The podcast that both serves and devours the best and worst of all that is Bravo reality TV swung through Denver as part of their live episode recording tour. Watch What Crappens is the comedy podcast hosted by friends and Real Housewives enthusiasts Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam that dissects.
The duo have been dissecting everything Bravo-licious since 2011 and have found their tribe of scandal-loving besties in the form of a massive following. While the build to the top was a slow one, Mandelker and Karam have watched their podcast reach #1 on iTunes in 2018, toured the country in 2019, and have big plans for 2020.
OUT FRONT recently spoke with the furiously feisty and entertainingly enthusiastic pair before their live Denver recording at the Oriental Theater to catch up on life at the top of the podcast platform, why reality TV is so intoxicating, and to hear the tales of where it all began.
How did the podcast Watch What Crappens come to be?
Ben Mandelker (BM): The origin story is that Ronnie and I both come from the world of blogging; we both wrote on the same blog called TVgasm, and in 2010, I was hired to host a web show called Housewife Hoedown, and my job was that I had to book the guests. I would just always have Ronnie on because he’s super funny, and we had so much fun. The network that show was on went down, and we decided that we wanted to keep doing this.
When Watch What Crappens started in 2011, podcasts weren’t what they are now. Was there a big moment that you really felt it take off?
Ronnie Karam (RK): It was a slow burn, I would say. Then one year, it just started building, and then Patreon came out, and that’s when we first started making a tiny bit of money. Ben could stop driving Uber; I could stop waiting tables as many days a week, and we just started doing it more and more.
BM: For me, the big turning point was when we did our first really big show, which was in 2017 at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. I think it fits about 250 people, and it sold out in half a day. It was like, ‘Oh my God; this is a thing now.’
RK: We’ve had grassroots growth since the beginning; we’re not celebrities, so we don’t have the benefit of a built-in audience. We’ve had to really just build our audience ourselves.
That must feel really special that people are connecting to your authenticity rather than a persona.
RK: It’s cool because we do talk about our own lives and relate to whatever’s happening, and the fandom of it is really interesting because people aren’t just huge fans of the shows; they’re fans of Bravo first, which makes us all in the same boat. They’re there for the shows, and we talked about them in a funny way, but it makes us all kind of friends in the same room, laughing together about the same things that we freaked out over but are our friends in real life may not get at all.
BM: I think I’ve actually learned a lot about myself during this process. Ronnie always says these episodes are like therapy. Also, just the fact that we do have these live shows and we’re doing tours has really affected me as a person in terms of my confidence of seeing myself as being part of a comedy community.
You’ve said you two come from different backgrounds; is that what adds to the magic of the comedy?
RK: We’re so similar in so many ways, but we’re from different backgrounds as far as I’m more of a performer who is a ham; I’m used to improv, stand up, and characters in wigs. I love a wig, girl, and I love an accent. Ben is still from a comedy background; his was just writing, but I’ll tell you, he’s definitely a top performer.
BM: We’re learning from each other, and we get a lot from people at our shows, ‘I’m the Ben, and I’m the Ronnie,’ which is really sweet. We’re this odd couple that people really relate to because I think that we are also this yin and yang for each other in a way that really works.
As the experts, what do you think it is that makes reality TV and celebrity news and gossip so intoxicating?
RK: I think it gives us something to talk to each other about that’s not our own, personal lives.
BM: It’s ways that we can communicate our feelings in a world where we’re not really supposed to do that. We can talk about the fights that somebody else is having, or we can fight too hard over politics, but we’re not as personally invested in it as sometimes as our fights would lead you to believe.
RK: It’s just good, old-fashioned projection.
BM: It’s also is frothy, low-stakes entertainment. As you know, there’s a lot of crap in the world right now, and I know for me, sometimes, I just want to watch silly stuff on TV.
Can you remember back to the first reality show that sucked you in as a fan?
RK: I actually never was a big reality TV person; I really liked watching Project Runway and Top Chef; I love the competition shows. I was very snobby, like, ‘I’m not watching trash.’ I was talking about Project Runway with a friend and she said, ‘You have got to read this website because your personality is so shitty; you’re so rude; you’ve got to read this website called TVgasm because they recap Project Runway, and it sounds just like you.’ It was these long recaps, very detailed, and they were making fun of every little thing. I was like, ‘This is for me; this is my calling.’ So, I auditioned, and I got on to write about Top Chef recaps for Season 2, and then I wanted to get into Real Housewives for the comments. They were just insane, I mean there would be 1000 comments. I would read them, and it was people fighting over, ‘That girl didn’t invite the other girl to her party,’ and they were going in on each other. I loved soap operas as a kid, so I was immediately obsessed.
BM: For me, all roads lead back to The Real World; I just remember watching whatever I could watch, and I was fascinated by it; I was transfixed; I could not get enough. You know, I think the first season that I really watched was The Real World: Hawaii.
What was a moment on Bravo that stands out to you from 2019?
BM: The thing that jumped right into my head first was Bethenney having a meltdown in Miami and screaming at Luann at a restaurant, and then like losing control of her body. To me, I don’t know if that represents Bravo, but that’s everything that I want from Bravo. This moment that was on level 15 out of 10, and it was just perfection.
Mandelker and Ronnie Karam (l-r) recording Watch What Crappens live at The Oriental Theatre on Thursday, December 12. Photo by Veronica L. Holyfield
What are you most looking forward to on Bravo in 2020?
RK: it’s gonna be a fun year because apparently Denise Richards is on the outs with everybody. Brandi Glanville is shooting again with them, like more than once, which is pretty big for that show. New York is going to go without Bethenney again, so that’s going to be pretty good. Cindy walks off of Real Housewives of New York according to all these reports. There’s a bunch of interesting stuff that’s coming down the pike this year.