With over 250,000 podcasts in existence, there seems to be a show for just about everything. Do a quick search and you’ll find thousands about fantasy sports, hundreds about upcoming Apple products, and dozens about the art of coin collecting. But amazingly, before last November, there wasn’t a single podcast devoted solely to a television franchise so popular it’s already spawned 10 spin-offs: The Real Housewives.
The A.V. Club sat down with the women who changed that—comedians Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider—to talk about what inspired them to supply that demand, the reaction to their show Bitch Sesh, and why something that’s routinely enjoyed by millions is so often derided as nothing more than a “guilty pleasure.”
The A.V. Club: How did you two meet? Do you remember the first time you guys crossed paths?
Casey Wilson: Can I tell how I met you?
Danielle Schneider: Yeah.
CW: But the real story? From before L.A.?
CW: Okay, so it was at the UCB theater in New York. Danielle was visiting, or maybe doing a showcase and, well, there’s no other way to say it but she came off stage and then started passionately making out with Matt Besser [a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade]. Just really sloppy, like a couple that had just met. But then I found out they’d been dating for about six years.
DS: What can I say? We share our love and it burns brighter by the year.
CW: It blinded me… and I’ve been chasing that kind of love ever since.
DS: Yeah, we are very passionate. Embarrassingly so. I’ve heard this story not just from you.
CW: Oh really?
DS: Yes. This is not the first or the last time I’ll hear: “When we first met, you and Matt were, like, disgustingly making out.”
CW: That’s funny. Because when people talk about meeting me and my husband, they usually say, “We actually thought you guys were just friends.” [Laughs.] So that was the first time we met and then we met again a few months later, out in L.A., when our two-woman shows were running together.
DS: Our two two-woman shows.
CW: Yes, that’s correct. Danielle was doing a show [Eye Candy] with her comedy partner Dannah Phirmannd I was doing one with my comedy partner June Diane Raphael [Rode Hard And Put Away Wet].
AVC: Given the long-running and fruitful nature of your comedy partnerships, how do Dannah and June feel about your joining forces on Bitch Sesh?
CW: The podcast definitely feels like an affair.
DS: We’re each other’s comedy mistresses.
CW: But I’m happy to report that June and Dannah have both been supportive.
DS: Very supportive.
CW: Yeah, they’ve each appeared as guests on the show and were helpful in getting the podcast started.
AVC: How did Bitch Sesh come to be?
DS: Well Casey and I are Real Housewives lovers through and through. I think that was another thing that bonded us together years ago. We both love this ridiculous, terrifying show. To the extent that we’d send text messages to each other in the middle of the night asking questions like: What do you think of Kim Zolciak? So this shared interest was always a part of our friendship and then in September Casey suggested we start a podcast to address those kinds of questions. So the germ of it came from Casey.
CW: We pitched the idea to Earwolf and they were very generous to oblige. And we had a huge boost from Paul Scheer, who took us under his wing and helped us get out there through How Did This Get Made? And in however many weeks it’s been since Bitch Sesh started, it’s never once felt like a chore.
DS: Yeah, it doesn’t really feel like work at all.
CW: Danielle comes over on Tuesday nights; we eat some food, watch the show, and then tape the podcast right there.
DS: I wish I could say that we put a ton of work into it, but really it’s not much more than that and Casey and I emailing each other. Getting everything in order, coming up with a few things to talk about and then we’re off and running.
CW: Danielle has had some great brainstorms. Such as reading the Yelp reviews of a vibrator sold by Kandi Burruss from The Real Housewives Of Atlanta.
DS: And Casey came up with the great idea that, each week, we test out one of the Housewives’ products. Because there are so many products. We could do a thousand episodes and not be through all the Housewives products. They are into marketing themselves like no other.
CW: It’s true. And it just seems like the right people have been able to find us. Because our show is not for everyone.
DS: No, no it’s not. Though I will say this: our audience has been a big pretty surprise.
AVC: In what sense?
DS: The big surprise has been that there’s a community there. This big, wonderful, underserved community that wants and needs a show like ours. I mean, when Casey and I decided to start the show, I think we sort of pictured it as shouting into the void. Know what I mean? Like we knew there was a popularity there, but the demand for this—and the audience interaction with it—has been incredible. Whether they’re all tweeting us or instagramming us or reaching out in some other way, it’s really a community that I didn’t realize was there.
