I had an interesting, and illuminating, chat about student loans, of all things, with Michael Torpey, host of Paid Off With Michael Torpey on truTV. Paid Off is a game show with some humor. The contestants all have substantial student loans, and compete to have their debts taken care of by the show.
It premieres July 10.
Torpey is an actor and a comedian. He played corrections officer Thomas Humphrey on Orange Is the New Black, a character he describes as “a horrible monster,” “an absolute piece of shit” and “a sociopath—not a nice guy at all.”
Miserable character notwithstanding, Torpey speaks highly of his time on Orange, mentioning the fairly rare occurrence of “working on something that satisfies you creatively, socially and morally as a human being.”
It’s Torpey’s first time hosting a game show. The student loan issue is a personal one for him. He mentions being in a position to attend college without loans, which enabled him to study theater, and go after acting gigs post-college. He helped pay off his girlfriend’s college debt after landing a Hanes commercial with Michael Jordan, which brought tears to her eyes. “The American dream is very much alive, but accessibility [to it] is not there for everyone,” he said.
Cowboy Bear Ninja produces the show. Michael Melamedoff and Adrian Selkowitz are executive producers for Cowboy Bear Ninja alongside Torpey, Ethan Berlin and Leigh Hampton.
Torpey said MTV’s Remote Control game show from the late '80s is an influence. “I love that feeling of anything can happen,” he said of the freewheeling, Ken Ober-hosted gamer.
His highlight for the season, Torpey said, is any time someone wins the grand prize, and sees their student debt disappear. “If they win, it frees them up to chase their dreams,” he said. “It untaps this potential that the country has.”
The goals of Paid Off, he added, are giving away money to people who can use it, and raising awareness for the student loan issue. “The big, big goal is to help model empathy in our country right now,” Torpey said. “It’s good practice for us, as a country—when we see someone saying, I’m having a tough time, we say, what can we do about it?”