Dylan Gage, 14 year-old actor: what did kids do in the early 2000s before YouTube?

I don’t watch the show PEN15 on Hulu, but I’ve heard good things about it. it’s a cringe comedy set in the 2000s. The co-creators, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, play 13-year-old versions of themselves opposite teen actors. It’s now in its second season and some of the other storylines are getting attention. The character Gabe is a closeted high schooler who is questioning his sexuality and doesn’t know if he’s gay. His storyline was developed by a gay writer on the show, Joshua Levine, who wanted to explore that nuance. Many LGBT millennials say it rings true to them. Kevin Fallon at The Daily Beast did an excellent writeup which made me want to watch this. He included some quotes from Dylan Gage, who plays Gabe, that cracked me up. I think there are mild plotline spoilers in this if you’d like to avoid them. Dylan sounds totally comfortable playing a gay character and has more questions about what his character does during the day, which is so true of this generation! I love this interview so much.

In Season 2, Gabe is cast opposite Maya in the school play and, spellbound by her talent, asks her to be his girlfriend. As the anticipation builds for their first kiss, scripted both in the play and by tween peer pressure, he starts to validate and deflect tortured questions he has about his own sexuality—especially as his more flamboyant classmate, Ian (Ivan Mallon), becomes a target of the cool crowd…

The striking thing about Gabe’s storyline is that it isn’t a coming-out arc, as we’re used to watching on most teen series. We don’t watch him go through the emotional labor of coming out of the closet and dealing with the repercussions of that with his friends and family. In fact, he doesn’t even exactly articulate or admit to himself that he is gay.

When the show cast Gage in the role, the group met with him to discuss the sensitive matter of where the character would be going and gauge his comfort level with it. “I was really prepared for it to be this really long sort of educational moment,” [showrunner] Liedman remembers. “Instead he was like, ‘Sure.’ It was nothing.”

“They told me that he was loosely based on Gabe Liedman, and I knew coming into the show that it was a character that was struggling with his sexuality,” Gage says. “For all the sensitive themes and storylines, they always sent me scripts early and made sure that I was comfortable with things. But I always was like, yes I want to do it. I want to push myself as an actor and I am really proud to be a part of the show.”

Gage, who is now 14, boasts that he was the only cast member who was still in middle school when the show began filming its first season two years ago.

We ask him what he’s found to be the craziest difference between what it’s like to be his age now versus the time period 20 years ago that he’s portraying, and he laughs. “I think the craziest thing is just like what they did all day. Like they didn’t have YouTube back then. They didn’t have memes to share. The video games that they had were, like, Nintendo 64 and stuff. So I genuinely don’t know what they did all day.”

But the most heartening change, he notes, is in acceptance. “I think people are a bit more open-minded now. My generation is moving on from using casual derogatory phrases.”

It’s noteworthy that Gabe doesn’t present as gay in any stereotypical way, and therefore is exempt from the kind of bullying his classmate Ian receives, something that he even joins in on, perhaps as a defense mechanism.

[From The Daily Beast]

My kid has asked a few times what we did in the 80s and 90s. I tell him that we knew where our friends hung out and that we would show up there, and that we would call each other on the phone and make plans. Sometimes we would talk on the phone all night long if no one else needed to use it. We would read books, go to the library, listen to the radio and to cassettes, watch TV, and when I was in eighth grade we got a VCR so I could actually record shows starting around then. I was ahead of many of my friends though, who didn’t have cable or VCRs. It’s so funny to me that the 2000s were a full 20 years ago, that a lot of us had cell phones then and that the incredible technology is still so foreign to this 14 year-old kid! My son, who just turned 16, asks me about that time too. He wants to know about MySpace and the early Internet. It’s also heartening how accepting and open teens are now about gender and orientation. They’re so good about using the right pronouns for each other and being respectful and understanding. It’s almost second nature to them, just like the new technology.

I’m sorry for the unflattering photo of Dylan on the front page! It was hard to find any photos of him.

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Some behind the scene photos from season 2 of #pen15show

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23 Responses to “Dylan Gage, 14 year-old actor: what did kids do in the early 2000s before YouTube?”

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  1. lemonylips says:

    I just went down the rabbit hole thinking about those times. I was born in the early 80′s and boy did we have fun. I remember parents calling us from windows to come for supper. we’d be spending days outside playing, riding bikes, skating. you’d always meet someone. I lived in a building complex where all kids knew each other. I also had a lot of after school things to do, since I started studying english privately and all of my closest friends were from those classes. we still meet up whenever we are all in town. and yes Nintendo! that was the best! my whole family played it. mum always had the best score.

    • crogirl says:

      ” I remember parents calling us from windows to come for supper. we’d be spending days outside playing, riding bikes, skating. you’d always meet someone. I lived in a building complex where all kids knew each other.”

      I got a little nostalgic over this, that’s exactly the way I grew up. I can’t remember when was the last time I heard a mother screaming her lungs out from a window, calling for her children

      • lemonylips says:

        ahhh you’re a Cro girl! makes sense, me too :)

      • Hillbo says:

        The parents calling for their kids things isn’t completely dead and gone. I had to holler for my son yesterday because he was over at a neighbor’s house. Then later yesterday, their daughter came over by herself and rang our doorbell asking if my son wanted to play. My neighbors are all early 80s kids who were raised in this nostalgic way like I was, so we’re all comfortable letting our kids have a similar type of freedom.

