FAME COSTS - appeared in My Comrade in 2005/6

[OK, before you read this, two things. This is the last edit i did before I gave it to My Comrade's editor, Linda Simpson (my favorite drag queen) so there are capitalizations of inserted changes that i am too lazy to reformat. The other thing is that this came out before Kathy Griffin's show 'My Life on the D-List" so the whole grading scale of fame is skewered, since Ms Griffin is way more of a celebrity than I. I really love her show, too.]

Earlier this year, I managed to ascend to the ranks of a C-minus level celebrity. Inspired by the multiplatform FRESHLY CHEM-PEELED publicity whores that rule over our pop culture—Hilary, Linsey, Paris, Jessica, Ashlee, etc - I timed the run of my latest solo show, My Price Point (at the New York performance space, P.S. 122) to coincide with the release of my second novel, The Underminer. This double-whammy provided me with a spate of press coverage including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, even the Rocky Mountain News, plus a bevy of FM and broadband radio programs. For a few weeks at least, I managed to achieve a notability on par with that of a minor porn actor, local newscaster, or someone kicked off Survivor early in the season.

Having immersed myself in our Byzantine, highly-structured celebrity system (and carefully scrutinizing its partakers), I discovered a mind-numbing, enervating jungle. Think of me as akin to anthropologist Jane Goodall who sat dorkily in the nearby bushes of a chimpanzee family, observing them with patience and a good natured smile, until the creatures got sort of used to her being around like a cockatoo or dung-pile. From my tangential view, I now know that it ain’t easy playing the fame game. Like the wise black woman Debbie Allen once said: "You want fame? Well FAME COSTS."

So, hi there, this is Mike Albo reporting from the smelly celebrity ghetto, and this is what I have learned.

1) Promoting oneself is exhausting!

For three months, along with performing my show almost every night, I often had to wake up at 7AM to do radio interviews for the book, as well as stay out late into the night to squeeze in all extra readings and performance gigs as I could, as well as write as often as I could for magazines and weeklies -- all to make sure I did everything possible to schill for the Underminer and fill the seats at my show.

AFTER A MONTH OF THIS, I FOUND THAT CONSTANTLY PROMOTING ONESELF MAY APPEAR CHIC, BUT THE ORDEAL FEELS LIKE IT’S GIVING YOU A KIND OF MYSTERIOUS DISEASE. The mental and physical stresses one suffers as a publicity whore cultivate a vague fatigue, as if you had stepped out of a 24 hour flight on Singapore Air. PERHAPS IT WAS THE THREE MARGARITAS, BUT I OFTEN WOKE UP AS A WRETCHED OGRE WHO NEEDED TO HURRY AND PULL HIMSELF TOGETHER FOR ANOTHER DAY OF BRIGHT SMILING AND ARTICULATE WIT. THEN I WOULD SPEND THE DAY DASHING AROUND like a quacking, wet penguin, AND I would see the encroaching billboards and ads for tan, silk-kissed J.Lo and her new album Rebirth, her new movie Monster-in-Law, and or another of her perfumes or skirts or jewelries. How much more exhausted she must be, I thought. My muddier lower-rung fame was just a fraction of Miss Lo’s --one of the biggest PR bulldozers of our age -and I felt like I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Our stars work so hard!

I NOW understand why the rejuvenating spa industry has cropped up around CELEBRITIES, and why stars become such weird alien lifeforms -- shaved and starved and depilated into little white laquered toothpicks. Because after spending the whole day blabbering, the only thing your senses can handle is the smell of ylang-ylang, tinkly Enya music, and someone squeezing your ass cheeks. Which leads me to my second observation.

2) Stars have no sex/weird sex.

It is not easy to get laid at your gigs. After a show, no one you would like to be naked with stays around long enough for you to make your move. THE ROOM CLEARS OUT TOO FAST. Any performer can tell you that the show doesn’t end at curtain call. After you clean yourself up, straighten up you dressing room, giggle and gossip with your director and stage manager for a while, there’s always some really cool college friend or amazing performer politely waiting to talk to you. By then, the nice, normal, dateable guys have already left, thinking that you are fabulously busy or that you may be a little high maintenance (o god I hope
The latter isn’t true or i’ll be single forever). Instead you END UP LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACES, GO TO THE COCK AND get your chain jerked a lot by Lothario types with swaggers and spirally eyes and forearm tattoos. After EXPOSING YOUR embarrassing emotions and vulnerability in front of an audience, YOU WALK AROUND A LITTLE DESPERATELY RAW AND WIDE-EYED THE REST OF THE NIGHT, AND YOU PROBABLY SEEM LIKE EASY PREY FOR THESE TYPES OF GUYS. USUALLY WHAT HAPPENS IS THEY LEAVE YOU HANGING, CONFUSE YOU, OR end up sleeping with your sound designer.

This makes me think that the only stars who get a lot of sex are the remorseless ones -the ones with the crystal meth energy of a pummeling psychopath or those dick-centered asshole rockers. The ones who stay at the Mercer hotel and pay for sex with an escort who is told he will be shot dead if he tells anyone. Kinder and more normal stars either stay with some boyfriend they have been with for years, masturbate a lot, or keep getting set up with Sam Harris.

3) It’s impossible not to slip into predictable hackneyed celeb-speak.

