Michael Musto’s Gusto

PW gets its 15 minutes with the legendary Village Voice scribe.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 13, 2010

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It’s pageant season in the gayborhood, which means Michael Musto, ex-Club Kid turned Village Voice columnist, author and talking head on all that is sparkly and scandalous, is making his annual trek to town to get all judgmental on our asses. Literally. For the fourth year in a row, Musto is a special guest judge for Mr. Gay Philadelphia, a fun spectacle served with a big side dish of serious.

Promoter Bruce Yelk—no stranger to fun, he hired a drumline to kick off last year’s festivities—explains, “When you’re in a large city like Philadelphia or San Francisco or New York where it’s so accepted to be gay, it could come off as silly. But there are major issues for the gay community throughout the world, and even in this country the fact that we can’t serve in the military,” he says. “If you can’t stand up and say you’re gay, I think it’s a big deal that people get up on stage and are willing to say who they are and be honest about that.”

Musto’s the perfect judge because the Ivy Leaguer has made a career out of being an irresistible combination of loud-and-proud and wittily self-deprecating, silly and serious. Musto’s fourth book, Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back, is a collection of previously published columns and new essays, including one exploring the politics of the celebrity closet. It hits shelves in June.

PW: Ricky Martin.

MM: What’s next, the sky is blue?

All the old Club Kid stuff is on YouTube. I watched you sing at a guerilla party in a McDonald’s in 1989! Have you YouTubed yourself?

Occasionally, but it’s so weird, because 90 percent of the time I was followed around by this guy named Nelson Sullivan. If you’ve seen the Party Monster DVD, there’s a special feature about his work. We were just kind of goofing off for Nelson. We couldn’t look into the future and see YouTube, where every embarrassing thing you ever did would be public. We were just cutting up and camping it up for Nelson’s camera, because he would be in your face with the camera whether you wanted it or not. Now it’s resurfacing for anyone to look at, and it’s been used as installations in museum exhibits. It’s like, we were just carrying on and now it’s considered art, so that’s genius. It’s nothing I’m ashamed of.

So you think celebrities nowadays just need to be totally open?

I always did. I always hated the idea that celebrities only become honest when a tabloid has something on them and then they hold a press conference. We all have skeletons in our closet, we should all just air them and say, 'what’s up with that?' Who cares? Nobody’s perfect. Let’s just be honest about it.

What would be your ultimate celebrity scandal to cover?

It’s so hard to shock people nowadays. I couldn’t even dream up a scandal that would grab headlines. The sex tape proved to be not only a cliché, but a career advancer. Nobody’s been hurt by a sex tape. Maybe monogamy? Maybe a marriage that actually followed the principles. It’d be really embarrassing! Then they would move on.

Your Wiki page credits you with coining the term “celebutard.” Discuss.

I’m not even sure if that’s true. It’s very bittersweet to be credited with something that I don’t think I coined. And it’s so dumb anyway. I can’t really say if I was the first one to coin that. It’s bizarre, considering I went to an Ivy League school, I’ve written four books, and this is what I’m now known for because it’s on my Wiki page. [laughs] The other big credit they give me is that I was in drag in a Cyndi Lauper video, which is true, but that’s not one of my top 10 credits, in my estimation.

That video rules. You don’t want Cyndi Lauper and celebutard on your gravestone?

Maybe I do. I’m too lazy to even figure out how to get into the Wikipedia and change it.

Maybe it will get into the Oxford. So desperate people must beg you to run their name. Any bizarre bribes?

Well yeah, everybody on the way up or down wants their name in the press, so they’ll beg you to write about them. And then everyone who’s up there already doesn’t want you to write about them and hire publicists to say no to everything. I don’t really get offered bribes because people know that I’m honest and I’m going to write whatever I want. So that would backfire in a big way, I’d write about the bribe. But the lowest thing was some club kid, aging club kid I should say, at a dinner reached between my legs under the table and said, I’ll give you a hand job if you mention me . And I did mention him, because I mentioned that he was willing to give me a hand job. Not the best press for him.

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