Few podcasts are as dependent upon the chemistry of their hosts as Womp It Up! Jessica St. Clair’s dark effervescence helped make incompetent 17-year-old Comedy Bang Bang sort-of-intern Marissa Wompler one of the podcast’s most popular guests, which is no small feat considering how deliberately annoying the character is supposed to be. But Womp It Up! derives its pathos as well as its comedy from the character’s deeply unhealthy yet also kind of perfect relationship with mentor Charlotte Listler (Lennon Parham).
Personality-wise, Listler and Wompler are opposites. Wompler is a cheerful goof who never lets her grotesque appearance and tragicomic existence get in the way of her natural ebullience while Listler is a dark and mysterious figure whose background is one giant question mark, especially in regards to her gender, sexuality, and background. Although it is darkly hinted that Listler has probably killed, more than once, possibly even in a professional context.
Listler’s past is mysterious. Then again, so is her present. She’s ostensibly Wompler’s teacher but the program that brought the two of them together feels less like school than some weird manner of cult, with Listler as the shadowy cult leader and Wompler as her most devoted, and perhaps only, follower.
Wompler and Listler are both outsiders and weirdos yet their relationship somehow works. There’s a sweetness that undercuts the podcasting world’s tendency towards misanthropy. These odd ducks need each other and if Listler is perhaps the worst possible mentor for a clueless teenager, at least someone’s interested in filling that role.
The Rhonda DeLuce episode of Womp It Up! brings in a challenger to Listler’s previously uncontested role as Marissa Wompler’s mentor in the form of the aforementioned DeLuce (Danielle Schneider), a humanities teacher and sexpot of a certain age (that age being 58 years old) who Wompler seems to have a serious girl-crush on that clearly makes Listler deeply unhappy, and audibly jealous.
Rhonda would be sexy in an effortless way if she weren’t clearly trying way too hard. She speaks in a breathy purr that makes everything that sound dirty even when it isn’t – but to be fair, there’s not much that comes out of her mouth that isn’t fundamentally filthy. She is a woman obsessed and Schneider really nails the details that bring this sad woman to life. She’s the kind of woman who makes sure to dress up like Jessica Rabbit for Halloween deep into her fifties and holds onto her dreams of being a singer long past the point of feasibility.
Schneider plays DeLuce as a woman who has coasted on her sexuality for so long, and so intently, that she does not realize there is anything to life other than sex. Wompler is initially fascinated and intrigued by DeLuce’s teasing, playful sexuality, which stands in stark contrast to Listler’s dark, angry, confrontational, and confusing sexuality. Needless to say, that changes once she learns that DeLuce’s conquests include a young man Womp It Up! listeners know as “Gutterballs,” who Wompler sees as her soulmate.
Wompler coos in approval when DeLuce talks about such dodgy medical procedures as the “Daddy Stitch” and the “Daddy Tit,” the sole purpose of which are to twist and contort the female body to make it more appealing to the daddies of the world. DeLuce can’t turn her sexuality off, even for a minute, and a conversation that begins on a wildly inappropriate note grows more and more sexual until they’re discussing how DeLuce devotes an hour every day to jerking off random dudes in her car, something she considers her “office hours.”
The sexiness just grows sadder and sadder, until it’s almost too tragic to be able to laugh at. DeLuce is so deluded that she actually makes Listler seem like the voice of reason by comparison, like when a protective Listler tells her protege not to attend a “Tur-Key Party” DeLuce invited her to, which is an unholy combination of a Thanksgiving feast and a full-on fuck-fest.
DeLuce’s moonlighting gig at a bar and grill is the source of abundant hilarity even before it is revealed that the fading would-be starlet and sex bomb has to take out the trash every night as the price for getting to perform in front of disinterested strangers and that Listler somehow has a similar gig at the same bar as well, although these two contenders for Wompler’s heart and loyalties somehow never ran into each other.
The more you think about the details of Womp It Up!, the more problematic they become. Rhonda DeLuce is certainly not an overly positive depiction of aggressive female sexuality but Schneider makes her a real person with real sadness, not just a glib, misanthropic caricature. We laugh at her but we also feel her pain and the pain of her self-deception and self-delusion.
Womp It Up’s last episode ran in February and there don’t seem to be any new episodes on the horizon. It’s possible that the podcast has run its course and may never update again. That would be unfortunate, as there still seems to be an awful lot of comic mileage in the weird, warped, inspired relationship between a seriously misguided teenager and her even more lost mentor. Needless to say, there’s an awful lot of mileage left in the Wompler/Listler/DeLuce dynamic as well, and if the podcast comes back she’d make for a hell of a repeat guest. It seems safe to assume that her life, and for that matter the lives of Wompler and Listler, have only gotten worse in the past year, and they were pretty shaky to begin with.