The student loan crisis is so absurd, one Hollywood actor is solving it in the most ridiculous way — with a comedy trivia show called “Paid Off.” The 16-episode game show series, hosted by Michael Torpey, from “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix, puts contestants through fast-paced rounds of trivia. In the end, the winner gets bragging rights…and a big fat check to have their student debt paid off. So far the show has given away half a million dollars — depending on the amount of outstanding debt, contestants can win anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000.
Torpey stopped by our New York studio to talk about his new show and share how the student debt crisis hits home for his own family.
You’re taking a depressing topic and making it funny and relatable. But our viewers are going to wonder: how did he go from a show like ‘Orange is the New Black’ to this comedy trivia show?
Torpey: Yeah, it’s not the straightest line on the surface. But my personal experience with student debt is that I did not have any. My parents told me to go get into the best college you can get into and that they would figure out how to pay for it. And that freed me up to do the financially irresponsible thing of being a theater major. If I knew I was facing $80,000 of debt on the other side of my college education, I wouldn’t have majored in theater, I would’ve felt pressured to do something else.
So I really started learning about student debt when I met my wife. She owed around $40,000 in loans and she was making it work, she was hustling, babysitting on the weekends, but it was definitely something that was slowing down her career and holding her back from the things she had gone to college to learn.
At the same time, I had just booked my first large commercial campaign, a Hanes commercial with Michael Jordan, it was my first big national commercial campaign and it was the first time I had money in my savings account at the end of the year. So we got engaged and we started talking about her debt and said let’s take this money and just wipe out your debt. Her loans had high interest rates and I wanted to take that money and get rid of them, get married and have a clean start. When we wrote the check and put it in the envelope my wife started crying and I felt embarrassed, I didn’t understand what she had been carrying with her, the invisible burden of debt, and how it affects every decision you make.
People get to see a different side of you, totally different from your character on ‘”range is the New Black.” Tell us about the game and how it works.
Torpey: The show is about putting a face to this crisis and asking people fun, at times insanely stupid trivia questions and giving them a chance to win some money. “Orange is the New Black” woke me up to the idea of a show being satisfying in an entertainment way, and also in a social justice way. I had the gift of speaking with women who had been in prison and who talked about what the show meant to them and how they felt seen. I think with “Paid Off” I found another way to combine those two things. I wanted to tackle this crisis that is absolutely ridiculous and make a show that is just as ridiculous to match.
“Paid Off” premieres July 10th at 10 p.m. ET on Tru TV.
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