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Sam Nedimyer was watching a blind date from afar. The girl, a cute blonde named Paige Garrett, had caught his eye, and Nedimyer thought he had a better chance with her than the guy who was chatting her up.
"I was like, you know what? Let me see if I can get on stage. And we went from there," Nedimyer said.
This wasn't at a bar or a restaurant. Nedimyer, 34, was in the audience at a new interactive dating show in New York called UpDating. The show puts strangers on blind dates in front of live and online audiences, who can weigh in through Instagram polls, comments and direct messages. Audience members can send in topics to talk about or vote someone off the date -- or they can do what Nedimyer did, and slide into the show's DMs with a request to go on stage.
"If things get awkward or there's a lull in conversation, the hosts step in and take topics from the audience to help the date out," said Garrett, 28. "It's like improv -- you don't know what's going to be thrown at you."
The date didn't work out for Nedimyer and Garrett. She voted him off and opted for a second date with her first guy.
But UpDating has become a hit with New Yorkers. The start-up has hosted 20 shows around New York since its launch in October. The shows sell out to crowds of about 200, and last month, UpDating began streaming the shows to its Instagram followers.
The idea was hatched by Harrison Forman, a former Facebook employee, and Brandon Berman, a standup comedian, who wanted to create a new type of entertainment for daters in the age of Instagram.
Forman got the idea around 2017, when he was working for Facebook in San Francisco.He was with the company's media operations team, teaching media outlets like Vice and BuzzFeed to use Facebook features for storytelling. When he wasn't working, Forman would use those same tools to entertain his own friends and family. He would live stream himself before dates, give halftime reports during dates and then check in with his followers once again after the dates.
"I've always been passionate about using new tech to tell stories," Forman said.
In New York, Berman thought what Forman was doing was hilarious. The two had been introduced in 2015 when Berman was looking for a creative partner. So Berman urged his buddy to make something out of his live-streamed dates.
"I love when you don't know what happens next," Berman said.
For Berman, UpDating really clicked during a January show. They had a girl and a guy on the date, but the girl was not impressed. She grabbed her mic and said, "You're not good looking enough for me. I'm sorry." Her mom was in the audience — and she stood up and echoed her daughter's sentiment, Berman said. They wanted to replace the guy, but the audience thought otherwise and voted her off instead.
"This was the show where I said this is something people are going to keep coming to," Berman said. "This is real reality."
UpDating is still a modest operation. It pulls in about $2,500 from ticket sales per show, but Forman and Berman are hoping to hit $200,000 in revenue by the end of the year. And the pair want to expand in a variety of ways. They're hoping to expand the show nationally and start selling merchandise, and they're in talks with potential sponsors.
The idea is to have a hyper-focused show for niche audiences in local communities, then use Instagram to host more events around the UpDating brand and sell merchandise to followers, Forman said.
"I don't want to just create another show where you never really break the fourth wall," Forman said. "This is where it's all going."