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The ‘Daddy’ Will See You Now

Is it possible that the next great American media mogul is a woman who would rather sit in bed watching hours of “Grey’s Anatomy” than sit courtside at a Los Angeles Lakers game?

Is it possible that she has made crowds of thousands of women scream over her sex tips?

Is it possible that, on her podcast, she has invited rappers to smoke weed and actors to share trauma, but dismissed overtures from the White House?

Alex Cooper is making an argument for all of it.

Ms. Cooper is best known as the host of “Call Her Daddy,” a podcast that took off in 2018 as the young woman’s answer to Howard Stern. The podcast encountered some well-documented turbulence when Ms. Cooper split with her co-host in 2020, only to land a $60 million three-year deal with Spotify in 2021. As the show aged, it became less bawdy and outrageous, more confessional and sincere.

What is less known is how, over the last year, Ms. Cooper has been building a media company with Matt Kaplan, a film producer and her fiancé.

The company they founded and funded, announced in June as a “Gen Z media venture,” is called Trending. It forms an umbrella over Mr. Kaplan’s Ace Entertainment — he produced the Netflix teen romance franchise “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” among others — and Ms. Cooper’s Unwell network, which currently oversees “Call Her Daddy” and two other podcasts.

Unwell’s strategy draws partly on personalities like MrBeast (a stunty YouTuber turned food entrepreneur) and partly from the old Hollywood studio system. Unwell cultivates stars, producing their projects — for now, video podcasts — and helps build brands around them. These brands beget merch and, eventually, consumer products.

The network made its first big move in August, when it announced the signing of the TikTok powerhouse Alix Earle, whose ability to spread trends and sell products has been called the “Alix Earle effect.” She has enthralled millions with videos of herself chatting while applying makeup; it isn’t difficult to imagine her someday selling makeup, too.

During an interview in early January at Ms. Cooper’s West Hollywood studio, where many other press interviews were framed on the walls, something curious was happening with her podcast’s rankings. On the Spotify charts, “Call Her Daddy,” once the second most popular podcast below “The Joe Rogan Experience,” was now at No. 23; “Hot Mess With Alix Earle” had risen to No. 7.

Sitting down with Ms. Cooper, in her plain sweater and jeans and Uggs, this seemed to be the obvious story: At 29, she was becoming the old guard, a wizened millennial usurping herself by elevating these younger stars. (Ms. Earle is 23.)

But this was not the real story. Charts fluctuate, Ms. Cooper explained. There were practical reasons for her lower ranking, including a two-week hiatus from posting new episodes. “Call Her Daddy” not only returned to the Top 10 on the Spotify podcast charts, but in early February, when Spotify relinquished exclusivity of the podcast, it debuted at No. 1 on Apple’s podcast charts. Above Mr. Rogan. Above the Kelce brothers. Above “The Daily” and “Dateline.”

“I look at Oprah as an example, of her lifting Dr. Phil and other people,” Mr. Kaplan, 39, said of Ms. Cooper’s relationship to the new shows.

There is some truth in the idea that Ms. Cooper occupies less of the spotlight now. “The goal as I get older is I don’t want to just be relying on ‘Alex Cooper’ and ‘Call Her Daddy,’” she said. “The point of starting this was also so that I have all these different ancillary businesses that can be running.”

But the bigger truth is this: She isn’t someone to underestimate.

“I also know when I need to turn things up,” she said.

In November, Ms. Cooper went on tour, visiting six cities. These evenings were conceived as one-woman shows wrapped in a rowdy bachelorette party. It was Unwell’s first attempt at live-event production, and the first time “Father Cooper” met her rabid “Daddy Gang” en masse.

“There’s a call to action to have fun and party,” Mr. Kaplan said the morning before her performance at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “No one wants to come to the ‘Call Her Daddy’ tour and just, like, listen.”

The show began with several hunky ushers revealing themselves to be exotic dancers. Ms. Cooper emerged in a sweatsuit — her signature look — and delivered a sweary monologue for about 40 minutes, gradually shedding her baggy clothes until she was down to a little black dress.

She told her origin story: An awkward, sex-starved teenager in Pennsylvania “glows up” into a sexually adventurous college soccer player in Boston, then into a baseball WAG in New York City. (She nicknamed her major-league boyfriend Slim Shady, but his name, as tabloids have long reported, was Noah Syndergaard, then of the New York Mets.) She didn’t need to tell the rest; “Call Her Daddy” began not long after her ex kicked her out of his apartment, she said onstage. The podcast was soon acquired by Barstool Sports.

Ms. Cooper held the audience rapt — an evangelist of feminine raunch. They screeched for her. The line for drinks was as long as the line for Unwell merch. “Let’s do shots,” a woman in the audience said. “I want to be escorted out of here.” There had been a vomiting incident at a previous performance in Boston, Mr. Kaplan said.

