Few models have seamlessly made the transition to the silver screen and television as successfully as Brooklyn Decker. Brooklyn leapt from the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue (the Oscars of swimsuit modeling) onto the big screen in 2011’s hit rom-com, Just Go With It. Aside from her classic slow-mo emergence from the Hawaiian sea in a swimsuit, reminiscent of the classic film, 10 starring Bo Derek, she held her own opposite comedic heavyweights Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Hollywood took notice, subsequently casting her in 2012’s Battleship, alongside Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna and Liam Neeson. Next up was the ensemble comedy What to Expect When You’re Expecting (based on the mega-bestselling mom-to-be tome) alongside a bevy of A-list actresses, including: Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick. Decker famously played the young and super fit “pregnant unicorn” who leaves actress Elizabeth Banks’ pregnant character scratching her head in envy and disbelief.
On social media, where most celebrities are retouching their images, Brooklyn thinks nothing of going makeup and photoshop-free at times, fearlessly repping the daily rigors of being a multitasking working mom, while adding tech entrepreneur to her growing resume with her recently-funded fashion startup, Finery.
Brooklyn Decker is currently riding a wave of success, playing the role of Mallory Hanson on the hit Netflix series, Grace and Frankie, now in its fourth season. Decker’s character Mallory is a young married mother of four children, navigating complicated relationships with her parents, played by Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen, and her sister, played by June Diane Raphael.
I caught up with this super babe turned superwoman for a chat about the success of Grace and Frankie, how Netflix is transforming the entertainment industry and the evolution of great characters on television.
Allison Kugel: What have you learned about great comedy through playing the role of Mallory on Grace and Frankie?
Brooklyn Decker: I’ve learned from my colleagues on the show, especially June Diane Raphael who plays my sister. She’s one of the most talented comedic actresses I’ve ever worked with. What I’ve learned from her and from the rest of the cast is the more you’re playing a scene, the funnier it becomes. All of us, when we’re shooting, we play with each other… that sounds very in appropriate by the way (laughs)…
Allison Kugel: (Laughs) Don’t worry. My mind was not in the gutter…
Brooklyn Decker: Ha! We’re like, “Can I push you here? Or maybe can you grab my hair here?” We do get physical, and we find a way to play with each other to bring physicality to the scene. What happens from that is it becomes funnier, and it feels more real. I really learned that from June, who, again is one of the funniest people in my life. And the wealth of talent on our show is just incredible. I’ve really learned that when it comes to comedy, if you’re having a fun time, the audience is going to have a fun time.
Allison Kugel: I agree! June Diane Raphael is a very talented comedic actress, and the two of you play so well off each other as sisters on the show. There’s an interesting parallel of female relationships on Grace and Frankie. You have the close relationship between Jane Fonda’s character, Grace, and Lily Tomlin’s character, Frankie. At the same time, there is the sister relationship between your character, Mallory, and June’s character, Brianna. You don’t often get to see one close female relationship on television, so two female storylines in one show is pretty cool!
Brooklyn Decker: You’re one of the few people who have clued into that. Someone else commented to me that it’s rare to see sisters on television. There aren’t these female relationships that are at a deep level. I feel like Grace and Frankie does a really good job of showing sisterhood as friendship. But yeah, you are one of the few people who have mentioned that.
Allison Kugel: Thank you for that, and I’m surprised more people haven’t made that observation. Tell me the difference between Jane Fonda’s comedic style versus Lily Tomlin’s comedic style.
Brooklyn Decker: They approach their work entirely differently from one another. Lily is just in the scene. She doesn’t care about the technical aspect of a scene. She just wants to be present and then receive. As far as her character Frankie goes, she really embodies that. Jane is so technically perfect. She knows where every camera is, she knows when to take a pause, she knows how to angle her face. They do very few takes with Jane, because everything is pretty perfect. Whereas Lily gets on set and likes to play. You get something different from Lily on every take, because she’s constantly playing, constantly moving. They approach acting so differently; it’s similar to the difference in their characters. It’s fascinating to see the two of them work together. They just rib each other all day long. You can see that there’s so much love and history there.
