NYMPHOWARS: A Podcast That Plunks Caitlyn Jenner in a Sephora Cabaret
Macy Rodman and Theda Hammel’s must-listen podcast is funny, incisive, and smart.
Theda Hammel, left, and Macy Rodman.
Like a horny cabaret host, the podcast NYMPHOWARS, hosted by Macy Rodman and Theda Hammel, sashays between music, impressions, field trips to the 1920, Sephora, and a graveyard. And nothing, including Rodman’s twenty-minute Caitlyn Jenner impressions, is scripted. “That would be absurd,” says Hammel. But, she insists: “We have never done improv.”
“We literally do improv,” says Rodman.
“It’s free associative amusing radio,” Hammel counters.
“Improv? I have heard of it,” says Rodman.
“We sometimes return to the conversational format,” Hammel clarifies. “But once you’ve loosened up the asshole, so to speak, of premise, conversation will always be a little uneasy. Because there’s always the possibility that the ground could drop out from under it.”
Like many podcast anchors, Hammel and Rodman are close friends, immediately stanning each other’s less frequently advertised talents. Rodman is primarily known for her music: her latest album, The Lake—which includes bangers like “Strawberry Margarita”—was released by Sweat Equity in 2017. Hammel is an actress, starring in Wallace Shawn’s Off Broadway play Marie and Bruce last year. She also recently released SondHAMM, an EP of Stephen Sondheim covers, as part of an “ongoing project to reverse engineer premises based on things that sound like my name…The next project will be Hammlet. And then there will be ABmmBA, my ABBA covers project.”
When I bring up Rodamn’s Jenner impressions, to which she has dedicated an entire Instagram account called @caitupdate, Hammel cuts in to add that Rodman can do not just Caitlyn, but Caitlyn’s live-in “business partner,” Sophia Hutchins (it is frequently reported in gossip columns that the two are a romantic item). “Caitlyn has such a distinctive way of talking,” says Hammel. “We all know it. Sophia, her ‘business partner,’ in air quotes, talks in the exact same voice. And Macy can do both of them, and they sound different and they sound like the people! It’s like a miracle. If a child gave evidence of that gift in the area of classical music, you would scoop them up and ruin their lives immediately. Because it’s not a talent to be wasted.”
NYMPHOWARS began airing at the end of August. The title riffs on the ghoulish Alex Jones show, Info Wars. But Hammel is also a Scorpio, “which means,” she says, “that I’m a pervert and obsessed with sexuality and also that I’m vindictive.”
“Wait,” Rodman interjects, “obsessed with sexuality and vindictive and your show is called…NYMPHOWARS.”
The pod’s goal, says Rodman, quoting Hammel, is “to give trans ladies an opportunity to speak in a way that is coarse and irreverent.” But unlike Info Wars and some of the New York podcasteríe’s shallower moments, NYMPHOWARS isn’t edgelord-y. It isn’t trying to be. Instead, the podcast leads with the things we found edgy as kids, and probably still find funny now—what, say, Caitlyn Jenner might call “bathroom humor.”
“Most opinions, especially nowadays, just reduce to filth,” says Hammel. “Why wait for the internet to digest everything you say and chew it up until it means absolutely nothing? Why not just start with the cloacal?”
One of the pod’s biggest influences is Tati Westbrook, a 36-year-old makeup YouTuber with over 3.5 million followers. This past January, Tati tested “LOW RATED SEPHORA MAKEUP,” which begins with Westbrook, disarmingly barefaced. When a powder goes wrong, a flame effect bursts across her eye sockets, making for an unintended camp classic.
“Tati is so cis that she’s trans,” says Rodman. “She has found out that the root to luxury is through the paint on your face. And that relates to trans women because makeup is a thing that can make us feel good about ourselves.”
“She’s what we all wish we could be,” Hammel replies.
“She’s actually just what we are.”
“We’re all just cis women. Who are very trans-acting.”
No one succeeds at being cis, including cis people, and Westbrook isn’t unhinged because she rejects femininity, but because, in following the rules devotedly, she exposes them. “She’s kind of like a weird drag queen lady,” Rodman points out. “She couldn’t relate to someone who’s just like, ‘I just take my Nars concealer and get going on the day!’” Instead, Westbrook’s “terrifying blandness,” to quote Hammel, horseshoes into itself, suggesting that the legacy of queer camp cinema isn’t Queer Eye––it’s makeup YouTubers.
Conservative writers such as Jordan Peterson frequently argue that trans people are unfunny: shrill and punitive, they are, to quote Peterson, “radical PC authoritarians.” The stereotype of the unfunny trans person stands in high, bizarre contrast to transness as pure entertainment value, even, or perhaps especially, when trans people aren’t actually present. That is frequently the case on RuPaul’s Drag Race, for example, and is always the case with Great British Bake-Off co-host Noel Fielding’s occasional crossdressing. It’s an ingratiating paradox, but NYMPHOWARS slips past it without even trying. The show is funny without being comedy, incisive without punching down, smart without a conveyor belt of takes. “We’re just hanging out,” says Rodman. “And we’re both a little high-strung. So what calms us and makes us feel grounded to the earth is just [being like], AAHHHHHHHHHHGJDK!!!!!!!!!”