Mike Albo

Interview by
Adam Baran
Photography by
Derek Jackson


I first noticed Mike Albo at a Wigstock performance a few years ago. He was with the Dazzle Dancers, a troupe of “Solid Gold” inspired dancers who end each number with an all-nude finale. I saw him again later at a party wearing a dragon mask and being chased around by a man dressed as a coke spoon. Finally a friend introduced us this past summer after I had been obsessing for a few weeks over Mike’s latest book The Underminer, a wicked and hysterical monologue delivered by an absurdly successful person to a college friend with no future. I asked him if he’d like to sit down for an interview with BUTT and he replied, “God yes! It’s my dream!”

Adam: Mike, is it really your dream to be interviewed in BUTT Magazine?
Mike: Totally.
How did you get started writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, since second grade. It was poetry at first… My first poem was: “Quiet quiet quiet/everybody thinks it’s a riot/I know some very famous people who should have been QUIET!”
That is a great poem! Was it inspired by any particular music group? Quiet Riot perhaps?
No! They weren’t around yet… You have to remember I am older than the wind now at 36. This was in the 70s.
Oh that’s right, I’m stupid. So perhaps you predicted that group?
Yeah, I think that is my lot in life. I have a shining, but for pop culture and celebrity bullshit. I dream about celebrities all the time, and I can sense when they are around like I am Wolverine.
In that poem, do you remember which famous people you hoped would be quiet?
I don’t. I think I was more kind of copying the sourpuss sort of comedic stylings of Paul Lynde and Kay Ballard and others I saw on TV at the time. I think I was lucky enough to have spent my impressionable early years during a golden age of alcoholic 70s comedy.
How long had you been writing for magazines and whatnot before your first book, Hornito, happened?
I attended grad school for writing at Columbia. My concentration was poetry, but I was getting more confident as a fiction and nonfiction writer and beginning to write for websites, which in the 90s proliferated. It was a lucky time, because there was a hunger for content, and young desperate writers like myself could get paid to dash off lots of little things. My first piece ever printed, though, was in 1993, right after River Phoenix died, in the Village Voice.
Was it actually about River Phoenix?
Yes. It was a reaction to his death…kind of about what he meant to me. How we were the same age and how I marked my life against his, and then he dies and I have to kind of grow up.
What was so special about him to you?
Well you know, we live in an iconographic consumer world… He was sold to me and I bought him in my head like you probably do with some other star. Branding imprints on the brain.
It’s crazy how normal people grieve over celebrities now. I always love the Oscar segments where they show who died that year, because you get to see who was the most well liked and who people are the most sad about by the applause. It’s so perverse—
Yes! The order of the deaths is always so gross and popular-mean-girls-high-schoolish. I think the thing that I resented about River dying was that he would be encased as this young icon, and I would grow old and craggy and once again the culture has me under control to make me feel shitty about myself.
…and to warn you against doing drugs and being reckless and partying at a club that Johnny Depp owns.
Totally. My favorite fact is that Christina Applegate was accused of laughing at River when he was dying on the street and she denied it and later on performed an interpretive dance to him and to drug awareness or something in a big 90s white shirt.
I love it. Can you give me a rundown of The Underminer’s plot for people who haven’t read it?
It’s told in the second person, as if the reader is the victim. We follow the Underminer and his/her victim from college until mid-thirties. The Underminer shows up magically in the victim’s life even when the victim is trying to escape and slowly drives the victim insane. The plot structure is basically a plummeting, downward spiral. There is no happy denouement. Just for clarity: the Underminer is that person in everyone’s life who knows exactly how to deflate every hope and ambition you have ever had with a simple, seemingly harmless phrase like, “You look really tired…are you OK?”
So if I said to you, “Oh Mike I just read your book! It was so good. They had it at the library just sitting there on the shelf. Nobody had checked it out. You’re so lucky!” It’s like a masterfully backhanded way of insulting you.
A perfect one. I have actually had someone say, “I saw your book in the trash on the street!”
As though that’s a compliment!