Once or twice, some sort of haughty Uta Hagen part of me came out in interviews. I surprised myself by saying phrases that make me roll my eyes when I hear them from the legitimately famous like: "I have never found happiness through material things” or "It’s about a journey" or "SHE IS my agent AS WELL AS MY FRIEND." What’s more, I would suddenly find myself acting proud and impenetrable, and acquire a weird accent like I was a stately Blacktor like Denzel Washington or Angela Basset. LUCKILY I AM SURROUNDED BY SNARKY, WISE-ASS FRIENDS WHO NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO RAZZ ME. THEY KEEP ME GROUNDED. “THEY KEEP ME GROUNDED?!?!” EW! THERE’S ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE PHRASES! HELP!

4) It is very difficult to stay on schedule.

I’ve always been NERDILY punctual for gigs, but during my busiest week, I showed up 30 minutes late to a reading because I had written down the wrong time, BLITHELY WALKING into the bookstore to find 50 disgruntled people sitting there. For another event, I copied down the wrong address, and upon realizing my mistake, flailed through the streets of the East Village, frantically yelling into my cell phone trying to find the right location. On both occasions (as well as a few other ones), no matter how I apologized, I came across as looking like some sort of careless Ashanti. THE INEVITABLITY OF MY TARDINESS made me sympathetic to those chronically late divas of our culture. I would hear how Naomi Campbell was 17 hours late for her photo shoot and think: “Maybe her limo was actually stuck in traffic. Or maybe someone told her 5pm instead of 5am. Maybe she is just a hard worker trying to get places on time and be a good person!" Then, of course, she throws another blackberry at one of her housekeepers and GO BACK TO THINKING SHE IS A MASOCHISTIC DEMON.

5) It’s easy to injure yourself

One night soon after MY RUN at PS122 COMPLETED, I was out and got really drunk off sangria (ugh, let this be a warning to you). I somehow Blobbered home. At 7.30 the phone rang and I had completely forgotten I had a radio interview with some NPR station in Boston. I bolted out of bed and ran across my apartment: a dilapidated mess that I pay for month-to-month with warping floors. Nails stick out of these floors in random, sometimes surprising places. I usually can spot them before I step on them, but, that morning, rushing to the phone like a reanimated corpse, I sliced through the bottom of my foot.

That didn’t stop me from being a pro publicity whore. "Hello, this is Mike!" I said like a SNAPPY gas station attendant from the 50s. I looked down at my foot, it was cut deep and open like sashimi. While holding up paper towels to it as blood gushed, I answered all of the soft-voiced woman’s questions.

As I spent the rest of the day at a clinic getting stitches, it suddenly made sense to me that big-name
Entertainers should suffer so many injuries (Nicole’s broken rib, Britney’s torn-up knee, etc.) OF COURSE, UNLIKE ME, THEY MUST HAVE NICE ORGANIC MAHOGANY FLOORS TO RUSH ACROSS, BUT I’M SURE THEY OFTEN get knocked by a stray stage-light or a beaded curtain. Or THEY JUST get drunk and klutzy like me.

5) The pursuit of fame leaves you contemplative and frightened for your soul.

Fame AND ALL THE SUPPOSED GLORY THAT COMES WITH IT has always been a part of human history, BUT IN 21ST CENTURY AMERICA, IT SEEMS THAT THE ONLY WAY To exert influence on OUR entertainment-military-industrial complex, you either have to become famous or become Republican. Think about it – George Clooney and Bono are the only liberals who SEEM TO HAVE ANY CLOUT WHEN IT COMES TO STANDING UP TO OUR EVIL GOVERNMENT. ANGELINA IS A PROMINENT AMBASSADOR FOR THE UNITED NATIONS. AND I AM SURE THAT IN A FEW YEARS, ACTOR-POLITICIANS LIKE SCHWARZENEGGER WILL BE A MAJORITY IN OUR LEGISLATURE. FAME HAS BECOME A PILLAR OF INFLUENCE IN OUR COUNTRY. EVEN As I sit here at my computer, I notice the label of my Poland Spring bottle, printed with an ad for Universal Studios: "Live like a Rock Star! Feel like a Movie Star!" Fame is needed to sell an essential element of life: water.

I wish life were different. In my fantasy world, I see a verdant forest community WHERE RED CARPETS, PREMIERE LINES, AND MARY HART ARE OUTLAWED. There are handsome young people building a yurt, female to male trannies splitting stones for our new roadway project. THERE IS A town theater, a vibrant education system, an organic garden and I guess there is a backroom there too, or some suck off booth where we can splooge and get back to being clean and neatly tucked into our tailored flat front hemp pants.

But we don’t live in that world. Instead, like thousands of others, I have had to wrangle for studio time, wave my arms in front of cameras, try my best to gain a foothold on the celebrity stepladder TO MAKE MY WAY IN THE WORLD. IF YOU WANT TO EXPRESS YOURSELF IN THIS COUNTRY, I DON’T THINK THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE. THESE DAYS PROMOTION HAS BECOME INTEGRAL TO SELF-EXPRESSION – YOU JUST HAVE TO HOPE THAT YOU DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS AND THAT YOU DON’T turn into a robot. Let’s promise each other something. Let’s not let fame completely soak up our souls, OK? If you ever start smiling like a blank bland Carrie Underwood, i’ll shake you till you regain your senses. Will you do the same for me?

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