      • crogirl says:

        yeah, there’s more of us here😀

      • crogirl says:

        yeah, there’s more of us here😀

    • Sa says:

      My mom used to tell me that before she settled on my name, she practiced yelling it and the other contenders from the front door. The one she chose apparently sounded the best when she was calling future me to come inside for dinner.

      If kids don’t still play outside all day, how do parents choose names anymore?

  2. Eleonor says:

    Now I am feeling old LOL !!!!!!

  3. ElleV says:

    Oh sweet summer child… clearly this is baiting the olds but I’ll bite.

    In the early 00s we had tvs, computers, gaming consoles, and the internet and would do the exact same thing this kid probably does. We played video games and computer games, we talked and messaged our friends on the phone and internet, we’d goof around at home or parks or malls or coffee shops or movie theatres, and if a friend’s family had a video camera, we’d make movies of ourselves doing stupid stuff long before YouTube. Teenage girls made up group dances and performed them for each other long before TikTok. Very little has changed for middle class North American kids – the main difference is we did it for ourselves instead of a wider audience. Pre-internet era tho… some of my dad’s stories are wild.

  4. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Same things kids have always done. Tools and toys may change but brains remain the same lol. I’ve been a mother for 30 years and poking a head outside for a bit of a yell is forevermore.

  5. detritus says:

    Well, don’t know about you all, but I spent all my time crafting carefully sassy away messages for ICQ and msn. And hanging out at the mall. And before N64 there was SNES, 8bit and Atari. And magic mountain, Dig Dug, Sierra Games and waaaay to much Homestar Runner. Rejected by Hertzfeldt.

  6. Robin says:

    Pen15 is GREAT. As someone just a couple years younger than them, they hit every mark.

    • Alyse says:

      It’s great, but I can only watch 1 ep at a time, because the cringe gets a bit too close too home sometimes! lol

  7. Case says:

    I’m a 90s kid and I LOVED my Nintendo 64. As an adult I have the Switch and get so excited when they release nostalgic games.

    I read a lot, studied a lot, and listened to my yellow Walkman until it died. I’m an only child but I don’t think I was ever bored.

  8. Kate says:

    Pen15 is an amazing show. I don’t know how they remember so well how it felt to be that age but watching it always takes me back there and it’s almost therapeutic. You remember how it felt so serious then but you see if from your adult perspective. The way they portray the nuances of best friendship is so layered and realistic. Towards the end of the second season they start showing the nuances of parent-child dynamics during the pre-teen years which is also done so beautifully. The last episode of the 2nd season was really moving and I rewound a couple minutes and watched again to have some cathartic tears.

    ETA – and the show is funny! it’s kind of like schitt’s creek where you start off thinking it’s a comedy but somehow are crying at the season finale.

  9. velcrodots says:

    I mean to be fair, back then you had to wait an hour for a 3 min flash video to load on albinoblacksheep.com so that pretty much did it for your daily internet allowance

  10. Moptop says:

    Kids rode bikes, walked to their friends’ houses, read books, and didn’t worry about how they looked on Instagram.

  11. Chris says:

    I love Pen15. I was sad that season 2 was so short but am just happy it finally came out. I think he did a great job as Gabe and they told the story in a really gentle and respectful way.

  12. Banana says:

    I was born in early 90s, and I grew up in 2000s.
    I remember playing with polly pockets, beanie babies, tamigochis, using pokemon stuffies as dolls..I loved my Ferbie, and had a stuffed teddy I could draw on. ( and it would wash off)
    Other than that I would play on my scooter or bike and trampoline. I honestly feel for the kids that have the internet now because its such a major distraction. As I grew older (going into middle school), I fell into playing more PC games because they were so addicting (looking at you Sims) and console games that kept me inside for a while. Everyone was playing these games because they were so fun. It’s just that the games kept you a bit more innocent whereas the internet sort of groups you with a more wider age group that you feel part of. Its then that I feel kids try emulating lifestyles they see (or feel like they can relate to), especially if they don’t fit in with their current peer groups. My age group feels like they were growing up, acting younger, than those before and after.

  13. Fleur says:

    There were definitely group dances that everyone did and got goofy too! Instead of being propagated via the internet and social media, they were spread through television and MTV. Remember the macarena? The song got popular, so TV channels played it, and then it became its own pop culture wave and got spoofed on variety shows like SNL, etc.

    There were mall hangouts, and movie trips. You read on the school bus instead of playing on a phone, or you listened to your walkman. Homework projects took longer because of the lack of internet, so there was more research time and the library, more rented books–and the desperate hope you could find the scholastic book you needed before your project was due. The quality of your paper depended on how much competition you had from your other students to grab the decent reference books at the library.

    I miss pieces of it, but not all of it. I’m not limited to my own mideastern slice of culture in 2020 the way I was in the 90s. I was very curious about world cultures, but I had limited resources other than CNN and the occasional world newspaper at Borders Books. You couldn’t find international recipes easily. you couldn’t learn to play guitar independently unless you paid someone to teach you, or to dance ballet without expensive lessons, or to do anything if you didn’t have direct access to a teacher, funds to learn, and a decent commute.