two sexes and expand it to equality of all human beings. Absolutely I’m a feminist. I support women. I want us to all succeed. But we need to expand that concept to humans in general because there are a lot of communities that are not being given an equal chance. So yes, feminism, but let’s broaden that conversation past just women.

So feminism is too limiting? Yeah, I think so, and I think a lot of people are starting to feel that way. Gender is so fluid, and everyone needs to get on board with that evolution. I don’t have all the answers. I am trying to learn. Hopefully the Daddy Gang can learn through me — pronouns and how to be respectful and listening instead of just trying to assume.

Alex Cooper interviewing the social media influencer Emma Chamberlain for the “Call Her Daddy” podcast this year.
From Spotify

This is kind of left-field, but you played Division I soccer, right? Yes.

Did the culture of sports have an influence on how you think about the podcast? I am so competitive. My dad played Division I hockey at Wisconsin. My mom was an equestrian. Both of my siblings played sports. I push myself to be the best I can. But when I got to college, it was a different level of competition that I didn’t quite understand, and it pushed me to a level that I was so grateful for. I’ll talk about it one day: I had a traumatic experience happen in college with regard to soccer. It made me a stronger person. So, learning the tools of competitiveness, resilience, having to gain confidence in yourself. Although it was hard in the moment, that does translate to who I am today as the host of “Call Her Daddy.”

Are you able to tell me about that traumatic experience? I would prefer not to just because I’m not personally healed. But I got a full ride to play, and my senior year I didn’t play but I kept my full scholarship. That can kind of indicate where the wrong was done. I got to keep my full scholarship but didn’t play because of a situation with the coach.

There was inappropriate behavior? Yeah. Basically the dean of students and sports came together and said, like, What do you want? Because there was inappropriate — yeah. I’m going to tell the story one day. I just need to figure out in what medium. I need to be in a position where I feel fully healed.

You suggested that there were ways in which that experience helped plant the seed for “Call Her Daddy.” How so? I got something I worked my entire life for stripped away because someone in a position of power couldn’t control themself. And I did nothing wrong. So what I took was the motivation of feeling like no one will ever again take something away from me just because they’re title-wise above me. That ignited something in me. I felt, you know what, I’m going to exude the confidence that I know I have in myself, and this is not going to derail my goals. If anything it’s going to propel me to be like “eff you” and watch me now succeed. I was trying to embody that in “Call Her Daddy”: Be confident in yourself, and you don’t need to be in a position where you feel uncomfortable.

You’re talking about empowerment. The show has certainly changed since its early days, but there’s still a fair bit of focus on social media influencers and gossip. Might those subjects, which have a lot to do with status and comparison and affluence, feed ways of thinking that are disempowering? There are going to be episodes where maybe someone was like, That wasn’t very empowering, and a model talking about her issues, I can’t relate. But if people look at “Call Her Daddy” and are like, That’s not very empowering, then you’re probably not listening or watching the show as of recently. What I can say is every single episode, I believe there’s something in it for someone. It may not be ingestible for everyone, but that’s also life. I’m going to keep forging forward and making great content. I truly believe what I’m doing is changing the podcast industry.

In what way? As a consumer, I don’t listen to podcasts. I only listen to my own. But what I’ve found is that we as the younger generation — millennial, Gen Z — have a very short attention span. I don’t believe any show has ever been edited like “Call Her Daddy.” In the early days, I wouldn’t even allow there to be an “um.” I would not allow there to be a moment that was not saturated. You’re at the edge of your seat the entire time. In order for “Call Her Daddy” to be consumable to the younger generation, it needs to be quick and snappy. It’s in your face. It’s clickbait-y. Obviously, though, with clickbait material there needs to be enough substance underneath to hold a loyal audience. So through those salacious, wild moments there were teachable moments. And now with Spotify I am going to launch more vlog podcasts. I’m using the video element and tacking it on to the audio element. It’s 10 times more entertaining and stimulating.

You’re describing a televised talk show, right? Essentially, yes. It’s 10 times more work. An audio podcast, now I have it down to about two and a half days of editing and perfecting. The video podcasts take me five days to edit. But I’ll do it for my audience because they love it. I know as a consumer I want to watch a podcast. Also, I don’t need to be sitting in the room the whole time. Let’s podcast from the car! Let’s go to the grocery store and bring people along on the experience! Let me help you visualize it by quite literally showing you. I’m trying to conceptualize where is “Call Her Daddy” and Alex Cooper going? I am conscious of where-to next because I like to be the best at what I do. I’m very competitive.

Who do you see as your competition? Myself.

You must have your eye on someone. OK, yeah. Obviously the person above me is Joe Rogan. I’m usually second to him. But I don’t feel competitive with Joe Rogan because our content is so different. My show is one of the biggest shows in the world. In my category there is nothing above it. That is why I can, not arrogantly but confidently, say I am my own competition. Which can be worse than having someone to catch up to. I have to find my own way to motivate myself. But that’s not ever been my problem because I live in a bubble. I cannot not work. My competitiveness is like, I want to have the No. 1 show in the world. I want to break every record possible.

Just to go back to the show’s content: I know that the relationship-advice side of what you do is really important to your fans. What are you giving them that they weren’t getting before? I’ve been through so much and am not embarrassed to say I’ve been cheated on, I’ve been screwed over. At any caliber of dating, you’re going to experience those things. I want people to feel more empowered to be like, OK, so you got cheated on. That says more about that person than you. Just by being overt, people gravitated toward that. I also think I have a knack for dating. Maybe my IQ isn’t as high as some people, but my EQ is up there. I feel very confident in interacting with human beings.

Have you always wanted to project yourself out into the world the way you do now? When I was younger, I was so invested in having an outlet because I was severely bullied. My escape was going into my basement and picking up a movie camera and producing a music video or a short film. I found a lot of comfort in being able to express myself and feeling not judged. Creating content has always been a form of self-expression that has made me feel seen, that made me feel I am worthy and have something to show that I’m good at.

Do you think that being bullied affected your attitude toward, say, popularity, physical attractiveness, status? I wonder if feeling excluded from those things may have distorted their significance. Oh, of course. You get it. Those things have stuck with me. The dynamic of knowing I was a good kid, got a great personality, so why is it all about my looks that I’m getting bullied for? That hyperfocused me on wanting to understand, what if I did look a different way? Then would people like me? Through therapy I’ve recognized that’s not healthy. There’s a part of me that now values how I’ve taken that experience and turned it into something positive. If you understand that I did experience that in my childhood, then these undertones of rooting for the underdog and not taking [expletive] and trying to empower myself — you can feel them in my show. That’s when other women are like, I want to be like that, too. I’ve got a lot of people that are feeling empowered from this and find the courage to do things because of me and vice versa.

Are there any other ways in which being bullied still influences what you do? When I got my braces off, got on Accutane, slapped some hair dye on and I started playing soccer and growing muscle — I was the same human inside, and yet all of a sudden people started treating me differently because I was a hot chick. I felt like, Wow, that’s all it took? I still feel like the little ugly awkward girl in middle school. For a while I had to fake confidence and convince myself I was confident when I wasn’t. Knowing I’ve gone through that in my life, I can teach other women to fake it till you make it. Eventually one day you’re going to wake up and be like, I do actually feel confident because I’ve been faking for so freaking long, so let’s go!


This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.

David Marchese is a staff writer for the magazine and the columnist for Talk. Recently he interviewed Neal Stephenson about portraying a utopian future, Laurie Santos about happiness and Christopher Walken about acting.

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