In the bustling world of reality dating shows, where drama and theatrics often overshadow genuine connections, Hang Up emerges as a breath of fresh air. This chatty and captivating podcast, which stars Richmond bartender Maxine in season 1, has fun with the genre by focusing on authenticity, inclusivity — and a unique twist of mystery.
Christian: Hi Caitlin! Before we get into the show and the big insights and trite questions that I have, I have to say I’m a new fan. Hang Up is really good. And I generally hate reality dating shows as a genre. You and your team have imbued this series with so much charm and relatability that it plays more like a social game. There’s a lot of laughter shared. Genuine moments that aren’t played for a camera. No posturing, just randos getting to know each other – with the slight added benefit of a potential new homie to gain at the end of it. No pressure, no cheesy wedding hopes, no desperate selling of one’s dignity for strangers’ amusement. This transcends the genre for me. First of all though, who’s responsible for this?
Caitlin: So, um, there’s three of us. Me, Caitlin Pierce; I’m the creator and producer and Zakiya Gibbons is the host and story editor. (ed note: Zakiya has the best voice ever). And then Ben Montoya is another story editor because you can’t have too many. They are also our sound designer and mixer.
Christian: What was your Eureka moment, “I want to make this thing”, that moment that you’re like, “oh, shit, this is a good idea”. How did this come about for you?
Caitlin: It’s been an embarrassingly long time getting this up. But when you make something new, it’s often like that. So I was really thinking about this in winter 2020, middle of COVID, when we were all just like deep in our feelings…
Christian: We don’t speak about winter 2020…
Caitlin: Ha, I was in Portland, Maine in December. Yeah. So, I just wanted to listen to something like fun and I feel like I’ve been making audio for over 10 years and often the, I mean, there are obvious exceptions, but like for the most part, the shows that are really well done are not funny or lighthearted in our industry. So I was really struggling to find something that I wanted to listen to. At the same time, I was watching a lot of reality shows and hating how heteronormative, how manipulative the producers were. All the things hated about reality and dating shows on TV. Yes. So I just wishing that a show like this existed. And I wondered why it doesn’t exist. There’s a huge audience for it. We could do it so much better in audio, and then I said to myself, I’m just gonna do it. I’m going to think about like how this could work.
Love Is Blind was really popular and is still really popular, but one thing I didn’t like about Love is Blind is that we can see them and they’re all like, conventionally attractive, for the most part. So it was like I could make this show where none of us can see the contestants and we all are on the same page in keeping the mystery.
Christian: I wanted to give you props for that. For the purposes of people reading this, I’ve only listened to the first two episodes but I was impressed by how casually ambisexual the show is. I say casually because the orientation of the hosts, contestants and protagonists is not an issue at ALL. That’s not the point of it. Yeah. It requires so little preamble. I always feel super proud of the kids these days and their blankety acceptance and openness to non-conformative relationships – whether by virtue of orientation or traditional possessiveness. It’s heartwarming. Because if this was a TV show on network TV it would be all “Yeah. Oh my god, they’re bisexual.” Whether as allies or haters, it would be a feature, not a circumstance. For the purposes of the readers, explain the show to me. Ha, I needed to say all that first.
Caitlin: I agree, it was specifically not in the press release that this is a queer show. It’s not part of the messaging. Yes, it’s part of the message, but it’s not a barrier to entry. It becomes so little of an obstacle to enjoying the conversations between the cast members. I think even for people that don’t understand queer relationships, it’s revealing, enlightening.
There’s nothing in the description or name of the show that says it’s queer. That decision was made because “straight” shows don’t have to explain themselves and we don’t need to either. The Bachelor’s not called “Straight Man Dates,” but there’s The Ultimatum and The Ultimatum: Queer Love.
Christian: To my original comment of it being so casual, it never makes any judgment on the directionality or intersectionality of anyone’s personal orientation, which I thought was brilliant.
Caitlin: Anyway, I’ll answer your question haha.
Christian: No, I wanted you to follow up with that. I really did.
Caitlin: So Hang Up is a reality dating competition. A show with “No Rings Attached” is our tagline. And that’s because we focused on the connections, and the fun, in early dating that do not necessitate that we’re going to have a proposal or a wedding at the end, which so many reality shows are focused on.
Christian: I think that just speaks to a very conservative traditional view on dating anyway. Like the only moral purpose of sex is procreation. Wack, if you ask me.
Caitlin: It’s ridiculous. The other thing too, is like I wanted to make sure the show was populated by regular people. I didn’t want it to be people chasing fame or notoriety. Real people having fun with a unique (and fun) opportunity to meet people. I wanted people to like their personalities and relate to their motives.
