Kristin Newman has been writing and producing television for over 20 years, on shows including “That ’70s Show,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Chuck,” “Galavant,” “The Muppets,” “The Neighbors,” “The Real O’Neals,” and “For the People.” She currently has an overall deal at ABC, under which she most recently produced a pilot for Hulu. She also wrote the comic travel memoir, “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding.”
Listen to Episode #86 here:
People Stories with Kristin Newman
Our guest is Kristin Newman. Kristin has been writing and producing television for many years on shows including That ‘70s Show, How I Met Your Mother, Chuck, Galavant, The Muppets, The Neighbors, The Real O’Neals and For The People. She has an overall deal at ABC under which she was producing a pilot for Hulu. She also wrote the comic travel memoir, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. Welcome, Kristin.
Kristin, if you weren’t working as a writer or producer, what would you be doing with your life?
That’s what we all talk about constantly because we all feel we’re all about to be out of work. We all know that we have no skills of any sort. We have no skills that are applicable to anything in the world besides writing and producing. Whenever I’ve written a show that takes place in an office or any business environment, I’ll often have dialogue that says, “Worky, work, work, work.” I call a friend who’s had a job anywhere and say, “What do you say? Is fax still a thing? Do you fax things? What happens in an office?” What’s interesting is I have always felt the only other thing that I can imagine doing is being a therapist because the only thing I’m interested in talking about is people and their stories and what they do.
That’s interesting that you say this because even the show names that you have are people shows: The Real O’Neals, The Neighbor, Chuck, How I Met Your Mother. These are about people.
The comedy writers on TV, if you think about sitcoms, they’re about people talking to each other in a very normal situation that you see all day. Drama is more a heightened spy, astronauts, sci-fi situation that nobody’s in usually. It’s a very highly dramatic moment of a doctor’s life, a lawyer’s life, a cop’s life. Those kinds of things that most of us don’t do all day. Having written on both, what I found is in a drama, you have to make sure that the people speak the way that we all speak because the situations are things that we don’t do. In a comedy, you have to have this situation feel grounded in reality and something that you did with your wife, your child or your boyfriend, but the way people speak is heightened. They’re much faster and funnier than any of us are when we’re with our boyfriends or our wives or our kids or whatever. That’s the difference.
I only like to tell stories and hear people’s stories. I figured to maybe be a therapist, which is we’re all also crazy comedy writers. I had a conversation with my therapist about this. She’s told me that because she’s a therapist in Hollywood, she has a lot of writer patients and that’s what they all either do as their second career when we stopped getting work because we turned 40 or what they think they’ll do. I think it’s about observing human behavior in both jobs. I’m interested in why people do what they do and why they say what they say. I already have two different former professional comedy writer friends who have become therapists that were getting on as it were.
Thinking about the difference between ER and Scrubs, they’re both set in the same location. The tone of the show is different but the language of the two shows, the Scrubs are super accessible. They talk like regular people.
They don’t, they’re way funnier. It’s like every person you meet in the world says, “You should hear my friends and me in the insurance office. If you could bring a camera to the office, you would have a sitcom.” Of course, that’s not true. That’s not how people speak. It takes a room of 12 to 14 very funny people working until 3:00 in the morning to write things that are as funny as they are. When we all sit around talking to each other, we’re not that funny either. It’s a careful way to have people speak, but in dramas, they sit and chat the way that people sit and chat.
I see what you mean. That’s fair to say. I was thinking about the elevatedness of ER. Everything feels such gravitas.
The drama is elevated but the words are what the doctors would actually say. It’s what people who are next to their dying relative would normally say. They’re not making written quips. If something feels too written in a drama, it stands out. In a comedy, you expect it to feel written. That’s different though from network to streaming and cable. Streaming and cable are a lot more conversational in the way people sound in real life. If you do a set-up punchline the way you would do on a multicam like in Two and a Half Men or something, it doesn’t feel right on Ramy or SMILF.Traveling is such a good thing because you get to step outside of yourself and be a little different. Click To Tweet
I’m working on a book. It’s taking a look into the world of comedy and what we can learn from funny people, standups, improvisers, sketch writers, etc. One of the things that I talked about is comics are natural anthropologists. They’re observing the world. They’re noticing the things that normal people don’t notice. They’re mining that for comedy gold, for insights and so on. In your book, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, you have a little bit of this, especially because you’re going to all these places. You’re in Paris, Amsterdam, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Israel and Jordan. You’re spending time in these other places interacting with the locals. Sometimes it’s quite intensely. It’s not only intimately but you also had an accident in the Dominican Republic. You had surgery to repair your foot when it was driven over by a car. My heart sank when I read that part.
They degloved my foot with the car is what the doctor said.
I know for a fact that you have a good memory. I assume you also do a little bit of journaling.
The truth is I have a terrible memory.
How did you put all this back together then?
I have a three-year-old and I’m old, so it’s getting worse for sure. Even then, I sent a lot of emails to people and I keep all of those. It was a lot of going back to emails and some journaling. I hope that for posterity, this sticks around for a long time because I want to explain to my descendants when they find my journals and think I was a miserable person, they’ll know that I only journal when I’m miserable. I don’t journal when I’m happy. It’s only when I need a pep talk or to work something out. When I’m dead and you find my journals, you will think I lived a life of misery. That is not the case.
I do have the miserable moments written down and then a lot of emails. I also took people out to dinner who were on the trips with me or reached out to them. We reminisced and they reminded me of some details that I’d forgotten. It was also a good way to get people involved a little in the storytelling process to hopefully make them more comfortable with their lives being written about. While I changed names, there’s definitely a line. It’s like Juan is one. He is the one who kept his name because there was too much good one-word play. Is he the Juan? He’s the hot Juan. That’s comedy gold. You can’t be saying he’s the Diego. That doesn’t work.
Most people got their names changed and I let people name themselves. It was the one thing I did to hopefully get them involved in the process and then had them help tell the story. I gave them the opportunity to redline what they wanted to redline and nobody did. I think it was because they were part of it and enjoyed having some of their lives put down for posterity too instead of feeling out of control of it. Some didn’t get to read things and redline because they were ex-boyfriends. They didn’t love it so much.
We should step back for a moment because the reader is probably going, “What’s this book about?”
