Transcript: Bridget Phetasy
My interview with the Los Angeles comedian, writer and podcaster
What does it mean to be politically homeless? My guest today describes herself this way, and jokes that her tribe is tribeless. I relate. A lot.
This month at Lean Out, I’ve been speaking with independent journalists who are changing the media landscape. Today’s guest is an opinion writer that always makes me think — and laugh.
Bridget Phetasy is a comedian, writer, and podcaster in Los Angeles. She’s a columnist and contributing editor at The Spectator, and host of the shows Dumpster Fire, Walk-Ins Welcome, and Factory Settings. Her Substack is Beyond Parody.
This is an edited transcript for paid subscribers. You can listen to the full interview for free here.
TH: Bridget, welcome to Lean Out.
BP: Thank you for having me.
TH: So nice to have you on. I follow your work very closely. I feel like you are a kindred spirit, and I’m excited to get to speak with you again.
BP: I know. I loved the podcast we did. I still am hearing about it. People were very appreciative of our conversation about hip-hop and media.
TH: We had lots to talk about then, and I’m sure we will have lots to talk about today. I want to talk about the concept of politically homeless. You come from the progressive left. I want to read a quote from one of your essays in The Spectator: “I grew up in a liberal home, surrounded by liberals, in a liberal pocket of America. My exposure to differing political views was limited. And by the time I came to Los Angeles, listening to NPR was my personality.” For people who don’t know, what was the turning point? When did you start questioning the left?
BP: I think it was, weirdly, around the Trump era — but it was really before Trump. I think I hadn’t really paid much attention to politics. I was very much what I call a “factory settings” voter. I just showed up and voted the way I was raised to vote. The only way I could ever conceive of voting was blue all the way across the board. I definitely thought the world was ending when Bush was elected — W, little Bush.
I think some of it is just age. There’s that old saying that if you’re conservative when you’re young, you have no heart. And if you are a liberal when you’re older, you have no brain — or whatever that saying is. And I think just being at the intersection of comedy and working at Playboy in 2015, when what I guess we would now call cancel culture stuff started happening.
The #MeToo movement was really ramping up. And then around comedy, it was getting very crazy. People were saying they couldn’t make jokes. So, I just happened to be in those spaces. I joke that I stumbled out of a blackout into the culture wars. Because I was waiting tables and just trying to survive. I didn’t go to college, so I wasn’t indoctrinated into a lot of the ideologies that are pervasive now. I started writing for Playboy, which put me in the Very Online people — as we are when we have to start slinging our wares on social media. I got particularly hooked on Twitter in 2013.
I remember the first time I realized I didn’t know anything — or anything that I thought I knew — was when I was writing for Playboy. There was another mass school shooting. Obviously I had a very intense emotional reaction to that. And I started mouthing off on Twitter. My audience — which was very much male, kind of red-blooded American, from writing at Playboy — pushed back thoughtfully, but in a pretty strong way. I asked people to email me their thoughts on the gun debate in America. And I got long essays, really thoughtful essays, from people. As I was reading them, I was like, “I don’t know anything. I don’t know how to hold a gun. I don’t know how to shoot a gun. I don’t know how long it takes to get a gun in California.” I didn’t know anything. For me to be just running my mouth about any of this, with no knowledge — it was a completely emotional, uninformed opinion. And I feel like that was really the first time that I started questioning my own belief system. Or what I thought I believed, and how I had come to the conclusions that I have come to. Were they actually informed, or were they just emotional opinions that I’d held for so long? I had never even thought to question them.
TH: It’s interesting. I mean, the #MeToo era certainly was a time of big questioning for a lot of us who are feminists.
BP: Yeah, that too. And I started getting pushback from the left when I would put articles out. That was unexpected to me. So I would put an article out — one, for example, was about why I liked giving blowjobs. I thought I would get rah-rah feminism from my side. But then a lot of the newer, or younger, feminists were saying that I had internalized the patriarchy — I always joke, literally — and that I was operating under the male gaze. I had never heard any of these terms: male gaze, patriarchy. I had probably heard of patriarchy, but I don’t think in any serious academic context.
Then I did another piece that was, “She Dates Assholes Because You’re a Pussy.” I, again, thought I would hear from the right wing. Which I did. The manosphere came for me. But the left wing came for me too, because I was using terms like “real man” and “beta male” and “alpha male.” A lot of it was tongue-in-cheek, but still, they definitely came after me. That was surprising. So I realized that I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. And that sense only increased more and more and more over the course of the next five years, moving forward from 2015 through even 2021. Even now.
