Chris Hampton is the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Arkansas force behind the all-blogger reading series WYSIWYG Talent Show, as well as a blogger herself. As the coordinator of WYSIWYG, she's hosted shows on themes ranging from "Worst. Sex. Ever." to drugs, first times, bullies and mean girls, politics, the gay, and, most recently "Psychos I Have Dated Or Worked For, Or Both," where we heard everything from coworker sabotage to an internet date lying about being a 9/11 widow. Throughout it all, Chris is there to cheer on her readers, and occasionally participate with her own hilarious tales. More of her writing is found on her blog, where she posts photos of her cats destroying her apartment, has a "sex toy of the week," gives glimpses into the minds of bigots via hate mail sent to her job as a "Pr flack and youth outreacher" at the queer rights project of a national civil rights/liberties nonprofit, and delves deep into her personal life.
Where do you live?
Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. You need some incense? Black soap? Shea butter? Burqa? I'm your girl.
Why is the name of your site/blog Uffish?
The full name is "Uffish Thoughts." It's a reference to a line from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" – "as in uffish thought he stood." Carroll explained it once as "a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish," and I thought that was kinda cool. Maybe I was just PMSing the day I chose it or something.
You've been blogging since October 2001 - what made you get started? Have you ever wanted to throw in the towel and close up your blog, and if so, what prompted that and why didn't you?
After 9/11, the place where I worked at the time was closed for a couple of weeks because we were located in the financial district. During that time I was just discovering blogs, and after being holed up at home for a while reading tons of them I decided to try doing one
I haven't really ever thought too seriously about ending the blog, but I have had some difficulty figuring out how to maintain the same sort of voice as more people I know in the real world have learned about it, which really increased after the WYSIWYG shows started. (more about that later)
You seem pretty immersed in the blog world, and to go back a ways with some prominent bloggers such as Choire Sicha and Jonno. How do you think the blog world has changed in the last three years, and have those changes been positive or negative?
There are a LOT more people doing it now, for starters. It used to be that we'd have these get-togethers with all the queer bloggers in New York and just about everyone knew each other.
What I loved about the blog scene then and still love now is that there are all these people out there with a sort of similar sensibility and an ability to tell interesting stories about their lives. There was just a really friendly, intelligent vibe. What I don't like so much about it now is how commercial a lot of blogging has become – I kind of miss the good ol' days. Maybe I'm just bitter because I haven't gotten rich off my blog yet. I make enough for a cocktail or two off the WYSIWYG shows, but not proportionate to how much time I put into them. The first time Andy Horwitz, our producer, gave me my cut of the door from a show it was something like 30 bucks and he told me, "Welcome to showbidness!"
And it's not gotten me laid nearly as often as it should, either.
Your blog is a mix of interesting links and photos and news items and personal information, whether it's bitching about your job, posting about your mom's death, your dating/sex life and photos of your cats and latest knitting projects. Is there anything you won't blog about? Has blogging about your personal life ever caused a problem for you?
I don't think it's really accurate to say I bitch about my job… I LOVE my job, and I don't think I've ever said much that was negative about it. My old job, though – that I bitched about on the blog a lot. I've learned that some higher-ups at the old job read my site, and I'm sure that if they've poked through the archives and seen some of what I said when I was working there they probably weren't too happy. But then again, if it made them question at all how they treat their staff, that's a good thing.
I've had a few weird things happen with posting personal stuff. There was one screwed-up, regrettable relationship with someone I reconnected with after he'd found and read my blog, and I've had other people I've dated find the blog, which has made me hesitant to mention them again. Also, I had an uncomfortable situation with the person I'd had the aforementioned awful relationship with, because he was still reading my blog after we quit speaking. This was someone I met shortly after his mother died and I had done everything I could to comfort and support him. Then when my own mom died earlier this year, I knew he was still reading my site every day and he never reached out to say a single word of support. That pissed me off royally. Then again, when my mom died I got a TON of support from my readers, and that really helped me get through. Six of one, half a dozen the other, you know?
Okay, now let's talk about WYSIWYG Talent Show, which stands for What You See Is What You Get. I'm not really a geek, but I know it's some geeky term, but why'd you choose it as the title for the series?
The name was a stroke of our Andy's genius. It's a term from back in the days when it was a really novel thing for a computer program to be able to, for instance, show a document onscreen the way it's going to look printed out – that was WYSIWYG. Pretty much all computer programs are WYSIWYG now. Basically, we chose it because it's old school geek talk, it sounds sort of funny, and it's a sneaky shout-out to people who have been doing the computer thing for a long time.
What made you want to start an all-blogger reading series? Do you think bloggers bring something to the literary world in the form of storytelling that's fundamentally different than non-bloggers?
The first show – "Worst. Sex. Ever." – was basically an excuse for me to tell a funny story about terrible Valentine's Day sex with an ex-girlfriend. I started thinking that stories about worst sexual experiences would be a really funny theme for a show, so I approached Andy. He's an amazing actor and writer and I didn't know the first thing about putting together a reading. He and I decided to make it all bloggers because we knew so many bloggers who are great writers and also that would make it somewhat novel. It was just going to be a one-off thing, but we had such a great response to that first show that we thought, "Hmm, maybe we're on to something!"