It’s a comic travel memoir. Every chapter is a trip. It collectively tells the story of about twelve years of my life and all of it because I talk about the family, friends and situation that led up to mostly my 20s and the first half of my 30s.
You were in Hollywood writing. You started off struggling and then started to get regular work. The nature of this business is you oftentimes work for very intense periods of time. You burn yourself out and then you were released. It’s a very LA thing for people to leave town and go on vacation.
We say we have two seasons, pilot season and hiatus season and fire season is the third season.
You went off to these places and sometimes very single, sometimes slightly single. You have these cultural experiences. You have a term you call yourself, Kristin-Adjacent. This is a quote from you. These are your own words. You say, “I talk in the book about this Kristin-Adjacent creature who I am when I’m on the road. She’s less judgmental, more open, a little softer.”
Those are the years that have passed. I don’t use the word slut anymore. The first sentence in my book is, “I am not a bad girl in the United States of America,” which is a great line if I do say so myself. I’m sad that I used that word in the book. There are certain things that have changed, but you already regret pretty quickly. It’s a judge-y word and there’s no word like that for men who have lots of romantic adventures. Have you ever heard that word used about a man? You say playboy, party boy, ladies’ man.
Manwhore is the closest.
The word in and of itself is female. It’s almost like calling a man soft or throw like a girl. It’s too gendered and that word is thrown around in my book by me about myself and I regret it.
I regret reading your quote.
I’m glad you brought it up because I’ve never gotten a talk about that. I’m glad I got to talk about that. What you were talking about was the Kristin-Adjacent creature and that’s true. It was the thing that was the most freeing for me about travel, especially for people who are younger, single or newly single after a long time in a big relationship. It’s such a good thing because you get to step outside of yourself and be a little different. Especially in a relationship, it’s hard to change because you have this person who is this mirror all the time saying, “What are you doing? Are you going through something? Is there a crisis involved? You cut all your hair off. Are you unhappy? Are you trying to change something dramatically? Why are you saying this?”
You get in these reps almost because it’s a little bit embarrassing or you get self-conscious making a change in front of somebody who’s watching you. Even when you’re not in a relationship and you’re single, you’ve got friends around you to notice too. When you go someplace and nobody knows you, you can try on a whole new thing and nobody notices because they don’t know. It’s any different than what you have always been. That is when you can grow.
I think so too. I like the fact that you say you’re less judgmental, but you’re also in a world that’s less judgmental because they don’t know how you years ago nor do they care. You’re the person in front of them that you’re meeting at that moment in time.
Nobody will ask you what you do for a living. You’re traveling together all over the world for a week and nobody knows what you do for work. It’s the kinds of things that we ask about right away in the United States. That doesn’t happen. It’s all about experiencing something together and much more at the moment.
You’re the perfect person to be in a dual-show on my two shows. I’m more interested in how you live this solo lifestyle because I’m on the lookout for people who either are committed to a solo life and as a result, are living their best life or taking advantage of the opportunity this solo living provides. They may think of their single life as temporary, but they do have the hard or soft goal of partnering up.It can be a little embarrassing or you get self-conscious making change in front of somebody who's watching you. Click To Tweet
That’s the worst way to be single. It’s such a bummer. I found that single is great when you want to be single and it’s such a bummer when you’re hoping to end being single.
I don’t like this idea that being single is seen as this liminal state. What’s clear to me is that you didn’t treat it that way. You’re like, “I am single. I’m going to make the most of this. I’m going to go on these adventures. I’m going to meet these interesting men and these interesting people. I’m going to say yes to things.” It’s very improvy of you. I use this term in the description of the project for the person who’s single now or forever. There are not good resources for that person because almost all the resources for a single person is how do you achieve this state in the future as soon as possible or in some short order. The average person doesn’t have a playbook for now or forever. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, I like the fact that it’s bold and unapologetic in a world where people are pushing you into that category. I’d like it as a playbook, not for everyone.
Also, not to judge the people who are wanting not to be single because I certainly was not existing throughout this story or my life as somebody who wasn’t looking to find somebody. I come in and out of that space certainly in the book and my life. That’s why I can speak to how much more fun it is to be single when you’re aggressively trying to stay single versus when you’re like, “Maybe I’ve done this. Can I please maybe find some love? Can this person who I am chasing after perhaps notice me ever?” I’ve been in both spaces and both spaces are super valid, but thinking of singleness as a thing that’s you’re supposed to get over in some way is a bummer.
I’ve been sitting on the book for a long time with people, studios and things, wanting me to adapt it both as a TV show and as a movie. One of the reasons is I can’t decide exactly what to do with it. I don’t want to do it as a movie because if you have to do it in 90 minutes or 2 hours, she has to get over it and end where I happened to end. When I finished the book, I happened to be selling my single girl house and moving in with my husband, which felt adorable by too much ending, but literally as I was writing the final pages for my deadline for my publisher, that’s what I was doing. I was packing up my single girl house. That’s how it ended. If the movie ends that way, it feels like “Get over it. Get over your thing,” and then, “Thank goodness she’s got over it and got married.”
I don’t want that story. I want it to be several seasons of this very valid life choice that even though you’re 35 and your eggs are drying up and all the things that are happening, that if they’re not ready, you’re not ready and that’s okay. You don’t need to be put into the panic mode of, “Quick, do it before your eggs dry up.” That being said, I can also talk about a couple of years of IVF and living in a hospital for three months to get a baby which also sucked, but I still will never be the person who tells a 35-year-old single woman, “Better get on that. Did you freeze your eggs? What’s happening?” I’m going to give my daughter egg freezing at 22 when she graduates college so she doesn’t have to worry.
This is often the case in terms of those deadlines. In some ways, you ought to think about them earlier than you want to because you don’t know what 10 to 20 years later will look like in that sense. You were an imperfect choice for this show because of the “happy ending” of the book.
There was some fury from readers. There was some Reddit strain of people who called themselves CFers, Child-Free people who were all mad that I had betrayed the Child-Free community that I purported to represent, which I never purported to represent. Despite the title, I always wanted to have one kid when I was 50. That’s what I said when I was eight years old to my mother. It wasn’t ever that never will I have children. I didn’t want to do it when everybody told me to do it. The CFers are furious at me. They were furious before I even had a baby. They were furious because I inherited two stepkids and that was a betrayal in and of itself.