I feel like there are more of us now, or at least more of us who are “out.” But I felt very isolated in 2015. Had there not been Twitter, and the Internet, and me finding people online who were pushing back against some of the extremism on the left wing, I don’t think I would have felt like I was sane. I kind of felt like I was losing my mind.
TH: I really relate to that. I want to tease a couple of threads from big moments of this year. One of those is Louise Perry’s book, The Case Against The Sexual Revolution. I know you interviewed her. I interviewed her as well. This book, as you point out in your Spectator piece, is dedicated to the women who have learned the hard way. And you wrote this really brave, really moving piece about regretting promiscuity. Making the argument that the freedom liberal feminism has offered us has come at a price. You say the dark side of the sexual revolution is that even though it liberated women, unyoking sex from consequences has primarily benefited men. Talk to me about that.
BP: Yeah, that’s been a long journey. Honestly, part of the reason that I’ve been thinking a lot about this is because I’ve been writing even more extensively now — probably a whole, hopefully, book around a lot of these ideas. How I felt about men versus how I feel about men. At the end of Louise Perry’s book, she says, “Listen to your mother.” That’s kind of her final conclusion. So much of my resistance to a lot of the things I’m coming to terms with is having to admit that not only was my mom right in some respects — but conservatives, too. Even some of the worst dudes on the Internet.
So much of my promiscuity was a reaction to feeling, as I mentioned in my piece, kind of guilty about sex. Whether it’s from Catholicism — feeling repressed — or from the society, feeling like there’s a double standard that I thought was B.S. So, it was very much a reaction, and didn’t necessarily come from a place of health. It came even more from a place of trauma, and trying to unpack all of that. And then, being online and having these men’s rights activists saying things like, “Oh, she’s just an alpha widow. She’s a classic girl who probably has a stepdad and is messed up.” Sometimes the trolls are right. [Laughs]
TH: What’s an alpha widow?
BP: An alpha widow is a woman of average sexual market value who goes after men of high sexual market value. And ignores men who are at her level in an attempt to chase these men who are of higher sexual market value, but have no intention of settling down with her. Therefore she widows herself to this alpha male that she’s constantly chasing. That’s the theory.
TH: That describes an awful lot of people that I know in the contemporary dating market. I mean, isn’t that what the apps are designed to do? It’s basically that.
BP: Well, and if you talk to anybody about what the sexual revolution actually did — I had a great conversation with Chris Williamson about this. It benefits men, because if you are a woman who doesn’t want to sleep around, or isn’t promiscuous, how are you even going to compete in this sexual market? And there’s more. The top 20 percent of men, they have the pool of everybody fighting over them. So they can be much choosier than women, in many instances. He does a lot of really interesting interviews and research, Chris Williamson, around this topic — of how this is benefiting primarily men in general. It’s not optimistic. I always say: Most of the best women I know are single. The most interesting, loving, nurturing, got-their-shit-together women are single, and have, in many cases, opted to just completely check out of the dating world.
TH: I’ve seen that dynamic a lot as well. I’ve also seen the dynamic of — if there’s 20 percent of the alpha males doing all the dating on the apps, that means that 80 percent of men on the apps are not doing hardly any dating at all. And are suffering. I’ve heard you say before that writing for Playboy, you learned a lot about how our sexual culture doesn’t work for men. What are some of the things you learned?
BP: I don’t think that all men want to just spread their seed, as much as that’s what the evolutionary biologist want to say. The common idea is that most guys want to sleep around. But what I learned from Playboy is that that’s not actually true. Men suffer consequences from sleeping around in similar emotional ways. Feelings of emptiness, feelings like they’re not being valued, or that they’re not valuing themselves. They’re not finding and attracting the right kind of people if they’re engaging in that kind of behaviour, that promiscuity. A lot of drinking often goes hand-in-hand with that culture. I also think that men are not really able to say that. It’s much more of a stigma. Interestingly enough, when I wrote that piece, so many women reached out to me and gay men, and they were like, “I feel you. I could have written this. Thank you for articulating this.” People told me they brought it to their therapist. It was a crazy reaction that piece got.
