If you were aware of Leah McSweeney before she joined “The Real Housewive of New York City,” you probably never would’ve associated her with the show.
She’s a mom, yes, to 14-year-old Kier. She’s also tall, blonde and brazen, with a killer sense of style and a trademark Bravo-friendly openness about everything from her mental health to her time in rehab to her plastic surgery.
But she’s never been married. She’s not a lady who lunches. You aren’t gonna find any Tory Burch or Kate Spade in her closet. Her career up to this point was streetwear-centric. She’s friends with people like Cat Marnell and Camille Paglia — the controversial intellectual who’s a fan of “Real Housewives,” yes, but not someone you’d think of as rubbing elbows with the largely Hervé-Leger-clad ladies themselves. Leah simply doesn’t scream “Housewives.”
But in New York City in 2022, do we actually even care about ladies who lunch? The WASPy, finance-obsessed New York City of “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Gossip Girl” might have been fascinating in its day. But it seems increasingly like a relic, especially in our current Eat the Rich era.
Still, when reading Leah’s new book “Chaos Theory: Finding Meaning in the Madness, One Bad Decision at a Time,” you might be struck by just how conventional of a life she’s had. She became a mom in her early 20s — which is practically prepubescent by New York City’s maternity standards. She’s got an incredibly mature relationship with her baby’s father.
She’s a down to earth and modern working mom. Despite her quippy bravado and downtown bona fides, Leah is above all down to earth and modern working mom.
We spoke to Leah just before news dropped that Bravo would be cleaving the “RHONY” universe in two, with a “Legacy” version of the show keeping up with prior cast members and complete reboot starting up simultaneously. It’s not clear where Leah will fit into this new milieu. But as she works on her own new upcoming podcast, it’s clear Leah will continue to define what comes after “ladies who lunch” in our increasingly weird modern age.
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This interview has been condensed.
MOLLY: Congratulations on your book. It’s such a fun read and a triumph of the genre of Real Housewives memoirs. You’re probably the first Real Housewife to get blurbed by Camille Paglia so I need to know: are you guys friends?
LEAH: We’re friendly, yeah. I didn’t attend college but what I did do is read a lot of books. Years and years ago during what would’ve been my college years, someone gifted me a bunch of Joseph Campbell books, Camille Paglia. I just fell in love with her. And then fast forward to last year or the year before, she’d been interviewed by a friend of mine for Penthouse magazine. My friend then told Camille, “Hey, my friend is on Housewives, it’s Leah.” And she’s like, “I love Leah,” so we started communicating via email.
Her emails, I have to tell you, are the best things in the world. First of all, the way she writes is like art. It’s just beautiful, magnificent. I have to go Google words and figure out what she’s talking about. She’s talking about some greek mythology and comparing me and like… it’s just really funny. She’s great, she’s amazing.
In the book, you talk a lot about cancel culture which I know you feel really strongly about. I think a lot of other people are over it now, too. What is the best way to deal with a Ramona Singer in your life, short of cancellation?
So this is really interesting because when it comes to Ramona — no one knows this because it was off camera, she was somewhere and I was somewhere — and I actually apologized to her. In the beginning of COVID I kind of called her out without meaning to, like… I never called her out by her name or her daughter’s name. I never said their names. But people knew I was talking about them and it turned into a whole thing where the New York Post [covered it], and I didn’t mean for that to happen. And I also saw where I was wrong.
I called her and I was like, “I’m sorry I caused all this stress for you, I was in such an angry mood and I took it out on you.” Even though Ramona does things that are horrible sometimes, we all can do things that are horrible sometimes.
There’s no heroes and there’s no villains. People are not just one or the other. They’re not all good and they’re not all bad. People are complicated.
That’s been such a hot topic within the Housewives fandom for the past couple of years. All of the “problematic” Housewives and moments and how it should all be handled.
Yeah, like, a.k.a. human Housewives.
It’s also interesting because the show is about rich women behaving badly. That’s kind of the whole point.
If you wanna see women who are anti-capitalist, it’s not gonna be the housewives. They’re all capitalist. No one’s supporting AOC and Bernie. No one wants to pay more taxes.
