How to with John Wilson (2020–…): Season 1, Episode 1 - How to Make Small Talk - full transcript

[HBO] HD. 'How To Make Small Talk.' Series Premiere. John Wilson reflects on the balancing act of making--and redirecting--casual conversation.

Hey, New York.

There are
countless opportunities

to make small talk
in a big city.

Even though some people
seem to avoid it at all costs.

Small talk is the glue
that binds us all together

and the armor that shields us

from each other's
darkest thoughts.

It's useful when you meet up
with a friend...

go on a date...

or try to start
a professional relationship.

Failing to know
how to engage properly

could condemn you to a life
of social alienation.

But it can be
extremely rewarding

if you know how to do it right.

So instead of making people
take on the full weight

of all your problems,

stick with me,
and I'll make sure

that every talk you have
from here on out

is small talk.

A nice way to begin
is by leaving your apartment

and trying to find someone
who is willing to talk to you.

Thankfully, New York is filled
with friendly people,

so this should be easy.

One of the main functions
of small talk

is to fill space
with polite conversation,

uh, until
you can be alone again.

So make sure to only talk about
stuff from your everyday life

that anyone can relate to
and forget about easily.

You can talk about
how nice the weather is,

uh, but just make sure that

you never mention
climate change.

You can talk about what's on TV,

uh, but make sure
that you only talk...

You only mention, uh,
the nice stuff.

You can also talk about
the health of your plant,

but don't mention that
it's a painful reminder

of your ex, uh,
who gave it to you,

uh, because she loved you

even though you were
emotionally unavailable,

uh, to her.

Pets are, uh, really good
to talk about too.

You can always talk about pets.

But much like in real estate,

uh, location is everything
when you're making small talk.

You could pose the same question

in two, uh,
different environments

and receive
wildly different answers.

You could ask a question
to a philosopher...

Do you think mankind
is gonna make a comeback?

I hope so.

Um, if we can survive the perils
of climate change, inequality,

and, um, the fantastic
weapons of destruction

we've created for ourselves.

But that same question,

uh, might get a much different
answer at WrestleMania.

Do you think Mankind
is gonna make a comeback?

No, not today.

He fell off too many
Hell in a Cells.

- Oh, really?
- Yeah.

What about mankind in general?

Oh! Mankind, like,
the whole world?

I mean, it's not bad,
it could be better,

but I'm happy with my life, so.

What do you, uh, what do you do?

Uh, I catch child predators.

If you wanna look me up,
it's Mr. 17540 on Facebook.

That's what I do
in my spare time.

You catch child predators?

- Yes, I do.
- How?

I set up the stings online,
and I Facebook Live 'em,

and I go and get 'em.

- Really?
- Yes, sir.

At the end of our conversation,

the gentleman invited me
to his headquarters

And I figured
I could learn something

by heading out there
to see him in action.

So, what's going on today?

Well, we're gonna go catch us
a predator today.

Do you have something set up?

Oh, yeah, a guy's 28 years old,

he knows that I'm 15,

and told him to bring condoms,

and he's gonna try to meet me
for sex.

Because his job involves
keeping people engaged

for long periods of time,

I figured he would have
some insight

into sustaining
friendly conversations.

So, what are you saying
to this person right now?

So, he just told me...

Like I said, I find these guys,

I look at their profile,
I ask 'em questions.

I... I said I liked his dogs.
He said, "Thank you."

Right away, he says,

"It's a Norwegian elkhound
and a chocolate Lab,"

and "What are you doing
on here, then?"

Because I told him I'm 15.

We'll tell him
I'm just looking for fun

and that my grandma
used to have dogs like that.

Did your grandma
really have dogs like that?

No, hell no.

It seems like
when you're having small talk,

it's okay to lie
if it helps you avoid

uh, getting too personal,

because that can be
a real turn off.

You know, I've had people
just vent their problems

like, "My mother-in-law
is in the hospital,"

or "My girlfriend
just cheated on me,"

and those are
the people, like, I...

Well, I'm not here
for a conversation like that.

And I just block 'em
and go to the next one.

But in the middle
of our conversation,

his plans fell through.

Damn it!

Now he's saying
he doesn't wanna do it,

and he's bailing out
at the last second.

Like, the best I can say
is like,

"Okay, thanks
for wasting my day.

I took school off today."

So, I guess try not
to say too much,

or else you might scare
someone away.

Because the more you talk
to someone,

the harder it is to hide
who you really are.

