In the age of apps and social media, the work it takes to fall in love, or at least have a good first date, has gone from quaint potential for comedy of errors to A24 elevated horror film. How can you get to know someone without ruining the spontaneity of romance? Is the version of the person you're flirting with from Tinder going to be the perfect brunch date or are they actually going to reveal they think Beyoncé's Lemonade is overrated, and therefore, that they are a monster? Would you rather swipe around or just look for proximity to the closest person who will ghost you in 48 hours?
If you've ever longed for the days when digital technologies didn't completely cloud and obscure the potential for love, New York-based comedians Manning Jordan and Pete Valenti have you covered. Their new podcast, 1-800-LOVE, is a bit of a throwback. The two interview their guest, prod them with questions—about what they want, what they like, and a little about who they are—at their favorite location, and they add a little twist: the identity of the guest trawling for affection isn't revealed until the very end. Pete has played matchmaker before; as one of the co-hosts of the popular Open Flame Mic in Brooklyn, Valenti has set up couples on stage. Now, teamed up with Jordan, the two want to play yenta for queers in New York and beyond, with plans to take the show on the road.
Valenti and Jordan have an easy chemistry that invites the audience, and the guest, with warmth, as opposed to an insular in-jokey tendency that often affects podcasts by comedians. They come with a genuine sense of wonder and hope, openness and curiosity, an aspect that informs both of their comedic stylings. NYLON sat down with Pete and Manning to talk about how the apps have changed desire, why dating material in comedy is different for queer people, and how being ignored by someone is a big turn-on.
So you're both comedians.
Pete Valenti: Yes, that's how we identify.
Those are the pronouns you use.
Manning Jordan: I usually say monologuist. I actually wrote one, and it's going to be in one of those 100 Monologues for Women. I got $25, it was huge for me.
So you're both comedians, what was the joke that you told that made you realize this was what you wanted to pursue?
MJ: My joke was this—when I first said it I thought, This is fun for me—Do you know that feeling when you're at the Yankees game and you look around for the Playbill to find out who's who in the cast?
A lot of people use dating and sex for material. What do you think is unique about queer people using material about their dating lives for comedy? Or is there anything unique to it at all?
MJ: It might just be unique right now, because, in old records, no one was really queer. There's a level of respect with queer comedy, like consent and all these things are wrapped into their jokes. The [queer] audiences are surely more welcoming and supportive, I think, to any joke.
PV: The podcast didn't really start as a comedy show about dating. We talk about this a lot, because I think there's plenty of podcasts that do make comedy about dating and have fun with it, and we made the decision to let it be entertaining, but it's not a comedy podcast.
What made you want to take specifically that route?
PV: I felt that I wanted to make a new podcast, something that hadn't been done. We originally started with the idea of a comedy podcast with characters and interviewing them about their love lives. We did that for a while, and one morning we met and started recording as usual but just talked about our actual love lives, and we ran out of our recording time because we had so much fun. So personally, it's just much more exciting to create something that hasn't happened before, and it's not a friend simulator like a lot of podcasts are, we're making real connections.
MJ: When we were doing this character improv, we thought, What are we doing this for? It just didn't feel quite right. But if it does lean that way, we wanted to keep it authentic. We want it to be about the guests.
At what point did you decide on the format of not revealing who the guest is until the very end?
PV: From the beginning, we were really in love with old newspaper personals that were totally anonymous and you didn't see the person at all, you could only understand them from the text. So we liked that idea, and we could embrace that even though it's pseudo-anonymous since we share who it is at the end. It was one of the more exciting aspects of the show because we're not promoting the images, there's a layer of who's going to be next intrigue that's fun for me.
PV: [Manning], you're not even on the apps so you don't even have the modern experience of this.
Why, if I may ask?
MJ: I feel like I somehow do better when I meet people in person, which is hard, but all my friends and people I've dated are friends of friends.
PV: I think there's something wrong with me. I think there's an adrenaline, a thrill to it that's divorced from any need to connect with somebody. It was just thrilling. That's the thing, 80 percent of the people you meet, they're lying or acting. Since starting this podcast, though, I've been off everything, so the podcast has reignited in me an interest in organic rom-com styles of meeting people, you're opening your heart and your mind. You're walking through a park, and you get hit by a soccer ball, and you're in love with them.
