“I’m an open book,” Alex Cooper, the host of the wildly popular Spotify podcast Call Her Daddy, proclaims at the start of our conversation. It’s an afternoon in late May, and she’s lounging in a tasteful écru chair on the ground floor of her recording studio in West Hollywood, her two goldendoodles Bruce and Henry occasionally yapping at her feet. In ripped jeans, Adidas, and a white tank top with the slogan “your manifestations are on the way,” she looks like a college junior en route home from spring break, albeit one with flawlessly conditioned hair and a giant five-carat oval-cut diamond engagement ring on her finger. (Her finacé, YA film producer Matt Kaplan, proposed to her a few months before our interview, in a scavenger hunt leading up to a photo shoot, which she posted to her 2.4 million followers on Instagram.)
Cooper has built a multimillion dollar brand around emanating candor; in the early years of Call Her Daddy, she chatted freely about everything from her specialized oral sex technique (which she famously referred to as the “Gluck Gluck 9000”) to the time she and her boyfriend were having sex while watching porn in a Hawaii hotel room and she accidentally changed the channel with her ass.
These days, she’s using that openness to elicit celebrity scoops that E! News would kill for. It was Cooper who got Hailey Bieber to talk, for the first time ever, about her relationship with Selena Gomez. (Bieber, she says, is the best-smelling celebrity she’s ever interviewed. “She’s so clean-girl aesthetic. When she walked into my house, it was like a shower.”) It was Cooper who got Zayn Malik to finally dish about exactly why he left One Direction, and Gwyneth Paltrow to rate Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt on how good they were at sex. (Ben was “technically excellent,” apparently.) She has a knack for treating interviews as “very intense therapy sessions,” as she puts it, leading traditionally guarded celebrities to reveal the vulnerable slivers of themselves on-air. If Alex Cooper had a representative for the Federal Aviation Agency on Call Her Daddy, her audience would know the exact coordinates of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 within the first five minutes.
Over the past three years, Cooper has grown Call Her Daddy to the point that it’s the number two most listened to podcast on Spotify, and she has become a Gen Z Barbara Walters of sorts — the head of a multimillion-dollar franchise (her $60 million Spotify deal made her the highest-paid woman at the brand) as well as the Unwell Network, a podcast company she launched in August. Season 4 of Call Her Daddy is kicking off this Wednesday featuring TikTok It Girl Alix Earle, who is also set to launch a podcast with Unwell. “I don’t think there’s been a lot of people that have been able to quite literally take a brand, transform it into something essentially completely different, and not only stay successful, but grow even bigger,” she says. “And I am really proud of [that].”
A large part of her appeal can be attributed to her ability to appear open and relatable to her viewers, despite having inked a high-profile deal and looking like someone who would make you cry in gym class. Call it the Kelly Ripa effect, tailor-made for the zoomer era. “In my conversations with my guests, you are always going to feel comfy-cozy,” she says. “That’s where my personal skills as a human come in. I can literally talk to an acorn outside. I can talk to anyone.”
TO START HER INTERVIEWS, Cooper often asks subjects about a core childhood memory. For her, it’s her parents yelling at her to come inside while playing Manhunt or Capture the Flag with neighbor kids in the cul-de-sac where she grew up, in a suburb of Philadelphia. Her mother worked as a school therapist, and her father was a broadcast producer for the NHL, which Cooper says helped spark her interest in both sports and media. “From a very young age, I was able to look at my dad doing something that he loved,” she says.
Though she was raised on hockey, she was naturally good at soccer, and as a teen “gravitated towards that,” playing on the number-one ranked team for the Pennington School in New Jersey. “I was immediately afforded some type of status for being an athlete on campus,” she says. “But at times, I definitely felt like a fraud.” At the same time, she had a passion for filmmaking, but was worried about being perceived as an AV geek. “I was very good at faking it,” she says. “I wanted to fit in.”
For college, Cooper landed at Boston University on a Division 1 soccer scholarship, picking the school because she also liked its film program. However, her senior year, she left the team because of a “traumatic experience” with someone there who held power over her, something she says she’s not ready to discuss publicly. “I want to do it when I’m fully healed from it, and I can speak on it in a way that I feel comfortable,” she says.
