newsletter #29: interview w/ good children
a convo on creativity, growing up awkward, being a good child, & more.
Hello readers. For this week’s newsletter, I’m coming to you with an interview conversation between myself and the creators of the Good Children podcast, Joe Hegyes and Andrew Muscarella. If you haven’t listened to Good Children yet (what are you waiting for?), here’s some context:
The lovely Joe and Andrew are lifelong friends who grew up on Long Island and now live together in Brooklyn. Through the podcast, the pair talk through the defining elements of their creative, imaginative childhoods where the world of made-for-TV Disney movies, Webkinz, and Abercrombie reigned supreme. And of course, they also dive into the awkwardness of being adolescents (who don’t break the rules) when Tumblr, Instagram, eating disorders, and internalized homophobia were all-consuming.
And thankfully, all of the above is captured on archival home (and Photobooth) video for viewers to see, since Joe and Andrew had a penchant for recording their antics as a gift to their future selves. (This is all to say that, yes, watching the video version of Good Children on YouTube is a must.) The episodes are a generous helping of nostalgia that make you cry from laughter and fall in love with Joe and Andrew. No matter the subject, this pair reflects with grace, humor, and a palatable platonic chemistry that’s so beautifully rare it’ll have you rooting for the Good Children to achieve their wildest dreams along the way.
For now, though, I hope you find our conversation insightful. Among other things, we discuss the creative process, long term friendships, being open with sexuality, their visions for the future, and more.
TW: Mention of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, homophobia.
I sometimes re-listen to Good Children episodes, which I’ve never done before with a podcast. I can’t help myself because they’re so comforting and they make me feel seen. Was this an intentional part of the format for you? Each episode is around 30 minutes long, too. How did you brainstorm the structure and length?
Andrew Muscarella: We started by not having a plan at all. We said, we’re gonna set up a camera in front of us and have a conversation and see where it goes without thinking about how the listeners were gonna resonate. Seeing the response has been overwhelming. People are feeling comforted by what we’re saying, seeing themselves in us, and feeling like they have friends in the podcast.
Joe Hegyes: I listened to a lot of podcasts in 2018, and then fell off. Andrew had never listened to a podcast. I think that was beneficial because we had nothing to compare ourselves to. We literally set up the camera and spoke and didn’t worry about structure. I come from a video editing background, so I consider the YouTube aspect more than the audio podcast. And sometimes I’m like, is that a bad thing? But in terms of how it’s structured, it worked out because there’s a beginning, middle, and end. Most of the time we’re getting a lot of feedback from listeners, too, which guides the way the episodes are shaped. The only thing we knew for sure was that we were going to do a snack-eating segment at the end.
I love the YouTube component. I started listening to it on Spotify. And then when you did the Repressed Theater Gays episode that had the most archival footage, I started watching on YouTube because I wanted to see your old videos. Then I rewatched all of them on YouTube because I loved your facial expressions and the way you both interact.
I wanted to ask you about your friendship, too. I feel like some of my oldest friendships are also the ones that are extremely complicated, too, because there’s so much history to build on, there are more points of contention, you know all of their behavior patterns. I’m wondering what it’s been like rehashing your friendship on screen and working with your friend of so many years as well.
JH: I’ve learned a lot more about who we were by doing this. A lot of tension in relationships builds from never talking about it. Any kind of tension that we did have, which wasn’t a lot by the time we decided to start this, is slowly being brought up in the episodes. We cut it out, but last week we got into a fight while recording the episode. There was a point where I pushed too far and Andrew had to bully me back. And those are teachable moments for our relationship. Because ideally we want to do this for the rest of our lives. How can we make sure that we learn something every time instead of continuing to push boundaries that shouldn’t be pushed? I feel fortunate that we can show other people our roadmap to that.
AM: Our whole friendship has never really had a lot of tension. I’m somebody who is very easygoing and I’m there for the ride. Joe has always been like the director. Even watching back old videos, Joe would be like “do this” and I would be like “okay.”
JH: I was really mean.
AM: I would do it. I knew that what we were putting out there was going to be funny or great. I believed in everything.
While you both discuss your religious, body, and sexuality-related trauma on the podcast in a funny way, I feel super validated by it. It feels good to hear someone talking about some of the cultural taboos that impacted people in our specific age group as children.
JH: We don’t consider a lot of what we’re saying until we hear a response to it because we’re such an echo chamber. It’s hard to even grasp that that’s what we’re talking about. But to your first point, I think most of my life is impacted by homophobia, by fatphobia. That is why I am funny now, that is why I was on the internet my entire childhood. I found safety being away from people. We’re watching Girls right now so I’m very much in that mindset. Lena Dunham was someone who was talking about the problems that a white girl living in Brooklyn faces, and people relentlessly hated her for it, which is maybe because it was not done as comedically. We learned from her mistakes and we’re really lucky that we started this off by laughing at ourselves. If we took it any other direction it could be taken so flippantly, and like we think that our problems are the worst problems in the world, and that this is the first time anyone’s ever dealt with these things. We have seen how much worse off other people are. Our problems suck, but they are problems you can laugh at. You can minimize them. We don’t have to make them our entire life story.