Do you think you'd be able to know who you were as a sexual being without the existence of apps? Understand your desires, your eroticism and relationship to sexuality?
PV: Yeah, I mean I was in front of my Dell computer looking at Dicks.com in junior high. As much as I didn't want those desires to be there, I knew what they were, and the apps just became a new way to explore them. I came out once I moved to New York, so I didn't deal with it during school, and those things were already set up. I still would've trolled the Boiler Room, the apps just facilitate that in certain ways, but in reality, I'm not sure they actually make anything easier. But yes, I still would be a horny, filthy, stupid queer.
Manning, as someone not on the apps, how do you think your understanding of your desires would change if you were on them?
MJ: Oooh, I don't know. In real life, I'm meeting people that I wouldn't swipe on, so I don't think the apps would be helpful. I think I have more of an open mind versus just a photo or line of bio.
PV: It's interesting to think about whether these things are opening us up to more people or less people. I think it's hard to quantify exactly the hypothetical of who I would've met if I'd gone to this party or those I'd see in a 500-foot radius on this app.
I think both have an aspect of openness and closed-offness, they're different kinds of the same bubble. Most people who just act reflexively on what they're attracted to as opposed to trying to unpack the implications of that, they'll either exist in the same social bubble or that will replicate itself on who they'll swipe on.
MJ: There's also a thing about swiping together, where the mystery of attraction is gone, because it's so scary in real life when you ask someone out, but that element is gone, so now the game has turned and it's about some other judgment beyond attraction, which is still scary.
PV: I wish that deciding to meet up meant you'd be attracted to them—forget not looking like your photo, sometimes I don't even know what it is, but I need to leave. [laughs] There's this sculptor called B. Wurtz, he makes these precious things you might see as trash, and he has this sculpture of metal blocks and other things, and he displayed photographs above them to mess with proportion. So I think of these apps as a forced perspective, so when you're in real life with someone, you're able to reconcile the fact that what I thought you were isn't the reality. Like, you were so hot on my phone, and now I have to go home.
Do you think who you're attracted to has changed during the course of this project?
MJ: Totally. I feel so open, all the people we've met have surprised me. Everyone really wants connection, everyone has been so kind, it's this weird research of how people are good and we all want the same thing, authenticity and love. I really like to interview people and set them up with my friends, even if it's off the podcast, I find that so rewarding.
PV: I feel like I can more comfortably go on dates after this project, because we're asking other people what they want in life and love, and I think those are good things to ask. I wonder what it's like to be a listener and hear a conversation with someone you're going to go on a date with.
MJ: But we don't ask every question. You have to save some stuff for the first date.
PV: The dates I will eventually go on will feel deeply informed by the conversations we have with people, and I'm glad because I don't think I've been a very good date. I think I'm somebody that hooks up and thinks, Oh, I have a boyfriend now, instead of being like, We're going to get to know each other.
MJ: I love how vulnerable everyone is, and that encourages me to feel like I can be too. It's very attractive when people are vulnerable and open, I think.
With your backgrounds in comedy, do you think that those interests have shaped the way that you date, how you interact with your dates?
PV: I think I got into comedy because I need to take life less seriously, and I try to not mine real life in real-time for comedy. It has just helped me relax, I think, to ease into more uncomfortable situations, like being on a first date, in a way that's essentially more relaxed and has helped me prioritize enjoyment and fun.
MJ: Everything is material for me, so if you go on a date with me, watch out. It's in my next play. Not everything, but if there's a word I like or a way someone is doing something, I'll use it. All my friends know, they're like, "Ugh she's going to put this in."
Have you been able to connect people from the podcast so far?
MJ: Yes. We have two people we recorded that are going on a second date, so that's kind of big.
Has your understanding of romance and desire changed doing this podcast?
MJ: Yes. Just the idea of being with someone as a choice has been emphasized on this podcast, the amount of people you can love and the idea of soulmates has changed for me. There are so many people in the world.
PV: What's been reinforced is that most people want the same things, and it's not a lot. People just want to feel respected and valued and that they're spending time with people who are kind. It has really simplified to me the project of connecting with people, it's cleared the confusion about what people want from me and what I want from them. We really just want to share time with people that care about us, and when it's hot sexy fun time, that's great, too. Also, I might be looking for a sugar daddy.
MJ: You want someone to ignore them, but give them the credit card.
PV: That's actually true, the hottest thing you can do is ignore me.