The show’s addictive appeal lies in its frisson of danger—the feeling that Alexis, especially, might at any minute admit on-air to having just beheaded a pedicurist. The pair happen to be naturals in a format that has proved a Waterloo for those who underestimated talk radio’s difficulty, from Whoopi Goldberg to David Lee Roth. “Maybe it was because we were raised where we didn’t really have to kiss anybody’s ass,” theorizes Alexis on the source of the show’s brutal honesty. Both women share this trait. Jennifer is the daughter of Charles Koppelman, the recording-industry legend who for the last four years has served as chairman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. She grew up vacationing with Barbra Streisand; Run-DMC played her sweet sixteen. But Jennifer would never take anything quite as far as Alexis does.
During a commercial break, Stewart begins complaining about a newish NPR program. “ ‘The Takeaway’ is going to kill me,” she seethes of the jokey current-events show that airs weekday mornings on WNYC. I mention that “The Takeaway” is co-hosted by John Hockenberry, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic. Stewart’s eyes light up. “Oh, who knew?” she says with relish. “Now I hate him more. He gets that convenient parking spot.” Jennifer covers her face with her hands: “You know she’s joking, right?” Alexis is not quite finished. “And all the bathrooms in my new apartment have to be big so he can do a 360 in there. Like I’m ever inviting him in.”
“Ten seconds,” the producer announces, and the girls are back on the air launching into a recurring trivia feature called “The Sex Game,” where callers compete to win Alexis’s used first- generation iPhone. “True or false,” Stewart asks a caller named Christine. “A cock ring is usually put on a soft penis.”
The sales pitch for Whatever, Martha!—the show’s internal tension, a TV executive might call it—is that Martha Stewart is going to be really steamed when she gets a load of what her zany daughter and her zany daughter’s friend have been saying about her on television, that not only has a flaming bag of dog poop been dropped off on Martha’s porch, the bag’s a Valextra tote, and Alexis’s AmEx bill is poking out of it. The invite for the premiere party reads, “Even though the show takes aim at Martha Stewart, she’s coming to the party. Apparently, she’s not too mad. We’ll see.” It’s a conceit rendered absurd by the show’s credits, where Martha Stewart is listed as both executive producer and creator.
The show happens to be another in a series of happy by-products of the insomnia that afflicts the Stewart women, both of whom frequently go to bed with the TV on, sleep-timer function set. Martha was watching late one night when inspiration struck. “I got the idea from Mystery Science Theater, the way the little pop-up figures were watching the horror movies and making comments. I’ve always loved those guys. I was thinking about my show and the old segments, I thought, How can we get a different audience to watch and still learn? And I thought that’s how we could do it, if Alexis and Jennifer would agree to be the pop-up figures.”
Isn’t the humor in Mystery Science Theater 3000 a little juvenile?
“Well, it is juvenile, but the idea is brilliant. It’s like South Park. That kind of humor is infectious. I can’t do it all the time. I have to draw the line at Talladega … whatever that stupid Talladega movie was. I went to the movies last night, and the previews were so horrible that the ‘Whatever’ girls seem terribly refreshing.”
What previews, just out of curiosity?
“Oh my God, there are these horrible movies! The one about the fatties.”
Ah, did you by chance go see Tropic Thunder, Martha? Because I think what you may be referring to, The Fatties: Fart II, was a fake preview with Jack Black.
“Oh, all those previews are fake? Okay, I was having a dispute about something and not paying attention. I was wondering, ‘Why are these going on forever?’ By the time the previews were over, I’d done seven e-mails.”
“Are you kidding me?” Alexis squeals upon hearing about her mother’s evening at the movies. On a recent afternoon, she’s in a deserted corner booth at Morandi in the West Village, wearing a sleeveless Missoni dress, dangerously low cut (“I have tape on my boobs so that it doesn’t fall open,” she assures me). She sets on the table a Roland digital recorder, which looks high tech enough that you’d believe Moby might have recorded his last album on it. (Martha, at least as far back as 1990, came packing recorders to interviews.) “Why was she even going to see Tropic Thunder?” she screeches with delight. Alexis, more than anyone, enjoys a good Martha story, and this one she thinks belongs in the “Martha can sleep everywhere but in her bed” file. “She was probably already asleep,” Alexis says. “She’s famous for it. In college, she went on a date to the Ziegfeld, and she woke up and the theater was dark and her date was gone.”