Allison Kugel: Because they’ve worked together before…
Brooklyn Decker: Yep, 9 to 5!
Allison Kugel: One of my favorite movies of all time! Speaking of which, will Dolly Parton make a guest appearance on Grace and Frankie?
Brooklyn Decker: Abso-freakin-lutely! We beg for it every episode. They’re so secretive about it, that I don’t know if it is in the works, or if it will ever happen. I know that a lot of fans of Jane and Lily have wanted to see Dolly on the show because of 9 to 5. In the first two seasons they wanted to make sure that they fleshed out the show before they brought in what would be the tornado that is Dolly Parton. Now that we are in Season Four, they are playing it super close to the vest.
Allison Kugel: How is it having Martin Sheen, who is also a fantastic actor, playing your father?
Brooklyn Decker: He is such a wonderful person. One of my favorite shows of all time, before doing Grace and Frankie, was The West Wing. Everyone says you should never meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed. I was nervous to work with him, because I really had him on this pedestal. And he is such a kind, present, lovely person. My son was born when I was shooting the show, and the next week he brought me a rosary with the date that my son was born. He’s so paternal and wonderful, and to be able to play his daughter feels really natural. I have such respect and affection for him.
Allison Kugel: You were pregnant in Season Three? I just watched it and you weighed 2 lbs!
Brooklyn Decker: Well, no, I was pregnant in Season Two, and then I was pregnant with my second this upcoming Season Four.
Allison Kugel: I’m going to be on the lookout for a bump in Season Four!
Brooklyn Decker: It’s so confusing. June and I have four children altogether, off the show, and I have four children on the show. We have trouble keeping up with what’s real and what’s fake. It’s all very confusing (laughs).
Allison Kugel: Do yours and June’s kids have playdates?
Brooklyn Decker: Yes. When I’m in LA they have; when we all get together.
Allison Kugel: Could you see you and your husband (tennis star, Andy Roddick) being parents to four kids like your character Mallory?
Brooklyn Decker: Honestly, that’s my dream! I want a ton of children. Both me and my brother wish that we had more brothers and sisters. Whereas my husband comes from a family with three boys, and he likes the idea of two. So far, we’re good with two and we’ll see where that takes us.
Allison Kugel: Of course, the main plotline of Grace and Frankie is that Robert and Sol, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, come out as gay after their kids are grown up, they announce they’re in love and leave their respective wives (played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) to be together. Your character, Mallory, being one of the grown children, has to process and deal with that on the show. Have you ever thought about how you would react if that were to happen in your real life? If you had a parent who came out later in life and left your other parent, how do you think you and your brother might have handled those circumstances?
Brooklyn Decker: That’s interesting. I’ve had two male friends who had children and came out to their wives later in life. It hasn’t happened to me, personally, but people do go through it and I think I can relate to the kids on the show. During Season One, one of the more poignant moments was a scene when all of the kids were having a conversation, and basically saying, “We’re not mad that dad’s gay. We love dad no matter what. We’re mad that he’s been lying to his wife, our mother and our family, for twenty years. For me it would be about the fact that they’ve been having an affair for twenty years; that would be a big deal. June’s character, Brianna, said on the show, “What if dad had been having an affair with a woman? We would all be pissed. But because it’s a man, we have to accept it.” I think that is so true. That was an interesting thing to tackle on the show, and I feel like that would probably be true in real life. If a parent was having an affair, and had been having an affair with one person for so many years, that would be the issue. For me, it would be less about their sexual orientation.
Allison Kugel: You came on the scene as a model. Back when you were on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, was the end goal an acting career?