I got a rug
off Craigslist recently.

The ad said that there were
a few blood stains on the rug

from a stress-related incident.

Uh, but it was free.

When I got to the storage space
to pick it up,

instead of the small talk
about interior decorating

that I expected,
the guy just spent

the entire time
telling me about his divorce.

It can be hard
to keep a conversation

in a safe zone

when you're filled
with so much pain.

My ex-wife demanded
I get rid of my shit.

But an expert small talker

will know how to
suppress these emotions

and appear stable,

no matter how much pressure
is building up inside.

For example, if you need to
retrieve a sweater

from someone
that you used to date, uh,

start first by sending them
a text message.

And if you discover that
they had deleted your number,

uh, just calmly remind them, uh,
of your name.

It might have been a while
since you've seen them,

so when you go
to their apartment

to pick it up,

make sure
to keep the conversation light

and focused on the sweater.

Which should be easy for you

because, uh, before you stopped
seeing each other,

uh, she... she told you that
you were too closed off.

And when she brings up
that she's dating someone new,

uh, just, uh, wish her well

and bike home
as quickly as possible.

If... if you do want to talk
to someone

about your previous

you should only do it
with your really close friends,

who you can call up anytime
to reminisce.

I don't
know if we've ever talked

about any of our exes
with each other.

I don't know...


I don't know if
you and I have ever, uh,

bro-ed down like that.

You... I guess
you don't always need

to talk about personal stuff,

uh, for someone to technically
be your friend.

And if you're not a big talker
in general,

you can use a popular technique
called baiting

to get people to talk to you.

Uh, baiting involves
wearing or doing something

that will invite conversation.

This could be a fashion choice
or a method of transportation.

The way you move,

the way you eat.

A new haircut is good bait.

Or you can just
dress like a hose.

Wearing a band T-shirt
is a popular way

to get someone to talk to you
in public.

But if you can't afford
to go to, um,

a Blue Chip concert,

you can always go see
a cover band

that has a name that's similar
to a, uh, a real band.

Once you've seen enough,
sprint over to the merch table

to, uh, beat the crowd

and pick out the boldest apparel
that you can afford.

Then you're gonna go
to the tallest elevator

in your city, uh,
and it won't be long

until someone takes the bait

and starts a conversation
with you.

Have you heard of them?

Yeah, they're bagpipers.

They're a bagpipe cover band.

Once you have
enough small talk with someone,

they will eventually become
an acquaintance.

To be a successful acquaintance,

you will need to have, uh,
broad interests

and, uh, relatable flaws.

And no matter how awful
your life currently is,

you can never reveal this
to another acquaintance.

So it requires a bit
of camouflage.

You want to seem like someone
who is busy,

but also likes to relax.

That's why going on vacation
will give you enough ammunition

for years' worth of, uh,

So just go to a travel agency

and ask what the most popular
destinations are.

I can send you to Punta Cana,
Cancún, Jamaica.

Any of those places
will be my places to go to.


Cancún sounds good.

It's just one person
in the room?

Or are you going to be sharing
the room with someone else?

- No, it's just me.
- Okay.

And if your travel agent

starts talking
about relationships,

uh, don't reciprocate,

and just wait
for the transaction to complete.

- Eighty-six?
- Yeah.

I got married in that year.

Don't wanna remember that
too much.

- Uh...
- I was married for 20 years.


Relationships, you know,
they start, they end.

So I think, uh,
love cannot be forever.

Relationships are not forever,
and I'm... I'm okay with it.

I'm, you know, if... if I find
someone else, great,

I'm not looking, but hey,
if he comes along,

let's see who can deal with me.
'Cause I'm not that easy.

But hey.

Would I marry
the same type of person again?

No. But at that point,
I wanted to? Yes.

And did I have fun? Yes.

Could I have done better? Yes.

But that's what's coming next.

So let's see what happens.
I'll let you know.

- Thank you.
- You're welcome.

- I appreciate it.
- No problem.

It's hard to understand
why people decide to tell you

certain things at certain times.

And you might end up wondering
what the deal is.

When someone opens up to you,

you might feel the need
to reciprocate

But this comes with a big risk

because an exchange of feelings

may cause you to be swept up
in a relationship,

uh, that you're not
prepared for.

So it's important to know
how to navigate the interaction

uh, back to calm waters.

We can learn a lot from people
that work at, uh,

big retail stores.

They are specifically trained
to stick to a script,

and as you can see,

any time the conversation
enters controversial territory,

they will gently pivot, uh,
back to the sale.