I have not stumbled across this sub-Reddit yet but I’m sure they’re going to love Solo. I understand the tension. I had a question that I was like, “Has this been optioned into a movie?” Given the work you do I was like, “She could do it herself. She doesn’t need someone to come along.” It reminds me a little bit of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The movie has a different ending than the book. She stays with the handsome writer in the movie. In the book, she goes off to some Saudi Prince, which is much more in character for Holly Golightly, but Hollywood likes happy endings. On the one hand, you have a happy ending. You found love and a family. You didn’t have any goals. Your life has turned out well. On the other hand, people might see it as a betrayal of the thing. I don’t think it’s here or there. This is what happens in life. We have chapters and if we’re good, we’re good about closing chapters when that part of the story no longer serves us.
In the book, I write about the moment on a beach in New Zealand by myself with a beautiful waterfall and adventures around me. It’s been a lot of beautiful beaches. It’s been a lot of beautiful men. It’s been a lot of waterfalls. I’ve done it and there were years where every February or March I would break up with whichever boyfriend I was around because hiatus was coming. I couldn’t bear to bring them with me to Argentina or wherever. It wasn’t done yet, then it was done and that’s okay that you moved onto a new thing. That’s the purpose and the message of the book that whatever you want is great. If you wanted to have kids at 22 and that’s the adventure that makes you happy, then great. Have that adventure.
I had learned that as boring as I found parents when I was single and childless, to have a child is the most interesting thing I’ve ever done by a long shot. It turns out it’s not boring. It’s just boring to hear people talk about children. It’s terrible. I try hard not to tell you stories about how adorable and ridiculous my child is because it’s super boring. It is interesting to have kids. That’s the show that I’m about to pitch. It was a show that shows two lives. I hope that what it comes out on the side of the goal is there is no right road. Both roads have joy and both roads have sorrow. Chris Rock joked that there are only two options in life. You can be married and bored or single and lonely and that people get in trouble when they want a third option. He’s like, “An interesting marriage is if your wife makes out with your brother.” In the show, I want to tell you that the story but also the other side of the coin, which is you can be married and loved or single and free. There are also pros to both directions that you don’t get on the other road. You have to give up something you want desperately for another thing you want. It’s almost not at all more but a little tiny bit more and you have to give something up.
I appreciate you saying this because what I don’t like is the idea that in a world of limitless options when it comes to how you want to dress, where you want to live, what car you drive, what cuisine you like, what music you listen to. Everybody’s like, “It’s fine. Choose in the way that you want that makes you happy. Here are 100 different careers. Pick the one that’s best for you.”
Unless you have no skills like comedy writers and then you can only do the one thing.
You do two things at least. It bothers me that there’s only one path to living a good life in the eyes of many people, which is getting married, settles down, has children and so on. It’s not that that’s a bad path, it’s just that it’s not the only one. What your story says is that in some ways, you can have both of them. You just stage it out and some people do it in the opposite direction. They start out with the family.
They don’t have as much fun. All of my relatives that lived in Arizona and voted for Trump and my babies at 22, they’re like, “I’m going to go to Brazil when my kids were out of the house when I’m 50 and married.” I’m like, “It’s not going to be the same trip.” I hope they have a different trip than I had because that’s going to be inappropriate, otherwise. It’s going to be not as cute.
I have a friend who tells a story of being seventeen and doing a hike on a volcano in Hawaii with his family. These 70-year-olds who had spent their entire lives working and were newly retired and they finally went to Hawaii. They were finally getting a chance to hike the volcano and they couldn’t make it up.
It’s too hard. They’re old.
It’s too late. He made a vow that he was going to do it early often and later.
I’m also writing something about being old parents. What it means to be an old parent is to have an old parent yourself. The lovely people who had kids in their twenties have 50-year-old parents to help with the kids. We have parents in diapers and in old age homes. That is hard to have diapers on both sides of you at the same time instead of alternating. There’s nobody to help. That also is a trade. That’s a bummer.
I want to talk to you a little bit about the travel stuff. I also wrote a travelogue called The Humor Code. It’s laid out in a similar way in which every chapter is a different place and it’s designed to answer a different question related to comedy. Your book has done better than mine. It’s funnier than mine. I want to talk to you about if I were to redo The Humor Code, I would pull back on the travel and I would make it much more science-y. When I foolishly look at the feedback from the book, people want more science but nonetheless, we wrote it as a travelogue and it’s a fun thing. Besides the fact that you’re a funnier writer than my co-author and me, one of the things that are very striking about your book is how authentic it is. You say things in there that must be difficult. You talk about reading your boyfriend’s journal on it.
It’s not a great moment. I had to tell somebody I cheated on them ten years earlier because I wrote this book. I didn’t mean to write a memoir, first of all. I backed into it by accident. The stacking season comes up and you need writing samples and people enjoy reading an autobiographical essay because it’s quick and gives you a person’s voice fast. People have been saying forever to write down all these travel stories that I was telling at dinner parties. I didn’t know what the take was. I didn’t want to be like a travel sex bragger. I feel like often you don’t write about something well until you’re past it. You can comment and laugh at yourself better than when you’re in the middle of it.
It feels big, real, and valid to obsess about the things that later you’ll laugh that you obsessed over. You can’t laugh at yourself as much and have a perspective and understand what the journey was as well. The stacking season was coming up. I needed to write something to use as a new sample. I wrote about this in the book. What happened coincidentally was that February before the spring of stacking season, I met my new boyfriend’s two sons, which I’d never dated anybody with kids before. My stepmother died leaving my three little half-siblings alone with my elderly dad with Parkinson’s. They were at that point 19, 17, and 11. I got five kids on my lap the same month. I had the sudden sense that everything was over and that I better write it down quickly.
