Alex Cooper Takes All
She dominated the charts with Call Her Daddy, a podcast about dating powerful men. Now she’s one of them.
“Sofia,” she told her co-host and roommate Sofia Franklyn, pausing for dramatic effect. “We got invited to the motherfucking Hamptons this week, baby.”
It was the summer of 2018, and Cooper was 23, was unemployed, and had recently been through a breakup. But, for a fledgling sex and relationships podcaster, she was having a major breakthrough. She had been admitted to an exclusive dating app that ejects members for talking about it, which introduced her to the kind of guy who has spare rooms in the Hamptons. His invitation put an end to the seasonal FOMO that makes a certain class of New York 20-somethings go, as Cooper put it, “What do I do, what do I do, what do I do? Anyone that’s anyone is in the Hamptons, bougie as fuck.”
Three years later, Cooper has just gotten back from another Hamptons trip, this one on her own dime. She rented a big Airbnb, hired a personal driver, and brought a gaggle of girlfriends. They were celebrating. In June, Cooper’s podcast, Call Her Daddy — now a solo venture — was licensed by Spotify for a reported $60 million for three years, which might make her its second most highly paid podcaster after Joe Rogan and definitely makes her much richer than the guys she once dated for dinners and vacations.
“But I still got kicked out of the bar,” Cooper tells me in a Manhattan hotel lounge a few days later, her voice hoarse. You might have read about it in Page Six or DeuxMoi. Cooper and squad wanted to go to a Fourth of July weekend party at Montauk summer-camp-turned-hotel Ruschmeyers. According to Cooper, she successfully bribed a door guy, but, when a security guard inside noticed they were all missing wristbands, they were sent out a back door. The next night, Cooper was invited to a beach party — it turned out it was a costume party, but whatever — where she says she met an owner of Ruschmeyers, who told her they should throw an event together.
This story is not, according to Cooper, a Pretty Woman fable about how money opens doors. It’s an expression of her overpowering will to get what she wants and prove people wrong, a drive she can’t just flip off now that she’s rich. Hustle is what got Cooper, now 26, to Boston University with a Division 1 soccer scholarship, to New York City on the arm of a New York Mets player, into the offices of Barstool Sports, and, when it became clear Barstool was getting more out of the relationship than she was, out of her Barstool contract, intellectual property intact. It explains why Cooper was able to break up with Franklyn, ending the friendship that defined the show’s early success and doubling Cooper’s stake in Call Her Daddy, and why she now has to race between meetings with The Wall Street Journal, Time, and The New York Times. She’s dogged and psychologically astute, traits that lend themselves to success in all realms. YouTuber Logan Paul called her “the one icon of this generation who should be giving sex advice to young women and men,” and, Cooper has intimated, he should know.
“I love competing,” she says between bites of a takeout salad her publicist has put in front of her. She’s wearing a drapey blazer and jeans and sits on the couch like it’s a sideline bench — legs spread, leaning forward, elbows on knees. “Whether it’s sports or literally for a guy or for a dating situation, or to get into a club, I love a good little competition.”
She’s in town from Los Angeles, where she moved last winter, to promote her podcast becoming exclusive to Spotify on July 21. The news means that Cooper has to convince those who listen on Apple or Stitcher — including those who subscribed back when Call Her Daddy was a duo and those who tuned in for the drama of Cooper and Franklyn’s clashes with Barstool Sports and each other — to follow her and her alone to a different platform. And what she wants to convey more than anything is that challenges like this do not scare her. “I don’t think anyone thinks I’m dumb, but I do think there were comments throughout [the rise of Call Her Daddy], wondering was it ‘in the right place at the right time, these girls just fell on something’ or was it strategic,” she says, tugging up the neckline of her one-shouldered tank top. “And I sit here and I’ll tell you that I have known I was going to do something like this my entire life.”
The youngest child of an NHL broadcast producer and an equestrian-turned-psychologist, Cooper grew up in Newtown, Pennsylvania, a middle class commuter town outside Philadelphia. She excelled at any sport she tried but only had eyes for soccer, and she won athletic scholarships to a local prep school and Boston University. One day during her sophomore year of college, the Instagram account for the bro culture blog Barstool Sports DMed to ask if it could repost a bikini photo from her trip to the Dominican Republic as its “Smokeshow of the Day.” She agreed. Within 24 hours, Cooper has said, her coach called her, irate, demanding she take the photo down. Cooper begged Barstool to delete the post, and they did, but by then she had been catapulted to a new echelon of Instagram fame and her inbox was blowing up with DMs from Boston professional athletes. The next season was her last on the soccer team.