Brooklyn Decker: When I moved to New York and first started modeling, I moved thinking that I was just going to pay for school. That was the goal. When I started modeling I was eighteen, and all of my friends were in their freshman year at college. I really missed that. The reason I started studying acting was because I really missed school. My manager said, “Why don’t you get an acting coach and study acting? It will at least give you something to read and study when you’re on the road.” I liked that idea, so I started studying with a coach in New York and we started reading a bunch of Tennessee Williams. We approached it in a weird way, kind of academically. It was less about performance and more about learning and studying. I fell in love with studying acting. When I started auditioning, I didn’t think anything would come from it.
Allison Kugel: What made you come to that conclusion?
Brooklyn Decker: Growing up in Matthew, North Carolina, becoming an actor and becoming a model wasn’t a realistic career path. My brother’s a firefighter, my mom’s a retired nurse. It’s not something that you do where I’m from. We weren’t in the arts. In that respect, it was something that happened by chance. Once I started studying and auditioning, I fell in love with it and then of course I really wanted it. By 2010, I got three movies in one year. The second I booked my third movie, I said to my manager, “I’m quitting modeling. I’m done.”
Allison Kugel: One of those movies was Just Go With It with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston?
Brooklyn Decker: Just Go With It, Battleship and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Once I booked my third movie, I had the courage to decide to stop modeling and focus on acting, and that was seven years ago.
Allison Kugel: At what point did you feel like you made the transition from a model who’s done some acting, to an actor?
Brooklyn Decker: I don’t feel like that… yet.
Allison Kugel: You don’t??
Brooklyn Decker: I do think that as a model, especially one who was in Sports Illustrated, which really puts you on the map, you have a lot to prove. People are constantly viewing you as one thing, and seeing you as sort of a wannabe (laughs).
Allison Kugel: I get it. When you’re on the Grace and Frankie set, you’re surrounded by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston, Martin Sheen, June Diane Raphael who is a seasoned comedienne. You got a seat at the table, but are you constantly questioning, “Do I belong here?” “Should I be here?” Or do you feel like, “Yes! I belong here.”?
Brooklyn Decker: I feel the insecurity that you just said of “do I belong here?” every single day. I think it’s me. It’s my own neurosis. But I do think that no matter what, any actor, and I’ve been acting full time now for seven or eight years, but any relatively new actor would feel insecure working with that group of actors. But I do feel a little bit more insecure because of where I came from, for sure.
Allison Kugel: How does the cast feel about you?
Brooklyn Decker: I don’t think they care. Jane is an ultra-feminist and she does not care what your past is. Her attitude is if you’re here, you are part of the show. I think that is how everyone feels.
Allison Kugel: What would you say is the overarching moral of the story, or the overarching message of Grace and Frankie?
Brooklyn Decker: I think it really is that love and relationships come in all forms. Family can come in all forms. If you look at the central story, it’s the story of two women who typically aren’t represented on television. We don’t usually get to see women who are 80 going through life, and this show explores that. Second to that, I think it shows different forms of relationships. You have the two brothers who are adopted, and you see them navigating that with their parents. You have two sisters who have chosen completely different lives from one another, Grace and Frankie are exploring this sisterhood and family between the two of them, as two single women in their eighties. And Sol and Robert are a gay older couple who have just come out and are married.
Allison Kugel: This show throws a lot of the “shoulds” that society places on us out the window.
Brooklyn Decker: In Season Three, Sam and Martin’s characters were wanting to go to gay clubs and open up their relationship, and they were wondering what gay couples are supposed to do. A lot of it was they thought they were supposed to be doing something because they’re gay. Just like Grace and Frankie feel all of these cultural expectations on them because they’re 80 years old. You see each of these characters defy what the societal expectations and projections are. It’s about busting through expectations placed on people.
Allison Kugel: In past generations, television didn’t reflect the true messiness of life. I can remember my mother telling me that she would watch shows like Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver, where everything was so perfect and idyllic, and she would wonder why her family wasn’t TV perfect. The stories we are seeing now on television are embracing the messiness of life, which is what real life is.