I’ve sat down to write a funny story about a trip, and then it was a week and I had 70 pages and four trips. It was this big hunk that was flowing out of me in a scrapbook way. It’s quickly before I forget about it, now that it’s over, write it down. It’s almost like a person does when they’re 80 at the end of their life to pass on their stories to their descendants. To make it look more legit for stacking, I slapped a title page on the top of it that said, “Excerpts from What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir.” I sent it to my agent and he said, “Are you writing a book?” I said, “No, I just wrote these and wanted to make it look legit.”Being single's great when you want to be single and is such a bummer when you're hoping to end being single. Click To Tweet
He said, “I think it’s a book.” He sent it to a book agent who said, “It’s a book.” They helped me put together the proposal and I took it out. There was a bidding war and I picked the people who didn’t tell me to change the title because they got it, and then I wrote the memoir. As I was writing the memoir, I kept writing David Sedaris’s style travel stories. The editor was like, “When people read a memoir, they don’t want a bunch of funny stories. They want to know why you did what you did. What family life led you to make these decisions? What was happening back at home? You have an interesting career. Write about your career and what was going on with these people.”
I suddenly backed and dig into personal, “Why are you the way you are?” stuff. That was a struggle for two reasons. One, I felt like who I at 38 am? I’m nobody to write a memoir. I’m not Hillary Clinton. Who wants to read about my thoughts and dreams? I have that insecurity that leads to all of the self-deprecating comic stuff that makes all of us make jokes about ourselves all the time. Secondly, it was personal. I spent a lot of time wanting to be honest about it. While the book is sometimes compared to Eat, Pray, Love, I didn’t want to write Eat, Pray, Love despite the fact that I been laid a lot of times to it. She honestly didn’t dig into a lot of true things.
She and her husbands were swingers. She never wrote about that. She publicly hid her divorce that was happening from the guy who she met in the last chapter of Eat, Pray, Love because she was about to release a book on marriage. I wanted to dig in and be super honest. I would sometimes be in therapy in the chapters where I was writing about the times that I didn’t like what I’d been doing. I didn’t feel they were great choices because if you stopped liking a narrator and a memoir, you put the book down. You’re like, “I hate her. I’m putting it down.” I wanted to both be honest but also have people at least root for me to start making better choices rather than judge me and put the book down.
If you look at both the 5 and 1-star reviews that tend to happen on my book on the Amazon reviews that we don’t read, people either had that work for them like, “I admire that she was this honest and this honesty resonates. It suddenly makes me think about how I feel exactly the same way,” or they’re like, “She’s self-indulgent.” When you write a memoir, you always get a paragraph about the book where they judge the book and then another paragraph where they judge you as a human being, which makes those reviews delightful to read. You get to hear that stuff too like, “I think she’s a one-star person. Maybe I give her one-star for her personality and a value on this Earth.”
I tried to be honest. I always tell people to write a memoir even if you don’t show it to another human. It helps you forgive yourself, understand, and also sit down and go, “I do have a lot to say and I have had a lot of experiences.” I sat down going with the last several years. I have friends who have gotten married, made three humans and done all these things. I still am on another trip, having another boyfriend, having another job, trying to figure out what I’m going to write next or who I’m going to date next or where I’m going to go next. I haven’t done and built anything, but then I wrote this book and I was like, “I have done something. Making humans and getting married is not the only way to judge if you have built anything with your life.”
First of all, there are nine billion of us. To make them good is hard, but to make them is not that difficult. My argument is you were living a remarkable life when you think about what is it that the average person does with their life. Not many people get to go to Hollywood. I love living in Los Angeles because it’s a city of dreamers. It’s a city of people taking a shot. The average person never takes a shot. Most failed but at least they took the shot. The people who take the shot and win to make it into a writer’s room, that in of itself is remarkable and then to layer onto it leaving the country. Most Americans never leave the country, let alone go to the far ends, then being able to document it.
The way that I think is this is a playbook for people. For someone who lives in a place that doesn’t quite feel like they fit in, is ambivalent about starting a family or certainly is not ready for it when one wants to, “Live a little.” It’s fun that you talk about this and the fact that you were brave enough to share it because I know as someone who writes and shares stuff, you invite criticism. The sweet irony is the very same thing that makes people love what you’ve done is also the thing that makes them hate what you’ve done.
You realized when you read enough reviews that the review has much more to do with the reviewer usually and what you’ve done frames what they’ve done. We’re all that way. Everything is perception. We all judge everything based on what we’ve experienced and who we are and what we’ve done. All of that business.
I haven’t read many of my reviews for The Humor Code. I did read some of them because I want feedback. I want to know what worked, what didn’t work. The problem with The Humor Code was it’s what I call warm tea. It tries to be something for everyone and as a result, it’s never the thing for anyone. In a world of people who want hot tea or iced tea. If you try to make everyone happy, you don’t serve them warm tea.
I’ve all kinds of people who criticize my book. They wanted it to be a straight travelogue. They wanted to hear more about the places and were like, “Why is she obsessed talking about people.” I was inspired by Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. It’s a travel book from maybe the ‘20s or ‘30s about Patagonia. I read it in Patagonia in a radially windy building. It changed travel writing because he was one of the first people to write about the people in the places he went to and the culture of the people versus the things that he saw and talking about his own interactions with locals. That was the way that I’ve always gotten to know a place. Having a romance with the locals was as much about getting to get taken to the local places, the person’s family, the person’s friends and get to find out what it’s like to be intimate with somebody from another culture. It teaches you about the culture and about the place in a way that it doesn’t happen when you go see the Eiffel Tower. I write about people and romances for that reason but a lot of people are like, “I thought it was going to be a travel book. It’s just about her obsession with boys,” or whatever it is. People are critical.
You can’t make everyone happy. Speaking of the travel, suppose a solo is reading and is like, “I want to live a more remarkable life. I’m going to go out in the world and travel.” You weren’t always alone on these trips. You met people in these places and sometimes you went with your friends.
I talk about how often the people would come on trips and then they’d get married and they’d disappear. I’d travel alone and they get divorced. They’d come back around for another trip or two and then get married again before I have gotten married the first time and I lose them again. They’d come and go as my adventure posse. The first time that I traveled by myself was when I got single for the first time at 31. I had two long-term relationships in my twenties and that was scary. I went for three months to Argentina. I got an apartment and an Argentine cell phone. I took Spanish five days a week and tango three days a week and plugged myself in. I got to know the place pretty intimately.
