Imagine going on a blind date onstage in front of hundreds of strangers. The audience provides you topics, interjects, or perhaps even pitches a crowd member as the more ideal date.
That’s the premise of Updating, a New York-based show created by Brandon Berman and Harrison Forman as an alternative to swiping right. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the hosts pre-interviewed candidates and set up dates at venues in Brooklyn and Midtown. The daters wore blindfolds first, revealing their faces to each other only after a halftime break. Oftentimes the show sparked a love connection. There was a six-show streak of couples kissing at the end of the date and making plans for a second (private) one. After the show, audience members were often inspired to ask each other out, as well.
But with a statewide lockdown shuttering bars and venues, the show has had to adapt, morphing into Updating Remote and broadcasting on Zoom every Friday night. “Our old life is not coming back any time soon,” Harrison states. “And people want to date, even in this weird, crazy time.”
It’s true the world is learning to navigate love in the time of quarantine. Apps have initiated video services for virtual “isodating.” Some users claim the dating landscape is changing now that hookup culture is off limits. A friend told me she’s introduced a new parameter in her dating life: adherence to the CDC. Social distancing is sexy; not touching your face shows good judgment. In a time of loneliness, people are seeking connection more than ever; Harrison says over 1,000 applicants responded to Updating Remote’s most recent casting call, more than the typical live show.
Updating’s transition to the online world isn’t totally unprecedented; the live show always had a virtual component dubbed “the DM zone,” where onlookers could submit questions and comments for the daters. The idea emerged from Harrison’s personal live streams.
Before creating the show, Harrison worked at Facebook and experimented with the live platform while preparing for dates. He’d film himself getting dressed, asking his network for advice on sweaters. Halfway through the date he would take a bathroom break to check in with the fans. “I’d be like, ‘Okay guys, she got a vodka tonic, how do we feel about that?’ And people would comment.” Meanwhile Brandon was doing stand-up comedy, having thoughts about creating a live show with a “clubhouse feel.” The two discovered each other, and Updating was born as a hybrid of their talents.
When they’re casting, they take on the role of matchmakers. “Maybe these are two people who would usually swipe left on each other,” Harrison says, “but we’re bringing them together because we could see this being a real life thing.” For entertainment’s sake, they also aim to bring in an x-factor of sorts; for example, a show could comprise both a Republican and a Democrat.
Updating Remote first premiered on Instagram Live, following the same structure as its predecessor; Brandon and Harrison moderated, audience members submitted feedback in the comments, and the daters sat behind their screens with makeshift blindfolds on, drinks in hand. Yet Instagram Live didn’t really capture the essence of the show or the community of loyal followers. People could drop in and out at their leisure, leaving ample ground for bored trolls.
On April 1, Updating Remote transitioned to Zoom, providing an experience of the software much more entertaining than its typical work-from-home use. After completing a free registration form, viewers received a link, and over 350 quarantiners tuned in to the first show. The extra step of registering provides a layer of protection against trolls, and returns some of the clubhouse atmosphere. There’s a certain added intimacy in being “invited” into people’s homes— to be silently lurking behind a screen only magnifies the strange vulnerability of the times we’re living in.
The virtual rendition also provides more widespread access; viewership now ranges from Tel Aviv to Singapore. The two daters on the April 1st show were Los Angelinos: a bubbly woman wearing a face mask as a blindfold, and a man with windswept hair that warranted many swoons from the peanut gallery. Viewers were given comment access in webinar form, leaving the video to the panelists. One onlooker decided to “crash the date”; Harrison and Brandon granted her access to the panel.
Near the end of the date, one of the participants received an endearing text from her parents: “We heard you’re on TV!” Harrison and Brandon invited them on the call for a fun guest appearance that had me both reeling and laughing out loud. Kudos to the partner who had to meet the parents on the first date. The comments came in droves. “We love your family!” one said. “We want to know what they think of him,” said another.
While slightly dystopian, the experience was probably the most heightened sense of solidarity and normalcy I’ve felt throughout quarantine; I was alone in my room, yet felt so connected and human.
“A first date,” Harrison notes, “is just so relatable.”
Updating Remote screens every Friday at 8:30 EST. Register for free here.