How do you feel about
kids getting vaccinated?

- Okay.
- Yeah.

The president sucks, huh?

I was looking
for some kind of suit

- for, like, a court date.
- Cool.

I'm going to court.

Uh, for manslaughter.

But unfortunately,
most of us don't have the shield

of a corporation to, uh, help us
shut people down.

So if you're in public
with someone,

and a conversation enters
dangerous territory,

it seems like a quick touch
is a nice way

to let people know
that you've had enough.

Just touch and go...

touch and go...

touch and go.

But even after you've touch-ed
and go-ed,

your problems
still might not be over.

So if you can't make it
onto the subway,

just open up
the closest door to you

and hope that there's something
better on the other side.

And once you've escaped,
you'll finally be alone.

This way, you can avoid

having a mild beef
with anyone else.

No sharing, no talking,

no "Let's do this again."

Just you on your own terms,

on your own time,
and in your own world.

Because, remember,

sharing your most
intimate thoughts with someone

can be a disturbing
and messy experience.

You're trusting them to take on

the full weight
of all your problems

and handle them with care.

And who knows what they'll do,

once they finally get home

and begin to run the forensics
on everything you said.

And even though
an intimate connection

may look attractive
out in the wild,

don't forget that the life
of a relationship

always seems to follow
the same pattern.

I was feeling a bit off lately,

but I couldn't quite
pin down why.

a vacation is a great way

to take your mind off things.

And I had booked
that relaxing trip to Cancún,

and it was time to go.

It would be nice to get some,
uh, peace and quiet.

Away from all the, uh, people.

I had a really good feeling
about this trip.

I arrived late at night,
so after checking in,

I headed straight to my room.

The bed looked
really comfortable,

uh, which was great,
because I was here to relax.

The shower was okay too.

The next morning,
I got some, uh, breakfast,

and I was looking forward to

a relaxing afternoon
by the pool.

That's when I discovered
that my supposedly serene,

all-inclusive resort
was hosting MTV's Spring Break

during the entire week
that I was there.

This was a waking nightmare

that seemed to occupy
every inch of the resort.

The rules of polite society
did not apply here.

People were jumping
from stranger, uh,

to acquaintance
and back to stranger

within a matter of minutes.

And no one was wearing a shirt
I could comment on.

Their methods of communication
were incredibly advanced.

And dressing like a hose
was normal here.

These creatures were
an evolved species

of social animal.

And everyone seemed
to be praying

to a dark overlord
named Pauly D.

His nightly sermons
were mandatory,

and he seemed to cast a spell

over all the residents
at the resort.

No one could escape
his watchful eye.

He was the pope of Spring Break,

and his rule was absolute.

Pauly D!

My room was starting
to feel a bit claustrophobic,

but I was afraid to, uh,
go back outside

without a clear objective.

I figured I would have
to, uh, eat eventually,

so I got in line for

what I thought was
one of the buffets.

But when I finally
got to the front,

it turned out to be
a rowdy concert

that was airing live on MTV.

As I started looking
for a way out,

a young boy behind me
started showing me his condoms.

Then someone handed me
a bottle of piss,

which I immediately threw
to the ground.

Then the MTV crew
started, uh, pointing at me

and seemed very angry,
and I couldn't tell why.

I was in every single shot

and ruining
the entire broadcast,

uh, because I looked
so distressed.

I was starting to wonder
why I felt so out of place here.

This event was a mecca
of superficial interactions.

But for some reason,
I just couldn't fit in.

That night,
I met someone in the lobby

who had also come here
by himself.

His name was Chris,
and he wanted to sing for me.

Hold up, hold up.

He invited me back
to his room, uh,

with a few others to hang out.

You gotta live
how you wanna live.

And don't abide
by the bullshit laws

that the world has, bro.

Like, do what you wanna do.

Life's too short.

All they wanted
to talk about was partying,

but I got the sense that, uh,

we had more in common
than I initially thought.

Do you feel like you have...
Ever have social anxiety?

I really do have social anxiety,

probably because
I smoke too much weed.

Eventually I left,

and, uh, went back to my room,
uh, to watch a movie,

uh, before...
Before going to sleep.

The next morning, uh, I got up
early to beat the crowds

and I ran into Chris again.

He told me that he...
He lost his bag

at, uh, the club last night,

and didn't have
his cell phone anymore.

Yeah, I lost my bag.

At Coyote Loco.

