Nearly three years after parlaying a starring role in the 2010 documentary Catfish into an equally compelling docu-series about Internet dating for MTV, Nev Schulman’s cultural imprint continues to expand.
Just last year he released a book, In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age, and this year his similarly-titled podcast — In Real Life with Nev Schulman: Real People, Real Issues, Real Talk — made its debut on iHeartRadio (new episodes air every Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET).
His ventures into the worlds of podcasting and writing show that Catfish is just the tip of the Schulman iceberg. Tonight (March 11), after a new episode of Catfish featuring guest co-host Angel Haze, we’ll see a new side of Nev: Family conflict resolver.
Nev’s latest project, Truce, airs tonight on MTV at 11 p.m. ET. Unlike Catfish, this special isn’t fixated on confirming or debunking Internet relationships, but rather about bringing estranged people back together. And just like tonight’s Catfish, rapper-singer Angel Haze will serve as his Truce co-host.
Nev recently spoke to Billboard about how he linked up with Angel Haze, their burgeoning friendship, why Truce had to be a separate show from Catfish and what music he’s listening to these days.
With your usual co-host Max Joseph working on his directorial debut (We Are Your Friends, starring Zac Efron), you’ve had a bunch of co-hosts this season. Tonight is Angel Haze. How did you guys get her involved in the first place?
It’s actually a funny story. We were in the pre-season, before we started shooting, when we found out we were gonna need some cohosts. We were putting together a list of interesting people who we thought would work and be interested in it. MTV put together a list and one of the names I was looking at was Azealia Banks. So I’m sitting in a car with my mom, dad and a friend of mine. I was going over the list and my friend said, “Oh, well even cooler than Azealia Banks is this girl Angel Haze.” And they had some thing, like, they’d gone toe-to-toe on Twitter a couple years ago. And I thought, “She sounds cool, I want to speak with this girl.” So I looked up Angel Haze and immediately was like, “This is the kind of girl I want on the show.” I hadn’t heard of her before that. I knew of the song “New York” but I hadn’t really paid attention to it. They reached out to her and she was totally down.
I met with her at the same time we were developing this other show, Truce. We got along really well, which was a relief, because we were already slated to do this Catfish episode together. So I decided to bring her on as a co-host for this new show. We’ve become pretty good friends.
Where did the idea for Truce come from?
It came as a result of three seasons of Catfish and feeling that I have a unique role in pop culture right now. I have the ability to go almost anywhere in the country and have people receive me with good energy and positive vibes. The show I make doesn’t really lean in any direction: It appeals to red and blue states. I have the ability to go from Oakland, CA to Texas and have young and old people really happy to meet me. They love my show and respect what I do — which is to try to help people. So we thought, “Okay, if I have the ability to go anywhere and help people with issues, we should do something with that.” I wanted to keep doing a show like Catfish that allows me to travel, meet people, get involved in their lives and help them deal with something. But I didn’t want to limit it to online relationships. And that’s what Truce is.
You’ve fallen into this role as a conflict resolver. Is that something that’s been with you all your life?
[Laughs] No. It’s almost humorous. Most of my life I’ve been the one in conflict. Causing problems and, if anything, talking my way out of issues for myself. Which is maybe why I feel like I’m uniquely well-trained to help other people do it now. I spent the majority of my life apologizing and convincing people to give me a second chance. And now I can help people do that, too. For so many people, apologizing is the hardest thing, but it’s also the key to getting past something. So that’s what I’m trying to do with this show. Catfish is a non-judgmental, supportive show that gives people permission to feel things. And it accepts them. I’ve earned people’s respect with it and I want to keep doing that.
What was casting like for this?
We get the request, similar to Catfish, and then there’s an uncertainty. We don’t know how it will go, this could blow up in our face — we’re dealing with volatile situations. We’re looking into stories that might be one person in conflict with another, or a family having a conflict with another, or itself. Or maybe a third person reaches out because their kids are fighting. I think for the most part, people want to fix things and be happy. I serve as a negotiator to say, “Hey, if that’s what you want, let me moderate this situation.”
How is Angel different from Max as a co-host?
