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Pop CultureNovember 23, 2017

Meet the guys in LA obsessed with The Real Housewives of Auckland

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Dom Corry meets Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam, two brave podcast hosts who make a living talking about Bravo, and asks them why they can’t get enough of Gilda, Angela, Julia and the gang.

If you enjoy Bravo reality shows, you really should be listening to the ridiculously entertaining Watch What Crappens podcast.

[Editor’s note: You should also really be listening to The Real Pod, but go on]

Five times a week, Los Angeles-based co-hosts Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam break down an episode of a Bravo reality show (Real Housewives, Below Deck, Vanderpump Rules etc) with a hilarious mixture of fascination, mockery, and above all, love. The bountiful pleasures provided by Watch What Crappens are difficult to describe – you’ll never really get it until you listen yourself. But trust me when I say that you absolutely should. These guys are amazing.

Ben and Ronnie at a live taping of Watch What Crappens (photo: supplied)

The enormously popular podcast (1.5 million monthly downloads) is now successful enough that Ben and Ronnie make a living off it thanks to advertising income and Patreon sponsorship. They have cultivated a hugely dedicated fanbase and their Facebook page is a hive for Bravo-centric discussions and gossip. Despite all that, they (currently) have no official affiliation with the network or its nightly talk show/title inspiration Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen (which doesn’t air on Bravo NZ).

Ben and Ronnie don’t hold back in their impression-filled takedowns, but you’d never call them mean-spirited. They are obviously reality TV fans first and foremost, and they took a particular shine to The Real Housewives of Auckland, which recently played on the US Bravo network in an off-peak time slot. I discovered Watch What Crappens when seeking out US media reactions to RHOAKL, and now I’m utterly and completely addicted. Their insights into Below Deck are simply unrivalled.

The audience at Watch What Crappens live (photo: supplied)

The Auckland recaps are amongst the best of their almost 600 episodes – Ben’s impersonation of Anne the Champagne Lady must be heard to be believed. I recently sat down with Ben and Ronnie in Los Angeles to talk about their reaction to our country’s humble entry into the venerable Real Housewives canon and their status as the world’s top reality show podcast recappers.

You knew about The Real Housewives of Auckland before it finally aired on Bravo US right?

Ben Mandelker: We were clued into it by our listeners on social media. Actually, the first way I remember hearing about it was when they flew Ramona Singer from Real Housewives of New York City to New Zealand, and there were all these press photos of Ramona being like [slips into flawless Ramona impression]: ‘This is New Zealand, ‘kaaaaay!’

She’s one of the most popular housewives right?

Ronnie Karam: She’s one of the most laughed-at. One of the most hated, too. If you meet any of the other housewives, they’re always talking trash about her. With Auckland, we hear about a lot of the overseas shows through listeners. As all these international formats are unrolling, Vancouver, Cheshire, Toronto, it’s too much for us to take in. We just decided: we’re only gonna cover it if it airs actually on Bravo US. But Bravo here, you never know what they’re gonna air, and when they air it. It’s at like 12 on a Saturday.

Did you have any preconceptions of what a Housewives show from New Zealand might be like?

I had no idea what Auckland was going to be like. I saw some of the original press stills, they just looked like crazy ladies. You had like, Anne, she was like [Ben slips into flawless Anne impression] ‘Aaaaaawwww’ standing there. I thought Julia was going to be totally different because in all her press photos she’s standing like this [arms by his side] and she almost looks thick in the neck. I thought she’d be this overbearing, commanding person.

Based on the podcast recaps, you seemed to take to Auckland quite quickly.

BM: The first episode I absolutely loved, because it had so much archival footage of them in their youth doing ridiculous things. Julia doing like, a fashion show for a couch company or something. [Julia impression]‘This is what jean jackets look like’. Everyone was doing something. And then you had Anne ballroom dancing in her estate [Anne impression] ‘Sometimes we open up the french doors and we just dance all night!’ What music are you putting on? Zed?

RK: It took me almost two and a half hours to watch the first episode. A) I didn’t know what they were saying. B) Watching Angela. I mean, you have to stop that every two seconds just to get every single line she’s saying because it’s so ridiculous.

BM: Right out of the gate, she came and sat down and was like [flawless Angela impression]: “I’m a life-stylist, I’m a model.” I was also fascinated by Louise, she was all like [Guttural Louise impression] ‘People know me from The Weakest Link! I thought it started off with a bang. Angela showing up at this random party talking about being a life-stylist. Gilda showing up, sitting down, and just hating Angela immediately. The look of disdain on her face was hilarious, you know?