AM: We’re also working through a lot on the podcast in real time. I think us being so open about the traumas that we experienced as kids are hopefully helping people to show up as their authentic selves and say what is on their minds, which is really important. For me, my story was a little bit different than Joe’s because I felt like I always had something to prove. I was always doing sports. I was always doing these different things to be like, let’s like deflect from the fact that you’re going to call me fat, or you’re going to call me gay, and instead appreciate my success or the things that I’m good at. But obviously we’ve taken a step back and been able to analyze that.
JH: I don’t think I’ve ever been this gay publicly in my entire life, and I think that is definitely a defining part of this so far. Every boundary I set up for myself to avoid being called gay, like speaking in a lower register, avoiding conversation, now it’s all out there. There’s no hiding it, which is so genuinely healing. Behind the scenes, our internalized homophobia is slowly disappearing. All these things I thought about myself at 15, I’m slowly realizing how horrible I was to myself. All of this trauma is being unpacked every single week just by talking and posting it to the internet.
You both talked about your past eating disorders and how quarantine exacerbated this issue. You also touch on the social anxiety of being seen eating when you have an eating disorder or are a fat person—down to the minutiae of getting too much butter on your popcorn at the movie theater, asking for more at the buffet, etc. How did you all process your eating disorders and what did you do to heal?
AM: I think eating disorders don’t go away. We’ve always been pretty big binge eaters, and we lean into that when we ebb and flow through different emotions. Quarantine was definitely the most intense one that we experienced. Because again, growing up fully surrounded by fatphobia, that’s always in the back of your head. Especially being newly gay and entering that space, we felt like we had to look a certain way to do it. That was what was driving our brains. Eventually though, we were like, what are we doing to our bodies? What are we doing to our minds? This is not okay. We both helped each other through that.
JH: I think that we both synced up eating disorders in a really dark time. My hair was falling out, l could not stand up without feeling lightheaded. We rewarded ourselves every Friday night with a nostalgic snack like we do on the podcast. That was the one day a week where we actually enjoyed eating food. And then moving in together and Andrew becoming a full-time fitness coach, his understanding of what nutrition is helped me. My obsession with being skinny also took a backseat and made me realize that my obsession, in and of itself, was fatphobic toward other people. The fact that I care this much about my own body is selfish, in a way, and superficial. It took a lot of like affirmations while looking in the mirror, touching our stomachs, and praising ourselves.
I love that you called the podcast Good Children. I think there’s a gap in art and media for the kids and teens who were scared of getting in trouble, the ones who weren’t sneaking out or drinking, and instead, were hanging out in their basements but had big dreams. When did you decide to make a podcast about this aspect of childhood?
AM: We were thinking about who we are today and we were doing some research. We found that there’s something called Good Child Syndrome, and it was defined as not being able to speak up for yourself and always doing what’s expected of you. In the long run it can create anxiety, depression, or not doing what you want to do. We got to a point where we were experiencing those symptoms and we realized this is actually us coming from us at this point, because our parents are unbelievable people who would have wanted literally anything for us. But they wanted to set us up for success. We believed in what they wanted for us. For me, I was like, I’m going to play lacrosse. I’m going to get good grades. I’m not going to drink because that’s bad. I won’t do drugs because that’s bad. These are all the things that they expected, and I was not able to say that’s not what I want.
JH: Ever since I was in high school I wanted to write. It was the thing I did in my free time constantly. The biggest creative frustration for me the whole time was the way that kids are represented in the media. It’s irked me since I was 14 to see full grown adults playing children. As I studied screenwriting in college, I was constantly trying to write things that reflected my teenage years which felt, to me, a lot more like a middle schooler was depicted on TV than a high schooler. In high school I felt like a freak because I was not having sex, doing drugs, drinking. I was like, I’m mentally 12. But I want to rewrite the standard and be like, no, we were losers in high school and this is how it was. To the kids who are still growing up in that state, watching Riverdale or Euphoria and being like, that’s high school? I want them to please understand that you can just sit at home and that might be the better option for you.
Let’s talk about today. What do you want to do with your future? What are your dreams? What are your goals for Good Children?
JH: Our goal for Good Children actually started as a TV show. We wrote a pilot together and had the full four seasons written out. We brought it to a few companies and a lot of the responses were like, we don’t know what your dynamic is, we don’t know your chemistry. So we were like, let’s make the podcast. In the future, I want to make a million shows and movies. That’s my goal in life. Ideally, if I stick to my values, it would be shows for teenagers and for people who were those teenagers to make them feel like they’re not alone. I’d also like to reverse some of the negative stereotypes around the characters that I always paid more attention to, like the bitchy Emma Roberts characters, taking them and maybe absolving their sins. My heroes weren’t always the best people on screen because I was always really susceptible to what I thought was going to make me cool or what people were going to respect. I want to make the world kinder through writing.
AM: I don’t want to be as much of a writer. That’s always been an avenue that I feel I’ve struggled with. With Joe, our power together is that I’m a talker. I have all these ideas. I’ll be like, I’m going to word vomit right now and Joe’s like, fuck yeah. I’d love to continue to write alongside Joe, but I really want to perform in every single space. I want to act. I want to sing. I would love to be on Broadway. Everything that Joe writes I’m like, Joe, write me in. I’d love to be directed, act more, make people laugh, and make people feel seen.