She goes on awkward ‘dates’ with celebs. Now she’s flirting with fame.

Amelia Dimoldenberg has reimagined the talk show by doubling down on its cringiest trope: hosts hitting on their guests

Amelia Dimoldenberg interviews celebrities in the oh-so-romantic setting of London’s fried chicken spots for her web series “Chicken Shop Date.” (Philipp Raheem for The Washington Post)
11 min

At the Chicken Inn on Cricklewood Broadway in London, a girl and a boy go on a first date. He’s dressed in a suit and tie. “It looks like you’re going to a funeral,” the girl tells him. “Maybe I am,” he says.

“So, you were born in 1975,” she says — the same year, she points out, as Liz Truss and DJ Khaled. But she knows she’s wrong. The 1975 is just the name of his band. “I was born in the ’80s,” the boy says, sounding a little petulant. “I was born in 1989, and I’m still young. And relevant.”

“Sure,” the girl says.

Is this going well?

That depends on what “this” is — is it a date? An interview? Both? Neither?

The boy, in this particular episode, is singer-songwriter Matty Healy. The girl is Amelia Dimoldenberg, the star, creator, director and executive producer of “Chicken Shop Date,” a web series in which she interviews celebrity guests in the oh-so-romantic setting of London’s fried chicken spots. Now in its ninth year on YouTube, “Chicken Shop Date” has long enjoyed something of a cult following among extremely online viewers who get Dimoldenberg’s arch, peculiar sense of humor. Aided by TikTok and a spate of viral red-carpet appearances — most recently she could be found sweet-talking stars for Vanity Fair’s TikTok live stream after the Oscars on Sunday — Dimoldenberg’s profile is newly ascendant, and “Chicken Shop Date” is reaching a wider audience than ever.

On “Chicken Shop,” the 40-minute encounters are trimmed to tight seven-or-so-minute episodes; only the funniest, flirtiest moments survive, spliced together with strategically deployed B-roll of food prep and the chicken shop’s staff at work. Guests can approach the date as sincerely or ironically as they want; Dimoldenberg adapts accordingly. The question simmering beneath these conversations is less the rom-com “Will they or won’t they?” but rather “Are they or aren’t they?” As in: Are they really flirting, or just doing a bit?

“Chicken Shop Date” is a gleeful subversion of the classic late-night talk show format, where male hosts often engaged with female celebrity guests by hitting on them, said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.

“The talk show had that gendered dynamic going on,” Thompson said, which went mostly unremarked upon at the time. But under modern inspection, those older interviews have a gross, leering undercurrent, he said, and talk-show flirting “has considerably backed off over the past few years, especially since MeToo.” With “Chicken Shop Date,” Dimoldenberg brings that dynamic back — and flips it. “It takes on a completely different dimension and attitude, because she is the boss.” Thompson said. “She’s the one that is controlling the situation.”

During their date/interview, Healy appears charmed — if a bit disoriented — by the Amelia Dimoldenberg experience.

At first, Dimoldenberg insists her interest is genuine. “I’m quite picky, so, I wouldn’t have asked you if I wasn’t in love with you,” she tells him. (Healy is on tour and was unavailable for comment.)

“I do actually find you attractive, though, to break the fourth wall,” Healy tells her. “This is a weird concept,” he adds. “It’s quite meta. This is like high art.” Before the end of the date, he asks her for a kiss. It’s unclear which side of the fourth wall they’re on.

Dimoldenberg demurs, but Healy encourages her to “commit to the bit.” He leans across the table.

A high-stakes moment — for either a date or an interview — and Dimoldenberg was sort of on both. Her mind was half in the moment and the half in the editing room. “I remember thinking, ‘Yes!’” Dimoldenberg told The Washington Post. She knew the scene would make for a great episode. “But then the hard part was me, in the moment, thinking: ‘What the hell am I going to do? What should I do? Should I kiss him? Should I not?’”

She found her answer by asking a different question, one that guides her approach: “What can I do in the moment to make it the funniest it can be, and also the most authentic to the show?”

She waits until he’s inches from her face. She leans in, too. Then she kisses him on the forehead, sending him slouching back into his chair.

The girl going on dates in the chicken shop is “maybe an exaggeration of myself,” Dimoldenberg says. “I like to amp up the awkwardness.”

She was “that awkward, sarcastic, deadpan person at school,” an attitude she learned, to her delight, “throws people off, especially men and boys. Especially boys. And especially people with some kind of bravado to them.” It was an “exciting” realization, she says, that “made me feel like I had some kind of power.”

Dimoldenberg is Zooming into our interview from the kitchen of her apartment in Hackney. On the wall behind her is a framed McDonald’s paper takeaway bag; just off-screen is a painting by an ex-boyfriend. She’s currently single. “It’s like my dating life is ‘Chicken Shop Date,’ basically,” she says, in her part-sarcastic, part-sincere tone. “I don’t see why I couldn’t maybe meet the love of my life on the show. It would just be meeting someone in the office, except mine is a chicken shop.”

She started “Chicken Shop Date” in 2011 as a column for the Cut, a youth magazine, when she was 17 and eager to interview the U.K. rap and grime musicians she loved. Dimoldenberg thought a date would be the perfect format for the interviews. “I honestly had never been on a date,” she says. “Maybe that’s why it’s so awkward, the show. Because it kind of came from a place where I’d never been on a date before.”