And then, the episode goes through whatever it goes through, then it comes to this luncheon where Angela’s bragging about being a model. And everyone watching at home is going ‘She is not a model,’ and Michelle asks her about being plus-size, which is very cutting but also I think if you’re a model, you don’t take offence to that question. You know what category you fit in. When Angela said she was a model for Tourism New Zealand, I realised we had stumbled upon something weird.

RK: The bus stop model. That’s my favourite thing to never let go of. To say she’s a bus stop model from New Zealand.

BM: I think after the infamous N-word episode, the show kind of stalled out for a few episodes. Like, nothing really happened. Like [generic Kiwi accent] ‘My dog is getting trained. I’m gonna go look at the flowers.’ It got kind of dull. Up until that point they always had some hilarious fight every episode.

RK: For me it was the same. So much darkness came to the perception of it after that, yikes.

Do you think that incident doomed its chances of breaking out in the US the way Real Housewives of Melbourne has?

BM: I don’t think so. Listen, Americans have to deal with worse controversies regarding the N-word than Julia saying it.

RK: You’ll lose your career for that.

BM: I actually thought it was a powerful episode. I thought seeing Michelle’s raw emotions – people need to see that, see the damage of the words. And also see not how to react [Julia]. We had a very serious [podcast] episode about that.

RK: I’m from Texas, so that is a conversation we have a lot, too. The older generation is like ‘I don’t get it’.

BM: I think if it was an American cast, Julia probably would’ve been fired, and they would just go on. I’m surprised they canned the whole series. It should’ve gone another season because Angela is reality TV gold. I mean. She was so delusional, you can’t just throw that out.

Do you think it could’ve broken out if they’d given it a primetime slot on Bravo US?

BM: I think one problem for American audiences is there is a slightly different presentation of reality TV. We joked a lot about how on Auckland the women were constantly narrating very simple things. I noticed that’s a British thing also. British reality shows are heavily narrated and so I felt like Real Housewives of Auckland came from more of a British style of reality shows.

As a result, the scenes went on longer than American scenes and the narration was omnipresent. That can make something feel a little lifeless to American audiences. It’s like, okay I wanna see something, I wanna see action, I don’t just wanna hear about it ‘so Louise invited me to lunch. I’m at lunch with Louise’.

Who was your favourite Kiwi housewife?

RK: I like ’em all. I would say Gilda.

BM: I wanna say Gilda, but I feel like actually Anne was my favourite. I feel like every Anne scene made me happy. [Ben does his Anne laugh]: Ah ah ah ah.

Do you feel like you understand New Zealand a bit more because of that show?

BM: Yeah I actually feel like I do.

RK: I just imagine one giant green lush gorgeous place where everybody’s wealthy.

BM: Everything I knew about New Zealand was from The Amazing Race or MTV, like Real World: Road Rules Challenge. Or Lord of the Rings. So I knew sheep, I knew lovely mountains. And I knew a tall spire in the middle of Auckland. It actually made me really wanna go to New Zealand. It’s supposed to be the best.

You guys are obviously goosing the Bravo brand – do they acknowledge that at all?

BM: We’ve had relations with them. They are largely positive. I think on the lower end, the PR people, they like to control things, so they get mad if we have a Bravo star appear on the podcast. But I’m like: we are promoting your show, we have an audience of 1.5 million listeners per month. We love Bravo and we just wanna spread the word and make sure everyone sees it and hears it.

RK: But we are taking the piss too. Whenever we have had a meeting, they’ve been positive, like ‘How can we find a way to work together?’. But if we really worked together then you’ve got somebody saying ‘You can’t say this, you can’t…’ And I’m not saying they have said that because we haven’t actually worked together but that’s always been kind of the fine line – you can make fun of it, but only to a certain degree. It’s like any other network, there’s a tree of suits you have to climb up.

BM: The tricky part is like, we exist in this eco-system right, where Bravo churns out content, we comment on it, and we increase interest in that content. I feel like if we need them to produce the content, then they need us to raise interest. What’s hard though is they have to sort of keep us at arm’s length because they have to deal with all these personalities.

You can’t have someone like (The Real Housewives of New York‘s] Bethany Frankel saying ‘Why are you simpatico with Watch What Crappens when they make fun of me? I’m one of your biggest stars, it’s me or them.’ They can’t be in that position. It also goes the other way because we could be seen as selling out. So it’s this really tricky balance. I feel like we love each other, and yet we have forbidden love. We can never, truly, have sex with Bravo.

RK: We have a forbidden love.

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