So to the format. There is one star and then there are six people ‘competing’ for that star. They’re called the callers. In each episode, the star goes on phone dates with each of her callers. At the end of the series of dates she chooses one person to hang up on – and eliminate from the show. In the end though, there’s a twist. The final caller standing makes a choice, they can either choose to take an all expenses paid vacation with the star, or hang up on her and take a cash prize. So the star has to navigate “Do they like me back?” You know, the star is not a star. They’re just a normal person. We don’t know what they look like. We don’t know how rich they are. So the twist at the end was honest. They may not actually like the star. Because, like, I’m not a matchmaker. I’m an audio producer. We needed some carrot at the end for them.
Christian: I think it will be refreshing to people that listen to this. It takes a very naturalistic view on dating in a world where you have options to go out and have fun or, go hang out with, four different romantic possibilities in a week. You get laid, if you feel like, and done, you know. Yeah. And there’s very little opportunity for judgment. I have so much faith in the current generation of young people. They see the world so much more clearly than previous generations when it comes to romance. They’ve unshackled themselves from institutionalized expectations. My generation had a lot more baggage attached to interaction, social interaction.
Now that we understand what the show is about, let me tell you what I loved about the first two episodes I got to listen to. I’m noticing funny things about dating in general. The silly turn offs or turn ons – the things that we get hung up on that are simply minutia. The guy that bought her the Sour Patch Kids for their care package delivery date. Right? And she loves Sour Patch Kids but hates Harry Potter and chewing gum – which he loooves. And oh my god, that guy walks right into it. He walks right into that door every effing time – going on and on about how he chews gum all the time and puts on Harry Potter in the background while he works. But the kicker is, she hasn’t hung up on him yet. It’’s impressive that he’s still there. They have chemistry on other levels. And that, that, is how real dating feels. Overlooking mild irritants when you can sense the underlying goodness (or sweetness at least) of someone you’re just meeting. It’s kind of nice. So far have there been moments on the show where you’ve been “Oh, I just learned something about people in general?
Caitlin: I mean, Maxine is such a character. Yeah. But I think she’s really relatable in that. Like you brought up she has these really hard line pet peeves seemingly, about dating, but is willing to overlook those in light of a more intrinsic connection. And I think there’s this really interesting intangibility with connection between people. And I think that’s why it’s so hard for people on dating apps, because it categorizes things and you filter people, sort people, before that special in-person chemistry gets to take hold – or even have a chance. It’s a list of things about a person, not the person as they are.
Christian: Yeah. Like dating somebody’s Facebook profile instead of the person. You know?
Caitlin: They would be people who would not have matched on dating apps. You really can’t know until you just meet the person and let it play out. And I feel like there’s this kind of choice paralysis because there’s all these options. And then there’s this weird time pressure also placed on us. And so the time has not increased but the options have increased. And then we’re like trying to gamify the thing that can’t be gamified or corporatized or, you know, put into an app or whatever. In truth, it’s a silly reality show, but I think there’s a deeper value and counterpoint to modern dating trends that comes across as enlightening and charming.
Christian: I think that’s mad relevant, especially for young people these days. You can make quick value judgments about people without having to really get to know them or having any giving them a chance to surprise you. Which I think is what comes out in the show, especially with the example we just spoke about. Where through just wit or charm, or just humility, you can overcome displaying a pet peeve that would normally have gotten you swiped left on (or right, I can’t remember which is the bad one). I know it’s funny, but you know, you get over these things, when the date gives a great massage or something – you’d never get to know that from Tinder.
Caitlin: Well, it is interesting though, because the physicality aspect is a huge part that’s missing. Yeah. Getting to actually connect with people and talk to them is there, but as the show goes on, you can feel them being like “what is this person really like?”. There’s no replacement for that, for physically being together.
Christian: There really isn’t. It’s immediately available live, at a bar, or somewhere you can both interact in real time. You get an idea of how awkward they are, or how much like their pictures they actually look, you know, that kind of thing. How many filters they use haha. Physicality has in some ways gotten to where it isn’t as important because other things become important earlier than physicality. But I also feel that physicality ends up being a thing that people get disappointed with. Yes, and that hurts. Yeah, it hurts. It’s like, Oh, I like this person, but either I may be feeling inadequate or not feel comfortable or maybe we’re just insanely different. Different rhythms or whatever. But anyway, this show made me really start thinking about dating as a concept. More metaphysically I guess. I feel like that’s one of the more brilliant things about Hang Up. I really enjoy it. Like I told you, I think in an email, that I’m not into reality shows. But, I really like this a lot.
So how many episodes have you finished so far? This season is donezo right?. So you know who the winner is and all that kind of stuff? They don’t know yet though, right? Or do they?
Caitlin: So each contestant only knows as far as they got into the process of the show. The winner and the star know. We’ve recorded the whole season.
Christian: Okay, so the people who didn’t win, those obviously don’t know who did. Are there plans for season two and if there is one, does it take it out of Richmond to a different city?
