If you're even mildly hip and craved a blush wine this summer, odds are you popped open some bottles of White Girl Rosé, a cheeky brand of vino bottled in northern California that, thanks to the combined efforts of two social media superstars, became the viral, go-to party drink of the warm-weather season.
As known by anyone who's read the sassy note on the back of the wine's plainspoken label, White Girl Rosé is a joint venture between Josh Ostrovsky, better known as modern comedy bigwig The Fat Jew, and Babe Walker, the entitled, anonymous author of the book White Girl Problems, and its follow-up, Psychos. Ostrovsky has 5.8 million Instagram followers (@thefatjewish); Walker has 158,000 (@babewalker). On Twitter, Ostrovsky has 258,000 followers (@FATJEW); Walker has 867,000 (@whitegrlproblem). Together, these two wellsprings of culture-skewering humor have somehow managed to keep their product flowing at an alarming rate, with 10,000 12-bottle cases of White Girl Rosé already sold, and nearly 300,000 bottles projected to be sold by year's end.
The wine was everywhere on Instagram. You saw empty bottles of it rolling around on porches as you climbed to your feet in the morning on Fire Island. Not even a stirring controversy surrounding Ostrovsky, who's been accused of plagiarism and was initially thought to have lost TV and marketing deals in the process (many early reports of his losses have since been deemed inaccurate), could eclipse White Girl Rosé's success. But all of that is only a small part of the whole story.
“We've all been amazed and impressed by the power of social media and the culture of comedy,” says Tanner Cohen, the handsome gay actor you might remember from 2008's unsung queer gem Were the World Mine and a few episodes of Looking. “[The wine] seems like it's everywhere and it really has been everywhere. At this point it's its own brand and its own thing. It wound up in 10 times as many locations as we projected. We've just been trying to keep up.”
Wait, who's we?
“Me, my brother, and The Fat Jew,” Cohen, 28, replies.
Set down that glass. Back up the truck. Take it all in. Babe Walker may be the name on the rosé bottle and the White Girl Problems books, but the character was created by Cohen and his brother, David, two actors who, after struggling in showbiz, turned their attention to writing, crafting a faux female persona born of all the first-world problems faced by, well, white girls. According to Cohen, it all started roughly six years ago, when he, his brother David Oliver Cohen, and one other friend got on a jokey kick saying “hashtag white girl problems,” and subsequently created Babe's Twitter account. It took off, and, as Tanner Cohen tells it, “her online presence became big enough that there was a demand for books.”
The first book, White Girl Problems, published in 2013. Cohen and his brother were not credited as authers, only acknowledged. A year and a half later, Psychos hit shelves, and by then, Cohen had more or less transitioned from budding actor to full-time author. “I audition and I do acting things here and there,” Cohen says, “and I'm working on a web series to see how that can go—just something that's a really low-fi, low budget, gays-in-Brooklyn type of thing. But this has essentially become my primary career.”
Still, Cohen says that, as an actor, it's “incredibly liberating and rewarding” to give a voice to Babe, since “she says so many things that are unacceptable” and “in a sense, it's a performance.” He adds that, from a gay perspective, there's also that element of the women who inspire us, which inspires a handful of questions about the white girl behind White Girl Problems and White Girl Rosé.
Out: Who is Babe Walker?
Tanner Cohen: Babe is your roommate at rehab who you hate on the first day but love by the last.
Who inspires the persona of Babe Walker?
Basically all the women in my life rolled into one. On an Adderall. I'm inspired by my mom, Bette Midler, Rupaul, and Trinity from The Matrix—she's such a boss-ass bitch in a man's cyber world.
Where does Babe live?
Originally, Babe was conceived as if she were a socialite—a bitchy, cunty girl living in Bel Air and tweeting all of the problems she was having. She knows all about how hard life is. It's all she thinks about. Which is one of the hardest parts about life, is how much you think about how hard it is. Nothing is harder than life. Of all the things, it's the hardest.
What does Babe look like?
She doesn't exist. No one knows what she looks like, but on the back of her books you can see her back with her hair. She's blonde on one of the book covers and like, a strawberry blonde or brunette on the other. I actually have no clue what she looks like. I don't picture her. The idea is that she can be like every girl, and if you're reading her, she's either you or she's your best friend or your frenemy or some bitch you used to know. And I think that's helped in allowing her to get in the minds of all of her followers.
Do Babe's followers think she's... “real?"
I would say about 80 percent of people that read her books or follow her on social media think she's a real person, which is insane to me, because she, like, jumps out of windows and had a labiaplasty after her high school graduation.
What's next for Babe?
Well, there's a film happening. Elizabeth Banks is producing White Girl Problems for Lionsgate.
Are you going to appear in the film?
I hope so! I would love to. But in the book there's really only one character that I could possibly play, and he's Persian. I guess I could do Persian.
And did you write the script?
Nope. They hired someone else to do it. I personally felt like my hourney with that specific story was done.
But Babe Walker's journey isn't done, nor is that of White Girl Rosé. In addition to finalizing the third Babe book, which is set to be published in early 2016 by Simon & Schuster, Cohen and company have more plans for their wine, which they always wanted to envision as the “anti-wine.” Next up, they're looking to package the booze not in a bottle, but in a can. “Word on the street,” Cohen says, “is it's easier to carry in your purse.”