Brooklyn Decker: Exactly! And the messiness is more interesting and what’s fun to watch. I don’t know what Netflix’s expectations were, but I do know there was pressure surrounding us when we were filming the first Season. The Netflix streaming demographic was a relatively new concept at the time, and they didn’t know who the audience was for this. What Netflix has discovered, and why it’s such a huge hit, is because it resonates with people in its messiness. The show makes people laugh, makes people cry… there are things people relate to and things that people learn from. Right now, more than ever, people want something that feels real, but also lifts them up. They need thirty minutes to have fun.
Allison Kugel: What are your thoughts on the movement that Netflix has become? The fact that so many talented writers and actors are flocking to this platform, and everybody is coming on board and trying to be a part of it?
Brooklyn Decker: What’s so exciting about it is that, ultimately, the talent wins out. It’s the first time that we’ve really had that in Hollywood. Because there is such a wealth of opportunity now, you are really getting to see talent. The cool thing about Netflix is they can just make really good content, and with that, they can hire really good talent and they don’t have to be stars. Netflix doesn’t have to share their numbers, and they don’t share their numbers. They’re not about making sales at the box office, so they can just focus on making great content. You’re seeing the result of that. With the way the business is changing, talent wins out, and that’s exciting.
Allison Kugel: Apart from the amazing Lisa Kudrow, are there any other interesting guest stars coming up on Season Four?
Brooklyn Decker: I don’t want to reveal who the guest starring actor is, but the important and interesting thing is the storyline with this actor. Sam and Martin are having a hard time in their relationship, and they ask themselves if they should bring a third party into it.
Allison Kugel: The honeymoon phase for Sam and Martin’s characters is over, and now they’re having problems just like any other couple.
Brooklyn Decker: Yep, real relationship problems.
Allison Kugel: Your character, Mallory, announced that she is separating from her husband on the last episode of Season Three. Can you share how that unfolds this season?
Brooklyn Decker: I play a woman who got married out of college and who hasn’t been in the professional world at all. For the first time, I have to figure out what I want to do with my life, and Mallory goes back to work. And I may or may not be seeking employment with one of the family members.
Allison Kugel: On another note, I want to congratulate you on getting funding for your tech startup, Finery! Can you share a bit about what the Finery app does?
Brooklyn Decker: When you think about what iTunes did for music - before iTunes you had tons of CDs in your car or in your house in a CD rack - iTunes took it all completely digital. We are doing that for your wardrobe. Everything is automated these days. Your banking is on your phone, your music is on your phone, your correspondence, everything. The one thing that’s still antiquated is your interaction with your wardrobe. Women will spend two hours a week figuring out what to wear. It’s not because we necessarily love clothes, or because we are fashion loving women, it’s because we need to get dressed. We felt there had to be a better way, and women can spend those two hours doing something more productive. We call ourselves your Wardrobe Operating System.
Allison Kugel: What is a day in the life of Brooklyn Decker? You’ve got the TV show, the Finery app, the two small kids and the husband. How does it all break down day-to-day?
Brooklyn Decker: That’s something I’m still navigating. Fortunately, we have been on hiatus for the show for the last couple of months. When we were thinking about baby #2 we wanted to plan it around Grace and Frankie, so I didn’t have to come back to work right away. Our baby was born at the end of November, and we did our fundraising for this seed round for Finery starting in July and August. It all worked out that I wrapped the show, we did the [fund]raise, and then I was off four weeks before the baby was born, which was good because my doctor told me I couldn’t travel 30 days before my due date. We literally flew from San Francisco and I landed back in Austin (Decker and Roddick’s home city) at midnight, exactly 30 days before my due date (laughs). We had the baby, and now I’m back to work promoting Grace and Frankie and Finery.
Allison Kugel: You’re making me tired! I need a nap now (laughs).