From men, I often heard about the effects this had on someone they knew, a sister or a mother or an ex-girlfriend who perhaps was engaged in this. Or else, they told me they regretted not sleeping with more women. Their regret was the opposite — they hadn’t slept with as many women as they’d wished before they settled down. So that was interesting. That was interesting to me, too, because I think that if you have 80 percent of the women going after 20 percent of the men, yes, a lot of men are going to be left out of that equation. And we’re seeing, I think, the repercussions of that too. I don’t think it’s good when people are lonely. There’s been enough studies on young single populations of men that can’t find women. I know they have this problem in China too.
TH: Let’s switch gears for a moment to another one of the big stories of the year, Twitter and Elon Musk. You had some hilarious advice for him recently: “Don’t get high off your own supply.”
BP: This is me if I took over Twitter and was the richest woman in the world: That scene in Scarface where he is just sitting in front of a mound of cocaine on the desk and he is about to put his head in it. That’s how I feel about Elon. It’s funny how much he’s on there. It was always funny to me how much he was on there, because I’m like, “You’re a billionaire, why are you on here?” If I had billions of dollars — I mean, I’ve said this on Rogan — I wouldn’t be on there. He was like, “Yeah, right. You’d be off for two days and then you’d be back on.” I was like, “Fair enough.” He called me out. It seemed like [Elon] would have had better things to do, finding ways to get to Mars and building cars and stuff. I’m like, “We’re just idiots online. Why are you, the richest man on the planet, here?”
And then he bought it. That’s where it seems like we’re living in a simulation. How is this even real? Now it’s interesting to see the shakeup of having him be in charge. I just wish there was a way we could parallel universe, sliding-door into the opposite. If at any point the opposite party was doing the thing that the other party is doing. Even today with Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was traded an arms dealer for her release. Conservatives are all outraged and Democrats are all excited. I just wonder if it was Trump who was doing this, for example, what this would look like. What the outrage would look like.
With Elon, that seems interesting too. Yesterday something came out that the housing board was going to go check on the beds because he had some beds put into Twitter so people could sleep there when they were working late nights. They wanted to make sure that it was all up to code, or something. I’m like, “You guys have legalized open drug markets, and you have people literally overdosing in your streets — probably you have to step over them to get into Twitter HQ. And this is the guy you’re going to go after?” It does seem like he’s riling up a lot of people. But he’s also kind of exposing them. Them being the people who have maintained control of the narrative to the extent that they have — the left.
TH: Speaking of that, we saw Matt Taibbi release files and we know that we’ll be hearing from Bari Weiss pretty soon as well [ed note: this was taped December 8] because apparently she has some of these documents as well. We saw mainstream media journalists line up to heap scorn on Matt Taibbi …
BP: I know.
TH: … who I think is one of the best journalists of our generation.
BP: He’s so great.
TH: What do you make of that?
BP: Again, I wonder if we could sliding-door into another alternate universe, where the other side was doing something. It really does show me — and probably you, and most people who I think are politically homeless, and particularly the conservatives — this is stuff we kind of intuited, already new. But to see … they cannot stand not having control of the narrative. I always called it “the approved message” when I was stumbling into the culture wars. I kept bumping up against this invisible wall. I didn’t understand that there was an approved message, that you can either toe that line or you go start a Substack. You’re either in the mainstream media and you have to all parrot the same lines — the same with comedy. It’s the same in Hollywood. We see it in all of the major institutions.
You’ve seen teachers be witch-hunted off of their campuses. I think of Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying and their experience on Evergreen, and it seems positively quaint at this point. Although they were absolutely the canaries in the coal mine. They were like, “This is coming everywhere. It’s not just going to stay on the campuses.” And it certainly hasn’t. So I think too, this — I always call them journavists, it’s like the weird activism that’s taken over almost everything, but particularly journalists have been captured so much by this ideology. They reverse engineer everything so that it fits what they want to be true instead of what might actually be true. And I don’t think it’s good. It’s obviously not good for journalism. I think you go into journalism if you’re curious and have a lot of questions.
That’s what I like about Matt. Some of the stuff he was writing during the Trump campaign in particular was so insightful. No one was writing this stuff. No one was saying, “He has a huge following. There are grievances. There was a referendum that occurred overnight that nobody voted on. And it was when we exported all of our jobs out, when we started outsourcing everything. People are mad about this, and they didn’t have any say in this. This is their protest vote.” Or, “They really like the guy.” No one on the left was saying that. You didn’t hear that perspective at all. It was just like, “Oh, look at this buffoon. He doesn’t stand a chance.”
TH: And then the big shock that he wins, right?
BP: It was hilarious. I do jokes about that. I’m like, “Were planes flying after Trump won? It was like 911 around here, dead silent. You could hear a pin drop in this city.”