“I started to cry the first night, and so did she,” he said. “Alex has worked so hard to have an authentic relationship with these women.”

Their romance is inextricable from their jobs. They love to work and rarely stop. In her downtime, Ms. Cooper, who studied film and television at Boston University, will read through Mr. Kaplan’s scripts and give notes. He was recently in London filming a movie called “Jingle Bell Heist” and in Montenegro filming a thriller called “Family Secrets.” A time-travel slasher movie, “Time Cut,” is coming to Netflix.

They met on Zoom in 2020, while Ms. Cooper was taking meetings about turning “Call Her Daddy” into a television show. At the time, he advised her to stay focused on the podcast. (Now, they’re developing a documentary together.)

Listeners got to know Mr. Kaplan as “Mr. Sexy Zoom Man.” Reddit users turned identifying him into a sport until the couple got engaged last year and Ms. Cooper revealed his name. The entertainment media quickly dug up info on his interests (football, movies) and relationship history (previously married to an actress, dated an Olsen twin).

The couple’s Los Angeles estate, bought for $10.7 million, according to reports, has been photographed in all its soothing neutral spalike splendor by Architectural Digest. But Ms. Cooper asked that the location and date of their wedding not be shared, other than to say it will be a destination wedding in the spring.

When asked about money, however, Ms. Cooper was more candid. She grew up comfortably middle-class, although there were tight moments, like when the National Hockey League went on strike, she said. Her father was a sports television producer.

“I was constantly aware of money growing up,” she said. “I remember, of my friends around me, I was considered the poorest.” Unlike them, she was told she couldn’t buy a Juicy Couture tracksuit.

Suddenly having money as an adult — a lot of money — was a “really big mind [expletive],” she said. When she looked at her banking app after the first Spotify deposit hit, there were millions of dollars in her account.

“I just put my phone down and kept editing,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Ms. Cooper is not the type to buy “15 Chanel bags” or private flights, but will splurge on a pair of Fear of God luxury sweatpants (nearly $1,000, which she regrets) and fly first class (no regrets).

“I think it made me more insecure,” she said. “Like now I have to prove even more that I deserve this.”

In early February, Unwell announced its newest talent: Harry Jowsey, a 26-year-old reality show star and former bad boy (he used a more vulgar term) whose podcast will be called “Boyfriend Material.” He joins Ms. Earle’s “Hot Mess” and Madeline Argy’s “Pretty Lonesome” in working to build a fan base through personal, vulnerable, relationship-oriented content.

Mr. Jowsey said he hoped his podcast would be “the first step to get me comfortable in front of a camera.” His ambition is more television gigs, including hosting reality shows.

“I’m working right now on just growing my community, getting that ride-or-die audience,” said Ms. Earle, whose first merch drop recently sold out. (Merch alone is an eight-figure business for Unwell, according to Ms. Cooper.)

Ms. Cooper sees a clear path to helping her show hosts, and herself: “I want to produce live events that would make Gen Z want to get off their phones,” she said.

It would seem that some members of Gen Z want that, too. “I sometimes prefer being in front of a live audience rather than a camera,” Ms. Earle said. “If you’re podcasting and make a joke, there’s no one really there to laugh about it besides yourself.”

To introduce “Hot Mess” back in September, Ms. Cooper released an 80-minute reality show-style episode with Ms. Earle. They flew to Ms. Earle’s father’s home in New Jersey, where she spoke about her earliest memories of public scrutiny. In 2008, Ms. Earle’s father was exposed for having an affair with Ashley Dupré, the former escort involved with Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, whose career ended with a prostitution scandal; Ms. Dupré is now her stepmother.

Then they flew to Ms. Earle’s apartment in Miami, where Ms. Cooper asked Ms. Earle questions about her sex life that cannot be published here.

This kind of whiplash — from childhood trauma to explicit oversharing — is a signature of Ms. Cooper’s interviews.

“She’s so good at extracting information,” said Mr. Jowsey, who has appeared on “Call Her Daddy.” “I remember sitting there, and I’m like, ‘Has she done training?’”

Ms. Cooper has been alternately praised for her probing (including by Jane Fonda) and criticized online for not probing enough. Given the tight control publicists exert over access to their famous clients, it is surprising to hear Ms. Cooper say she has never “ever” provided questions in advance to her guests — not to Gwyneth Paltrow or Miley Cyrus or Zayn Malik in his first interview in years.

She does not allow publicists to sit in on interviews, arranging for them to watch from another room. She also has a strong sense of who makes a good “Call Her Daddy” guest, and it is generally not politicians.

“Go on CNN, go on Fox,” she said about shutting down conversations with the White House. “You want to talk about your sex life, Joe?”

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