Brooklyn Decker: And I’m not finished! Finery is based in New York, I’m based in Austin and for Grace and Frankie I work on the west coast. Yesterday I had conference calls for Finery, I was getting ready to fly to LA to do all Grace and Frankie press. Tomorrow I’ll fly back to Austin and I’ll be with my family. Our Finery CEO is coming into Austin for meetings. It’s a juggling act, but I have a husband who is retired and who is wonderful. He is around and present with our kids, which is amazing; and I have a nanny. My family couldn’t afford a nanny when we were growing up, but we had neighbors. I’m lucky to have people around me who help, and I swear, it takes a village!
Season 4 of Grace and Frankie is now streaming on Netflix. Learn more about Finery.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Dr. Drew Pinsky’s long running call-in show Loveline, with Adam Carolla, aired on MTV for 32 years and pioneered a pop culture adaptation of relationship and safe sex education. The show, featuring an assortment of celebrity guest hosts, served as a lifeline to multiple generations. Dr. Drew’s Teen Mom franchise, also an MTV staple, opened the eyes of television viewers to the trials of teen pregnancy and teen parenthood where previous methods had fallen short. Dr. Drew’s critically acclaimed VH1 docu-series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and it spinoffs Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew and Sober House, allowed viewers an intimate look inside the causes of addiction and the arduous road to addiction recovery.
With his HLN show, Dr. Drew On Call, which aired from 2011 to 2016, he broadened his television audience, delving into the behavioral components behind the headlines of the day. Dr. Drew’s New York Times bestselling book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America (Harper Collins), examines the widespread adoption of celebrity narcissism within our culture.
A true advocate who has spent decades bringing once-taboo health matters to the forefront of public discussion, he now hosts MTV’s Teen Mom OG, KABC’s Dr. Drew Midday Live and The Dr. Drew Podcast, the #1 health podcast on iTunes.
A health crisis that is gripping our nation is that of adolescent mental health and gun violence. This generation is dealing with a problem that goes far beyond typical teenage angst, as it deals with the frightening fallout from a broken healthcare system and gun control laws that have failed to address our societal landscape. These issues intersect at the corner of one of our biggest political and social quagmires. Unfortunately, gun violence is nothing new to young people from America’s poorer urban pockets who have been living under its threat for decades. Gun-related injuries and fatalities in school settings date back to the 18th century, with the first American school shooting on record taking place on July 26, 1764 in the town of Greencastle, Pennsylvania.
The epidemic of mass shootings in more affluent suburban enclaves entered the public’s consciousness on April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado, at Columbine High School. The most recent school shooting that took place on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has left an encouraging and unstoppable movement in its wake, reminiscent of the social and political mobilization of the 1960s and 1970s.
The courage, clarity, and strength the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have demonstrated in the face of unspeakable tragedy, and their ability to mobilize a nation, inspired me to sit down with Dr. Drew Pinsky for a frank discussion about the state of adolescent mental health and its intersection with gun violence in America.
Allison Kugel: Why are school shootings a recent phenomenon over the last 19/20 years?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: There’s a multiplicity of factors and no simple answer. Obviously, it’s guns and the type of guns. But in addition, it’s the access that people have; people who have a proclivity towards self-harm or harming others (The Florida state Senate just passed a bill upping the legal age to purchase a fire arm from 18 to 21 and mandating a 3-day waiting period. It now falls on Florida state Congress to vote). We all know that adolescent males will complete suicide because of their use of fire arms. It’s not a far reach from feeling that your own life doesn’t have meaning to other people’s lives not having meaning. We’ve connected that bridge now.