CW: Me neither. And a lot of people have kind of taken it upon themselves to become investigative journalists. Really getting to the bottom of things: uncovering old photos, tracking down information, and finding out any other morsel that the community would like to know.
DS: Oh gosh, they’re amazing.
CW: Another way they’ve been great is that we asked listeners not to tag any of the housewives directly when posting these things and, so far, every single person has followed this request. And that was very important to me because my only real hesitation with doing this show is that I didn’t to hurt anyone’s feelings. Because, you know, it does hurt my feelings when people will literally tweet at me something like: “Why are you so disgusting and unfunny?” I mean, I assume people say things like that about me at some point, but why do they feel the need to tell me about it directly? I don’t get it.
DS: It’s just unnecessary. So our listeners have been amazing in that respect. They’ve been a lovely audience, a loyal audience. And I feel very beholden to them, to bring them the information. And to have the conversation with them.
CW: So we feel really free because of our audience.
DS: They’ve emboldened us, really.
AVC: Tell me about your Housewives parody. You’ve now done two seasons of the show for Hulu: The Hotwives Of Orlando and The Hotwives Of Las Vegas. How did that show get started?
DS: Well, Paul Scheer knew of my Housewives obsession. So he and Jon Stern from Abominable had been working together for a while on various projects and they asked me and my writing partner Dannah if we’d be interested in doing a parody series. And we were like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe this hasn’t been done before.” So we took the ball and ran. And the first person we knew we wanted in the cast was Casey.
CW: Needless to say, it was a very easy sell.
DS: And as I told Casey several times throughout the creation and writing process, she was a muse for us. Because not only is she so funny and so talented, but she’s a true fan of the Housewives and she’d get exactly what we were trying to do. And as with the podcast, there was kind of a community swell behind the show. People got really behind what we were doing, so we got to do another season. So we went to a different city but, since we loved the original cast so much, we had all the same people back and just had everyone play different parts for the second season. They’re all just such great comedians. And Casey, as I said, is the muse.
CW: I like to think of myself as Jennifer Lawrence to Danielle and Dannah’s David O. Russell.
DS: I think of them as, like, the “Housewives Players.” Like the Traveling Wilburys, they’re a traveling band of actors who embody different roles every season.
CW: And Dannah and Danielle have done such a great job as writers of heightening what is already so heightened to begin with. For example: On just about every single Housewives franchise they will inevitably do a scene where the characters reach out to a psychic. And this usually leads to some kind of major fight between the characters and the psychic, or between the characters themselves. So Dannah and Danielle found a way to take this even further by having one of the characters physically fight with someone from the great beyond, who manages to pull their weave out. That’s just such a funny heighten because the actual shows are almost that crazy.
DS: Yeah, any time we thought we were going too far with something—worried that, maybe, this is a little too crazy—we were wrong. Like I remember one time, on our show, we wrote a scene based on a big blowout dog funeral and then, literally, the same thing happened on The Real Housewives. Sonja from New York not only has this big dog funeral, but she tosses the ashes and they blow back in her face.
CW: And then later, adding to the comedy, Sonja gets furious at her friends for not showing up. “You didn’t show up at my dog funeral!”
DS: There’s a lot of that: “You didn’t show up at my blank.” And so sometimes we don’t even really have to parody. The material is already there. With the right actresses, you can kind of just heighten it a little bit, and it’ll feel just like a page out of a Real Housewives script.
CW: Speaking of which, I’m sad to bring up yet another incarnation of Housewives-related creativity we’ve embarked upon…
DS: There’s a lot…
CW: But as you can imagine, several of our friends also love watching the Housewives, so our little group would often get together to watch the latest episode. June, Dannah, Jessica St. Clair, Morgan Walsh, and Melissa Rauch. And everyone’s a comedian, so we started transcribing parts of the show and doing live readings. This was just the simple spoken word on the page—you know, we didn’t change a thing—and it was really powerful.
DS: It really was. Because, you see, this is modern drama. When we transpose these dialogues, it was like Mamet, it was like O’Neill.
CW: It was, it was.
DS: It’s better than anything I’ve seen on or off Broadway in 10 years!
AVC: What it is about the Real Housewives’ premise, or format, that you find so enjoyable?
CW: It’s interesting. I’ve thought about it a lot. Especially after the comments that Gloria Steinem made last year. [Steinem said the Housewives shows “present women as rich, pampered, dependent, and hateful towards each other.”—ed.]