Cooper won’t get into the details of her break with the team except to say that it was traumatic and that she kept her scholarship (which may suggest that she was not found at fault). College athletes’ lives are often tightly controlled, and although they make their universities money in television rights and ticket sales, they have been, unlike other 18- to 22-year-olds with online followings, unable to work as paid influencers until this month. “It really frustrated me,” Cooper says now, “the boundaries that were being put on us when we were putting our bodies and our lives into something, and then meeting professional athletes and them having all the glamour and the glitz.”
She spent her senior year traveling with her then-boyfriend, Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, and throwing herself into her film and TV classes. Cooper had always been interested in entertainment. According to her childhood friend Lauren, a psychological researcher who doesn’t like to have her last name linked to Call Her Daddy, Cooper directed their elementary school friends in a shot-for-shot remake of The Devil Wears Prada. “In her parents’ closet, there was a room with two monitors and Windows Movie Maker,” she says, “and we would stay up until 3 a.m. editing while everyone slept.”
“Whether it’s sports or literally for a guy or for a dating situation, or to get into a club, I love a good little competition.”
For one of her final college classes, Cooper made a short, silent film about a friendship between a lonely young woman and a homeless man. “I met him on the side of a road,” she says. “He was always outside one of these convenience shops. I would always see him there. And I asked him if he would be in my film.” The story was simple, she says, but “in a weird way, it turned into real life, where I was invested in this man’s journey. Every time I go to Boston, I pass that street. He was there for about four more years, and now he’s gone and I don’t know where he is.” Her classmates voted her film the best, she says, and a producer from The Weinstein Co. reached out claiming he wanted to remake it with a budget. According to Cooper, he ended up taking her to a boozy dinner, allegedly putting his hand on her thigh, and bringing her back up to his empty office. She left and called her mom crying, embarrassed that she’d told her professors her movie was going to be made.
Film dreams deferred, Cooper took a job in the advertising department of a magazine that had featured Syndergaard, called Gotham. “I basically got that job because of him, and I have no shame saying that,” she says now. They broke up, and Cooper moved out of his place and, eventually, into a Lower East Side flex two bedroom with Lauren and Franklyn, a virtual stranger whom a friend-of-a-friend bonded with in the back of a ride-share. Then Cooper got laid off and started living off unemployment checks. Still, Lauren says, “she would say, ‘Oh, I know I’m going to make it.’” All along, Cooper was amassing the millennial equivalent of a healthy nest egg: 100,000 YouTube subscribers, converted from Instagram and fed diaristic vlogs of Cooper goofing off with her roommates.
By the spring of 2018, the Weinstein associate was back with a new business proposition. Did Cooper want her own podcast? “I was like, ‘I guess, because what else am I doing?’” Cooper says. “And I was like, ‘[Sofia,] would you, after your work, want to come record something with me?’” They hired a crew to film the recording of the first episodes. Franklyn told a story about butt-dialing her boyfriend during sex with another man. Cooper detailed an oral sex technique called the Gluck Gluck 9000, bestowed to her by a man called MILF Hunter. “I could feel the editors in the room, the producers with their cameras, and I remember being like, they’re laughing, they’re men in the room laughing, like, this shit is funny,” Cooper says. “We’d stop and they’d be like, ‘No, keep going.’”
Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, reached out after seeing the first episode on Cooper’s Instagram, and Cooper saw a lifeline. She and Franklyn agreed to a three-year contract with a starting base pay of $75,000 for each host with bonuses based on downloads, ditching their first business partner. On a podcast episode announcing the Spotify deal, called “How I Glucked My Way to The Top,” Cooper said the Weinstein producer told her she’d never work in this town again.
In the world of Call Her Daddy, some people were fours and some people were nines — that’s just life — but with a spray tan and a good attitude, anyone could get laid. Nobody had partners and everybody had boyfriends or, short of that, people they were talking to. Sketchiness was a law of nature (“cheat or be cheated on” was an early catchphrase), and bad sex was good material. Cooper and Franklyn self-identified as “toxic” and sold merch that said “unwell.” They were extremely popular. With bonuses, Portnoy has said, Cooper made $506,000 and Franklyn made $461,000 in their first year.
