Babe Walker doesn’t exist. The voice of the incredibly popular White Girl Problems Twitter account and the ostensible author of not one but two New York Times bestsellers, Walker is an entirely fictional creation. (A third book, American Babe, is due out June 28.) Her fans don’t always know that, with over 800,000 people following her rich, self-obsessed bon mots on Twitter; hitting fave on jottings like, “How are my fingers not skinnier from all the texting?” and “Happy Father’s Day, it’s all your fault.”
Walker, as it turns out, isn’t even voiced by a woman at all. Instead, she’s the creation of David and Tanner Cohen, two brothers who live and work in New York City. Together, they birthed White Girl Problems and Walker, and, alongside the much-embattled Josh Ostrovsky (a.k.a. The Fat Jew), have launched White Girl Rosé, the first rosé you might actually recognize by name.
Though it’s certainly not historically uncommon for male writers to give voice to female characters and vice versa, the Cohen brothers have caught a little heat for Walker’s very existence, with sites like Jezebel noting that she and White Girl Problems both exist “in an economy where the idea of a woman is often more commercially appealing than the actual presence of one,” especially when that woman is thin, fabulous, and willing to do anything. The A.V. Club talked to the Cohens about that assertion, as well as whether Walker is a role model for young women.
The A.V. Club: How did Babe and White Girl Problems come to exist in the first place?
David Cohen: The history of the account started as a column, and it was at a time when—we came from the entertainment industry anyway. We were writers and actors and immediately as Twitter gained popularity, Hollywood started calling, saying, “Hey, we want to buy your Twitter account,” or, “Let’s figure out some sort of Hollywood TV show version or movie version,” and, “We want to buy an idea from you guys, the creators of the Twitter.”
Tanner Cohen: We decided once Babe became the voice of the Twitter account, which she wasn’t originally—originally it was just any white girl problem that we could think of—once we formulated the idea of who Babe was, we decided to rush her out in an autobiography-style book, which is what the first book was, her origin. It’s taken off from there.
AVC: But why White Girl Problems to begin with? You’re not white girls.
TC: We never saw it as… we always identified as the girl, whether that’s strange or not. We saw her as a character that we were creating and a way for us to use comedy for social commentary. That was the initiative from the very beginning. So as writers and storytellers and actors, it just came organically that we would become this person, regardless of who we actually were.
We chose books, because we felt that was the best way to get fully inside of her brain and meet her family. We knew what we wanted to do as far as the concept from the very beginning, but we never really decided, “We’re going to be this girl, and despite being men, we’re going to create this persona.” It just came naturally. It was more about the entire story, and also about the moment that was happening in pop culture. There was demand for this type of comedy. Girls was just starting on HBO, and Two Broke Girls was on TV, and Shit Girls Say followed us shortly after we started. So it was just in the zeitgeist, and we were playing with that. That’s really why it happened.
AVC: White Girl Problems seems like one of those things that could only happen in the internet era. Not in the sense that it was a Twitter account, but that you were given a chance to write a book specifically because of the popularity of the Twitter account.
TC: Absolutely. The internet has made so much possible for us. It’s not just in that the internet gave us the stage, it’s that we really interacted with the internet intimately.
The voice of Babe was influenced by the fact that we used Twitter as a focus group, and the things that we retweeted, things that got the most response, that informed who she would become, and what people wanted to talk about online. There’s no way that this could have happened without this technology, but especially without that interaction that we have with the audience.
AVC: In the past, if you wanted to write a book as Babe Walker, that could just be your pseudonym and no one would have to know who was really behind that voice. Now, we care. We want to know who she really is, and we’re mad when she’s not who we might have thought this girl was.
DC: We worked with the idea that the realer she was, the more effective the joke would be. We never hid from the fact that it was a pen name for multiple writers. We just put it out there—created a Twitter account, a Facebook account, a blog, Instagram—and we tried to have Babe interact with the world the way that a celebrity would interact with the world. That really worked to our benefit. We used that model, and people engaged as if we were her. And why would anyone question if she was real?