Yes exactly. It’s just a way to make sure you keep your competition down while you sneak ahead, a way that is encouraged in our society of promotion and perpetual PR-making…
The Underminer’s voice is probably the best and sharpest assessment of the way people are mean by being nice nowadays. Can you talk about how you began to notice that type of voice?
Yes. In other ages and cultures people got out their aggression by slapping each other with white gloves or doing ritual dances around fires, but in our society you must remain kind and super friendly while your craven connivings simmer inside your head. I think the voice became noticeable to me when I was in my late twenties and noticed all of my colleagues, including me, in this sort of panic that they had to become successful or die. It’s related directly to the notion of a trickle-down economy.
In what way?
For instance, “I will make money first and then maybe give you some,” or “I am better than you but I am so great I will perform at a benefit for you.”
Like when politicians talk about helping the poor?
Exactly. I am very aware of that way of thinking because I grew up in a Republican household.
How did your being a fag affect your relationship with your Republican parents?
I think there are lots of gay guys who have been through something similar… My parents are incredibly supportive of my work, but you know, they aren’t gonna be so psyched when I show up in BUTT magazine.
Naked as the day is long. Yet they have no problem showing naked baby pictures. I think that’s sicker.
Yes. There is this one of me in the TV room where I am totally naked and laughing. I loved being naked when I was a child. I still love it.
So I mean they should accept it — you’re an exhibitionist both in literature and with your Dazzle Dancers.
Exhibitionist has such a negative connotation though. I think I am just trying to say, “Here I am, I am willingly showing you everything about myself.” It seems important to take full control of yourself, especially now while we are all becoming part Internet-cyborg-branded consumer machines.
I guess exhibitionism is very HBO’s Real Sex Part 8.
There is a difference between someone trying to look sexy so that they will become some fantasy Carmen Electra credit card and trying your best to emit good energy.
I feel like both of your books are about someone trying to achieve a certain level of success but failing. What are your goals and your feelings about your own success? Mmm, well the whole thing about succes is: I don’t feel like I’m succesful at all. Just look at my apartment — it’s falling apart. I never have any money. And then there’s also the way — and this is one drawback to living in this city — that my love life hasn’t been dreamy — very typical New York. It’s like I’m constantly surprised by the ways in which things don’t work out. Or how I make them not work out.
Do you think in your book you’re maybe trying to exorcise your own feelings or fears of not being successful?
Definitely. The book was really borne out of my frustrations and, admittedly, my own feelings of envy at how other people were making gobs of money by writing children’s books or being DJs or whatever else. I was so poor and frustrated when I started on the book. It was therapeutic to say the least. In terms of not feeling successful, I guess I have learned to despise that word. It seems like something that Nicole Richie would say to herself while she looked in the mirror: “I am successful.”
Which writer would you prefer to fuck? Your choices are: David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, David Rakoff, or Jonathan Ames. Or you can opt for none of them and say Edmund White 20 years ago?
Hmm. Okay well, I know David Rakoff and he’s a very smart and handsome guy, so I can’t really say him because I know him. Hmm. You know what’s funny is my friends and I always talk about Augusten Burroughs like, he was in New York at the same time we were. My friends always wonder why we never met him or ran into him, like, at the Boiler Room or something. Stuff like that is weird. And I can’t really say Jonathan Ames either because I know him too, although he is…
…really hot.
And he’s very open about his occasional preference for men, right?
Men and trannies.
He’s like — I don’t know if my friends coined this term — “stray”. Do you know this term?
It’s like a straight gay.
So hmm. I think I would say Edmund White. I love Edmund White.
I think that’s a good choice because you would probably get to have sex with him in some fabulously romantic setting, like tucked away in an alley on the river Seine with a full moon overhead. And it would be described exquisitely, you know? I think he’s still very sexy. How do you feel about this trend of popular gay memoirs that has kind of taken off in the last 5, 6 years?