Very different. [Laughs.] She’s a real — and I don’t want Max to read this wrong — but she’s a real artist in a very raw, organic way. She feels a lot and sees things through a unique and artistic lens. As a writer and songwriter, she has a lyrical way of experiencing the world around her and expressing herself. Even the way she speaks, by using time and pauses in her phrasing. Also, she’s a 23-year-old black woman, which is already different from Max. And that’s something we wanted in my co-host. In the special, we were dealing with a black mom and her black daughter. Even though they’re people and I can relate to them in many ways, I can’t relate to them in ways that Angel can. That’s the key we were hoping to get with a female and someone of a different ethnicity. If you can’t say something to me, hopefully you can say it to her. It was miraculous. This episode is crazy amazing, both what happened and how hugely important Angel was to the process.
She’s very open about not conforming to sexual norms, too.
And her comfort in talking about it. She’s open and expressive and it gives people permission to do the same.
Might there be more episodes of Truce?
We haven’t filmed any other episodes but I know from a brief period of casting that there are so many of these stories. When you put up an alert that you want to help people resolve conflicts, it’s crazy how many people were like, “My parents are fighting” or “I’m fighting with my friends.” We got an application from a kid whose two best friends growing up are now in different gangs. They’re enemies but they don’t want to be. Every time I talk about it with people, they have somebody they’d love to reconnect with and apologize to. I think Truce will hit home and resonate with people.
And knowing Catfish, people can trust they’re not walking into a Jerry Springer-like situation.
Exactly. I personally would never make that show. I’m constantly still shocked that people want to come on Catfish. Not so much the hopefuls — although I do think at this point you have to know that if I’m helping you meet someone from the Internet, they’re not the person you think they are. But I’m always surprised the catfish agrees to come on the show. They’ve been lying, usually doing something wrong, hurting someone and themselves. And they’re exposing themselves in a way that’s very vulnerable. And I remind myself — they’re doing this because they trust me. They’ve seen the show and they know we’re not going to point a finger, laugh and make them feel bad. They know we’re going to try to help them tell the truth in a constructive way and grow, to learn and change from it. That’s why they do it. I value that permission that people give me to usher them through a hurtful but sensitive time in their lives.
The last episode was a great example of that. The catfish seemed to have a foot fetish, which some people on Twitter freaked out over. You treated it respectfully. On your In Real Life podcast after the show, you delved into that further, explaining that a foot fetish isn’t actually that weird and people should be more open to it. I’m wondering if maybe a sex column is next for you.
I’m constantly questioning myself. Which I think is essential and everybody should do more. But I don’t know what my official expertise is or what I should or shouldn’t be offering advice on. I’m careful not to say, “I know this is right, do this.” I’m learning every day and finding out I’m wrong. I’m very happy to be corrected or taught something new if it’s an improvement. I’m looking to get more honest, open and discuss more things. That’s what Truce is, and that’s why I’m contributing opinion pieces to a site called ATTN. We need people to remind us to talk about things. That’s what Catfish did for Internet relationships. It opened the floodgates so people could talk about it. I’m hoping Truce will do this for a different kind of issue.
Angel Haze & Nick Jonas Team Up for Sexy ‘Numb’
Switching gears: What kind of music do you and Max listen to on the road while filming Catfish?
Here’s the saddest thing. When we’re in the car, we can’t listen to music. We can’t get rights to stuff, or the producers don’t want to. So we never have music on in case the phone rings or we’re talking. Unfortunately we don’t listen to music in the car. But in our hotel rooms, Max is a big music guy and he’s been working on this movie about music [his film is about a DJ] for the last two years. So I’ve been listenng to a lot of cool EDM music and a lot of DFA, disco-punk and things like that. My personal style lately is… I was really into Rhye and Milosh, those were albums I listened to this last year. Alt-j is pretty rad. I love Blood Orange, Blake Mills. I ‘ve recently been listening to St. Vincent a lot. Like the majority of America, I downloaded the Beck album after the Grammys. I’m into it. It was surprising; I didn’t realize it would be so mellow. I love Blood Orange, Blake Mills.
What about the songs that pop up on Catfish? Do you choose any of those?
As often as I can, I’ll send a song over if it’s a friend or an artist I think is great and I’ll say, “Hey, let’s put this in” and they do. So I try to use it as a way to promote friends or talented young musicians whenever I can. I’m happy that our show, and others on MTV, help people discover new music. And obviously it’s in line with the original mission statement of MTV. It’s also a testament to the teamwork that goes on with the show. It’s a unified front of people who get the show and what we’re going for. Our music supervisor, Allison Thiel, does a great job with that.
Watch the Angel Haze co-hosted episode of Catfish tonight on MTV at 10 p.m. ET and Truce tonight at 11 p.m. ET, also on MTV.