That was what changed me and what made me addicted to going by myself specifically because you meet many more people when you travel alone. The least people you ever meet is when you travel in a couple. Nobody approaches a couple. If you’re alone, especially as a woman alone, people are like, “Do you want to join us? You’re sitting right there. Come sit with us. After this day trip to see elephants, if you don’t have anybody to have dinner with, come to have dinner with us.” You’re approachable. Groups of girls are very approachable. They meet lots of people. What I’ve learned that’s fun is having a kid traveling, the world opens back up again because everybody wants to talk to you when you have a cute little baby running around. You suddenly meet locals that way because you’re on the playground. It’s been fun to meet people again, but traveling for the very first time with my husband, which is the end of the book, you meet almost nobody.
You have advice for the solo traveler and for picking your partner when you’re going to travel.
It’s very important not take just anybody. They can ruin it.
I’ve written down some of them.
I’m judge-y about what makes a good travel partner. I read them but I don’t remember.
This is a very improv thing, you’re open-minded. You say yes to things and that’s important. That was number one on your list. You and the person should go to places that tourists don’t go.
It’s also important. Not that you avoid necessarily the things that you want to see before you die but dig around. That’s why you need a local.
I travel alone a lot but my big thing is I’m looking for, “The cafe.” I’m looking for a local cafe, a comfortable place that feels like Paris, Rome, Cairo or wherever it is. That becomes a little bit of a home base. It’s a place I can journal, write, read, get a good coffee, get a bite to eat and at least soak it in. I’m also replicating a little bit of my Boulder or LA life, which I like. I’m not trying to escape that part of my life. This is one that I might struggle with, easy sleeping and eating comfort issues.
I have a very low tolerance for a lot of neediness in terms of what people need. I’m not an empathetic, kind, warm, understanding person when it comes to that. I don’t know what that is about me. I could be a lot better as a person, but I don’t have the tolerance. I need everybody not to have allergies and be able to sleep anywhere. Everybody needs not to have issues, which I know is unfair but it’s just me.
I understand. It certainly makes especially rustic traveling a lot easier for example.Whatever you want is great. Have that adventure. Click To Tweet
I’m not going so rustic anymore. That tolerance has gone down too. Especially in the book, I talk a lot about how you can’t go to a fancy hotel by yourself. You don’t meet anybody. It’s all couples who are fancy and they don’t want to do it. Even when I could afford a nicer place, I would usually stay in hostels and get the private room with its own bathroom that costs $30 instead of $5. Be there where solo travelers are staying and meet them that way. For somebody who can’t do that and only wants to go super fancy, it’s hard. It’s also the other way if somebody is in a different financial position than you are and could only afford super rustic and you’d like to splurge onto something and you can’t because they can’t do it either. That’s going to bum you out too. I feel like you have to be in the same space in terms of what your tolerance is and what your budget is.
I agree with that. I think that’s compatibility. This is another one and is related to this. You talk about letting your travel partner go off and do other things. You don’t have to be together 24/7. I’m the master of this, which is I’m going for a run. You don’t need to exercise if you don’t want to exercise, but I’m not going to exercise or, “I want to go see this museum. I understand why you don’t.” It’s like, “I’ll see you at 4:00 for happy hours.”
I think that’s good especially if you’ve accidentally ended up with somebody who takes a long time to do all of the things that I need them to be doing quickly. It’s like, “I’m going to sleep until noon. I’m going to take a slow bath. I’m going to eat.” You’re going insane waiting for them. I’ve done that too many times. You have to go, “I’m going to leave.”
There are a few others of these things of blending in with the culture and going with the flow. To me, there were three overarching elements. They’re useful if you’re a single traveler who is bringing other people with you or together. The first one has some compatibility to begin with. You need some foundation. You see the world in the same way. Your beats in the day are similar. You don’t have someone who has very narrow eating needs. To the degree that you don’t have compatibility, you’re comfortable saying to each other, “I’ll see you later.” We’ll catch up in a mutually compatible fashion.
“You go have another vegan meal. Go right ahead. I’ll see you later.”
The last one is how do you treat these places and these people? A big part of it is moving beyond being a tourist and moving into the world of being a traveler. I think that’s good. I make trips sometimes with others. I made a trip to Barcelona with two friends. They’re both single. He lives in Switzerland and does pharmaceutical marketing. She’s a friend from Boulder who’s in Luxembourg teaching. They didn’t know each other. We all came together, rented an Airbnb, and had a long weekend trip together in Barcelona. It worked perfectly because of the things that we’re talking about here and it’s a nice alternative. Some people don’t like to travel alone and some people don’t have a partner to travel with. If you can put together that team, it felt like a team in a sense.
If you don’t like to travel alone, there are all of these ways that you don’t end up traveling alone for very long. For example, sign up for day tours that are going to take you for 8 hours to do something that’s either hard to do by yourself because it’s a long drive or because it’s an adventure thing that requires river rafting or a guide of some sort. Go for the day with a group because you spend 8 or 6 hours. You all meet each other and then suddenly you’ve made friends to have dinner with and go to drinks with, which as a woman is the harder part. Dinner, drinks, and bars are harder by yourself as a woman than it is for a man.
It’s either doing that or an entire trip like a trekking trip where you’re spending five days trekking hut to hut with a group of people. Those are often solo travelers that come together. We did the Milford Track in New Zealand that was five days. It was almost exclusively single travelers. I have friends still from all over the world who I’ve stayed with and who have stayed with me from those five days of walking. If you wanted to be 5 minutes behind everybody, you walked alone all day and saw them in the lodge. If you wanted to pick up the pace a little bit or slow down the pace to be walking with a group, you could chat with people all day and it was this perfect meld. Little tours like that aren’t driving you around from location to location thing, either day trips or adventure trips like that are a good option for solo travelers who aren’t nervous.
I’ll add two. One is I will sometimes get on Meetup when I’m in a place. I’ll look for something that I want to do. Maybe it’s exercise or writing. There are often writing groups in any major city. They meet in the evening and everybody introduces themselves and you do some bouts of writing.
I’ve been so sad that all of my singlehood happened before apps. Life would have been so much easier and different if I could have Tindered anywhere in the world or Meetup or any of the things that you can do now. It’s awesome.
That’s the second thing I was going to ask you. Your book was a pre-dating app. Almost everybody you met was in real life. Nowadays, you can land in a place and fire up an app.
The flip side of that I hear is that nobody talks to anybody in real life anymore. The pickup scene has become so online that people are afraid to do that scary thing of walking up to somebody. It’s much easier to swipe. People have stopped walking up to people, which is too bad.