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Jennie Nguyen was fired from “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” right away when some of her social media posts floated to the surface. People were asking, why is Ramona still on? What’s your take on how that should be handled?
You know what, that’s so above my… I don’t know. I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions.
Makes sense. There was a moment also in the book, I won’t give it away, but you said Ramona and Sonja went to Bravo about you to express concerns. Did that affect your relationship with them?
I’m, like, really good at getting over things. I don’t hold onto grudges. That was the least of my worries. I’m over it.
At the time, I found it extremely hypocritical and I was like, why are my blackouts not acceptable but Sonja’s blackouts or Dorinda’s blackouts are acceptable? I think it was the new guard coming in and that’s what it was about. I was out of control on that trip, that’s for sure. But not any more out of control than… they’ve seen it all on that show.
The other thing is I had missed a call from Ramona, so I know that she wanted to make things right. Ramona wants to make a good show, that’s all she cares about. She’s not malicious. She’s not calculating. She just wants to make a good show. And I think after so many years of being on the show, sometimes I don’t know if it’s her or if she just knows to turn on and do something that’s totally offensive for entertainment purposes.
In the book, you delve into your addiction and recovery a lot. You said your parents had a tough love approach. How would you deal with it today if you or one of your friends had a kid who was drinking too much?
I think that love is the best way to approach everything. Maybe it’s easier said than done. I’m not in my mom’s shoes but I think love is the way. I don’t know about tough love. I understand the [resistance to] enabling, I’m not saying go buy your kid the alcohol. But maybe don’t send them off right away, try to talk to them about why.
You said in the book that you used drugs and alcohol to soften the edges of life and escape a little bit and get into a different mindset. So now that you’re sober, do you have any ways that you change your mindset that aren’t drug related?
What I do now is make sure that the people I hang out with aren’t… it’s not transactional. I don’t do transactional shit. It has to be real. I meditate. I work out. I pray. I do things that nourish my soul. And if I have to do things that don’t nourish it, I make sure that I balance it with a healthy amount of things that are good for me
You have this quote from your boxing instructor Martin, who’s appeared on RHONY, about taming or training the tiger within. It was the best advice. Can you guys do a self-improvement spinoff of the two of you in the boxing gym helping bankers stop being pussies or something?
It might already be in the works.
It needs to be, because I would watch the shit out of that!
It makes so much sense that there is a tiger in all of us and we’re scared of it. We’re trying to quiet it down with drugs or food or sex instead of training it and making it strong.
You had so much good advice in your book.
Did I really? I didn’t mean to.
You could tell it wasn’t on purpose, it was just kind of baked into your story.
I don’t wanna tell people how to live, you know. I didn’t want it to be a self help book because I’m still a hot mess and trying to figure things out every day but I’m glad you’re saying that, that it’s just baked in there.
It reminded me of Dorinda and Marge’s books that came out within the past year too. They all have really good advice for starting a retail business. Why do you think there are so many Housewives who’ve built these great retail brands from the ground up?
First of all, when they’re thinking about who they want on the show, they want women who are unapologetic and speak their minds. If you’re an entrepreneur, you have those kinds of character traits. You have to be very savvy. You have to be kind of bootstrap-y. Obviously, not everyone is, but in order to grow a business you have to be out there and put yourself out there and not have too much fear about it. I think that’s why there ends up being a lot of entrepreneurs on the show.
Dorinda is very underrated… I think she’s underrated for her business savvy.
Yeah, Princess Diana wore her shit! That’s the Rihanna wearing a Married to the Mob hat of the ‘90s.
You noted, and people say a lot about the franchises, that most of the women aren’t housewives or even wives. What does the term “real housewife” mean to you in 2022?
I think Andy changed the definition of that. Because there was no way I’d ever be like… think of myself as a housewife. But now I’m like, no, I’m a housewife but I’m a Bravo housewife. It’s a little different. We’re sassy, we’re a little crazy, we don’t take no for an answer. We’re in your face. We all have opinions. And we’re over the top.
