WEST CALDWELL TWP. – John Franklin, who grew up in West Caldwell, was featured on Netflix’s hit reality show The Circle, which was released on the streaming platform on May 4th.
In the Circle, participants use social media rather than face-to-face. They pose as themselves or someone else on social media while others decide if they are real. The format is a mixture of “Big Brother” and “Catfish”.
Franklin, a 2015 graduate of James Caldwell High School, was one of the first contestants to be announced following the announcement of the fourth season. He was one of five players who chose to play for someone else.
He decided to see how far he could take the show by playing his 63-year-old mother, Carol.
“My mom and I are very close. I think there’s a stigmatization on social media, people use it a lot, it’s a lack of care and an alternate motive for why you talk to people in the sense that I’m like, “Hey, how are you? Are you okay?’ People think the next thing I’m going to ask is, “Can you help me with this?” or “Can you give me this?”
“I love being that kind of friend. My friends will always tell you that I’m that kind of guy: “You need to talk, I’m always there.” I always say: “If you need to talk, I’m your guy.” Then I thought: “If I do it in the game, like my mom, people will believe it.” They will believe that she really cares, and I did, I just wanted to remove that stigma that people my age can’t just take care of each other.”
SPOILER WARNING: Franklin’s game plan of mothering the other contestants really worked for him in the long run, as he made it to episode 11 before being “blocked” from progressing any further. The Circle crowned Frank Grimsley, who portrayed himself as the winner of the fourth season in episode 13.
Toward the end of 2020, Franklin and his younger sister Tori were watching The Sphere. It was a great pleasure for them to watch reality shows together.
Tori told him that he was perfect for the show.
“I was a big fan of the show even before I went to see it,” he said. “I remember watching it with my sister and Tori and they were like, ‘You know, you can do this. That’s all you’re good at. Then I thought, “I don’t know if I can do it; I don’t know if I should apply.”
“I was on hiatus, it was the end of 2020, and I was like, ‘OK, what am I going to do? So, I started applying for jobs right and left, and I see the Circle casting coming up, and I’m like, “Okay, let’s go.” We will apply and see what happens.” “
About a year ago, Franklin got a call from people who worked at The Circle asking him to interview him. During a phone call, he shared his idea of playing himself on the show, which the interviewers dismissed, asking, “If you couldn’t be yourself on the show, what would you be?”
“I just blurted out, ‘I’m going to be a mom,'” he said.
Intrigued by his spontaneous idea, the interviewers continued to discuss it with Franklin before ending the interview.
Then he asked his mom to take about 15 photos of her doing the things she used to do around the house without any context. He intended to use them for the show.
About an hour later, Franklin’s father sent him a collection of photographs of Carol.
“It was also incredible stuff,” he said. “One of them that made it into the show was like a hidden gem, a pop-up image of my mom, I think it’s in my intro, and she’s cooking there. If you look closely at this picture, you will see that the flame has gone out and there is nothing in the pot.”
Two months after the impromptu photo shoot, Franklin told his mother why he needed all these photos: he was going to England to shoot the fourth season of Sphere.
“She was so into it,” he said. “Even now you might think that she is the famous Audrey Hepburn and loves every bit of it. It’s cool because we can share this aspect together, especially being at home on Mother’s Day and seeing people and their reactions to us together. It’s cool and it was really great to share it with her.”
Franklin was born in Belleville. When he was 2, his family moved to West Caldwell.
He was very active in and out of school, often spending his summers working in the recreation department, where he was an umpire in baseball games and a referee in other sports such as football.
As a child, he played baseball and basketball, among other things.
In high school, he played on the football and golf teams for four years, and in his senior year on the swim team. He also acted in plays.
“I loved it there (in West Caldwell) and I have the same group of friends from high school. There has never been anything or anyone to keep me from doing what I wanted to do.
“Even if you weren’t necessarily friends with anyone or we weren’t particularly close, as you get older, that kinship with the city means something; it matters the best. Somehow it always turns out that you know someone from Caldwell.
He entered Quinnipiac University knowing he wanted to work in the world of sports.
He now works on the social media team at Bet MGM creating national on-air content with top athletes such as Barry Sanders, Jalen Rose and Chris Johnson.
Franklin is also a stand-up comedian. On Wednesdays, he performs on “Simon Says Laugh” at the Greenwich Village Comedy Club in New York.
His father was a great inspiration, showing Franklin comedy specials when he was young. Franklin’s favorite comedians include John Mulaney and Norm MacDonald.
“I lived alone in Boston and went to my first open mic night and blew up,” he said. “I was lucky, even during the pandemic, that’s when I grew up in comedy a lot, because a lot of comedians didn’t have the opportunity to go to clubs anymore.
“I did everything to buy time. I performed in strip clubs; I’ve been doing shows on Zoom, I’ve been doing shows everywhere I can, just to get better. By the time the clubs opened in 2021 I had a good friend in Sharon Simon who very generously gave me the chance to be on her show (“Simon says laugh”) and I remember when I got there and did my show, I crushed it.”