When malcontentedness permeates you so viscerally that it informs the way you see the world and your place in it, the healthiest thing left to do is laugh, and make others laugh with you. The question is: During the point at which that laughter inevitably makes you start feeling better, is it possible to continue producing art at a level that brought that feeling about in the first place? Simply put: is constant mental torture the only route to sustained joy? Of course not. Unless you’re a comedian. I Hate Being Single (IHBS) Season 2 creator and star, Rob Michael Hugel seems to agree.
Could we talk a little bit about how elements of your personal life influenced this most recent set of episodes?
Rob: I started writing this season a little over a year ago with my friend Dustin. I’d been in New York for 8 years and I was reaching a breaking point. I was tired from it. Dustin is really great because he helps me to gain a more positive outlook. Going into the season there was an on-going acknowledgement of how difficult it can be to be in New York. The city has changed so much; Williamsburg itself has changed so much. It used to actually be a space for artists and creative people and it obviously was cool, but it was a little more accessible. By the time I was ready to go, it had transformed. Being a struggling artist and putting all my eggs into this basket, I don’t have the luxury of a full time job to support myself and it felt like the city was turning on me. So, I took that and incorporated it into the show. Money, space, all the stuff of New York. On top of that, I was getting to the tail end of a relationship that had been really positive, but was coming to an end. My girlfriend and I decided to move and break up, so it ended up being that, during filming of the season, we started talking about breaking up, and then we did, once we had finished filming and I moved. I became more in the shoes of the character after that than I had been the entire time I was making the show.
Are you still in those shoes?
Rob: In the shoes, meaning that I’m single, not that in the shoes of the character saying “I hate being single.” I’ve always been cautious about using that as a statement about me. That is not my motto. That’s how I saw myself maybe when I was 23. Now I think, I don’t hate being single. Loneliness is universal; you can be lonely and be in a relationship, too. Nothing is just as simple as saying “I hate being single.” It’s funny that it’s the motto that is associated with me. I’ve been going on dates and of course these girls know me from the show because I have the link on my dating profile. One of our first conversations is usually something along the lines of me explaining that I’m not that character. I’m not that immature. I get a lot of comments on our fan page that are people saying, “Why do you hate being single, it’s not that bad.” I have to explain this is a show, not my personal motto.
Do you feel more or less anxious now that you’re out of New York? How has that affected your art in LA?
Rob: There was this immediate shift when you move from NYC to LA. It was really happy, no one forced me to make the move. A lot of people come to LA with a job already in place that they worked really hard on and I didn’t do that, it was more like I wanted to make a change and felt stuck in NY. When I got here, it was perfect and amazing and, over the year that I’ve been here, there’s been ups and downs but it’s not the city, it’s me. The place itself is a perfect place; it’s just my own personal fear. I’m the sole creator of this series, I don’t have any staff or help, so when it was all finished shooting, I had to go and edit it myself and that fear was definitely there, especially since I had made promises and taken people’s money from Indiegogo. It was a scary fire in my room that I would occasionally leave because it was too overwhelming at the time. I was also trying to take care of myself by being out and social and having fun and making up for the time that I didn’t go out in New York. That also made me unhappy about what I hadn’t done yet. It’s been a weird balance.
Being in a negative headspace allows you to tap into more visceral emotions, which leads to better art, but you’re also in a bad headspace and want to get out of it and go out, but then you’re not working on the stuff you wanted to do. Do you think that that kind of anxiety and depression, whether it be clinical or situational, is important to creating a strong product?
Rob: Yeah, I think it must be. I don’t know if anyone would ever choose it, but it’s just how you are. My favorite episode of this season is the one I felt the most anxious and scared about showing anyone and didn’t want to even watch it. It’s the most honest. In the show, it was me basically saying everything that I said the year leading up to me leaving New York. Casey Jost, who is the other guy in the episode, basically scolds me for being so ungrateful about how great life is. It’s so weird because I had set up a screening for the episode but I hadn’t even finished editing it by the premiere because just working on it was so hard. I’m so connected to it that it’s a weird thing to go back to. I finally finished it and put it up and felt a little bit ashamed. It was very weird to watch myself as the character in the third person and to see other people watching it. I was wondering “How are people going to react to this? Are they going to say, ‘Oh this is a little too over the top and dramatic.’” Making a comedy series and doing something dramatic in it is so weird and scary. But my close friends who saw it said that it was their favorite of all my episodes, so now I treat it as the one that I want to show people if they’ve never seen it. It’s different from the other episodes, it has it’s own style . It’s like a film as opposed to a quirky web series with a twist ending.
Is comedy therapeutic for you?
Rob: For me, it completely is. You have all these thoughts in your head running around all of the time and are super anxious and wondering “How do I come across to people?” Sharing that with someone and hearing them say that they liked it or that they understood it makes me feel like, “Okay, I’m not as crazy as I feel most of the time.” Or as unhappy or weird. I saw The End of The Tour recently and I was so into those conversations. Everything David Foster Wallace was saying was things you want to hear if you make stuff. All the same feelings. Putting your fears into your work so that people can relate to them.
In order to be successful, you have to always wear those fears very close to the surface, which is tough.
Rob: I always worry that I come across as annoying or that my writing or the character comes across as annoying. I just don’t want to be annoying. That’s why every other character is always calling him out on it. At the end of the day, though, he’s still the same and still does the same thing. There’s a big thing in episode 1 where everyone keeps saying to my character, “Hey are you ok?” On the show this means “Oh, everyone knows this is the single guy and he looks sad,” but it’s also an exact replica of how I felt a lot of the time in New York where I was walking around, worrying about getting the next episode up, or getting the season ready and people would ask me, “Are you alright?” Me being single is the same as me carrying a web series and feeling very personally attached to it.
Episode 1, Catching Up
Episode 2, Marriage Meat
Episode 3, Tag Me
Check out more I Hate Being Single (IHBS) Season 2 here.
Click here for IHBS, Season 1.
Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.