Riders on the NYC subway have seen all forms of entertainment, from dance crews to literary comedy, but the L train line now claims a regular pop-up talk show. Derailed, which posted its premiere episode on YouTube in late 2016, makes stars out of the riders as host Dean Dimitruk challenges them with outrageous questions and feats designed with co-creator Danielle Dweck. So far, Derailed produced five shows that average several minutes in length and include a live Tinder session, a U.S. citizenship test (with shots) and a pop culture flashback mob (think "Harlem Shake," mannequin challenge), among other highlights. The show currently tapes on the L train on weekends, but the duo plans to expand to other subway lines and public transportation systems in the future. Danielle, a comedy writer and content producer, and Dean, a producer and on-air correspondent for Dr. Oz, spoke with PRØHBTD about their traveling talk show.
What was the original premise for the show, and how did it evolve into what you actually debuted on YouTube?
Dean: The original premise is actually very close to what you see on YouTube today. We wanted me to show up on the train with a desk, ride to a nearby station where a random guest would be waiting, have them walk through the curtain and start the show! The only thing that has evolved a little bit is how we structure one episode of the show. We originally tried to go out and do as many bits with as many people as possible whereas now we go out with one idea we really like and try to make sure we nail it.
How would you describe the very first taping on a subway, and how much made it into episode one?
Danielle: The first taping was complete pandemonium. We had no idea if we could even pull the whole thing off logistically, let alone artistically, but after one or two guests, we all realized, "Hey, this actually works!" As the train gods would have it, we got stuck in Brooklyn for 45 minutes, so we had a guest doing scooter tricks, we lost one of the mugs… it was really fun. We originally tried to cram it all into one episode, but that structure didn't work out as well so episode one with Karolina was from our first night as is our "Scheduled Maintenance" video.
I assume you pre-select the guests at the station, but how do you select who you want to approach? What specifically are you looking for?
Dean: Our team has really gotten the guest booking down. They're truly amazing—from my head writer and co-creator Danielle developing the segments and episodes, to our entire crew being willing to participate in all the crazy stuff we do. It’s truly a team effort. They approach people that look outgoing and energetic, and we never ever bring someone on who doesn't want to do it. If you're enthusiastic about participating and have the time, you're probably in. I'm always blown away by how unique and cool every guest is who walks through those curtains.
In Derailed, you make everyday people the star. What have you learned about creating questions and games that tend to get participants and subway riders more engaged?
Danielle: We've learned that every single person has something interesting about themselves, but it's all about finding the right way into the story. We've found that the phone is a great jumping off point for walking smack dab into the middle of someone's life. Going through photos or texts on the spot is a great way to get people talking about relatable stories that are fun. Everyone can admit to snooping on someone’s phone, even if it’s a stranger's. We’re just more upfront about it. Asking a random question like, "Who was the person you hated most in middle school?" is always a good one, too.
I lived in New York City for six years, and I know how much riders loathe subway performers, at least until the performer proves he or she is one of the few good ones. Like at the start of episode four, this means the first few minutes can be tough. What are the telltale signs you are winning the subway crowd over, and do you pound a shot of tequila or smoke a joint to calm your nerves before an episode?
Dean: There's definitely that "WTF is going on" moment every single time I walk on the train with the desk, cameras, Jeremy with the bongos, and the crazy props my team lugs around. I can tell they're trying to figure out whether I'm for real, or just another crazy dude on the subway, and turns out I'm both. But, most of the time once they see the curtain and the guest coming out so full of energy, they realize this isn't a joke and they actually are about to see a late night show. Most people are usually really into it—there are always a ton of people taking out their phones or yelling answers to get in on the action. I don't do anything to calm my nerves beforehand, I think having that energy before we start is a great thing. Plus, tequila is my arch nemesis so that is definitely a no go.
The show takes place in a completely uncontrolled setting where anything can happen. Have there been any outrageous and problematic moments that you couldn't air or didn't capture on film?
Dean: We've all seen someone’s genitalia on the subway one too many times, but somehow that has never happened when we were taping an episode. I think the most problematic moment was probably when we had a miscommunication with our team booking the guest, and as I was revving the crowd up on the subway for the guest, we stopped and nobody came through the door. So I gave this huge speech and then was just sitting there with nothing. I immediately got off the train full of shame. Besides that, our best stuff has made it into the episodes. Our lost shirtless friend Ryan doing pull ups, the desk completely breaking on our most recent episode, we try to include every ridiculous moment.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.