I love Gloria Steinem. I really do. I just went to see her speak and I’m absolutely in love with her. But look: I’m a huge feminist and I love watching The Real Housewives. There is just something to me that is so incredibly, endlessly fascinating about women’s social dynamics.
DS: Yes, I agree. And it’s all kind of done in an extreme way. Because a) they’re all kind of under the pressure of the camera—so you add that as an element—and b) they’re not regular people, they are people who are actively striving for fame. And to watch that struggle, and throw in them trying to family and their social relationships, it’s a soap opera on some scale. It’s a soap opera. And I used to watch things like General Hospital growing up and this isn’t that different. It’s just quote-unquote “real.”
CW: And, frankly, it makes me die laughing. I just get a kick out of it.
CW: Now, I know that people who don’t like the show will say—and this is something that my husband says, and Danielle’s husband too—they say that it’s all basically the same exact fight, just happening with different people each time. But I beg to differ. Because I know the nuances and the ins and outs and their history with each other, and I find myself being invested. Not to the point where I actually ever lose the veneer of watching it ironically—because it is ridiculous…
CW: But even as an actress, I have to say that just seeing these women there, some of them are larger than life and some of them are just so hilarious. So un-self-aware; I love watching that on parade.
DS: Yes, I agree. And I feel like we also love to stand apart from them and judge them, but at the same time we also see a little of ourselves in them. These are human beings. We all have the petty things, we all have the jealousy, we all have the bitterness, we all have the over-the-top crying and emotional moments. They take it to another level, but I do think we recognize ourselves in these people. So I think there’s that in there as well.
CW: Well said. And I will say the one thing I have not loved from Beverly Hills recently, not that anyone’s asking, but it’s just occurring to me: They now actually have real actors on the show. People like Lisa Rinna. When you get real actors whose job, in some ways, is to be watching themselves from the outside, I think it loses the fun. Because, to me, what was so amazing is that it was women who sadly didn’t know any better to be self-aware.
DS: Yeah, there was sort of a naïveté in the first few seasons. They didn’t know what they were doing; they didn’t know what they were getting involved with. But there are still times—like with Teresa [Giudice] in New Jersey—when they lose themselves. I think that on some level they forget that they’re on camera.
CW: Yeah, cinema verité.
DS: They forget that the camera’s there and then the real fun starts.
AVC: Both listening to your podcast and listening to you now, the way you talk about these women—the dynamics and all the changing variables—reminds me so much of the way fans and analysts talk about sporting events. Is part of the draw is the water-cooler aspect?
CW: That’s a great question. Because I’ve noticed that the Housewives has become common ground between so many women. Like I’ll go on a set and, you know, it’s always a little tough getting to know people at first, but it’s so easy to strike up a conversation with anyone who watches the Housewives. It’s like this subset of friends we all share, and even though we don’t know them personally, we all know these same things and have our own opinions and these fake friends.
DS: It’s so true. I remember being on a plane a few years ago. And me and this woman sat coldly next to each other for a cross-country trip, fighting over the arm rest the whole time. But then, about an hour before we landed, we noticed that we both had on Housewives and suddenly we were best friends.
CW: It’s a point of connection. And there’s a real freedom and an instant intimacy that comes with that. Where, when discussing opinions, you feel comfortable just shouting “What? You like her? You’re crazy!” to this person you just met.
DS: Right. It’s a safe space. It’s a safe space where we can all sort of talk about something where nobody is going to get their feelings hurt. Like you’re not going to get hurt if someone disagrees. Nobody’s going to be respond by saying “How dare you!” and walk away.
CW: Part of it might be due to the way that the show is consumed. Like people have seen every single episode—in every city—or they’ve never seen a single one. There is truly no division, it’s a line drawn in the sand. Which is [former head of Bravo] Andy Cohen’s genius at work. Once you’re hooked…
AVC: So what was it that hooked you? Do you remember?
CW: I do. This is going to make me seem just absolutely sadder than this article probably already will, but I… my mom had just passed away actually. It was very sudden, and I was living in a bad apartment in Hollywood. And I was just so out if it—that’s the best way to describe it. I was out of it and in this numb sort of fog for about a week and then I stumbled on this show—The Real Housewives Of Orange County—and all of the sudden I’m smiling. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it did bring me a little bit of fleeting joy.
AVC: In a way, it’s exactly what entertainment is supposed to do.