Allison Kugel: What leads a young man to get to the point where they no longer value their own life?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Within adolescent depression it becomes a special case when they have this sort of magical thinking that this will solve their problems, and they’ll be around to see the solution after they’re gone. But we’re seeing this in young adults, not just adolescents. I happen to believe, and this is one man’s opinion and it’s hard to substantiate the data, but we’ve been through an epidemic staring in the 1960s of adverse childhood experience. Our families are unhealthy. My work in media has been almost exclusively dealing with people with addiction issues and addiction medicine; people with issues of physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect in their childhood. These are profound injuries. Among those injured are people who don’t have the ability to regulate their emotions or really have any sense of empathy for others. We have a growing population of people who have difficulty with empathy and difficulty with emotional regulation… and a firearm. It’s a pretty potent combination. And we have drugs and alcohol; we have a massive problem with that. I’ve begun to think of it all as sort of this spiritual bankruptcy.
Allison Kugel: When I am speaking with a physician, like yourself, I always wonder how you feel about the intangible factors, like a spiritual component.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I am always challenged by my patients in that regard. They will tell me that their recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, that I turned them towards it, but really it’s the spiritual connection they make that actually leads them into a full recovery. I’m okay with that. Whatever gets them there! I think there can be a stigma with words like “soul” or “spiritual” because people tend to equate them with religion. But I think [spiritual] is a word people can understand without indoctrinating religion into it. Whatever it is, we need to feed our souls and feed our spiritual life in a much better way. It starts with our families and our relationships, and our communities.
Allison Kugel: Do you think social media and being tied into this Matrix-like existence instead of being more community oriented like in generations past, do you feel it’s leading to a spiritual breakdown?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I think it has accelerated the mob, and mob-like behavior. It gives people a sense of pseudo-intimacy, which is quasi-pathological. It’s not real. There is a sense of connection, with no real connection. It gratifies only the most basest of emotions – envy, aggression, arousal, and all of these addictive emotions. It doesn’t do anything for empathy, nurturing, service, making a difference. I don’t see it as the cause, but as an amplifier of these problems. When I wrote my book about narcissism years ago (The Mirror Effect/Harper Collins), I wanted to include a chapter on previous moments in history where narcissism had prevailed and where childhood trauma has been prevalent. Wherever I found those trends, I found mob action, guillotines and mob aggression. We’re seeing it now, and it just happens to be in social media.
Allison Kugel: What are your thoughts about how media chooses to cover these mass shootings and other large scale violent crimes?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: There’s contagion, not doubt about it. There’s contagion with things like suicide, all sorts of violent acts, and with pathological behaviors like cutting. All these things have contagion associated with them. I almost feel like it’s a double-edged sword. Yes, there’s contagion, but we also have to take a good hard look at the realities we face.
Allison Kugel: And when you say “contagion” you’re talking about the copy-cat effect, just to clarify for people. Personally, I feel that releasing the person’s picture and their name, and analyzing their motives is playing into their pathological desire to gain attention for their act.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: There’s no doubt that the thinking of the perpetrator includes things like that, but not saying their name also gives it a kind of energy that I think is weird. I’d like to see the evidence that holding back the name somehow reduces the contagion effect. I just don’t see it.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about you. When you were in high school and college, what coping skills did you cultivate to deal with things like anxiety, depression, stress and peer pressure?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I had a problem with that. I had panic attacks. I’m still formally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was depressed when I was nineteen and there were no services for adolescents at that time. I think that’s what got me interested in helping that population with mental health, in general. I was so mishandled, it was egregious. I thought maybe I was having a seizure when I was having a panic attack; I wasn’t sure what it was. But I understood there was a mental health issue. I went for help and I was told that I needed to get my act together, and I should take long walks in the woods. I would have happily gotten my act together (laughs)! And I was socially awkward, I was living in New England in college and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. What got me out of that was finding purpose. Finding medicine and science, getting turned on by that and getting into it, and feeling good about what I was doing. That’s what helped me climb out. And I had therapy, though the therapy I had in college wasn’t very good
Allison Kugel: In the late seventies, wasn’t the field of mental health first really understanding what anxiety was, and first beginning to treat it?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: They knew what anxiety was. They didn’t really understand the developmental phenomenology and psychiatry of adolescents. That was poorly understood, and certainly what to do with it was even more poorly understood. My wife and I have triplets, and we’ve used mental health services all the way through in raising our family, every step of the way, and it’s yielded dividends. We used behavioral therapists when our kids were very young, and it’s always yielded results and been positive for us.
