Chapo Trap House is a leftist comedy politics podcast hosted by Will Menaker, Matt Christman, Felix Biederman, Amber A’Lee Frost, and Virgil Texas.
However, the traditions of the dirtbag left do not derive from Chapo. Rather, they can be understood as descending from a fundamental dirtbag text in the first century, which was entrusted to sinful man. After years of rumors and wrongful death suits, this desert text has been translated into English, and is now available to the public in the form of the The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason. This book emerges from its chrysalis today. The nation waits to be liberated from its bondage of sin.
To receive the healthy blessings of The Chapo Guide, it is important that you place the following sentence above every mirror in your house: “Dear Dirtbag Left, I pray that you will bless someone in this house spiritually, physically, mentally, and financially. Retweets equal endorsements, and enlarge my territory.” I challenge you to scream this out loud at least once a day for the next thirty days. If you thread this habit into your daily life’s fabric, you’ll find yourself successful beyond your wildest dreams.
My advance copy of The Chapo Guide came through the mail to my fortified compound in Atlanta, which is now armed against all visitors and many snakes. After checking that it was not a powerful incendiary sent by my enemies at the Post Office, I discovered that Paste editor Shane Ryan had mailed the package.
The reading of the book was relatively uneventful. Or it was until I cracked open the first page and saw the words “This book is dedicated to the brave Mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan.” Well, that hit me like a Portland police officer on his break from Proud Boy membership. As one of those forgotten soldiers, it felt nice to be recognized after all these years. My giant cavernous heart filled with the humors of gratitude.
Before we get too deep in the wonder swamp here, I should note: I am literally quoted on the back of the book. The part about “Vulgar, Brilliant Demigods of the New Progressive Left” is yours truly. That’s the title of a feature I wrote about the podcast in the summer 2016, before the normies discovered the dirtbag parade.
As Dre said so poetically on his track “I Need a Doctor,” “It literally feels like a lifetime ago / But I still remember the shit like it was just yesterday though.” Now, two years later, The Baseball Crank retweeted one of my articles, and Chapo has published a book. Wasn’t it General Giáp who once said, “What a wild, strange trip it’s been”? Now, with the publication of words written by Chapo about Chapo, they’re muscling in on my turf. I guess the correct response is, Congratulations, gang and BACK OFF.
That said, The Chapo Guide is not actually about Chapo Trap House at all. The Guide isn’t the biography of the podcast, and that’s good. I was afraid it would be an in-your-face oral history, or a quickie Nineties-esque Howard Stern tell-all with lots of cutesy inset boxes bearing titles like “Virgil Sez.” Nor is The Guide a coherent statement of political philosophy. True, The Guide could serve as an entry-point to the dirtbag gospel for newcomers. But it’s hardly a complete statement about the show, since we are never told about the gifts of Bashar al-Assad.
Rather, as the title says, the book is a Guide. As they say in the introduction, “We’ll act as Virgil to your Dante on a tour of the hell-realm of politics and culture.” Overall, the book’s a quick read, and unless I miss my guess, Chapo deliberately used the same font as the Harry Potter books.
To my eye, The Guide is actually three books woven together. One book is a summary of the Chapo ethos, a general statement of purpose, which is most articulated in the chapter “Borrow This Book.” The second is a general history of society, which is detailed in “World” and “The Call of Neoliberalism: A Brief History” and “Work.” The third is a brutal field-dressing of pundits and political movements, which is articulated in the chapters “Libs,” “Cons,” and “Media.” In other words, the book is comprised of Theory, History, and Mockery.
The best way to understand The Chapo Guide is by way of analogy, specifically to a book published by the Trap House’s dark shadow – its natural antagonist – the antithesis to its synthesis – the dying Elvis to its Beatles – The Daily Show.
The Guide is a weirder, smarter, and deliciously meaner version of The Daily Show’s 2004 America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, a volume which is still mandatory reading in the legacy college bathrooms of North America.
The Dry Boys would probably hate that comparison, but it’s not far off. In format, The Guide reads like a comedy book. But with a difference.
Most humor books are, surprise surprise, written by comedian-performers who have a proven, salable angle. But no matter how edgy the patter is on TV, writing is a different game. Funny people who scribble books have to shy away from serious policy commitments. In text, it’s hard to adjust tone. So wild becomes mild when permanent ink is involved.
And that’s what makes The Guide unique. There’s none of the backing-away that happens to most comedians once they transition to print.
The Daily Show comparison is important for another reason. You can’t understand Chapo’s popularity unless you understand the world its audience come from. Without taking a survey of the Chapo subreddit, it’s fair to say that a lot of its listeners are people who turned leftist after a decades of liberalism. They pupated after an agonizing moment of clarity: all the Jon Stewart reaction gifs in their desktop folder didn’t stop the war or prevent Trump. Neon Genesis Evangelion was a deconstruction of Giant Robot Anime, and Chapo Trap House is the left’s reply to The Daily Show.
All of the unspoken, insufferable parts of America: The Book and the DS – what Christman once called “the smug above-it-all snark”—are absent from The Chapo Guide. Reading The Guide feels like consuming samizdat: the authors seem to honestly not give a solid metal shit if the book doesn’t make everyone’s Christmas list.
In The Guide’s nearly three hundred pages, there are abundances of irony, rage, and deft lancings of every hallowed centrist icon. What you will not find is distance. The Guide is written in the voice of someone who is earnestly offended by the meathook fancies of the twenty-first century. The book is credited to the polyamorous mind-meld of Biederman, Christman, Menaker, Texas, and James, but the overwhelming tone is Matt’s hectoring, erudite, Midwestern anger. The closest the entire volume gets to a eh-whaddaya-gonna-do shrug comes in the last lines: “That, or we’ll all drown in boiling seawater. Always good to have options.”
Unsurprisingly, the strengths of Chapo the Show are the weaknesses of Chapo the Book. If you listen to the podcast at all, you quickly realize the subject matter is unrelentingly grim. Yet Chapo Trap House is delightful listening, because the intensity of healthy hatred is cut with surreal bantz and outlandish bits, speckled with doses of irreverence and I-can’t-believe-we’re-getting-away-with-this. What will Felix say? How long can Matt yell before cardiac arrest? Will the show go beyond Will’s power to save it? Is Amber going to lead the next Purge? Will Virgil ever be truly comfortable? In contrast, The Guide is a high-octane Book of Revelations, no sleep till Brooklyn. The anger is more direct, the targets are clearer. The beatings continue well after morale has improved.
In any given episode of Chapo the Show, there are three to five homebrewed sensibilities clashing and harmonizing, like hell’s barbershop chorus weaving a song about personal failure and gaming. You come to Chapo for the politics; you linger on account of the company; you stay because of the heart. There are a thousand important differences between Chapo and Pod Save America. The crucial one is this: the Woke Zoo Crew is not standing above you, but next to you. That’s clear in the podcast – much less so in The Guide.
The book reduces the splendid chorus to a single cutting voice. The fireworks and push-pull tone are removed to a knowing, insightful narrator who is resolute in informing you how doomed everything is.
The show is vulgar, friendly, human, and hilarious; the book is merely hilarious and informed. There’s hope in the show, little in The Guide. But if you love Chapo – and if you don’t, you should – then by your own logic, you must love The Guide as well. Sweeties, buy the book.