TH: The other thing I wanted to ask you about — this is going back to maybe February of last year — was the Spotify and Joe Rogan story. That one I found really mind-boggling. You see Neil Young threatening to pull all his music, saying that Joe Rogan is perpetuating misinformation. And there’s this huge controversy. I’m reading the tweets, and so many people in the mainstream media, I don’t think any of them have ever sat through an entire episode of Joe Rogan.
TH: When you look back on that — you’re friends with him, you’ve been on that show — how do you digest that whole controversy?
BP: So, first of all, it’s infantilizing. It’s like, “We need to think for you.” This is the general thing that I think people are reacting to, on a visceral level, that the mainstream and Hollywood does not understand. They have this attitude of, “We know what’s best for you, poor little plebes who can’t think for yourselves.” They don’t even realize that they’re taking that smug tone. I remember when I was home one year, and it was right before the election, and a family member told me they were voting for Trump. I was surprised. And he was like, “I’m just so fucking sick of the media talking down to me.” It was really eye-opening for me. Because I was like, “Yeah, they really do.” If you go back and watch Bill Maher, or any of the late night shows, the level of smug is so completely off-the-charts — just looking down on the voters, looking down on anybody who might think of voting for him. Certainty that they could never lose. It was gross.
And it was the same thing with Spotify and Joe Rogan. I’m like, “You guys don't understand.” This man has an audience because he thinks for himself. He’s curious. He admits when he messes up. He’s not trying to be an authority. He’s not trying to tell people how they should think. He’s not talking down to his audience. He’s just having conversations with people. And you cannot handle that. You can’t wrangle him. He’s out of your control, and too big to fail — and they could not handle it. People make up their own minds about things. It’s insane to me that you couldn’t ask questions about a brand new vaccine, that the mainstream all got on board with this as misinformation or disinformation if people were even asking questions.
I brought up that my period was weird and I got called a conspiracy theorist and a right wing nut job, and all of this stuff. Then a year later it comes out that periods are affected by these vaccines. It doesn’t last long. But turns out all those women weren’t just crazy.
That’s the other thing. That’s the other weird thing that bothers me — for all of the lip service about the “lived experience” of people, it’s all just B.S. It’s only the lived experience of the people when it benefits you having power. If it doesn’t — if it’s the lived experience of me and the vaccine and my period, and it goes against whatever you want to believe, or you need to push, then it’s disregarded. If it’s the lived experience of a Muslim woman and her experience with a hijab, then it’s Islamophobic, if it goes against your belief that you have to be pushing that day.
So I think that you saw this intense reaction to him. There was a big void that needed to be filled in the interim. That year when Trump got banned from all social media, which is still crazy to me. Then there was this huge void. I think Elon is kind of taking up a lot of that oxygen. Now he’s the main character of the year. And so that timing just happened to fall on Joe too, where he took on kind of outsized influence. I’m like, “People aren’t taking medical advice from Joe Rogan. They’re just not.” Show me the article where it’s like: My uncle died because he listened to Joe Rogan. If this is as big a problem as journalists are saying that it is, go find the not just anecdotal information that proves your point — that this is a dangerous podcast. It doesn’t exist. Being his friend too, people kept asking me to comment on. I was like, “I’m not commenting on this. I’m not going to write an article so that I can generate clicks for my Substack.” I’m his friend. I support him. And I don’t think he’s doing anything differently than what he’s already done.
And Neil Young, it’s so sad for me to see these aging boomers who sold their entire catalogues for hundreds of millions of dollars acting like they are the moral arbiters of what is information. I’m like, “You used to be a counterculture hippie. What happened to you? Now you’re just The Man.” So weird. That was just so weird. All these boomers with their multimillions, being like, “I’m taking my music away.” Okay. This is your final protest — in line with big government, and big pharma, and big media? Congratulations, you’ve completely sold out.
TH: We have just lived through this hugely extreme era in media. I guess we are still living through it. Covid was such a bizarre time to be a working journalist. I have never felt so perplexed by how little questioning I saw taking place — especially during the first, I’d say, year and a half. There was a piece that came out recently, Emily Oster in the Atlantic, who was arguing for pandemic amnesty. Saying that we all need to forgive each other for the mistakes made during covid. I know Mary Harrington at UnHerd recently wrote about this, and the class politics that played into it, and the corruption of the scientific process, the lack of critical thinking. How do you think the media comes back from that?