“I can’t even, like, look at the [old Call Her Daddy promotional] picture,” Cooper tells me now, “I look like a blow-up doll.” Cooper does look different now, in the expert way that’s hard to pin down. Her center-parted blonde hair is cooler-toned; her brows are less pronounced; and her green eyes are unlined but heavily lashed, revealing a pretty, down-turned shape, like the ’70s version of a doll you had in the ’90s. She’s brisk and a touch dismissive when talking about the Barstool days. During her time there, the site emerged as a hub for anti-political-correctness, and its readers got a reputation for harassing female journalists. But she’s also grateful. “Aside from all the controversial shit of Barstool and what Dave Portnoy is,” she says, “this show basically blew up there.” It was a strategic platform for her. “I’m a realist. I know what I look like. And I also know I am very good at marketing, so I understood what’s going to sell in the beginning of Call Her Daddy.”
While the rest of media was debating the finer points of women’s sexual victimization amid #MeToo, Franklyn and Cooper were teaching the #daddygang advice-seekers how to read their boyfriend’s text messages without changing the notification status. Looking back, Cooper says, she can see how the way she talked about dating might have seemed unfashionably male-centric for the era of the “The Future Is Female” shirt. But, she says, “When a girl asks me how to get a boyfriend, I’m going to tell you how to get a boyfriend. I know the steps. I know exactly how to get a guy.” If the advice felt out step with the wellness- and ethics-driven sex ed of Teen Vogue, it honestly reflected the slice of New York City they traveled in: professional athletes, Instagram influencers, Raya playboys. Everyone was using one another for clout or sex or money, finessing or being finessed, as they put it. Which, in retrospect, should have been a sign of the drama to come.
Between Call Her Daddy, YouTube, Instagram, and Franklyn’s new podcast Sofia With an F, you can listen to at least five different firsthand accounts of Cooper and Franklyn’s breakup. They all begin with Cooper and Franklyn agreeing that they were underpaid. At the beginning of 2020, according to Portnoy, they wanted a million a year guaranteed each, half of merch sales, and their intellectual property back. “Dave Portnoy essentially told us to go eff ourselves in every hole possible,” Cooper later said in an episode titled “The Funeral.” The women shopped a new podcast elsewhere, asked listeners to follow them on their personal accounts for more information, and eventually stopped putting out Call Her Daddy. Then COVID hit, the advertising industry turned off overnight, and media companies were scrambling to meet payroll. Wanting Call Her Daddy’s revenue, Portnoy came back with a generous new offer: half a million guaranteed, a better cut on merchandise, and a promise to give them back the rights to the show after two and a half years. “We were getting fucked in the ass [with this offer],” as Portnoy put it in his own Call Her Daddy episode.
According to Cooper, Franklyn disagreed with the finer points of Barstool’s new offer and still wanted to start a new podcast together elsewhere. Cooper wanted the two to stay at Barstool long enough to get their IP back. Leaving meant building a new Instagram presence, new hashtags, and new merch slogans, and, Cooper tells me, “Knowing the work I do, I was not willing to go start a new brand with her.” Worried that her second lifeline was disappearing, Cooper went back to Portnoy alone to strike her own deal.
Franklyn wanted back in at one point, Cooper says, but the negotiations were grueling. Plus, a possible future had been conceived, one in which Call Her Daddy was 100% Cooper’s, and all the simmering challenges of working with her friend and roommate just went away. “At that point I had mentally already...” Cooper begins. “I was actually already beginning to do the funeral episode and everything.” Cooper made an individual deal with Barstool; both women retreated to their parents’ houses and started podcasting on their own; Barstool started selling merch that said Team Alex.
Talking about the role COVID played in how it all went down is the only time Cooper acknowledges she is subject to forces in the world that are greater than herself. Had Barstool not been up against the ropes, she says, “I may not be sitting in this exact spot.”
When Cooper was messing around with professional athletes, she didn’t understand why they were so secretive about the relationships. “I never got it,” she says. “But now that I’m in the position, I enjoy having some type of privacy.” The difference, she thinks, is back then she had nothing to lose.
