Mining kids’ original thoughts as a source of entertainment has a long and cute history, from Johnny Carson’s reading of school-age kids’ letters on the Tonight Show in the 1970s and Rosie O’Donnell sharing children’s jokes on her 1990s talk show, to Jimmy Kimmel featuring kids in video bits and, of course, the ongoing series Kids Say the Darndest Things and Kids React.
But with Recess Therapy — the runaway-hit Instagram series that asks kids on the street to weigh in on topics from superheroes to climate change —creator, host and producer Julian Shapiro-Barnum is looking to shift from that groundwork.
“I use it kind of as a counter text [to the] vetted kids who have gone through probably a couple rounds of interviews,” he tells Yahoo Life. “I've always found what makes Recess Therapy special is that it can be any kid — no studio … [or] casting call or anything. It’s really just the kids walking around Brooklyn.” And unlike some of the historic ways of approaching kids and their humor, he adds, “I try to meet them exactly where they're at and, like, feel like a peer with them a little bit.”
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: Do you have New Year's resolutions?
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: What are they?
- Playing more instruments, be taller.
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: Does being short hold you back?
- Not at all.
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: "Recess Therapy" is an on the street kids interview show where I walk around and ask kids questions about things that I'm kind of wondering about and dealing with in the world. And through that hear their hilarious, cathartic and beautiful responses.
- I want to be a good adult that understands kids.
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: We've covered things from climate change to aliens to magic to sexuality to gender to superpowers. We cover it all.
Do you believe in aliens?
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: How many do you think there are?
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: Just one?
What would you say the meaning of life is?
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: I have three moms and two dads. The one thing that I can point out that I think directly connects to "Recess Therapy" is that I, as a kid, was very much treated kind of older by them. I felt like they really respected me in a way that I try to do that with the kids. I try to meet them exactly where they're at and feel like a peer with them a little bit.
What do you think the future is going to be like?
- Just the unending fear.
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: Well, I'm with you there, OK? Solidarity. I get very nervous sometimes to talk to kids about something like death. I was really surprised that all the parents were OK with it.
What do you think happens after you die?
- You're just waiting in like this infinite dark space and you can't just do anything and you're just there.
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: Like a DMV?
JULIAN SHAPIRO-BARNUM: I think "Recess Therapy" is positive but not dishonest. We don't hide that there is, like, ugliness in the world and that, like, kids are grappling with these issues. These are the young folks and they're thinking and, like, giving us hope for the future, maybe.