That’s the downside of it all. The upside is if you’re interested in dating, that’s a possibility because most of these places have some apps that probably is active.
I had to do hard things. I remember being at a cafe in Argentina and eating alone and being in love with a guy sitting at a table with another person. I wrote a note with my name and phone number on it and dropped it on the table as I left and sprinted out of the building. It was so scary. That’s the kind of thing you had to do. It was much harder. Swiping is delightfully easy.
It’s interesting because I like meeting people in real life because first of all, they look like their pictures.
There’s chemistry on that. I did a lot of online dating. I feel like 95% of the first dates, even if they looked exactly like their picture, there wasn’t chemistry and you waste so much time.
There’s something about even seeing how someone moves and seeing how they interact. As a man, it’s a difficult world in real life. The problem is it’s impossible to differentiate the woman who wants you to approach her and the woman who doesn’t want you to approach her. In pre-dating apps, the women who didn’t want you to approach her knew that’s how the world was. There’s even more trepidation because you want to be respectful. You want people to be comfortable. You don’t want to make things awkward. People are also terrible about being approached because it doesn’t happen anymore. They don’t have the right script and they don’t exactly know how to say no in a way that feels right.
I have done my version of your notes in real life and it looks something like this. I walked up to someone and I say, “I want to say I noticed you. If you’d like to meet for coffee sometime, I’d be happy to buy you a cup of coffee.” I’d give them my card and then I get out of there as quick as possible. Sometimes you hear, sometimes you don’t but it’s my only solution, to be honest. That is as close.
You’re not bothering them if they don’t want to be approached. You’re getting out of there.
They don’t have to say no to your face. All they have to do is say, “Okay.” It’s as close to replicating Bumble in real life.
I know it’s hard. I’m not a shy person, but for whatever reason come heed their eye contact, I am really bad at it. It’s the hardest thing in the world for me to consider doing. Somehow it’s easier for me to do what seems a bigger move of throwing a note in someone’s lap than giving them long sustained eye contact. There was a time when I was walking through a bar once and scanning the crowd and having my walkabout and seeing who I saw, seeing who saw me. A woman who didn’t know me as I was walking by her put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Are you okay?” I said, “Yes, I’m fine.” She said, “You looked sad.” I’m like, “My sexy eyes look like sad eyes.” I thought I was doing sexy face but apparently, it looks so troubled that a stranger felt the need to intervene to make sure I didn’t do something horrible to myself perhaps.
This is good advice. I have a single friend. She’s stunningly beautiful and we were talking about this very thing, which is most women in the gym do not want the men talking to them but she does. I said, “Do guys at your gym talk to you?” She goes, “Not at all.” I say, “Do you make eye contact and smile at the men who you want to talk to you?” She goes, “Of course not.” If you think about what he has to do and it’s hard to make eye contact and smile but the problem is this is the guys you want. This is not guys or gals, this is the person that you want to approach you and that you want to talk to. It’s social skills.You don't write about something well until you're past it. Click To Tweet
I’ve read once that they did a study of what it took to get a person to cross the room and speak to you for the first time. I’m going to get this wrong but I feel certain that the number was you had to have sustained eye contact with a smile for three seconds and you had to do it fifteen times. I think in this case, it was women making eye contact towards men and it took fifteen sustained 3 seconds smile and eye contact. You can see that’s perhaps why I have unloaded with that in my head. I’m walking through the bar. I know I have to do that. It sounds insanely hard to do. That’s probably why I looked like I was going to burst into tears. I get it. It’s hard to walk across the room and say hi.
If I could put my behavioral scientist hat on for a moment, I’ll explain why. That is we are wired not to do that. Essentially if you think about history, we lived in very small communities. The reputational effects in a small community are not trivial, which means I approached this person to have some intimate relationship with her or him. I’m rejected. Everybody knows that I’ve been rejected. It hurts my chances with the one and a half other decent options in the community. Everything is very subtle and delicate. We’re in LA County, there are twenty million people here. You go to Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Moscow. You’re a stranger in a strange land. There are no reputational effects that exist, yet for the average person, they still have this wired-in set of inhibitions which is, “What if they say no?” Even worse, “What if they snicker and laugh at and point at me?” Of course, most people don’t do that.
I feel like the Kristin-Adjacent who’s sexually open, in other countries, it’s exactly that. Even in a city of twenty million people or even in my own country, I have that ancient tiny group fear. I’m pretty great at approaching people and throwing it out there as soon as I leave the United States of America because there’s something about it that feels like a fearless thing. That’s probably why American girls have this reputation abroad as being an easy-open crowd. I think there is this “I’m in another country” thing that happens when you leave. They think that we’re the same way at home, which may be plenty of people are, I’m not. I’m an example of somebody who is different outside of the country than I am at home in that regard.
The idea is we all have different identities. The way I behave when I’m teaching a class of MBAs is different than when I’m out with my friends. I think that’s often the case. The other thing that I wanted to talk to you about is I like this idea of thinking deliberately about what kind of traveler you’re going to be. What is that you want out of these experiences? Some people are not looking to spice up their sex life. Some of them are looking to have a profound cultural experience and to see an ancient world.
Go to Israel because that’s the place for both.
That’s fair. That’s good. Go to Jordan to see beautiful sites and go to Israel to see beautiful people.
Israel for the beautiful site too. The culture, the history and the spiritual part of it, even if you’re not religious is outrageous in Jerusalem. Also, they are the most sexually aggressive people anywhere in the world if they are not religious, next to Italy.
I make a case for Tel Aviv as a great city by the beach. It’s wonderful, it’s young, fashionable and warm. When you live a remarkable life, one of the interesting things with the notion of the solo is when you take the opportunity and you say, “I’m going to make art. I’m going to launch a business. I’m going to get fit. I’m going to see the world. I’m going to use this time and energy and money that’s not being dedicated to children” or whatever it might be, has this ironic effect of making you a potentially better partner. Being married and being a mom, do you find that to be the case? Do you find that your stage in life that you’re in has been enhanced by living this remarkable solo life in your twenties and three-quarters of your 30s?
