When “Chelsea Lately” aired its final episode on E! in 2014, Heather McDonald, a staff writer and regular panelist on the show, needed a new gig. As a stand-up comedian, her performance schedule wasn’t as consistent as a full-time job — then she heard about a fellow comic who launched a podcast to get his name out there and sell more tickets.
“I was like, ‘If a podcast can help do that, I’m going to do that,’” McDonald says.
She launched “ Juicy Scoop with Heather McDonald ” in 2015. Now, nearly 800 episodes later with more than 200 million downloads, it regularly ranks among the top comedy podcasts on Apple’s charts.
Twice a week, McDonald releases a free episode sharing the latest celebrity gossip and pop culture headlines, TV recaps, and anecdotes. She bounces topics off guests and interviews people with juicy stories.
McDonald strives to avoid anything truly divisive — like politics. But despite her best efforts, she found herself in the middle of a debate about the coronavirus vaccine after she collapsed during a 2022 stand-up set in Arizona. Footage of her fainting was used in a video compilation that peddled misinformation about vaccine side effects.
Before she collapsed, McDonald had joked that she’d never contracted the virus.
“I fainted right after that. And I have never fainted before or after,” she says calling the timing “unbelievable.” For the record, she says, she still hasn’t had the coronavirus and is indeed vaccinated.
She’s still not sure why she fainted and a variety of tests have indicated that there’s nothing wrong. But despite being debunked, the video of her collapse still goes viral every few months, she says.
“It has done nothing but hurt my career because the pro-vaccination people think that I am like a puppet for the anti-vaxxers. And the anti-vaxxers call me names for getting vaccinated,” McDonald says. “I say everyone make their decisions for themselves and I have no say in the matter.”
What she does have say in is the creative direction of her podcast, a freedom that McDonald says is rare.
“I love working for myself. I love saying whatever I want to say and knowing that if I never get hired to do another TV job, it doesn’t really matter,” she says.
The free episodes are also recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube. With her job security, McDonald likes to keep some of her opinions within a tighter, paying circle. There are exclusive “Juicy Scoop” episodes available via subscription through Patreon for options ranging from $5 to $50 per month.
“When you have a TV show, even if you wrote and created and starred in it, it can still get canceled. When you have something like this, it just doesn’t,” she says of podcasts as a medium.
The show is about fun, not hard facts, she maintains.
“I am a comedian with an opinion. I do not have a journalistic background. I do as much research as I find interesting. I screw up names, things pop in my head in the moment, so they’re not thought out,” she says.
Spencer Pratt is one of McDonald’s popular guests. A former cast member on MTV’s “The Hills,” he is willing to play up a villainous side on reality TV. On “Juicy Scoop,” he’s charming and funny.
Pratt said people approach him now to bring up his “Juicy Scoop” appearances.
“It’s why I keep driving out to the Valley,” he joked (that’s where McDonald records her podcast.)
McDonald fosters an intimacy with her guests and fans alike, bookmarking her stories with directives like “Don’t tell anyone this” or “Keep this between us” to solidify the closeness she says she feels to her subscribers.
“They say, ‘I feel like you’re my friend.’ I’m from a generation of women that we really did talk on the phone a lot,” she says. “It comes naturally for me to talk, be a storyteller.”
McDonald does still tour and perform comedy gigs — even if it’s not her main job anymore.
“As popular and as successful as the podcast gets, I never want to stop (stand-up) because such a small, tiny percent of entertainers can do stand up,” she says. “A lot of people are able to have podcasts and do well at it, but to stand in front of a stage and have a captive audience and make them laugh for an hour and a half is a skill that took a long time for me to get to.”