Binchtopia: the viral podcast merging philosophy and culture
The podcast’s hosts Eliza McLamb and Julia Hava have cemented themselves as prophets of high-low criticism and internet hot takes.
“One of our phrases for a long time has been: ‘Bitches hate nuance,’” says 21-year-old Eliza McLamb, smiling mischievously over Zoom from her Los Angeles apartment. Without missing a beat Julia Hava, her 25-year-old co-host on their Binchtopia podcast, retorts: “We still need to make a T‑shirt.”
In the last two years, McLamb and Hava have become the internet’s brainiest and most audacious best friends, weighing in on everything from Foucault to West Elm Caleb with razor-sharp wit and banter.
Over Zoom, the chemistry between Hava and McLamb is exhilarating. They have a shared language and intimate rapport that’s immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever had a best friend. “Everyone always says working with your friends is hard,” says McLamb. “I guess it is, but it’s also fucking great.”
In the winter of 2020, then-roommates Hava and McLamb started Binchtopia, a cultural commentary podcast that has since amassed thousands of followers and viral fame. At the time, McLamb was new to LA, and the two were introduced through a mutual friend. Both were avid readers with wide-ranging interests from the Kardashians to the prison industrial complex; both were interested in starting a podcast. “We just hit on something really good,” remembers McLamb. “It was beneficial at the time that we were living together, and we could just record whenever we wanted.”
When they started the podcast, Hava was “doing social media management for a girl boss”, while McLamb was working a string of unfulfilling jobs. In a matter of weeks, Binchtopia was trending on Spotify. “I think we manifested it being successful,” Hava says. “We didn’t allow ourselves to think that anything else would happen, and then it did.”
McLamb also believes the podcast became successful by sheer force of will. “In delusion, we were like: ‘This is going to be our full-time job.’” The podcast now has 6,600 devoted Patreon subscribers and 27,000 Instagram followers, with an average of 70,000 regular listeners.
That mix of plucky delusion and precocious intelligence, which has become Binchtopia’s trademark, paid off for the girls. The podcast’s description reads: “If Plato and Aristotle had internet addictions and knew what ‘gaslighting’ was, they’d probably make this podcast.” Despite Hava and McLamb’s mutual interest in philosophy and theory, the podcast never loses its sense of accessibility, covering topics from Erewhon (the fancy LA deli) to Judith Butler (the American philosopher and gender studies writer) with equal aplomb.
Hava graduated from Brown University in 2019 with a history and psychology degree, and uses her academic background in her approach to the podcast. It helps that her father was a historian and political cartoonist, which made a formative impression on his daughter. As for McLamb, she completed two years at George Washington University before dropping out.
“I have, like, half a gender studies degree, and you know what? That’s enough,” she jokes. While the pair use their academic qualifications (or half-qualifications, in McLamb’s case) to analyse culture, they never take themselves too seriously: “We’re a comedy podcast that’s deep and serious, but not so serious that we can’t have a laugh about things.”
In the early days of the Binchtopia, the conversations and topics discussed on the pod were freewheeling, like eavesdropping on an afterparty winding down.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” McLamb admits, laughing. Hava agrees. “We would have existential conversations. Eliza and I referenced things we had read in college and other inspiring things.” Then, as the podcast progressed and became more successful, the hosts decided to structure and thoroughly research episode topics.
“Usually, we pick one cultural touchpoint for something and see where we can expand it,” McLamb says, referencing a recent episode on homesteading and the myth of Republican motherhood. Beyond having heady conversations, McLamb and Hava learn alongside their audience as they investigate various curiosities. “As much as people learn from Binchtopia, Eliza and I are learning with them, too, because we’re doing this research, coming to understand it and then reporting it.”
The duo acknowledge that cultural commentary is having a resurgence as more and more people try to make sense of our current moment.
“It’s the age of everyone having an opinion,” McLamb says. “People are increasingly getting anxious about what their opinions should be.” But she hopes that Binchtopia’s audience does their own research, too. “You’re not supposed to have the same opinion as us, and we don’t want to be this place to spoon-feed and tell you what you should think.”
The podcast has inevitably drawn comparisons to another popular cultural commentary podcast, Red Scare, hosted by two Zizec-quoting women from the former Soviet Union who unabashedly scrutinise everything from identity politics to feminism, which is bewildering to Hava and McLamb.
“We didn’t intend to be a foil to Red Scare,” insists Hava. McLamb is also perplexed by the comparison, which she thinks stems from a lack of cultural criticism podcasts hosted by women. “Many women think about things that are going on in the world. I don’t understand why we draw that comparison, especially since people tend to use it to emphasise how different we are from them.”
To their mind, the podcast’s success speaks to a turning point in our hot take-driven culture where audiences want to hear – and take part in – more complex and nuanced conversations. “I think people are really smart and have more nuanced opinions about things, and are craving discussion about things past just a tweet or a Twitter thread,” McLamb says. “Binchtopia has helped us cultivate an audience that is smart and interested, not quick to trigger like most of what we see on the internet. Not all young people are like that. Our audience gives us a lot of space to explore topics.”
Most Binchtopia listeners are university-aged women, but Hava thinks that age diversity among fans is far-reaching. She guesses that the podcast’s success could also be attributed to nostalgia for those late-night discussions synonymous with the uni experience. “Eliza and I get to grow in these intellectual ways. When you graduate from university, no one is telling you: ‘You have to read a book.’ So you do miss that intellectual stimulation and your brain expanding that way.”
As busy as they are with Binchtopia, it’s only one element of McLava and Hava’s ambitions. In addition to hosting the podcast, McLamb has a budding career as a musician. One of her songs, Porn Star Tits, went viral on TikTok in summer 2020. For her, the music and the podcast inform each other, both as an exploration of her interior life. “The person who looks into how things affect us structurally as a society and how it affects women – it would make sense that the same person is interested in her own emotions and writes songs about them. I’m not a podcaster who does music on the side, or a musician who does podcasts on the side. I’m just everything all the time.”
Hava, who plans to pursue a PhD in psychology, also celebrates the contradictions of being a multi-hyphenate. “My dad always told me the story of how he chose to be a historian [over a political cartoonist]. That made me sad on some level. It’s been so amazing not having to choose between being funny or serious, creative or analytical. As long as I can keep doing everything I want to do, I’m going to be a one-woman circus.”
As for the future, the pair are looking forward to connecting with their fans during live events. Binchtopia will go on tour this summer, kicking off their first show on 10th March at Dynasty Typewriter in Los Angeles. “We’re excited to branch out in new ways,” Hava concludes. Now that we’re not in a pandemic, we’re excited to see how we can build the community in real life, too.”