And there is a performance of femininity, too, which I think is why Camille Paglia loves it.
Yes, she loves that. And she loves seeing the dynamics play out between women because it’s almost like primal shit. Like, our bodies biologically we still think we’re cave people in the villages trying to survive and that’s what comes out.
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I think what is so fun about watching it is it’s almost gamifying female relationships and friendships. It’s like you’re in the Thunderdome of female friendships. Do you have those kinds of conversations with your friends in real life or do you kind of let things go that are bothering you?
I let things go but there are certain things that have to be talked about to the point where I’m like damn, they should be filming this. This is like a Housewife thing in itself.
Yeah, I have drama with my friends for sure. They do things that piss me off and I’m a fucking pain in the ass too and sometimes they let me know that I’m a pain in the ass, so that sucks.
But it’s definitely not as… Let’s put it this way. None of my friends off the show have ever, like, pulled my skirt down at a birthday party. So it’s a little different off camera.
And you say in the book how it did help your communication skills because you do have to talk about everything, and I feel like that’s the case for the fans, too, watching the show.
Me and my mom have a better relationship now because of the show I think. I saw our relationship glaring me in the face on the show and I’ve seen other people’s comments about it.
A really big moment for me was seeing how hard it is for me to be vulnerable. Like last season in the Hamptons, it was hard for me to talk about how upset I was regarding my grandmother so it turned into anger. Instead of me just breaking down being a vulnerable, emotional mess, I was angry. You get to watch yourself back and see what you do in these scenarios and go, okay, that part of myself I like, that part I wanna change.
Maybe not everyone does that, but I do.
That would send me to therapy forever. You also say in the book how you feel different from these women because they’re the Upper East Siders and you’re the downtown girl. I feel like there’s a downtown scene that’s having a resurgence right now with Dimes Square, Drunken Canal, Julia Fox becoming mainstream. I think you’re part of it too because you’re on a national stage and you’re affiliated with downtown. So why do you think that is?
Downtown always has its moment no matter what time period we’re in. Even in 2004, people were paying attention to streetwear and skate culture in downtown New York. People from all over the world were paying attention to that. Now it’s like the new generation, which is the Julia Foxes and the Drunken Canal kids who I actually just saw yesterday, I love them. And Dimes Square and all that. Downtown is always relevant in every single era. This is just what it is now.
But don’t you think it was all about Brooklyn for a minute? And I find it so interesting that you’ve never lived in Brooklyn, always Manhattan.
I lived in Brooklyn for a year and a half but I just couldn’t do it. Everything I do is here. I was going across the bridge five times a day. I was like I can’t do this, it’s not sustainable. I can’t spend all my time commuting back to the city.
Now that it’s getting nice out and pandemic restrictions are going away, where are you going and what are you wearing? What are you excited about?
I went out last night, I went to Pastis. I can’t believe how fucking crowded that place is on a Tuesday night. I went to the Standard afterwards. I don’t know, I’m gonna be hitting the usual spots. I’m gonna be working out a lot, I’m gonna be going to the Hamptons. I’m gonna be doing my meditations. I’m gonna go on a retreat somewhere for a week, maybe a silence retreat. I’m super into this woo-woo shit right now, it’s very exciting for me.
A silence retreat, I can’t picture you on.
I know. Me neither. It terrifies me but that’s why I kinda wanna do it. I think my brain’s gonna, like, explode. I cannot imagine. But it sounds kinda cool.
Where do you go in the Hamptons?
Amagansett. Rob [Cristofaro, her daughter’s father, has a house out there]. So it’s basically like mine, but it’s not.
That’s the best way to do it. Can we talk about your recent trip to Jamaica with your family? There was a Reel you put up where you said, “I’m ambushing my family by telling them this is a week of therapy.” You were joking, right?
I was joking! If you don’t know me, it seemed like I was serious. First of all, when me and my family get together it is therapy. My mother’s a therapist. We’re all very open about our feelings. We have a very interesting dynamic. It was a very intense week. But that was a joke.