Sure, Cooper has already told her millions of listeners how she met her boyfriend, called Mr. Sexy Zoom Man, in a business meeting last year, how their working dinner turned into a weeklong sex date, and how he performed oral sex “like a god.” He’s a movie producer, so he gets that her life is her material, but once they became serious, she says, “He was more like, [...] ‘I fully respect and I support you and your podcast, but I have a job.’” In past relationships, she says, “I would have been like, ‘Bye.’ I put content over everything.” She will continue to talk about their sex life, she says, but hopes to avoid identifying him as long as possible. “I don’t know. It’s interesting, too, because he’s ready for it, and I’m not.”
These more grown-up questions about boundaries and mental health are shaping what Cooper calls the single father era of Call Her Daddy. What is a good bit for the show and what is better saved for Cooper’s therapist? When is it funny to wallow in one’s self-destructive behavior, and when should a person get help? According to Spotify head of new content initiatives Max Cutler, who works closely with Cooper, Cooper’s listeners value her more as a friend and peer than an authority. They’re starting to settle down too. “We’ve all come of age with her,” he says. “Once she started to tap into self-care, personal growth, and her own mental health, you actually got a deeper connection to her.”
Cooper is grappling with these questions almost entirely on her own, which can be isolating. “I stare at a wall every day and I’m like, ‘Would that be funny? Like, Let’s ask someone, Alex,’” she says. She wants to hire some writers to work with — she hasn’t yet, she’s quick to add — but she says she plans to edit her own podcast for the rest of her career. That’s unusual for someone of Cooper’s stature, according to her friend and fellow podcaster Hannah Berner, and evidence of Cooper’s “extremely Type A” personality. “If she has an average podcast episode, she’d probably lose it,” Berner says. She thinks Cooper’s perfectionism comes from her background in elite sports, where “it doesn’t matter how talented you are, you also have to work harder than everyone else around you.”
Cooper’s new interest in mental health hasn’t caused her to see her past dating misadventures in a different, more traumatic light. “I still think young Alex should go into those hotel rooms and hang out with those guys and fly across the country and take all those dates,” she says. But people expect one thing from a Barstool sex podcast and another from a Spotify female empowerment podcast. “I definitely think I’m more cognizant of the decisions that I make because when I press upload, with cancel culture, it is terrifying. Honestly, it’s terrifying to be a creator.” Some listeners reported her to the police because they believed she violated quarantine on a trip to London with Mr. Sexy Zoom Man. “But I have to love those people,” she says, “because they’re the ones that listen to the show three times.”
“I still think young Alex should go into those hotel rooms and hang out with those guys and fly across the country and take all those dates.”
Breakups tend to look less consequential as they recede from the present, but the Spotify deal retroactively makes Cooper’s split from Franklyn a fork in the road that will affect their respective grandchildren. Did closing the deal bring back emotions from the so-called divorce? “Yeah,” Cooper says. “Happy and sad. Look, I’ll be honest. I felt really fucking good. I had a gut instinct and I knew what this thing was worth and I was willing to wait a year to get it, and it’s life changing.” She struggles to understand what it would be like to lose out on $60 million. “I can’t imagine being on the other side of it, but I never would be. That’s the thing. I would never be on the other side of it because I am me and I know that I knew this,” she says. “And so, I don’t feel guilty, and I feel like I made the right decision.”
It’s rare for a self-made female millionaire to express so plainly the mindset required to get there. Millennial women with successful businesses are expected to prove, somewhat inexplicably, that they are motivated by a desire to enrich all women equally, and that they are, on a personal level, kind and good. “I think in a way I enjoy that [double standard],” she says. “I enjoy this deal in a way that’s more of just like, ‘Fuck off.’” You can be mad about Cooper’s success, she says, but you can’t discredit the number attached to it.
I ask if Cooper feels that, since the Spotify deal, there’s a bit of a target on her back. I’m asking about recent reactions to her dark sense of humor — right now, a handful of listeners are trying to cancel her for joking that if you are offended by how she open-mouth kisses her boyfriend’s dog, you may have been molested by your dad — but she thinks I’m asking about the Hamptons.
“Is it weird that I really don’t care?” she asks. “Sorry to be an asshole, but I made a post that the owner and founder of Surf Lodge” — another Montauk establishment that DeuxMoi claimed Cooper was ejected from — “is literally in my DMs being like, ‘Thanks for coming.’” Translation: Cooper is not afraid of a scrap, even if it makes her look a little tacky. “People thinking I’m a menace to society is…” she begins again. “I love it. I feel like I tore up the Hamptons and I left, and I think it’s just who I am and I’m never going to change.”
Photographer: Peyton Fulford