“Chicken Shop Date” airs on Dimoldenberg’s YouTube channel, which has over 1.7 million subscribers. Recent episodes with British rapper Central Cee, Spanish musician Rosalía and American indie artist Phoebe Bridgers have racked up millions of views each. A year ago, Dimoldenberg had on a hero of hers, documentarian Louis Theroux, and asked him whether he could recall any of the rap that he’d done on his “Weird Weekends” TV series, prompting him to gift the world with the instantly viral audio clip about how “my money don’t jiggle jiggle, it folds.” The sound clip sparked an inescapable TikTok dance trend among civilians and celebrities alike, cresting with a performance by Shakira and Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” and a novelty rap song performed by Jason Derulo and featuring “Amelia Dimz.”

Dimoldenberg cites as influences “The Eric Andre Show,” “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis” and Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” interview shows from the 2010s that also toy with the customary celebrity interview construct. Also in this new class: “Ziwe” (where guests are asked bracingly direct questions about sensitive topics such as race) and “Hot Ones” (in which guests are served chicken wings with tongue-melting hot sauces, which they must eat during the interview); those shows share “Chicken Shop Date’s” taste for the tense, confusing or uncomfortable moments more traditional late-night shows gloss over.

While “Ziwe” enacts a fantastic sort of nightmare — what if you were asked, on the spot, to explain and apologize for racism? — Dimoldenberg plays out the ultimate fan fantasy: What if this famous person were genuinely, totally into me?

In Dimoldenberg’s interactions with celebrity guests, Theroux said: “Sometimes, she’s needy. Sometimes, she’s a little standoffish. There’s this sort of playfulness suggested by the idea that it’s a date. She seems, at times, to want it to be a date.”

One of the joys of “Chicken Shop Date” is watching Dimoldenberg skip tedious promotional drivel — the superhero flick training regimen, the supposedly relatable anecdote about a parenting misadventure, the pablum about how “on set, we’re really like a family” — and go straight for the fun stuff: “Do you have a type?” “Would you ever date a fan?” “Do you have any turnoffs?” Liberated from the stories they’re always stuck reciting, Dimoldenberg’s dates often wind up saying something unexpected.

“She’s talking to very confident media performers, but she’s kind of not really playing the game,” Theroux said. “She doesn’t really invite them to do the usual talk-show shtick of ‘tell me the anecdote.’ She doesn’t attempt to especially put them at ease.”

On a “date” with Fumez the Engineer, Dimoldenberg admitted that she couldn’t cook. “Is that a problem? I can do other things!” she quickly added, “I can make a, like, a dragon with my hands.” She twisted her fingers around each other, aimed her thumbs and middle fingers (the dragon’s mouth) across the table and made a weak “roar.” Fumez was momentarily speechless.

“Are you always like this?” he asked.

Dimoldenberg used to have a more “method” approach — no speaking to her dates until the cameras rolled — but, since becoming something of a celebrity in her own right, she’s relaxed those terms. Even though “Chicken Shop’s” rising popularity means more stars arrive thinking they know what they’re in for, in Dimoldenberg’s experience, “when they sit opposite me, they [still] don’t know how this plays out” and get adorably flustered.

Take actor Daniel Kaluuya, whose film performances would lead you to believe he is utterly unflappable but who spent the duration of his “Chicken Shop Date” nervously giggling through his answers to hard-hitting questions like, “Would you say you have time for a girlfriend right now?” (“Is this a proper date?” he asked, smiling wide as Dimoldenberg described her type as “talented actors from Camden.” Then she sucker-punched him: “It’s not you.”)

Making male stars giggle uncontrollably is something of a Dimoldenberg signature.

“I think you’re great.” Andrew Garfield told her on the British GQ Men of the Year Awards red carpet in the first of two such encounters that swiftly went viral. But when Dimoldenberg countered that she’d been trying to get a date with him for ages, he said, through increasingly high-pitched laughter: “Well, you do date a lot of people.”

Their reunion, a month later at the Golden Globes, was held up across the internet as the definitive model for British flirting. Garfield managed to get out a very loaded “Hi” before bursting into giggles again, barely regaining his composure for an in-depth discussion of what their respective astrological signs (she’s an Aquarius, he’s a Leo) mean for their compatibility.

Dimoldenberg says some of the dates she really wants would surprise even her most devoted followers. “I’m always trying to push the format.” She wondered aloud if she’d ever have a politician on; she’d also love to get some actors in character, like Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk, the brilliantly daffy host of Charlie Booker’s mockumentary series, “Cunk on Earth.” She’s long said that her last “Chicken Shop Date” will be an episode with Drake (who “says he wants to do it,” according to Dimoldenberg, but they haven’t been able to schedule it yet).

Until then, she’ll keep amping up the awkwardness and seeing what depths she can illuminate by the unflattering lights of the chicken shop. Most of the artists she meets reveal a true self that belies their public image, Dimoldenberg says. She’s found some self-aware, sensitive souls beneath the don’t-mess-with-me bluster of many of the rappers she’s interviewed. She considers one of her skills as an interviewer to be inviting her guest’s secret self to the surface.

People always think she’s the one playing a part for her guests, but she’s found the opposite to be true.

“If anything, I’m breaking down their character,” she says. “I think maybe sometimes people come on the show with more of a character than I have. And then we whittle that away.”