I mean, obviously there are no pictures of Babe Walker. Even on the first look, her author photo is a picture of the back of a girl’s head. But that worked toward our advantage, because we realized that she was every girl. She was aspirational, and anybody who related to this lifestyle could place themselves into Babe’s shoes. She was so relatable in that way that it kind of worked. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to us and asked what we do, and then we say what we do, and they say, “Oh my gosh, I love that book. I’ve read that book. Literally that book is about me.” The number one thing that girls or guys say to me is, “That’s so me. I can’t believe it—you are my life. I react to things the same way she does.” Everyone sees a little bit of themselves in Babe, which is really amazing and special, but also a little bit disturbing.
AVC: It really is unclear when you read the books whether Babe is the best or the worst.
TC: That’s the point. You hit it on the head.
DC: We always say that Babe Walker is incredibly smart and incredibly passionate, but about all the wrong things. She’s a misguided genius. She really is knowledgeable, and she really does want to do good for others, but she’s just passionate about all the wrong things.
A lot of great characters are like that. Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm—not that we consider ourselves in the same category as him—he is a literal genius—but that character. You love to hate him, but you kind of see yourself in him, because he does everything that you wish you could do. Those kinds of characters are straightforward about all the things you wish that you could be honest about. And that’s why it feels so comfortable to see yourself in them. It just gives people permission, in a way. “You know what? Sometimes I feel really selfish about something,” or, “I really want to have something my way, and that’s okay sometimes.” That’s where that paradox of loving to hate her or hating to love her, that sweet spot, is important for us.
TC: David and I are drawn to characters who you relate to most in the moments that are the most cringeworthy. That’s where you find the humanity, in those really vulnerable, embarrassing, cringeworthy moments. Like a Larry David on Curb, or David Brent from the British Office, and these types of people—and so I think that definitely inspired Babe in a big way.
AVC: Babe Walker is described as a bit of a physically idealized woman. She’s thin. She’s rich. She dresses well. She’s everything some women might want to be, but can never be. Do you understand why that description could make people uncomfortable, since it’s been created by a couple of men?
DC: I will have to say, we are pretty careful about how we describe what she looks like, and we want her to be able to be whoever you think she is. Most people just think they know what she looks like based on her lifestyle.
AVC: She doesn’t eat anything.
TC: Right. But she also just says she doesn’t eat anything, like a lot of us do. Or that we need to stop eating.
I can’t speak to how anyone really responds to the fact that we’re men, but I can say that we do what we can to create her as very much a caricature, but as open as possible.
DC: Lionsgate is producing a film of the original White Girl Problems book, and that brings up the question of who’s going to play Babe. We don’t really have an answer. Everyone sees Babe differently. The one thing that I find funny is that Babe is not blond in the book. She has a blond moment when she dyes her hair lighter. Everyone that’s read every word that we’ve written assumes she’s blond, even though it says in the book that she’s not. There’s just something that happens with the character.
You create all these assumptions based on the way someone speaks and what they say and eat and the way they exercise and where they live. You create this caricature in your mind.
To your question, I think there are all these assumptions made about who Babe is. The only real image of Babe is her self-portrait when she is in front of a mirror. In the first book and the second book, she’ll put an outfit together on paper before she wears it. She’s actually a very talented artist, and she draws herself in the style of a fashion rendering, something that would come from a designer, but the reality is, in our mind, she doesn’t really look like that. That’s her body dysmorphia in a way, or that’s who she wants to be.
So I think there is an assumption about who she is and what she looks like. Even Tanner and I have different versions of what she looks like. But again, that’s the point. It’s for you to create your own Babe in your head. A lot of ways, that’s why the name Babe works so well. It’s barely a name. It’s a nickname. Her real name is Barbara, but she’s calling herself Babe because it’s like a new, superhuman version of her own personality.
AVC: Why do you think she’s so popular?
