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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 31, 2014

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In Movies & TV

The lovely and talented Nikol Hasler.

Former "Midwest Teen Sex Show" host rises to life's challenges


Nikol Hasler was born in Janesville, Wis. in 1979. She spent much of her childhood living with foster care families in Wisconsin and Illinois and had her first son at the age of 19. At the age 21, after experiencing a stretch of homelessness, she had another son.

Despite the hardships associated with an abusive childhood, unsupported teen pregnancy and single parenthood to three kids, one with autism, Hasler's talent could not be extinguished. With luminous blue eyes, a Dorothy-Parker-sharp wit and a high intelligence, it wasn't long before Hasler experienced professional success.

In 2008, she started hosting the semi-educational and outrageously funny podcast, "Midwest Teen Sex Show." The show featured tongue-and-cheek humor while offering information about sex topics like masturbation, homosexuality and dating older men.

Many of the low-budget podcasts were filmed in a home in Waukesha. Twenty-five episodes were shot over the course of a few years and eventually the show averaged 125,000 viewers per episode. It received national attention from "Nightline," "The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet" and "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric."

The three-to-five minute podcast was both popular and controversial. Although it was praised for being able to reach teens, some parents found it too racy and teachers and therapists panned it for not being factual enough.

Comedy Central, however, liked the concept and offered to produce 10-episodes of a TV version. Hasler moved out to Los Angeles, but the show never materialized.

Hasler also wrote "Sex: A Book For Teens" that includes an endorsement from former surgeon general Dr. Joyce Elders and feminist author Joyce Dodson. She also worked on a show called "Real American Family" and has written numerous sex columns.

About a year and a half ago, Hasler was diagnosed with cancer.

Last month, Hasler finally shared with Facebook friends that she was battling cancer, and made it very clear she did not want sympathy. With the support of friends in Wisconsin and California, as well as her 13-year-old son, Hasler is sloshing through the dark swamp of a serious illness, enduring hair loss, loss of energy and fear along the way.

As she will point out, Hasler is one tough girl. She has determination and a knack for overcoming adversity. The kid has chops.

OnMilwaukee.com: You grew up in the foster care system, right?

Nikol Hasler: I grew up first with my mother, who was a bit insane, and then with her abusive relatives, eventually going into the foster care system where I lived until I was 17. At my last case management meeting, while I was waiting to move to another foster home, I remember the case workers saying "You're 17. You've been in 15 placements. We could put you in one more, but it just doesn't seem like we should put you through that." Foster care itself was an often abusive, unsafe place with people who should not have been taking care of any children, let alone children who needed extra care because they'd been through abuse and neglect already.

OMC: Tell me about your sons. You have three, right? How are they handling your illness?

NH: My oldest son is 13. I had just turned 19 when he was born, and we had friends who tried to help us, but we were homeless until he was about 6 months old. My other two sons are 11 and 5. The younger two are living with their fathers, and my oldest is with me. He's really an amazing person, and he has been strong, funny and I'd be a lot weaker without him. My five-year-old is pretty upset, mostly because of my hair falling out. It didn't help that he lost his first tooth right around the time I went bald. He was in a pretty big panic about his teeth.

OMC: When did the "Midwest Teen" stuff start up? How did you get involved?

NH: That started in 2008. A friend of mine from high school came to my birthday party. We got drunk and he mentioned that he had some ideas for podcasts. Within a month we were shooting the first three.

OMC: How many episodes did you make? Why did you stop?

NH: We made 25 episodes, and had many more in mind. I think making the pilot was eye opening for all of us. You know, Britney Barber and Guy Clark are extremely talented. Guy's editing is such a huge part of what made the show work, and Britney was pants-peeingly funny. But, as the show gained leverage, I also became more serious about it, often taking the brunt for getting details wrong. Also, I got most of the positive media attention. I still believe the others found that irritating. I loved the attention, and I loved finally being respected as a sort of expert. I really wish we were still making that show, and if they asked me to do it now, I would.

OMC: When did you move to Los Angeles? Why?

NH: I moved to LA two-and-a-half years ago because Comedy Central hired us to turn MTSS into a pilot. It was amazing! I got to produce a television pilot from the ground up. We got to cast it, write it, work with a few of my comedy heros, go on tech scouts, go scout locations, meet with wardrobe and create a show. It was a really special time. And once I was in LA, I began to feel at ease with who I have always been. However good or bad it may be, this city embraces me.

People have this vision of LA, and what's funny about that vision is that it was manufactured in LA. This is where movies and TV shows are made, after all. But, what's missing about LA in all of that is how beautiful it really is. The hiking is incredible, the ocean is beautiful and the people are pretty damn kind. I get accused, from time to time, of having adapted too much to the LA way of thinking. Usually it's when I say something online that comes off as scandalous, like making a joke about a party I was at. Then people back home get out of sorts and worry about the kind of life I'm living, and I ask what the hell the big deal is. I suppose, I have always been the person I am now, and back in Wisconsin, I was always worried about people thinking I was a bad person or a bad mother. Out here, I've relaxed so much.

OMC: When did you find out you had cancer? What made you think something was "wrong"?

NH: A year and a half ago, the initial thought was that the cancer was in my spleen. It seemed like all I had to do was have that removed and, no big deal. Good as new. I think, at the time I was drenched in cold sweat at night, extremely tired and couldn't shake a cold. Back in the end of November, at a check up, the blood work came back and showed the elevated markers I was hoping to avoid. I have Diffuse Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

OMC: How are you treating it? How do you feel?

NH: I'm over half way through the chemo and radiation for it, and it's kind of starting to kick my ass a bit. The hardest part is not having a car, and not just because of the treatments. On my "energetic" days I need to get groceries, do laundry, catch up on errands and chores. Not having a car makes it – obviously – more difficult. I feel pretty terrible most of the time. I'm tired, but I can't sleep because of the prednisone. Most nights I lay awake, freezing cold, with a lot of joint pain. Also, I'm pukey, but gaining weight and not able to get to the gym. It's pretty lame.

OMC: Does cancer bring life clarity? Does it bring out the best in people? Is this a load of crap?

NH: There's no magic thing that happens when your cells start mutating and you're sitting in a chair with chemicals coursing through your body, feeling like a blanket from the blanket warmer is the best thing you've got going right that second. People have all been really great to me about it, and they've been understanding. In fact, I'm really grateful at how many of my friends have been cool about this. I was really afraid they were going to look at me the way you look at people when they're sick. I really am staying positive most of the time. But sometimes, I'm a total whiny baby about this.

OMC: What is your prognosis? You gonna beat this? What is the worst part of cancer?

NH: I'm going to beat this, of course. Even if they'd told me I had a year to live, I think I would beat this. I'm pretty damn tough. The worst part has been realizing how many other people are also going through this or have. You don't know, really, until you're there, how all consuming this is. And it really bugs me to consider how very many people get cancer every year.

OMC: What are you working on now? What do you still want to accomplish in the near future and the long term future?

NH: Right now I am trying to focus on my documentary about kids aging out of the foster care system. It's difficult, because what we really need is funding. So, we're trying to get a preview shot and spending a lot of time applying for grants and looking for investors. In the future, I'd love to secure myself as a documentary film maker. I think I have a lot to share, and so many things that I want to show people.

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