- What were you doing?
- Drinking, I guess.

Why'd you come here alone?

Why did I come alone?
I just wanted to party, man.

Wanted to fall in love.

Nah, I'm just joking.

At the end of our conversation,

I asked him if, uh, he wanted
to grab dinner with me.

But he said that his schedule,
uh, wouldn't permit it.

I gotta go
and find my bag now, bro.


I was starting to have
stomach pains

from, uh,
the cuisine at the resort,

so I decided to head
to the hotel next door

to treat myself
to a fancy dinner, uh, for one.

The water there
had its own metal holder

so the waiter didn't have
to touch the, uh, bottle

with his hands.

I felt like royalty.

But the whole dinner,

I... I couldn't stop
thinking about,

uh, the empty seat
right across from me.

The rest of the week,
I tried to make myself useful.

I watched some guys
playing tennis for little while

and tried to help out
where I could.

But it seemed like everyone
already had their own group,

and they all seemed

- Hey, guys.
- How you doing?

- How are you doing?
- Good, how are you?

Where are you going?

- Back to our room, bro.
- Yeah.

- Get breakfast.
- And then grab some breakfast.

Where's your room?

In the hotel.

How do you guys know each other?

- All right, I'm out. Fuck this.
- We go to school together.

Oh, okay.

And then I spotted Chris again.


What are you doing?

Beautiful Mexico.

What's the temperature
in New York right now?

I don't know. Fifty?

- Fifty?
- Yeah.

- Fahrenheit?
- Yeah.

They're gonna think
I'm a superstar now.

I'm just joking.

- Uh...
- I'm Pauly...
I'm Pauly D's nephew.

That's gotta be a hockey player.

Yeah, yeah, I'm a hockey player.

Typical girls, man.
Basic, basic, basic.

- Typical girls?
- Typical females.

Like, what do you mean?

Everybody's the same,
nobody's real.

It's hard to even conversate
with anybody down here.


'Cause they're just too busy
and occupied about

just... I don't really know,
man, just being...

just being typical.

It seems like
you were trying to avoid me.

Today? I was trying
to avoid everybody today, man.

This takes a toll on you
down here.

Was I making you uncomfortable?

No. Well, actually, yeah,
a little bit, a little bit.

Why was I
making you uncomfortable?

Cause I didn't...
I just didn't know what was...

I just don't know...
I don't know.
I can't explain it.

You live in a condo in New York,
or is it a house?

No, I live
in an apartment building.

Oh, nice.

Uh, with one... With two ladies

that live underneath me.

It's, like,
a mother and daughter.

That's sweet, nice.

Who lives in your house?

Just me and my dog.

- You have a dog?
- Yeah.

He's my best friend, man.

That's... that's the...
That's the truth.

I can't wait to see him
when I get home.

- What's his name?
- Jack.

Have you ever
had a pet that died?

When I was a kid, yeah.

What was that pet?

His name was Lucky.

He wasn't so lucky, though.
He got hit by a car.

- He got hit by a car?
- Yeah, I was a little boy, man.


I, uh, I used to have a cat,

when I was growing up,
called... named Fluffy,

and she died.

That sucks, bro.

That's what happens.
That's life, though...


I also had
a friend that died recently.

He was in, like, a car accident.

That's terrible.


and that was really hard.

Yeah, I feel your pain,
trust me.


Yo, is this true?
Is this for real?

- Yeah.
- I'm sorry, bro.

My... my friend
just killed himself,

before I came here.

- Before you came here?
- Well...

about 30 days before.

Probably low-key why I...
Why I am out here, you know?

Whether I know it or not,
I think that the universe

just put me here,
I don't really know.

I feel like I really needed
to get away.

- That's really heavy.
- Yeah, it's brutal.

It's my first close friend
I ever really lost.

So, do you like New York?

I returned to New York
the next day,

and it was nice to be back home
in my element.

Although, I'm not sure
I could ever look at my city

the same way again.

The world is full of people

that need to get something
off their chest.

And even though it can be risky
to open up,

it's worth it
when you find the right person.

Otherwise, stuff will just
keep, uh, building up,

and you need to sift out
all that bad stuff

uh, once in a while.

And, uh, then you'll...
You'll be in a better place.

And, uh,
once you take care of that,

you'll finally be able to return

to a blissful world
of small talk.

This is John Wilson.

Thanks for watching.

I even met someone

who used scaffolding
on a romantic date.

You left me outside
when it rained.

That was interesting.

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