MTV’s Catfish (named for the term for pretending to be someone you’re not online) is one of our top guilty-pleasure shows. Now nerd-hottie host Nev Schulman has a new book, In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age (Grand Central Publishing, $18). In it, he breaks down catfish and catfishee psychology and shares some of the show’s inner workings, but much of the book is devoted to his own evolution from rude boy to earnest offline advocate—and a surprisingly inspiring call to dial down screen time in favour of IRL interactions. FLARE talked to Schulman about friendship, the scourge of selfies and his favourite Catfish happy endings.
How did you squeeze writing into your busy TV schedule? Writing the book was actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be. When it comes to homework I have the attention span of a goldfish, but if given the opportunity to have a conversation and discuss things I’m passionate about I can focus for hours. I had an audio recorder and a friend taking notes and we just talked for a total of about 18 hours over the course of a few months. Then I organized all the material and trimmed it down and voila!
What was the hardest part about writing the book? Remembering that I’m not a comedian. I kept wanting to make the book funny and entertaining for the readers in a way that I would enjoy myself. It took me a while to realize that speaking in my own voice and keeping it authentic to who I am was the best thing I could do.
You’re very candid about some of your past shenanigans. Which incident was the most embarrassing to write about? I think the “taking a dump in a cereal dispenser” story was probably the one I reconsidered the most. Not because it’s such a terrible thing, but because I just can’t believe how immature and ridiculous I used to be.
What did you learn about yourself while writing the book? Mostly that it’s a lot easier to think and say what you’re going to do than it is to actually do it…but I’m working on it.
You talk a lot about the temptations of social media in the book. Which ones do you still fiend for the most? For me social media in general is just a great distraction. Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated, sad or lonely, I always find myself spending hours on Vine or Instagram consuming content. It fills the void temporarily, but doesn’t actually help me feel any better about the situation or myself. The only way to do that is to get up, get focused, and go do something.
If you could make people give up ONE bad social media habit, what would it be? Selfies. The world doesn’t need to see you, but it could benefit from seeing what you see.
Which part of your book is your personal favourite? Probably the chapters on friendship. I wish somebody had explained to me when I was a kid that being popular and having lots of friends isn’t really what you should be going after. Instead, identifying and earning the friendship of a select group of people who inspire you and respect you is way more fulfilling.
You have serious Zen powers in dealing with the catfishes with empathy and fairness, but which one made you the angriest? Why? I think Bryan from season 2. While I understand he has some personal issues and past experiences that he was struggling with, I just couldn’t comprehend how he could be anything but apologetic to Jenn when we showed up. I mean, why would you want the world to see you as a jerk when you could be a good guy (even if just for the cameras)?
Do you keep in touch with any of the catfish or hopefuls? I maintain contact with many of the people on the show who want to stay in contact with me. Some do, some don’t.
What are your favourite Catfish happy endings? I have always been really inspired by our very first catfish, Chelsea. She totally turned her life around after we filmed and is still on a great path. Same goes for Matt Lowe and Dorion.