And then it went viral, it had a million and a half views on TikTok with people being like, “You’re a narcissist for doing this!” Someone told me Brian Moylan wrote about it in his Vulture newsletter. I’m like, dude, do you think I’m really serious — him, I’m surprised at because he’s very smart and I would imagine that he knows I’m kidding. But I was kidding, yeah.
How do you deal with it when a social media post or a moment on the show takes on a life of its own and everyone has an opinion?
That, I just went with it. I was like all right, Mom, and I started having a therapy session with them. I was like I’m now gonna do it! Everyone thinks I’m doing it so I’m gonna do it and see what happens. I didn’t get anywhere with them because my parents are my parents.
Sometimes I just ignore things. That’s kind of the best way to do it. Unless it’s fun, unless it’s something fun, then you play into it. If it’s negative and toxic it’s better to just let it simmer and fizzle out.
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Are you ever tempted to go onto the Reddit communities or message boards to see what people are saying about the show?
No. Not at all.
Do you think anyone else does?
No. Not from our show.
They probably don’t know Reddit exists?
Exactly. They don’t care.
It must be really hard to separate valid criticism from just haters. Is that something you have to think about or is it just natural for you to not really care?
It’s not natural. The comments and the hate, what can I do about it? I don’t think Kim Kardashian is spending any time worrying. Why should I?
Now this is a total left turn. I need to know more about you getting your cards read by Barbara Corcoran.
She is a witch! She is a total witch, she is psychic, she has a gift. It’s the craziest shit. That woman is special. She’s amazing.
How do you know her?
I know her because I went on her podcast but also Damon John is my ex-business partner from my brand from years ago. He’s on “Shark Tank” with her.
So when I was doing her podcast she was like, “I’m gonna do your cards for you.” And I was like, what? You read tarot cards? What are you talking about? And she was good. I’ve had my tarot cards read by a lot of people but she was off the hook.
Were there any specific predictions she gave you that came true or were particularly salient?
She was talking about my business partners and how they’re the best business partners I’ve had, which is true. They are. She was like, “You have to stop being so generous.” She said something like that, like don’t trust everybody. Because I am pretty trusting. I always wanna give people the benefit of the doubt. And she was like, “Be careful with that.”
Do you have anything else you’re working on? I used to be a huge fan of [her former podcast] Improper Etiquette, I feel like the podcast world needs you back. Anything like that?
Honestly, it’s so funny because you said two things already that I’m not talking about… are you psychic a little?
I have an astrology podcast and my co-host says that I am psychic because I’m a Pisces rising, so she would say yes.
Yeah, I have a podcast coming out and you’re hearing about it here first.
Oh my god, scoop! What is it?
It’s called Mentalverse but it’s through the lens of mental health and it’s gonna be funny and fun. I’ve gone through so much stuff with my mental health that I have to laugh about it and I have to create some humor or lightness around it or else it gets so heavy.
The rhetoric around [mental health] on social media and the contemporary rhetoric is so heavy and so much. You’re scared you’re gonna offend someone, you said the wrong thing. It needs to be lighter.
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TikTok is the worst with that. If you get onto mental health TikTok, it’s the most dramatic and depressing.
I just read in the New York Post that kids are diagnosing themselves with things based on TikTok. And there are all these ads for ADHD medication, which is basically speed. Which is fine, but you’re trying to diagnose people through Instagram ads?! It’s so weird. We’re living in a Black Mirror episode.
When can we expect your new podcast to come out?
Within a month.
Do you have a co-host or anything?
And will your mom come on too?
At some point for sure.
We’re talking about how everything affects mental health. Social media, reality TV, plastic surgery, everything.
Last question I have to ask you, RHONY got everyone through the pandemic and we miss it. Do you have insight into what’s happening with the show and when it’s gonna come back?
I think it’s gonna come back but when, I don’t know. I’m just enjoying the time off. I went from not anyone knowing who I was and having a nice quiet life, to all of a sudden I’m on TV and a global pandemic hit.
I’ve been taking the time off to really think about it all and just process it. I wasn’t able to do it before. I don’t think people understand how much time it takes.
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