They overtook children on benches, in front of statues, in the median strip of Flatbush Avenue. Shapiro-Barnum wielded his interviewer’s microphone like a magic wand, using it to distract, redirect, conjure, and bestow. He was a consummate director and double-checked his exposure, or changed Mrs. Ty Goldberg’s position.
Shapiro-Barnum scrolled through approaches like you would a TikTok feed: unusual questions, impersonation, crazy voices. At one point he pretended to be a tiger and wondered if he could befriend a child he wanted to eat too. The child hesitated, not exactly afraid. Occasionally, he suggested doing it again, asking a child to answer a question again, or facing forward when delivering lines he could clearly see as quotes for an episode.
In order to maintain his chaotic portrait of (in)understanding from childhood, he occasionally had to decline to intervene. “Sometimes parents can’t help but give direction. ‘Sit up straight.’ ‘Smile.’ “Wipe ice off your face,” Mr. Shapiro-Barnum said. “We like to keep it a bit more informal.” As a couple of young women walked by, one leaned against the other and said, “That’s the guy from Instagram who makes the kids videos we used to laugh about.”
When I asked parents why they gave a stranger free access to their children, in front of the camera, they had different answers. “I’m a big fan of the show,” said one. “He just seemed so nice,” said another. “We need such an open community connection now,” said a third. The father of a girl who had appeared in an earlier episode referred to the recognition his daughter had received. “The whole school came to us after it aired,” he said. “She was like a celebrity.” (After filming, the girl asked for a treat. “If you get 100,000 likes, you can get a donut,” her father joked.)
mr. Shapiro-Barnum spun threads of Internet gold with his young subjects. He descended to their level – the ground. He repeated their thoughts and encouraged the effect. He bolstered their energy with silly riffs. “It just takes an entrance,” he said. “We’re just looking for a little bit.”
Part of this convenience comes from years of working with young children. Mr. Shapiro-Barnum taught young children improvisation at the MacGuffin, a Philadelphia theater and film company. And he was a creative force in harnessing the energies of younger cousins with whom he spent a lot of time in his adolescence. “I like putting kids at ease, making them look good and making them feel like they’re having fun,” he said.