Chapo Trap House

The Chapo Guide to Revolution

Chapo Trap House is an American political podcast founded in 2016 and hosted by Will Menaker, Matt Christman, Felix Biederman, Amber A’Lee Frost, and Virgil Texas. The podcast became known for its left-wing contentious commentary in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The show is closely identified with Twitter culture and with the ‘dirtbag left,’ a term coined by Frost to refer to a style of left-wing political contentious discourse that eschews civility for its own sake in favor of subversive, populist vulgarity. The show is produced by Chris Wade and formerly by Brendan James.

The Chapo hosts and producers identify with left-wing politics and frequently deride conservative, neoliberal, moderate, and liberal pundits. Writing for ‘The New York Times,’ Nikil Saval called ‘Chapo Trap House’ and its hosts ‘prime originators of the left’s liberal-bashing.’ ‘The Pacific Standard’ noted that: ‘Contemporary conservatism is the butt of many jokes on Chapo, but the harshest critiques are often saved for the Democratic Party (and for contemporary liberalism more generally). Chapo has managed to strip away the layers standard of political discourse to highlight the brutality behind policies like ‘triple-tap’ airstrikes and for-profit health care.

Biederman has said the show’s intended audience are those seeking alternatives to existing leftist media, which he characterizes as ‘the dominion of either upper-middle-class smugness when it’s even the least bit funny and insufferable self-righteousness when it’s even the least bit conscious.’

Similarly, Christman said that leftist perspectives in media tend toward either the ‘smug above-it-all snark of ‘The Daily Show’ or the quaver-voiced earnestness of, like, Chris Hedges or something. Neither of those models offer the visceral thrill of listening to people who actually give a shit (as opposed to the wan liberalism of people who are mostly interested in showing how much smarter they are than Republicans).’

Menaker has said that their perspective is meant to be in ‘marked contrast to the utterly humorless and bloodless path that leads many people with liberal or leftist proclivities into the trap of living in constant fear of offending some group that you’re not a part of, up to and including the ruling class.’

Chapo Trap House is dense with inside jokes and hyper-specific references to ongoing political discussion on Twitter. The hosts are associated with Twitter communities called ‘Left Twitter’ and ‘Weird Twitter,’ a name used to describe a loose group of Twitter users known for absurdist humor.

Episodes are usually structured with a prepared ‘cold open,’ an interview with a guest, and commentary on current events. The show has a reading series which usually features texts by conservative writers, such as Ross Douthat, Steven Seagal, Ben Shapiro, Dennis Prager, and Rod Dreher.

The three founding hosts met online through discussions on Twitter years prior to starting the podcast. Under the usernames @willmenaker (Menaker); @cushbomb (Christman); and @ByYourLogic (Biederman, also formerly @swarthyvillain), they developed followings for their political commentary and have been called ‘minor Twitter celebrities.’ All had been politically motivated for several years. They chose the name ‘Chapo Trap House’ in the first episode as a joking reference to the Mexican drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán and a slang term for a drug house, intending the title to sound like the title of a rap mixtape.

The show’s hosts and fans popularized the ‘Baseball Crank’ meme, which appropriated the Twitter avatar of anti-Donald Trump conservative writer Dan McLaughlin (also known by his Twitter handle @baseballcrank). The avatar is a baseball with a face, or a ‘bespectacled baseball with a get-off-my-lawn facial expression,’ which was ‘digitally inserted countless times into famous scenes of pain and madness.’ Its proliferation online was a left-wing celebration of schadenfreude at Trump’s success in the 2016 Republican primary, and the Baseball Crank avatar became a mocking caricature of the outrage of anti-Trump conservatives.

On the show, Christman described the avatar as representing to him the ‘anguished rictus of the Republican anti-Trump people. Whenever I see anybody bitching and moaning on the right about Trump’s ascendancy, I just imagine their face taking on that horrified Boschian nightmare agony of the Baseball Crank.’ McLaughlin himself declined to comment to Law360 about Chapo expropriating his avatar, though he said, ‘They can do whatever they want. I just don’t see the value of tweeting this stuff at me. I’ve got more important things to worry about.’

During the 2020 United States presidential election cycle, Chapo Trap House have interviewed Democratic presidential candidates Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang, John Delaney, Joe Sestak, Tom Steyer, and Bernie Sanders.

Avid fans of Chapo Trap House are called ‘Grey Wolves,’ an ironic reference to the neo-fascist-nationalist Turkish movement of the same name. Many fans credit the show for introducing them to political organizing.

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