TC: I think people aspire to some of her lifestyle. She travels, she buys fun and fancy things, and she’s fucked hot people. She has funky crazy friends that she has intense relationships with, and there is this drama about her that satisfies that itch that reality stars satisfy. I think people like that. People like to imagine themselves in those situations.
But I also think that they see her struggling in situations very verbally, very openly, and sometimes very crassly, that they’ve been in. Maybe it’s on a smaller scale, like in the first book when she’s trying different jobs, but everyone has had that type of experience where they’re trying to figure out what they’re doing with their life that’s on a much larger scale, or even just their first day at a new office or a new school. We try to use Babe as an example of the most extreme way someone could react to these pretty universal situations. I think that’s why people like her as well. She says whatever the fuck she wants, and we all want to do that sometimes. And she does, because she truly doesn’t care.
AVC: Do you think she’s a role model? Or should she be?
DC: No comment.
TC: I was going to say the same thing.
DC: It’s a touchy subject. I think “no comment” is probably the best way to address that.
AVC: How has Babe Walker yielded White Girl Rosé?
DC: We had sold a lot of copies of the books, and it was definitely a success story. But we’re antsy. We’re always looking for the next fun thing, thinking, “What else can we do with this? How far can we take it?” And books take a long time to write. We spend a lot of time crafting ideas and trying things out and writing things that don’t end up working, and so during that time and using that energy while we were continuing to do that and work on the third book and talk about the film version, we wanted to come out with another product that made sense in the world, and within Babe’s world.
We had talked about doing alcohol, because one great thing about social media is we have access to so much of the analytics of who’s following us, what their interests are, what they’re asking for, and there was this perceived rosé shortage about two summers ago in the Hamptons. We live in New York. We thought, “Wow, this is a real thing. People really love rosé. People are running through the streets courting cases of rosé and putting them in underground silos and paying tons of money on Craigslist for cases of rosé. Why should there be a rosé shortage?” So we came out with a rosé that was very clearly labeled and very clearly for our consumer, and we put our demographic right on the label in a way. We said, “This will be a great opportunity to see if this works.” And honestly, it was supposed to be a small side project, but the popularity and the success of it sort of astounded us. Now we’re in 14 major markets across the country, and the wine is doing really well, and has definitely been a success.
Recently, on National Rosé Day, we launched our newest product, which is rosé with bubbles, in a can. It’s called Babe. It’s just become a part of our business model, and to be honest, we’re really enjoying it. It’s been fun. Everyone loves rosé, so we’re happy to provide a product that’s easily recognizable and is consistent.
We never knew one rosé brand. None of us that worked on the rosé could identify one single rosé that we knew by name. We thought that was interesting. So we knew if we named it something that was within our lane, that our audience, our millions of followers, would then go on and be like, “Wow, I recognize that.” And so far, it’s worked out well.
TC: A big through-line for us is that we like to tell stories. Before Babe, we didn’t see ourselves with a writing career. Now we’re six books in with the Babe Walker books and the other books that we’ve written, and we have the rosé company that, in a sense, is another way for us to tell this story, and for lack of a better word, stand on this joke, this moment.
AVC: What do you think is going to happen in the future with Babe? It seems like you’ve pivoted more toward the rosé on her social accounts.
DC: We’re focusing on rosé at the moment because there’s a lot of other Babe stuff going on. The third book, American Babe, [is out now], and the Lionsgate movie is moving forward to the next step, so we should have an answer and all that in the coming months about when that will start shooting.
We just felt like the rosé is having a really good moment, being summertime. So for the time being, and with the launch of Babe, and the story behind that, we felt like Babe Walker is alive and well. So we’re focusing our energies elsewhere. The book is written, and we’re doing interviews and promoting the book and doing social media surrounding it, but the focus for the moment is just really getting Babe and the rosé dialed in at a lot of places that don’t already have it.
That being said, I don’t think we’ve closed any doors on Babe Walker as a character in different incarnations in other books. Like Tanner said, when we started a Twitter account, we didn’t think it would be books. Now, it is a book, and it’s going to be a movie, and it’s also a rosé. So who knows where she’s going next? We’re along for the ride.