‘Sidetalk’ Brings The Sidewalk to Life

Inside the man-on-the-street series produced by NYU first-years.

Trent Simonian, a first-year Film major at Tisch (left) and Jack Byrne, a first-year concentrating in Business and Entertainment at Gallatin (right) created Sidetalk NYC. Simonian and Byrne explore the streets of NYC and ask random pedestrians various questions for a new man-on-the-street series on Instagram. (Photo by Justin Aharoni)

The familiar chime of the closing subway doors sounds and you know you’re in for a ride, albeit a more figurative one. This isn’t the MTA, of course, but the start of each episode of “Sidetalk,” a rising new man-on-the-street internet show. Made by first-year Trent Simonian, who hosts the show, and Gallatin first-year Jack Byrne, who doubles as producer and cameraman, Sidetalk is rapidly building a dedicated following of their one minute clips that comedically highlight New York’s most colorful characters. 

Its format is simple yet effective; the show was created specifically for Instagram. Byrne follows Simonian on the streets of New York as he approaches unsuspecting pedestrians and prompts them with questions pertaining to that episode’s theme. Themes are usually timely and range from the conventional, such as Valentine’s Day, to more obscure but arguably more significant events, like Jonah Hill’s birthday. Regardless of theme, surreal interactions between quick-witted Simonian and the quotable cast of interviewees are guaranteed. 

Simonian is no stranger to the man-on-the-street format, having hosted a similarly formatted show for the broadcasting program at Malibu High School called Shark TV in his home state of California. He would demonstrate his instinct not only for content but its promotion, as he posted the videos on Youtube, as well. 

By this point in his senior year, Simonian knew he was bound for New York and wanted to translate his experience from Shark TV to another level: the streets of New York. He connected with Byrne, a Long Island native whose own creative content he admired, once he realized they both were Early Decision admits to NYU. Reminiscent of “Billy on the Street with Billy Eichner,” the two meticulously planned their concept for a man-on-the-street internet show that would feature polished production and a necessary refreshment to the platform.

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“No one in particular inspired it and the idea was just there,” Byrne explained. “The inspiration really was bad content.” 

Their solution was a made-for-Instagram show that would derive its humor from the host’s unforced, dry humor and first-rate editing. Their premiere episode, themed around New York Fashion Week, immediately resonated with NYU’s student community and soon gained traction outside of it. 

As part of his producer duties, Byrne worked tirelessly to build an audience base and reached out to New York creatives and social media figures whom they could collaborate and share their content with. Later episodes would feature New York-based rappers Leeky Bandz and Evlo as guest co-hosts.

While the COVID-19 crisis has understandably derailed production for the time being, its creators remain optimistic. They are using the period of social isolation to plan future episodes and share the show with as many fellow content creators as possible. 

The two were also grateful to have been able to produce their episode themed around the Jewish holiday of Purim, which landed on the Tuesday before online classes were due to begin. Notable internet personality, New York Nico, unexpectedly invited the pair to Williamsburg where many of the celebrations were taking place. The episode ends with them crashing a Purim party, much to the delight of attendees. 

“We were thinking of maybe not going to Purim and happened to get the episode in at that last possible minute. That episode took only thirty minutes to film,” explained Byrne of the episode’s spur-of-the-moment nature. 

After the Purim episode, New York Nico gave Sidetalk a shoutout on his Instagram, which proved a pivotal moment for their show’s promotion. Sidetalk saw their follower count grow by thousands in mere days, and the Purim episode has since become their most-viewed, accumulating over thirty thousand views.

As of this article’s publication, they are nearing thirteen thousand followers on Instagram. They have now amassed a following from a slew of celebrities, including Princess Nokia, Heron Preston and Cody Ko. Even Jonah Hill’s birthday episode resulted in a message of admiration sent to Byrne and Simonian by the actor himself.  

Sidetalk continues to grow rapidly and recently released a line of branded hoodies that sold out immediately. Simonian and Byrne are encouraged by the positive response from the NYU and Instagram community and continue to look forward. 

“This is like a building block for us. It’s something we started and are doing for fun. It has a positive response so we’re excited to see where we can go from here,” Simonian said.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 6, 2020, e-print edition. Email Chad Evans at [email protected] 

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