Caitlin: Yeah, we are already working on season two. I don’t know if I want to say where yet, but the goal of the show is to have a season that’s in like a smaller, awesome American city like Richmond that not people know a lot about. Media is so focused on New York and LA, these huge cities. And it’s like, Who are all these other people? The experience of being, and more related to this project, dating in NY and LA is much different than in smaller communities. Yeah, so I mean, Richmond was an obvious choice, well, because I live here. But, I also love it here.
Christian: The secondary and tertiary cities that don’t have the burden, or the baggage of, immense media presences are fascinating. And living up to the mentality or whatever modalities of being a New Yorker or being an Angeleno or whatever are so specific. Yeah. What do you find different with the smaller markets like Richmond? RVA has a ton of pride but at the same time, a little apologetic, like, “we’re not New York”. Richmond shouldn’t be New York, it should be Richmond. But what do you find in those secondary, tertiary cities, in the prevailing attitudes and or, you know, just kind of like, ways of being, that are different? What’s different about not doing it in New York, or LA?
Caitlin: Well, one thing that’s really funny is that everyone was sure they were going to know everyone on the show. They were like, I’m gonna hear their voice. I know them. And I was really worried about that. Especially a queer scene, you know,
Christian: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s not that many people. Enough to be a diverse community but not overwhelming.
Caitlin: Yeah, well, no one knew anyone. It was awesome. But I also think that shows more depth that Richmond gives itself credit for because I do this too, you know, I’ve only lived here two years but I assume I know everyone. It feels that way. But there’s all these other groups who think they know everyone in Richmond, too. And we don’t all know each other yet. So I think that’s really exciting to like, realize that there are more people to meet, new faces to find.
Christian: I wanted to talk about cringe factors. I don’t do well with that, by the way. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I don’t watch reality shows. I have a very intense cringe response haha. I listen to someone pinking themselves and I feel like I have to pause the show or change the channel. I did that a couple of times listening to Hang Up, but I powered through. A lot of people love that though. Oof, it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. I just had to stop for a second a few times. Like, “just listen to the damn thing Detres!”. So I’d press play again and listen to someone bomb on their date. I get why it’s funny but shudders. But it’s not to the same level as reality TV – like you’re just talking to someone on the phone. And, you know what? It’s cringe because we’ve all been there. It’s like anyone listening back to their own first date with someone. There’s always a cringe, “I’m gonna just disappear under this table now…” moment. So you know, you had a bad moment or whatever. No, every time I have that moment, where I’m like, cringing for somebody else it’s because I’m remembering something I did literally 20 years ago. The thing that still pops up in my head and eeek, I just gotta hum a song in my head or something to wash the memory away hahaha.
Do you have any bigger insight to the idea of just creating? I think there’s a lot of people in this town specifically that want to make quality, good things. I think this could be an inspiration to people that create and want to be exceptional. What makes it so or what do you think contributes to making it so?
Caitlin: Yeah, I think so. I’m a freelancer. And I’ve been freelancing for a long time. And I think something I’ve really tried to follow is to not ever do anything as a means to an end, but for its own sake. And so I think about that a lot. People were always giving me advice like, take this senior producer or executive producer job and just do it for two years or whatever, and then you can get to this next level, and I just, like, did not want to do that. Like, that’s still a year of my precious life, you know, and, and so I hadn’t connected this before, but thinking about that it’s also like dating, right? Like let’s just be here and just like enjoy this connection with this person and not worry about if we’re gonna get married or whatever it but that you know, we’re not trying to like extrapolate out and so I think, do what is exciting to you and take the next step of whatever is in front of you. The thing that you’re actually interested in, not a soggy stepping stone to the next bullshit thing that maybe gets you somewhere you want to be. I think that’s wonderful advice, just to keep it real. Do things for their own sake. At the end of the day, I mean, I love the show. I hope everyone listens to it and loves it like I did but, I just wanted to make this. You know what I mean? I didn’t want to make a smash hit podcast. That’s what corporations miss, you know what I mean? Because they try to make a smash hit podcast. They are trying to guess what people want to hear instead of making something genuine. People aren’t dumb. They’d rather be surprised with something original and charming than something that vaguely resembles something that they watched and liked last month.
Christian: When you drive your car and somebody does something dumb in front of you or you’re talking to somebody and they make some completely ignoramus comment, it brings out the cynic, that thinks that “everyone’s an idiot”. Well, everyone’s not an idiot. Everybody has idiotic moments, including yourself. Oh, yes. And you’re a bad driver sometimes. I’ve also not put on my turn signal and caught myself and thought “I’m a jackass”. We all notice everybody in their less than perfect times. I’ve said this before, even the most quote, unquote basic person has an internal dialogue or like a list of experiences, things you and I don’t have, you know. They have their high points and their moments. I think everybody has a cool story. Yes. When we open ourselves to that fact it makes it a lot easier to deal with people in general. It makes you a better person, a better listener. One that’s more open to other people’s experiences. So, but yeah, I’m gonna stop on that. Thank you so much. I’m glad you got in touch with me!
Give Hang Up and follow @hangupshow