A Winter's Tale

by Winter Tekenos-Levy

So I'm the cuddler.

Am I some balding weirdo hanging out in my underwear getting ready to jump out of the bushes at neighbourhood kids? Yes. That's me.

My name in the show is Winter. It's my actual name. People like to make Game of Thrones references, and you know what? It's fine. They light up with excitement and say "Winter is coming," and then immediately regret it because they know I've probably heard it a million times. It's fun to watch that rollercoaster.

This is a sort of meandering way to get to the point. I'm supposed to tell you something deeply emotional about myself so that you can like me and watch our series. Michael may have also asked me to say something about feminism.

So I'm going to do that. For you Michael. But, also because I'm a feminist, and why not.

One of my favourite shows is called Broad City. What makes it so good is this amazing friendship between the leads, Ilana and Abbi. The show isn't about how they can find a man or about how tough it is to be in your 20s. It's about their crazy awesome friendship where they smoke weed, Skype during sex, get drunk, and maybe peg a dude with a custom dildo. You don't normally see that sort of friendship on TV - a friendship between two hilarious women who genuinely love each other and get each other, where you learn about a character's pain with a chance comment about how this year they vow to cut their anti-depressant prescription in half.

And that's what I like about the socially awkward weirdo I play on Just Cuddle. She doesn't have a love story. She's a professional friend. In pop culture, women aren't friends with men unless they are eventually going to become love interests. Friends on literally any other sitcom would be called "We're fucking soon."

In the series, we see Winter's willingness to talk to isolated, lonely people - both men and women - and her earnest desire to connect with them, even when she doesn't really know how. Because this character is not a warm, fuzzy hippy with an open heart but wants to be. In many ways, Winter is the hardest character to understand because she won't let people in or reveal herself on purpose.

In the first episode, my character is in an awkward job interview with no knowledge of what the job is for - she just answered a craigslist ad and hoped for the best. We meet an older woman who reminisces about talking in Yiddish to Bob Dylan, smokes a joint, and asks me if I'd like to make a hundred dollars an hour through the company she runs.

Nanci Pach, who is pretty much the most hilarious person in the history of time, plays the role. As she chomps down on her joint she explains, "It's cuddles. Professionally, just cuddles."

I ruined half the takes because she was making me laugh too hard. As part of the interview, I have to cuddle her - this woman I just met an hour earlier - and the whole time she is whispering weird shit to me to see if I will laugh. I think you can see how much fun we were having in the episode. Towards the end, she gives me pepper spray and instructs me to spray it into a client's eye if he gets fresh because it will burn his eyes out. She says it with such motherly glee. It's perfect.

You don't see the people in Just Cuddle anywhere else. I meet them the way Winter in the show meets them: I'm cuddling them about two hours after learning their names. I'm not super touchy feely as a person. Actually, I am, in that I like to hug my friends and rub their faces like they're cats, but I'm not overly sentimental. For me, there is something easier about touching people than talking to them. You connect through touch. It isn't a sexual thing - it's something people need in order to feel like people. Do it with consent and permission, but do it more often. Just like weed smoking, as Nancy instructed in the episode.

A lot of people don't get the idea of hiring a professional cuddler but are totally comfortable with the idea of strip clubs or prostitution. They don't mind treating women as commodities. It's the intimacy that scares them. Because no one wants to admit that it's difficult making friends after a certain age. And I've made some new friends. We made a series called Just Cuddle and you should watch it - it's great!