HBO’s My Dad Wrote a Porno Live Show Is Betting on the Universal Appeal of Embarrassing Parents

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HBO&#8217;s <i>My Dad Wrote a Porno</i> Live Show Is Betting on the Universal Appeal of Embarrassing Parents

HBO  is in the midst of its final season of Game of Thrones, a series that’s historically been a spectacle of cleavage and contortions, and also involves some characters knowing way too much about what their family members are into after lights out. The channel will also soon air its long-gestating TV movie to bookend its series, Deadwood, a Western known for bawdy language and prostitution.

But the most gratuitous depictions of sexposition on the premium channel’s current lineup might not go to either of those productions. Instead the honor could, arguably, be bestowed on a recording of a live reading that requires viewers to be brave enough to simply use their imagination. On May 11, HBO will air a staged production of My Dad Wrote a Porno. Based on the immensely popular British podcast, it stars Jamie Morton, a regular chap whose father really did write some (very, very bad, not at all sexy, but written like he’s Charles Dickens trying to make a word count) serialized erotica about a pots and pans sales lady named Belinda Blumenthal who has an odd manner of making quota, and his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine as they share this—chef’s kiss—prose with the world. Morton’s dad operates under the nom de plume Rocky Flintstone both because he’s a retired geologist and a fan of the classic James Garner series The Rockford Files who wanted to pay homage to Noah Beery Jr.’s character, Rocky Rockford. Obviously.

Although this broadcast is similar to the live show the trio toured with recently, it may not be an exact replica of the one fans might have gone to see in real life—Cooper says it’s because they have “terrible memories” and the fact that they’ve made the readings into a drinking game of sorts doesn’t help matters—with the jokes now fine-tuned and the televised version running about an hour. There are also no celebrity guests, which is surprising given the network’s reputation, and also sad for anyone who was hoping to catch an appearance of known MDWAP devotes—aka “Belinkers,” as the series of novels are called Belinda Blinked—like Thomas Middleditch, Rachel Bloom and Michael Sheen (or Rocky himself, as it was recorded at London’s Roundhouse Theatre).

“There’s a temptation with these sorts of things to throw the kitchen sink at it and then, somewhere along the way, you can lose the true identity of your show,” Morton tells Paste of the decision to keep the focus away from stunt casting. “We were quite careful about how much we wanted to upscale and how much we wanted to do that was different. And we had faith in what we do, and thought that that would be enough to entertain people.”

With that said, he stresses that these and other famous fans could still be involved if (let’s be honest, when) the books are optioned for a film; after all, they all verbally committed to playing choice parts when they guest starred on the podcast. Plus, Levine offers the indisputable argument that “the material is so strong; Rocky’s writing is gold dust” so why waste time with cameos. (For those who doubt her, there’s a Reddit thread dedicated to the best quotes from the source material. It includes the following description of a woman’s areolas: as large as “the three-inch rivets which had held the hull of the fateful Titanic together.” There are also numerous examples of how little Rocky understands the female reproductive system—a point with which Levine takes particular issue).

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This production is also part of a growing trend for HBO, which has already seen success with live adaptations of the popular podcasts 2 Dope Queens and Pod Save America.

“You’re seeing exactly what you’re getting,” Nina Rosenstein, executive vice president of HBO Programming, says of what made her shepherd all three productions. They’d all already had live versions of their podcasts before HBO got involved, so she says it’s both “not too difficult to have a vision of what it’s going to look like on a screen” and perhaps it’s also a chance to help artists increase their exposure with audiences who don’t partake of the podcast medium and vice versa—particularly for something like MDWAP, which may not be as well known stateside. Although the three swear this podcast hasn’t affected their actual careers, it would also be a chance to say you saw them before they became famous. (Levine, in particular, has gained a reputation as a BBC Radio DJ, a co-host of the Channel 4 reality show The Circle and as a co-host of an in-the-know supper club).

Rosenstein says podcasts like these appeal to her because, although they are “comedy podcasts at the heart,” they are not like more traditional comedy podcasts with comedians interviewing other comedians that otherwise may lack for a visual element. HBO has also adapted podcasts in different formats, such as this year’s extension of journalist Sarah Koenig’s ground-breaking murder investigation, Serial that used both documentary-style interviews and artist renderings of the victim’s diary.

“What we do at the network is we really provide a platform for artists to express themselves in their own way,” says Rosenstein, while promising that she’s looking at other podcasts for future adaptations. “The shows you see on the network are the brainchild and the development by the artist.”

As for finding the broad appeal of MDWAP? The producers and stars believe it’s simply a matter that most everyone needs some sort of cathartic release when it comes to their parents. Although I’m never going to forgive my dad for wearing sweatpants with holes in the butt when he picked me up from the mall when I was 13, and I basically now use his socially incorrect non-sequiturs as Twitter fodder and as discussion topics with my therapist, at least he hasn’t been writing erotica in his retirement (or, if he has, he hasn’t been confident enough to share it with me).

“I think there are few things that people identify with that are kind of universal and one of those is that dads are really embarrassing often,” Levine says. “We don’t like to think about our parents having any sexual desire or sexual past … we’ve always tried to make the podcast feel like you’re the fourth friend around the table.”

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