CW: No, I know. It just seems like I’m hanging my whole life on this franchise. But I will truly never forget that. I did feel something lift during that hour. And I remember thinking: This is something that I really like.
DS: It’s an escape.
DS: It really is. It’s an escape and it’s a bond and it makes so much sense to me. It’s a release at the end of the day.
CW: The funny part to me is that sometimes when it gets really real—those scenes where it gets legitimately uncomfortable—I actually have to turn it off. And my husband is like, “Wait? You made me sit through them setting up for this party and you’re going to turn it off as soon as they start screaming at each other?” But I honestly can’t do it. It’s just too painful. I’d honestly just prefer to watch them all say hello and order their salads. I know those intense moments are why some people like it, but I honestly have to fast-forward through some scenes that just feel too dark.
DS: Yeah, there has been some dark stuff and tough stuff. Like when, in Atlanta, Apollo is going off to jail and has to say goodbye to his wife and two kids.
CW: Oh, I have shed tears. One-hundred percent.
DS: Me too. It’s real life happening in front of the camera and sometimes that can be uncomfortable. But it’s fascinating to watch. Unlike Casey, I’m not turned off by those really real moments. Or I should say that I don’t turn off the TV. I sort of watch those moments from underneath my shirt. But I do watch. I don’t know what that says about me.
CW: That you’re a great person…
DS: But I’m not. I’m drawn in, like a moth to the flame.
AVC: Do you think that because you both have a background in improv and UCB that one of the reasons you enjoy unscripted television like this is because it’s real and in the moment?
CW: Well… it is like watching the worst improv troupe of all time. Because it’s so much “no.” Where’s the “yes and?” They all say “no” to each other all the time.
DS: Yeah, I mean improv, UCB, it’s all about making other people look good. But that is never going through any one of their minds. It might actually be the opposite of UCB and that’s what we’re strangely drawn to?
AVC: Why do you think shows like this are considered a “guilty pleasure”? Or even, as Casey said earlier, it’s something that’s enjoyed ironically. Why is there always an asterisk around it?
CW: I mean, it’s hard. Because at face value, it’s nothing to be proud of. It is very shameful.
DS: It’s bawdy. There is kitsch to it. It’s big dresses and big hair.
CW: I’m trying to think. I mean, a lot of it is watching women yell at each other and tear each other down. It’s probably not what I should be embracing in a culture.
DS: It’s pageantry, so bright and shiny. With these huge personalities.
CW: I also think that being in the comedy world, there’s a lot of pressure to like all these really cool shows. I feel, at least. But at the end of the day, a lot of what I find funny, I see on the housewives.
DS: But I will say that in addition to the car-accident factor, you do occasionally get to see something uplifting. As much as these women yell at each other and break each other down, when they see someone who’s truly broken and truly upset, they go to them. Even if they’re enemies. You do get to see them all come together, you know what I mean? Like I remember watching one episode recently—I think it was actually on Vanderpump Rules, but the same rules apply—and it’s these two women who hate each other: Stassi and Scheana. And in the episode, after all of Scheana’s friends had abandoned her, Stassi was there for her. They were hugging each other and crying and even had a conversation that went like “But we normally hate each other…” “I know!”
DS: And I think there’s something really nice about that; that you get to see that other side of it too. It doesn’t happen often, but underneath it all—if you see someone crying, if you see someone upset—they are there for each other and I think there’s some redemption in that.
CW: So there’s that, and then in the meantime you have all this great unintentional comedy and baggage between friends and family.
DS: Estranged friends. Jealous sisters. Cousins.
CW: Cousins are great. I love when cousins come on. You never know how they’re going to fit into the puzzle.
DS: Or sister-in-laws. Pre-existing familial shit is amazing.
AVC: “Pre-existing Familial Shit Is Amazing” would have made a fantastic title for the podcast. That said, Bitch Sesh is pretty great too. How did you come up with the title for the show?
DS: Do you remember?
CW: Yeah, I think we emailed back and forth and then sent our favorites to Paul, who saw Bitch Sesh and said, “That’s the one.”
DS: Oh, did Paul come up with it?
CW: No, he just picked it from the list. You came up with it.
DS: I did? No, I’m pretty sure you did.
CW: No, no, it was you.
DS: Are you sure?
CW: Are you listening to this? Danielle and I will fight about who gets credit in the same way the Real Housewives argue about everything…