For sure and there are a few reasons. One is my husband is very sweet. He says he wishes we met earlier and I’m like, “We wouldn’t be together then for sure.” I wouldn’t have made a good choice earlier, which is him. I would’ve made worse choices. That’s the good news that I’m more ready for this style of relationship. I knew how to make a better choice. That was a big deal. Also, I thought I was going to be the person who said, “Who’s going to take my three-month-old so I can go to Thailand for three weeks?” I thought that was going to happen. Either that or that I was going to hike Nepal with the three-month-old on my back, which is not even where you put three-month-old. You put them on your front. These are the kinds of images I had in my head.
I don’t know if I want to call it that because it honestly hasn’t been a struggle. It’s been an awakening that makes me go, “I have to figure some things out.” I didn’t want to do either of those things. She’s over three years old. I took one three-night trip for the first time that I forced myself to take because I thought it’s time to go on a girl trip. Maybe my husband and I had gone away twice for one or maybe two nights. I don’t want to leave her and I forced myself and did it. We have taken her to Spain, Ireland, Mexico, New York and we’ve done that, which is good but also is exhausting. I cried in Ireland a few times. I’m like, “Why?” I’m so tired and sad and I want this to be over. At one point, I thought we had four days left. I’d forgotten a whole city and we had six days left and I started to cry.
I’m a person who spent several thousand dollars in my life on change fees for airlines because I’m extending my trip. Often, I’ll pay that change fee three times on the same trip because I’m like, “No, I’m not ready to go yet.” The three-week trip to New Zealand turned into six weeks. This is what I do. I was like, “What do we need to pay to go home two days early? I’m going to die.” Do we want to keep traveling with her or not? It’s hard. It’s going to get easier. All of the resentment that I feel I would have when my friends go off on Safari and I don’t go because my child would get eaten. I also don’t want to go on Safari and leave her here. I think that would be big if I hadn’t done the adventures already. I feel like having had the experiences already is what makes it okay that I do not want to do them all. We’re still having adventures and we’re still doing some stuff but it’s different.
I didn’t know it was going to change as much. I always said I was not going to be the people who gave up and went to Hawaii for six years when you have kids and go to a hotel because it’s not my kind of travel. It is hard to be hopping around with a person who’s screaming at you about putting shoes on, taking shoes off, getting to the train on time, getting to the plane on time, checking in and checking out. You’re on a little boat with people and she’s screaming and you’re ruining their time. It’s a lot.
I know this because I see those people.
She’s the queen of the pubs. This child could dance like an old drunk Irishman gave her all of the money from his pockets because she was dancing so hard and drumming so hard but still she’s three. It sucks. Let’s be honest, they make some things better. They ruin vacations, flights and dinners at restaurants.
What I hear you saying is there’s some ease that you have.
Letting the things go that aren’t happening for a little while, I think I’d be sad and resentful.
You’re like, “I’m in Ireland, why screw this up?” That makes good sense. I have one other question and this related to your comedy writing, but before we go off that, it’s been a while since this book has come out. You’ve settled into this life. I’m curious if there are any more insights that you’ve had about how people have reacted to it. I don’t think there are that many good resources for single people or single women that provide an alternative narrative. Sex in the City was obviously a big deal, but I’m curious about the kind of attention and feedback you’ve gotten. We talked a little bit about how polarizing it is. I’m curious if there’s anything more to it that you didn’t anticipate or sit with you as you reflect on it?
The joy of it has been that I’m still all the time getting people tweeting pictures of my book on their knees next to a cocktail on a beach all over the world. People are finding dog-eared copies in hostels all over the world and sending me pictures. It’s very wonderful. Along with that people are saying, “I’m here right now by myself for the first time ever because I read your book.” People doing that and telling me about it a lot is pretty magical. There’s also this amazing thing that happens that tells me a big story. I sell the same number of books every single week. That’s apparently an unusual thing. It wasn’t a gigantic huge seller, but I’ve sold the same number of books every week for six years, which is apparently not a thing.
Is it a referral base model?
I think so. It’s added up to 25 or 30 printings and five languages. It’s been translated into all these things because it’s the same women passed it. The same people are saying to somebody else, “Read it.” I’m also getting a lot of, “I’m the eighth person to get this copy.” That’s been fun. There are these spikes that happen in book sales that are not the exact same number. It happens in June when people usually graduate from college probably. People buy it before they go on a summer vacation or after they graduate and are going to start a new chapter. It happens at Christmas, which makes me happy that people are giving it as presents. It happens on January 1st, which makes me think that a lot of people broke up or are sad or trying to have a new year’s resolution, start a fresh situation and think of my book as part of that, which is amazing. There’s a spike on Valentine’s Day, which is girls are buying it for their girlfriends. They’re like, “It’s okay, don’t be sad that you’re single.” That story that tells me about how women who are reading it are relating to it, which is mostly women, let’s be honest.
I enjoyed it but it was not meant for me.
It makes me happy, which is part of the story. I Skype with book clubs who read it. I went to Northwestern and I Skype with a book club that happened to be a group of Northwestern seniors who chose the book before they found out that I went to Northwestern. When they saw that, they reached out to me. It was the week before they were all graduating and it was a group of these women and then a couple of their moms who were already in town for graduation that also read it and came to the book club that I got to Skype with. It turned out that one of the women literally lived in my senior year house. They took pictures of all of them in their caps and gowns on my porch from my senior year and sent it.Everything is perception. We all judge everything based on what we've experienced, who we are, and what we've done. Click To Tweet
That was amazing. It was all of these women about to go travel by themselves or try to figure out how in God’s name to get into Hollywood because Northwestern’s a lot of RTVF, radio, TV, film people. That dialogue with women going through that and their lives has been amazing, but it’s also been book clubs of people who had kids and are married. It’s fun to read about a different life. They get to settle happily into reading about my angsty lonely times and feel better about their choices. Everybody can find a way to feel good about their choices, depending on which pages you read. That’s been a joy. There’s been a lot of people who have tried to get me to adapt it, option it and do it that way.
There has been another weird wave of movie studios looking for their “next” Eat, Pray, Love. There is definitely a moment for women in this very empowered place to go do your thing that isn’t related to marriage and kids that it’s speaking to. That because you’ve talked about how there aren’t a lot of playbooks and a lot of other narratives that aren’t a rom-com, that aren’t about leading to a happy ending. When I talk about trying to do it as a movie, I don’t want to end with marriage and kids, but I will say that what happened in real life, I’ve been thinking of an ending that maybe wouldn’t feel like a sell-out to me, which was I finally went on my first international trip and fifteen years with my husband.