That experience, though, played a tremendous role in the formation of Call Her Daddy — not just in terms of giving her the free time to focus more on her interest in production, but also in prompting her to think about the issues that the podcast would mine in its early years. “I really do believe that through a comedic lens, we were trying to flip power dynamics on its head,” she says.
It also had the effect of liberating her from a role she had been forced to play. “I think a lot of athletes can relate to this idea of like, you have no voice, you are property, you can’t stand up for yourself,” she says. “[Every] single part of your life is micromanaged by this greater being, which is the team and the coach and the organization and the university. And finally, I was like, I can do whatever I want, I can say whatever I want, and no one’s going to call me into their office and tell me that I shouldn’t be doing this. I can speak about anything. And I am not going to hold back.”
“Through a comedic lens, we were trying to flip power dynamics on its head”
Podcasting was not the immediate move for Cooper, who moved to New York and took a job in the sales department at Gotham Magazine after graduation. She also started making the nightlife circuit and dating a string of athletes, including former Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. “I was living this very glamorous lifestyle because he was rich,” she says. “And I was nobody.” When they broke up, she went on Facebook to find roommates, and was connected with Franklyn. Cooper had already been vlogging, and the two decided to start a podcast. “She was very fun and charismatic and a party girl. She loved to go out,” she says. “It was a natural fit. I was like, wow, there is something here. We are laughing, and there’s this chemistry.’”
By this point, Dave Portnoy, the bombastic, controversial founder and CEO of Barstool Sports, had spotted Cooper hanging out with Syndergaard at a concert and followed her on Instagram. (The company had also featured her as a “Smokeshow of the Day” on Instagram while she was in college, getting her in trouble with her coach. “It’s insane that was even a thing,” she says of the series, laughing.) After Portnoy came across a promo for the podcast on his feed, he called Cooper and Franklyn into a meeting, and the two signed a deal to feature the show exclusively on Barstool.
Almost immediately after the first episode aired in 2018 — where they discussed the perfect adjective to use while sexting — Call Her Daddy was a hit. “By episode eight, we were right below Joe Rogan,” Cooper says. “And we never left.” Cooper was hyper-conscious of Barstool’s traditionally fratty audience. “Weirdly, I think it was kind of my favorite challenge,” she says. “Like, ‘This isn’t a show for men, this is gonna be for women.’ But in a marketing way, I knew we also could get the men to listen.”
PART OF THE REASON WHY Call Her Daddy was such a huge success off the bat was due to Cooper and Franklyn’s raw and unvarnished perspectives on sex and gender. Some of the material hasn’t aged well: in one early episode, Cooper urges a male listener whose girlfriend has yet to have sex with him to “stop taking her to fucking dinner,” while in another October 2018 episode, Franklyn and Cooper urge women who are “fives and sixes” to compensate for their lack of pulchritude by overperforming in the bedroom.
“As you’re saying that to me, I want to crawl into a hole,” Cooper says when I read the “fives and sixes” quote back to her. “That’s very cringe.” She refuses to relisten to old episodes for this reason: now, she says, “when I sling the shit, I can, and I’m not going to be an insensitive asshole.”
But as the show became more popular, it didn’t take long for Cooper to start chafing against both Barstool and what she viewed as the restrictions of the podcast’s own success. “Eventually, towards the end, I was like, ‘I am going to lose my mind if we have to do one more sex segment and pretend we had sex this week,’” she says. Nonetheless, in light of the show’s success, “it felt like it wasn’t possible to change what we were doing. I resented the character that I had built.” Barstool would also ask Franklyn and Cooper to write blogs promoting the show or go to company Field Days, which they hated. “[It] was weird walking into an office with all these men,” she says. “We really did not want to be a part of [company culture].”