Allison Kugel: What kind of support system did you have around you in those early years?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I had very limited support. I was connected, but not intimately connected, and I didn’t understand really what I was feeling, I didn’t have that insight. I remember reading a lot of material that really didn’t help. There was nowhere to turn at that time, and I’m angry about it to this day. But again, it’s what made me interested in mental health, and in adolescent mental health.
Allison Kugel: Is that why you’ve cultivated this public platform? As Dr. Drew, you are very much looked up to by young people as a valuable source of information.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: It was actually more of a fortunate accident in my life. I’d always been interested in public speaking, and in my fourth year of medical school somebody asked me to give some commentary on a radio show. When I went in there I had this very powerful instinct that this was important. No one was talking to people about AIDS and safe sex. The term “safe sex” hadn’t been invented yet. I couldn’t believe the lack of knowledge out there, and the lack of willingness to talk to adolescents. What I said at the time was that the whole sexual revolution had been perpetrated by adults without ever really thinking about what it was going to do to adolescents. I was twenty-four years old and I thought, “I know what seventeen and eighteen-year olds are up to, and they need to know about HIV and AIDS.” It wasn’t even HIV yet. They had just started calling it AIDS at the time. I was dealing with it in my [medical] training every day. People forget about that period of history. It motivated me to get out there and talk about it.
Allison Kugel: How did you parlay this into Loveline for MTV?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I was doing [radio] once a week. It was a great social outlet for me and it was late at night on a Sunday, so I could fit it into my schedule. I did that for ten years for free. I looked at it like I was doing community service. The week my wife got pregnant with triplets was the week that the radio powers-that-be decided they wanted to put the radio show on five nights a week. To which my wife said, “No more community service. If you’re not changing diapers, you’re getting paid!” I walked into the radio station hat-in-hand and asked for a job. It kept going from there and then these television guys showed up and we ended up doing Loveline on MTV. We would film six shows a week on Friday and Saturday, and the rest of the week I practiced medicine. I was a severe workaholic in those days. It really wasn’t until 2010 when I was doing HLN’s Dr. Drew On Call that I felt it was okay to officially say I’m on to my second career. That’s when I started dialing down my clinical material and started really focusing on creating media.
Allison Kugel: What kind of impact do you feel you’ve had on young people?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I hope I make them think. I’ve broadened the scope of who I want to influence. I’m not just trying to influence young people. I would like to influence all different age groups. Ultimately, particularly with young people, I’ve noticed that the most efficient way to affect their behavior is to give them a relatable source. If you remember, Loveline was about taking phone calls and then we would analyze the cases. With Teen Mom, it’s about looking at the consequences of teen pregnancy. When they approached me about Teen Mom, I knew it would have a positive effect on teen pregnancy; I just knew it. And lo and behold, there is ample research now to show that it did (according to the CDC, teenage births have steadily declined, across all ethnicities, over the last ten years). For young people, I always like looking at the behavior, and then saying, “Here’s how to analyze that, here’s what this means.”
Allison Kugel: I think you should do another television show for that same demographic, focusing on the importance of overall mental health.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Well that’s what Teen Mom is. Teen pregnancy is a symptom of a mental health problem. Other people look at it as a social issue. I look at it as a symptom of somebody who has some mental health issues. And you can see, as these women grow up, there are significant issues there. But television is a strange beast. You can’t be overtly didactic. It has to be hidden in the story.