What to have happened was that the new passport that I had to get right when I took my very first solo trip to Argentina. It was this picture of me sweaty after a night out with a young punk rocker taking in my passport photo. That passport got filled up on the prior trip before I went on an international trip with my new boyfriend. I literally had to get a new passport and put aside the passport that had been filled up with my single girl trips and get a new stamp somewhere with him. I feel like us in Cambodia getting a stamp in a passport with somebody instead of alone. Going on adventures with somebody versus stopping the adventures and going home, maybe that’s an ending I feel okay about. What do you think?
I have to admit I’ve spent too much time thinking about this very question. Somebody even told me before I started reading the book like, “It doesn’t turn out the way you think it’s going to turn out.”
What did they think it was going to be, it’s me single forever or probably I moved to Argentina?
I don’t know or it’s to be continued. It’s this open story where you come to inner peace in comfort, not only that you become comfortable in these other countries but you become comfortable in your own skin. You become comfortable in your own life. It is that, but my point is you can still put a bow on the end of it. Honestly, I wish I could say it. I don’t know the answer to it.
What kind of TV show version works better as you can live in it?
It’s Sex in the City-ish more than it is Train Wreck.
It can be but she did need to fix some things.
Train Wreck is a reverse rom-com. It’s every other rom-com you’ve ever seen except the female plays the male role and the male plays a female role. It’s a very funny movie and it works. Keep pounding on it and something will happen. The fact is that you’re tussling with it is enough for me. In the sense of as a fan or a consumer or someone, it was like, “It’s not obvious.” Third acts are the hardest acts to write so I get it. You talked about the Writers Guild Strike in the book.
I believe any job worth doing is difficult. These comedy writing jobs are good jobs compared to other comedy jobs like writing sitcoms. It’s a robust work environment for smart people. There are lots of laughs. It’s a grind. It’s uncertain. I get it but also to me, writers make Hollywood go. They are the engine. When you tend to think about stars but it’s the writers that make the Hollywood go. The best argument for that is when the writers decided to strike. You live through that. I was away.
Maybe I have to live through another one. It’s very exciting stuff, and without agents, because none of us has agents because we all had to fire our agents collectively. It’s a very exciting time. I’m happy I have an overall deal and I’m safe either way but that’s only until some time and then I’ll see what happens next. There are a lot of people without deals who need people helping to find them jobs. It’s possible that they’re going to live through a year having no one to help them find a job only to come up against a strike. It’s a scary time.
For people who aren’t familiar with the Writers Guild Association strike, this was 2008. Shows got canceled and late-night shows started going into reruns.
People who sold pilots resend the sale.
Materials dried up and it doesn’t matter how beautiful the actors are if you don’t have someone writing the words.
I lost an overall deal. They’ve canceled it. It’s a very expensive year.
I’m a big believer in you pay the price now for benefits later.
It’s benefits for the next generation too. A lot of what happens when you strike and you take the bullet is because somebody took the bullet and got us a pension and healthcare in the last generation. That’s a lot like what’s about to happen is to figure out residual for streaming, which is most things and it’s going to be everything soon. Network TV is dying very quickly and cable, who knows even what that’s going to be. That’s what the big push is going to be for the next negotiation that may turn into a strike because the streaming wars are beginning with all of the services. In one year even there’s going to be twice as many. If we don’t figure it out, there will be no residual stream to keep us all and the next generation afloat.
That makes sense and I hope it goes well. In the world of economics, what you’re often looking for is what they call a shock. There’s something random that happens and then you see how the world reacts. It’s a natural experiment. A lot of people don’t recognize the value of writing. They don’t understand how difficult it is and how important it is. It’s something like this that then shines a light on. You joke that you can’t do anything else but I joke most people can’t do what you can do.
Luckily, we all have different skills. I lived in a hospital for three months and watching nurses up close and what they will do all day every day and can somehow stomach. It’s like we’re different creatures. We’re almost not the same species. Somehow it all shook itself out that everybody’s willing to do something and collectively, all the jobs get done. It’s a miracle.
At least it filters down. The last question and this is a question I always ask for I’m Not Joking is what are you reading, watching or listening to that stands out?
I am obsessed with Pen15 and Big Mouth. I’m a big lover of things about middle school. Middle school was horrible for me and poignant and everyone I think in the world. I’ve watched two stepsons go through seventh grade and collectively everyone in the house agrees seventh grade is the worst year of everybody’s life for every single human. Those two shows are hilarious, poignant and amazing. I’ve watched The Boys, which I thought was a fun anti-superhero show. I live with a superhero writer. That was one that crossed over for both of us. I’m starting The Affair, which I’m enjoying because of the storytelling experiments because you hear from both sides of the aisle. It’s the man and the woman’s different perspectives. It’s like what we were talking about, I’m interested in how we see the same events differently. I’m reading our friend, Joel Stein’s book, In Defense of Elitism, which I think is super smart and I agree with it. He’s a funny guy.
That’s a lot of things you’re consuming for someone who’s producing a lot of content.
I helped produce a pilot for Hulu called the Ms. Pat Show starring this comedian named Ms. Pat. She has a book called Rabbit. It’s her life story. That is one of the most remarkable life stories you will read. It’s her growing up on the streets of Atlanta in a hard environment. The story is an amazing one in terms of how a lot of black girls and women are growing up and living here in such a different way than many of us. It’s heartbreaking but funny too.
Kristin Newman, thank you so much for doing this. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much. This is enjoyable. Good luck.
- Kristin Newman
- What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding
- The Humor Code
- Eat, Pray, Love
- In Patagonia
- In Defense of Elitism
- https://www.YouTube /watch?v=RLkEpO3k514
About Kristin Newman
Kristin Newman has been writing and producing television for over 20 years, on shows including “That ’70s Show,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Chuck,” “Galavant,” “The Muppets,” “The Neighbors,” “The Real O’Neals,” and “For the People.”
She currently has an overall deal at ABC, under which she most recently produced a pilot for Hulu. She also wrote the comic travel memoir “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding.”
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