The specific details of the dissolution of Call Her Daddy in its original form at Barstool essentially boiled down to this: at the height of the pandemic, both Franklyn and Cooper realized their salaries were not commensurate with the success of the show, and met with Portnoy multiple times to try to negotiate more favorable terms. When the duo reached an impasse, with Franklyn continuing to push for more money, Cooper contacted Portnoy independently to try to strike a deal. The result was that Cooper was able to keep the Call Her Daddy brand, allowing her to take it to Spotify when she signed an exclusive deal with the network in 2021. (Barstool still handles Call Her Daddy merchandising.)
Though the details surrounding her exit from Barstool vary depending on who tells the story, Franklyn later told Rolling Stone that she believed Cooper had gone behind her back to get a better deal for herself. “The betrayal piece was more upsetting than the financial piece,” Franklyn said in a July 2023 interview. “I go to bed resting my head on my pillow knowing I’m a good person, I have not done shady shit or fucked up shit or backhanded shit to get ahead financially.”
The Call Her Daddy blow-up, insofar as it was centered around an imbroglio between two female friends, led to some viewing Cooper as having thrown Franklyn under the bus. Cooper rejects this narrative, saying that this perception “hurt for a very long time.” “We can say, ‘Who threw someone on the bus or whatever,’” she says. “[But] if that were true, [Franklyn] could have sued me.” She particularly took issue with what she saw as sexist media coverage of the feud as a “catfight.” “Some of the headlines, they just never would have been written that way if it was two men,” she says. “It’s like, this isn’t a cat fight. This is a disagreement over the worth of a multimillion-dollar brand.”
Cooper denies having edged Franklyn out of the show or sacrificed their friendship for the brand. “We were more work partners than friends. That is just the truth,” she says. “[We] created this narrative where, when we started the show, I was marketing the fuck out of [us being] best friends. The world was more connected to the friendship that we presented than [what] we were dealing with behind the scenes.”
Regardless, it’s undeniable that hosting Call Her Daddy solo was the best possible outcome for Cooper — not only because it allowed her to financially benefit, but because it let her to take the show in a creative direction she felt more comfortable with. Before Franklyn’s departure, “I felt like I was playing a character,” she says. “When I finally got to do it on my own, I was like, ‘What do I want this show to be?” For her, the first step was publicly discussing her experience with therapy, which Cooper says she started in 2019.
“The character that I built was this woman that was like, ‘I don’t give a fuck about my feelings. We’re just gonna brush everything aside, and be a badass and and just like, you know, go get the guy and get the job and get the money,” she says. “That was very taboo for the brand for me to come out and say [I was in therapy]. I think it was strange for my audience to hear.”
Call Her Daddy’s evolution coincided with changes in Cooper’s personal life. She says she started identifying as a feminist around the time she took the reins of the show, which is something she did not do when she was younger. “When I was in college, the feminist movement felt very ‘Fuck men, we hate men,’” she says. “I don’t think that’s actually what it was. But it got a bad rap, and I think in a good way, I started to be like, ‘Why am I looking to other people to explain to me what feminism is? I should just find out for myself.’”
Throughout Call Her Daddy’s history, Cooper had faced accusations of staying silent on various political issues. Her October 2022 episode on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “An Abortion Story,” in which she documented its impact on a women’s health clinic in North Carolina, was a defiant fuck you to those detractors. Cooper refers to that episode as both a challenge for her as a marketer, in terms of maintaining her audience while tackling a difficult subject — “It allowed me to flex my creative skills to the best of my potential ability, where I was like, how am I keeping a pro-life person listening to this after 30 seconds” — and as one of the “coolest, most incredible points in my career.”
WITH CALL HER DADDY CONSISTENTLY appearing near the top of podcast charts (Rogan’s consistently has more downloads, which Cooper attributes to his comparatively larger output: “Joe Rogan does four episodes a week,” she says “Who’s to say where I would be if I did four episodes a week?”), Cooper has carved out a unique space for herself in the media ecosystem, somewhere between journalist, therapist, and influencer. She does not quite self-identify as the first one, though she says she routinely uses journalistic protocols as a guideline while booking interviews: ”If someone says to me, ‘The only thing you can’t talk about is XYZ,’ and those are the topics I wanted to talk about, I say, ‘Totally fine, and respectfully, we’re going to pass on the interview,’” she says. “If they’re not willing to go there, I totally respect it. But then it’s just not for Call Her Daddy.”
