Before there was HBO’s Girls, there was Williamsburg/Bushwick-based web series I Hate Being Single from creator Rob Michael Hugel. The series hilariously captures the exasperation of being a single and lonely hipster in New York, as well as the struggles of financially surviving as a freelancer – all within five-minute webisodes. The show has been compared to the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Portlandia, Louie, Flight of the Concords, and of course, the inevitable referral to Girls. Unlike Girls, however, I Hate Being Single is from a low-budget show from a man’s point of view, more like two dudes gathering laundry and complaining about how dirty the subway is.
Season one, which first aired in January last year, begins with the end of Rob’s relationship, where he is shoved into the depths of the big New York singles sea. This quote, from the protagonist, sums up the sappy view this sensitive guy has on true love:
“I hate parties. I don’t want to do that. I want to go home, stay at home,” Rob sulks to a friend in episode one. “The other day, together, we baked two pumpkin pies and ate both of them in two days – that’s love.”
We sat down with Hugel himself for an exclusive Q+A.
Hugel said I Hate Being Single is based on his first few months in New York when he moved to the city in 2006 to pursue an acting career.
“I moved here, got into a relationship quickly, a four-five month thing, it ended and I suddenly realized ‘I live here and I don’t have many friends.’ I had friends, but no best buds or a strong community. The harsh reality was ‘I’m lonely.’ And I didn’t want to do the regular and popular thing, like go out a lot and celebrate being single.”
During that period, the Virginia native was freelancing various video production gigs and working retail to earn a living. This left Hugel with a lot of free time on his hands at odd hours while everyone else was working full-time jobs. This explains why Rob, the show’s protagonist, is often left wandering around Williamsburg and even befriends his banker.
Hugel does an extraordinary job of developing Rob’s character in those five-minute episodes, probably because he was that lonely and naive Rob at a previous point in his life. As a viewer, you sympathize with Rob, feel sorry for him and understand his love-hate relationship with New York, all while rooting for him; you want Rob to get over his girlfriend, move on and find a good job and a girl. In short, I Hate Being Single is addicting for their sheer relatability, especially since the episodes are so short. They’re almost like vignettes, or days-in-the-life of your single best friend.
The series also does an excellent job of illustrating those self-conscious, lack-of-financial stability moments I’m sure many residents in our neighborhood can relate to, like dealing with that cute girl working for the Children’s Fund asking if you like children.
“How do you guys afford to get brunch every single week,” Rob asks in episode two after being obligated to at least order an orange juice at a restaurant.
“We have jobs,” Rob’s friends respond.
“I have jobs. I have multiple video production jobs…They just don’t happen, you know, on a normal time frame,” Rob says.
Hugel said, while I Hate Being Single is based on his life, it’s not entirely true. He says the story lines veer off into decisions he wishes he’d made or that will be more interesting for the show. While the show may share many similarities to HBO’s Girls, including the setting, Hugel said he is inspired by shows like Seinfeld, The Office (UK version), and Freaks and Geeks.
Hugel began scripting I Hate Being Single in 2010 after taking several improv courses at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), and editing and producing Broad City web series, which is created by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. He began filming the episodes in 2011. However, a year passed before he was able to release them.
“I wanted to do it like TV, where a season gets shot, you edit it, and release it. But it was difficult because the process of filming was slow,” Hugel said. “But it was worth the wait.”
Before Hugel finished filming and editing the entire series, before releasing it on Blip TV, and long before Girls premiered, he submitted some of the episodes to the New York TV Festival in 2011. The show won the Audience Choice Award.
“I had never done a festival, never shown anything I had made, especially something that was so personal and which I had put so much effort into. Winning inspired me to make more,” Hugel said.
Since its release, I Hate Being Single has received more than 4 million views. Hugel has also created more content, including the I Hate Being Single tumblr where he offers relationship advice, spin-off show Rob’s Room and The Real Rob where Hugel – the real Rob – discusses whatever he wants. He’s also working on another spin-off show, Rob Versus the Waiter. The show was also screened before each episode of Girls at Videology Bar in Williamsburg.
Season one ends with Rob joining a singles-cult full of men who live on a secret boat learning to embrace singledom, reminiscent of Neil Strauss’ ridiculous circle of pickup artists. Will Rob regain his mojo? Will he stop being a vegetarian? Will he win his ex-girlfriend back? You’ll have to keep watching to find out. And, in case you’re wondering whether Hugel is single. Sorry gals, he’s been in a relationship for five years. Check out the first episode of the web series, “That’s Love” here!