Michael Torpey has been a regular on your television (or, more likely, the streaming site of your choice) since 2008. You may have enjoyed him on 30 Rock, Veep, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. If, however, you remained unaware of his work until his 2016 turn as abusive sociopath CO Humphrey on Orange Is the New Black, getting comfortable with his jovial turn as the creator and host of new game show Paid Off may take you a hot minute.
The adjustment is definitely worth it. Starting yesterday — July 10th — truTV began airing Paid Off, the game show that helps people pay off their student loan debt. Yep, we have arrived in a dystopia lite where roughly four-in-ten adults under 30 carry student loan debt and the best hope of paying it off is to go on a televised trivia contest. But unlike a true dystopian game show, like The Running Man or The Hunger Games, this show wants to help the contestants as much as possible. Without killing them.
“We made sure that nobody goes home empty handed on this show, but beyond that, I wanted it to be a pleasurable experience for them,” Torpey explains. “I wanted them to know that I was on their side and that we were there together to raise awareness for a situation that is horribly unfair.”
Uproxx chatted with Torpey about his upcoming show and its inspirations, as well as his love of Remote Control, his relationship with the contestants, and his hopes for the future of student loan debt. It’s a great read while those of us with existing loans keep an eye out for contestant calls.
Let’s start with the origins. You’re the creator, how did you come up with this?
I did not have any debt coming out of college. I was very lucky. My parents took out a second line of equity on their house and told me, “Go get into the best school you can get into and we will figure out a way to pay for it.” And that’s what I tried to do. I went to Colgate University and my folks said that they would take care of the finances and it freed me up to study whatever I wanted and not worry about whether I would be able to tackle a mountain of debt as soon as I finished studying. What that led me to was being a theater major, which is financially a terrible decision. I would not have probably done that if I knew that I was staring at a mountain of debt afterward. I would have felt more pressure to go into something that more directly leads to a career.