Gay memoirs like what? I don’t know many of them. Honestly I haven’t really read many of them. I mean I read Barrel Fever and Dry. I’m not sure what I think about it… I know that personally I get kind of frustrated when someone just thinks I am “a funny gay!” I hate being relegated into some kind of minstrel-sy for straight people.
Do you think if Dry or Naked or whatever was a straight book it would do so well?
Good question. Yes, I do. I mean, it’s really their writing talent in the end…and I think it’s pretty great that they could appeal to a larger audience, but there are some compromises one has to make to become “mainstream”. For instance if I had made The Underminer clearly gay, I don’t think it would have had as much resonance…not that it’s like the big cultural keystone of the century or anything.
For me it is! My friends and I finally have a classification for ourselves!
Funny. I don’t know what or how I will be shaping my next projects.
What about your threesome relationship? Are you willing to talk about that at all?
Not sure if I am. I am so post-traumatically confused right now. That is a long, long story that I think may be coming up the pike. I am thinking of refashioning that with this other character that I perform, the Obsession Promoter…
What’s that one about?
This perfect guy you meet in a bar who stares into your soul and makes you fall in love with him, and then in the end you discover he was just trying to sell you an alcoholic beverage.
(laughs) Sounds like your type of character.
Yea, he’s an evil one… He was borne out of my frustration with this type of guy who keeps coming into my life and I think this type of person that is very common now, kind of hand in hand with the Underminer.
What would your Manhunt profile say if you had one?
Which of COURSE I don’t. I do have to admit that a recent friend of mine told me about his profile on Manhunt and I went on and I was kind of instantly more attracted to him because his profile said that he liked to eat ass and I like that — to get my ass eaten and I was like wow! And I was annoyed at myself because — I think I worry in general about talking about what I want, because I am afraid of it starting to sound like I’m ordering a plasma screen television. You fall into a trap of fetishizing certain sexual practices—
And I was just like fuck, I’m so angry at myself for being so superficial. I kind of feel what I’m discovering about life — it’s like gay sex on the Internet is kind of a twisted thing that perfectly reflects our age. People are focusing on the wrong thing about human beings and what they want to be satisfied. They can be like “And I want a big dick, and a hairy person,” but I don’t know, somehow getting into details in a wrong way is twisting people’s minds. But I have to admit that when I’ve done profiles before on Internet sites I’ve had to be kind of anonymous because I’m in this state where I’m kind of a D— celebrity so…
People around town would know it was you.
It’s hard for people like me in New York because sometimes you want to go out and there’s always people to talk to, which I love because I’m a super social person, but you end up talking to people and you leave and you’re like—
Damn, I didn’t get to cruise anybody!
Right! But I think the right response is, you know, fuck it. Everyone’s sexual. Fuck it. Fuck everybody who cares. But I still have this like—
Monogamy drive?
Yeah, or Victorian principles.
But do you still go cruising?
In the physical realm? Yeah. I think one fact of life that people are realizing now is that the Internet is just as time consuming as going out to a bar. My favorite thing is now how Internet sites have bar nights!
(laughs) Yeah, I went to this bar, the Saloon, in Minneapolis and they have like this whole row of computers hooked up to the Internet, and everyone’s sitting on Manhunt and gay.com, and so I’m like — you go to a bar, and you’re sitting on the Internet cruising for guys? You’re at a bar — turn around!
(laughs) That’s insane! That to me is the perfect example of how sex is fusing with computers and how people are actually wanting sex from computers more than sex from humans. I don’t want to go down that road. I want to have sex with humans. This is also why the search for love online scares me — it’s done in so many pieces — and the fact that you have to come up with a name for yourself like HotNiptop8 or something like mine, which is snarky and trying to push out too much. It definitely feels like you are putting on a role no matter what. Then there is the other side of me, the epistolary romance side that is REALLY into meeting a guy through typing. I had this relationship with this guy in Uruguay. I met him in 2002 and we kept in touch for four years online. I met him in Acapulco and he lived in Uruguay. There were positive and negative aspects of it. Like in the end he was kind of dimwitted, like I don’t think he got me, but he was fucking sexy. He was a very sweet man, but I don’t think he had the imagination to handle me, in the end. I think you have to have a lot of imagination, or patience or something. I’m weird.
What’s the best sexual experience you’ve ever had?
Oh it’s so hard to say. Um, some of them are dumb. One time I met this totally gorgeous black man and he was so hot. We were talking talking talking and he was like, “I have something to admit to you.” And I was like “Oh what is it going to be? Like the HIV-positive thing?” Which I’m totally cool with, but you wanna know. And he’s like, “I’m an escort. I don’t know if that means anything to you.” Please! When can we get a cab back to my place? Of course it’s not gonna bother me! What kind of idiot would it bother? But he did this really amazing thing which nobody’s ever done before. I’m talking a lot about ass-eating but I think I’m in a liking-to-get-ass-eaten phase. I think it’s the preference du season. What he did was he blew into it, like it was a trumpet.
That’s a very Michael Lucas porn move!
But do you know what I mean? Michael Lucas is very into that. He does this thing in his movies where he blows into the ass and he goes, “Push it out. Push it out.”
What does he want to push out — a big log?
No, well you think that’s what he’s talking about but, no. He actually wants the asshole to be more dilated.
Flowered, right. I don’t understand the whole verbal thing. I’m very quiet during sex. I’m more a silent person.
Loving and gentle?
Yeah. I mean I think it’s best for the human body, because I mean, even at my age, if I wanted it rough now, by the time I’m fifty my nipples would be hitting the floor. And I’d probably have to have lots of body jewelry and a spike through my dick.
Do you think you have to keep escalating your fetish for it to continue to be a turn-on?
It’s best to kind of keep some things at bay for a while. You know? I’m saving being fisted until I’m like eighty and then I’ll probably die that way.
Would you ever do that?
Get fisted? Oh I’m sure I would, but it’d have to be with someone I loved! I’m mortally afraid of being one of those like Vietnam-veterans-of-sex guys who have that weird look in their eyes. They’ve got this kind of look in their faces like the record skipped and sex became the satisfaction of the sex. I’m so afraid of that narrative. But some of my friends, they have the energy to go out night after night and meet guys. I feel like that happens less and less to me. Like I have a “Do I want your smell on me?” kind of thing. “I don’t know if I want our DNA to mingle.” Not to say that I don’t hook up and make out with people.
But you don’t go home with them anymore?
Less and less. But in the larger realm I’m probably still considered a total slut.
What would be your ideal partner?
My ideal partner would be someone with vision. Someone with energy and a revolutionary spirit. A doctor without borders. I know it’s a tall order.

Originally published in BUTT 15