Traverse City to Welcome “the Dirtbag Left”
Chapo Trap House is coming, whether we’re ready or not.
By Patrick Sullivan | July 27, 2019
A group of leftist Twitter users founded the political and humor podcast Chapo Trap House in 2016 and in just a couple of years it’s become a surprising runaway success.
Now they’ve been invited to the Traverse City Film Festival for two special performances. On July 31 at 8:30pm, Chapo hosts Will Menaker, Matt Christman, and Virgil Texas will showcase what’s billed as a “Democratic Presidential Debate Stream,” an event that promises to be a critical look at the field of candidates from emissaries of what’s been dubbed “the dirtbag left.” Two nights later, the Chapo trio will return for an evening with Michael Moore.
The group is bombastic, irreverent, funny, and, perhaps more than anything, challenging to categorize.
Northern Express talked with two of the show’s hosts, Texas and Christman, about whether they’re ready for northern Michigan — and whether northern Michigan is ready for them.
Northern Express: Where are you guys on the political spectrum?
Virgil Texas: I’d say a little to the left. I think we lean left. But honestly, I don’t like left or right. I think we lean forward.
Express: Who should come to your show, and who should not come to your show?
Texas: Ooh. That’s a good question. Let me think about that for a second. I think that anyone who wants to have a reasonably priced and moderately entertaining good time should come to our show, and anyone who is opposed to having a good time, opposed to good vibes, should not come to the show.
Express: That’s a good answer. I’ve listened to your podcast, and I have to say it’s a lot of fun, and I enjoy it. … One of the things I notice is it seems like when you guys are talking about things, a lot of the criticism goes to moderates more than the far right. Would you say that’s fair?
Texas: I think it’s pretty evenly spaced out. You know, that’s a very simplistic view of things. But not because these particular strands of thought are equally malignant or equally vile. I would argue that both of them are equally worthy of criticism and contempt because one leads to the other — and that, in most people’s analysis, what you call moderates, what you call centrism, is some kind of fantasy hypothetical compromise that everyone might agree with, which could govern and create policy and not veer too far to a violent extreme.
But the reality of the matter is, we’ve had compromise, we’ve had moderates in power.
And in practice that necessarily scrubs our politics of any sort of material conflict to the point where most people tune out, and it engenders a vicious reaction from the right wing, which propels them to power. We saw that from the Democrats having a huge majority in Congress, having a president, in the first two years of the Obama administration, to a right-wing reactionary congress — the House of Representatives after 2010 — and ultimately culminating in the election of Donald Trump. We also saw a similar thing happen in the Clinton years, leading to the election of George W. Bush. … My contention is — and this is Virgil speaking, it’s just me — my contention is that the center cannot hold.
Express: OK. … So, tell me the story of how you guys got invited to the Traverse City Film Festival.
Texas: We were invited. Michael Moore recommended us as people who might want to perform there. Sorry, it’s not that much of a story. He just passed our name along, and we thought it would be a very cool idea. None of us, to my knowledge, have been to Traverse City, and it sounds like a very beautiful, cool place, and the film festival sounds like — I’ve never been to a film festival myself, and it sounds pretty neat. So, you know, that’s pretty much it.
Express: It’s a nice place and the film festival has a very cool vibe. So, do you think, is Michael Moore a listener? Is he a fan?
Texas: I don’t think Michael Moore listens to any podcasts. But we have interacted with him in the past. And you know, he’s a very nice guy. We talked about working together on a show he was doing for PBS, and as well we hosted a panel with him, a screening of his most recent film, Fahrenheit 11/9, and he’s a fascinating guy. For a long time in this country, he was the face of anti-capitalism. And I think he has done more that any individual figure in the past few decades to bring an anti-capitalist message to millions and millions of people.
Express: So, what will the show be like?
Matt Christman: There’ll be spoofs, goofs, gags. … I think we’re going to be talking to Michael at some point, right?
Texas: Yeah. We’ll be interviewing him.
Christman: Probably a lot of it will be a sort of state of the race and what we see happening in 2020, I imagine.
Texas: Our observations about lovely Traverse City. You know, it damn well better live up to its reputation. The lake must be gorgeous, the shorefront, the craft beer bars, and the films that we view, they all must be popcorn classics. And if they’re not, these will all get roasted on stage.
Express: So, when you come to Traverse City, these shows will become episodes of the podcast?
Texas: Potentially, unless we bomb, in which case we will probably cut the most listenable five minutes of it and release that. I mean, the thing is, the live show, it’s not like a play or anything; it’s just us hanging out and bantering and improvising, doing comedy, for the enjoyment of the general podcast-listening public. It’s nothing that complicated.
Express: OK. All right. It sounds like it will be fun.
Texas: That’s what we hope to maintain is an atmosphere of well-regulated amusement.