Allison Kugel: Like you, I live with anxiety and panic disorder. I’ve always had to be pro-active about my mental health, like the way other people go to the gym to stay in shape. My concern is that the importance of staying on top of your mental health needs to be communicated to young people, in mass.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I certainly try. On HLN, almost every night I would chant, “Why do we treat medical conditions above the neck differently than medical conditions below the neck?” In other words, why are brain disorders special? Brain disorders are the same as pancreas disorders. It just happens to affect an organ that is associated with our concept of behavior. Just like you would treat your heart or your pancreas or your lungs, it’s medical matter. And treatment works. People need to stop associating it with stigma, or a moral failing, or as any different than any other medical issue. You and I also know it’s brushing past a larger issue, which we would call “spiritual.” It ties into mental health, and I feel that is a bigger social, psychological problem affecting our society. At its core, it’s about our relationships.
Allison Kugel: We’re seeing a disturbing trend of young males and gun violence. What are we missing when it comes to male adolescent mental health?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Adolescent males, when they have spiritual and psychological problems, become aggressive. And when they don’t have some sort of outlet that they are engaged in, any time there’s social unrest, there’s young males. That’s just the way we’re wired. Males need to be challenged. This sort of co-dependent helicopter parenting over the last twenty years has been about preventing children from experiencing discomfort. I think there is a major deficiency right now. In addition to our spiritual emptiness, we have lost the ability to tolerate ordinary misery. Ordinary misery is good. And our children need to experience ordinary misery to learn how to regulate their emotions and overcome. Unless we are challenged we feel deficient. Because of our narcissism as parents we can’t tolerate seeing the child’s discomfort and disappointment, because it mobilizes our own internal misery, which we avoid. We use drugs and alcohol, and extreme sports, and all kinds of ways of avoiding. But when we include our children in making sure they don’t have those feelings as well, there’s a problem. I think that in some way, it is affecting the young male. It’s probably experienced differently from the young female.
Allison Kugel: Yes, females internalize emotions.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Women go in, men go out.
Allison Kugel: I’m going to throw a scenario at you, and tell me what you think could be a viable solution: A single parent home with limited financial resources, and an under-supervised child who’s beginning to show signs of deteriorating mental health…
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I feel unworthy of the question you’re asking me, except to say, like we’ve been discussing, make sure there is access to mental health services and that there is no stigma associated with that. But there are other solutions which goes under the heading of Mutual Aid, whether it’s a church or a community. I’m thinking about that book, Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster). Have you read that book? It’s about the decline of club membership in the United States. I think we’re all bowling alone (laughs). And you can’t do it; you can’t do it by yourself! But you also can’t do it with perfunctory supervision. There has to be real, intimate contact and I’m not sure we know how to do that. That’s why where there are resources out there, we need to deploy it and amplify it, and build community around it. Many people are not good at it and don’t even tolerate closeness anymore, mostly because many people have been neglected or abused. When you’ve been hurt as a result of close relation, guess what you want to avoid in the future. We must overcome that.
Allison Kugel: What are your thoughts on the students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and the #NeverAgain movement?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Like the rest of us, I am so impressed with their poise, and their willingness to make change. They’re taking action. They’re being vulnerable and present. It’s inspirational. What I see gives me great hope.
Visit http://drdrew.com/get-help/ for assistance in finding mental health support services. For help with anxiety and depression, visit https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment. Tune in to The Dr. Drew Podcast and Dr. Drew Midday Live.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Thank you for visiting, and for taking interest in my work as a journalist. It means the world to me!
I would love to share more of my story with you through my book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Funny title, right? I try to inject irony and humor into everything I do. It makes life more interesting.
Humor aside, my book delves into my life as an entertainment journalist with lots of fun and interesting behind-the-scenes moments. However, I also take you on an intimate journey through my experiences with anxiety, panic attacks and OCD that I experienced since childhood; and how I found healing and strength through those experiences. I would be honored to have you read my story, and I hope it helps you or someone you love.
Just click the Amazon button above, below my book cover, to get your copy.