Cooper adopts a similar attitude toward her own press appearances. “You can ask me anything. I’m not hiding anything,” she says when we first meet. “With certain careers and media people, there are certain things people are like, ‘Well, maybe that’s off limits.’ Which I totally understand. But I’m like, ‘Let’s talk.’” After our conversation, I learn that her openness comes with some caveats; her PR team, for instance, will later get in touch to express her displeasure with some of the questions I asked her, including those about her personal life, Barstool, and the implosion of her business partnership with Franklyn.
But as Call Her Daddy and Cooper’s brand have matured, it makes sense why she would want to draw lines in the sand regarding what she chooses to share and not share with her audience: her podcast has similarly shifted away from using the more intimate aspects of Cooper’s personal life as fodder. When Cooper first started dating her now-fiance Kaplan, whom she referred to on the pod as “Mr. Sexy Zoom Man,” he did not initially feel comfortable with her discussing their sex life in detail on air. “The first episode I talked about him being really good at oral sex,” she says. “And he was like, ‘My parents are gonna listen to this to try to gauge who you are. And this is what they’re gonna hear.’”
After a few months, Cooper says, Kaplan began to “fully understand” that she used aspects of her personal life as a way of connecting with her audience and making people feel more comfortable. “It’s not just for clickbait. You know what I mean?,” she says. “There is purpose behind it.” Now, however, though she will still take to the mic for an occasional solo episode where she’ll touch on, say, her stance on pre-wedding night sex, it is usually in the context of a larger discussion about a subject like wedding planning, and whether she should have bridesmaids. She no longer feels compelled to talk about sex for the hell of it — and she says her relationship with intimacy has exponentially improved.
“When I was in my twenties, absolutely, there were times I was hooking up with guys and was like, ‘I’m not even enjoying this, like, I’m not having an orgasm, but I’m gonna get him off,’” she says. “I feel like that’s classic for women in hetero relationships. I’m fortunate now to be in a relationship where I actually feel like I will never do that again.”
Last spring, Cooper embarked on another first: she and Kaplan founded Trending, a media company targeted at Gen Z, aimed at combining the power of Cooper’s enormous audience and podcast network with Kaplan’s focus on YA content, such as the Jenny Han-created Netflix series XO, Kitty. In early August, she also announced that the first project under the Trending umbrella would be the launch of the Unwell Network, a podcasting company featuring such Gen Z stars as TikTokers Madeline Argy and Alix Earle. In September, Earle announced she would be launching a weekly podcast, Hot Mess with Alix Earle. “I feel honored to be at a place in my career where I can pass along knowledge and advice for a new generation of creators to flourish,” Cooper said in a statement.
When we spoke, Cooper and Kaplan’s wedding date was tentatively set for March, but Cooper had already settled on a few clear guidelines: “I’m not wearing a veil walking down, and my dad’s not giving me away, absolutely fucking not. So I’m going to make my own version of what I feel comfortable with.”
A few years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine a version of Call Her Daddy with a monogamous host, sans the explicit accounts of sex with anonymous hedge fund managers. But it also would have been difficult to imagine a version of Call Her Daddy that delved into the abortion rights, or asked Christina Aguilera about PTSD from her abusive childhood. Even though the show has morphed into something more nuanced than the confessional tone of the original incarnation, the thing that makes Cooper such a successful podcaster — her willingness to bare all, or at least give the impression of doing so — is still deeply embedded in its DNA.
For this reason, it makes sense to wonder how Call Her Daddy may look once its host settles into domestic life or starts a family, which she says she and Kaplan are eager to do at some point in the future. In true Alex Cooper fashion, however, she says she is unruffled by whatever curveballs may come at her, and by extension her content. She has bigger plans. She wants to book higher-profile interviews — her dream guest is Michelle Obama — and grow her new media company, maybe produce or make a film, and generally “take over the world.” Call Her Daddy, she says, “will do what it has always done. Which is evolve with me.”