As someone who's attended every single WYSIWYG (and even read at a few), I've been consistently impressed with your curating abilities. You manage to get often very disparate readers, and they all manage to be extremely funny, compelling and moving. There aren't any clunkers and it's very sharp and fresh and original. Do you know in advance what people are going to read? Do you try to balance the lineups in any way?
It's sheer luck, honest. I do try to balance the lineups as best I can, with men and women, straights and queers, funny and serious, seasoned performers and sweaty newbies, etc. The great thing about it being all bloggers is you can check out someone's writing pretty thoroughly before deciding whether to ask them to perform, so while I sometimes ask folks to let me know what general sort of thing they're going to do I don't ask them to submit stories ahead of time to me (although I'm happy to look at something ahead of time and offer feedback if they want me to). So usually it's as much of a surprise for me as it is for the audience.
What's been the highlight of the series for you and what do you have coming up next?
Up next is tonight's show, "You Can Go Home Again! (But You Probably Shouldn't)" with Alexis Tirado, Liza Sabater, Matthew Kovach, Nichelle, Chelsea Peretti, and Amy Salloway, who will earn the distinction of being the performer who's traveled the longest distance to perform at WYSIWYG – she's coming all the way from Minneapolis!
We've been really pleased with almost all of the shows. The only one we weren't altogether thrilled with was the political panel we put on during the RNC, but I think that's mainly because it was so different from our usual thing – a lot of the people who attended really got into it. We just realized that we really prefer storytelling and performance over that sort of event.
The very first show, "Worst. Sex. Ever." was just SO much fun, and we're going to make it an annual event, so the February one, which will be our first anniversary, should be awesome. The pride show in June was amazing too. But they've all been a blast. I guess highlights for me wouldn't so much be individual shows but how responsive and enthusiastic the audiences have been. The people who come to our shows are total sweethearts. They respond so positively, and they also seem to sense when someone's a nervous first-time performer who needs some extra encouragement.
I'm also really proud that we've managed to have at least one musical performer at almost every show, because it really demonstrates the variety of talent out there in the blog world, and I'm really jazzed about the all-music December show ("Happy Goddamned Holidays"), with Jonny Goldstein, Dan Fishback, the Hazzards, and Jessica Delfino. That one should be extra-fun.
Who are some of your wish list bloggers who you'd love to have perform?
CORN MO! He has a blog (well, a Diaryland site) but he never responded to the emails we've sent him begging him to do the show sometime. Corn Mo, if you're reading this, I WANT YOU! Seriously.
There are lots of other folks I'd like to have too, but I don't want to rattle off a list because I'm sure I'll forget someone.
Who doesn't have a blog that you think should, and conversely, is there anyone who blogs who you think should shut the hell up?
George W. Bush should not have a blog. No wait, he should – it would be pretty funny to see how he types on his own! Nobody who blogs should shut the hell up – if you don't like 'em, just don't read 'em.
And in the meta blogging world, WYSIWYG now has a blog of its own. What's that all about?
It's just a place on the website where we can post info about upcoming shows, other stuff that WYSIWYG alums are doing, stuff going on around town, that kind of thing. My friend who does our graphic design, Dan Rhatigan, comes up with amazing promo images for each month's show – my favorite so far is the one he made for the "Ladies First" show in May. And he built the whole website, so it looks great. We don't post to it a whole lotWe don't post to it a whole lot – we're all pretty busy with our own jobs and our own blogs – but it's a nice way to get info out to our regulars, help promote other things that our performers are doing, and give people who haven't come to the shows yet some sense of what it's all about. Beyond the blog, we have lots of pictures and video clips from past performances on the site that we hope also help accomplish that.
Blogging has increasingly become big business for some people, with advertising on this very blog and bloggers making their livings from blogging. How do you feel about the commercial aspect of blogging? Do you think it detracts from the more personal/community nature of it?
The whole commercial thing sort of icks me out personally, but it's just not my cup of tea. Those bloggers have their own sense of community, to a degree. My main reservation about commercialized blogging is that I think it rarely recognizes the more personal, storytelling-based blogs, but as long as there's an Internet I think those blogs will still be there, and I just hope stuff like the WYSIWYG shows will keep recognizing the merit of those blogs.
I sometimes hear the argument that blogging is a very isolationist thing where people are at home behind their computer screens, but I've actually found it to be quite the opposite, with blogging allowing me to meet tons of interesting people I never would have met otherwise. Would you say that there is a blogging community in New York, or several of them? How much of that is based on geography, because I know you link to and are friends with many bloggers who are in other parts of the country, so I'm curious as to your thoughts about what makes a blogging community?
Oh, bloggers are VERY social creatures! Most of my blog pals are other New Yorkers, but there are definitely lots of folks out there in Jesusland and other parts of the country that have become great friends. I visited San Francisco earlier this summer for a conference and I spent an entire day with three blogger friends (only one of whom I'd met before, one time when he visited NYC) who took me to some wonderful shops and restaurants. It's really cool to know I could visit just about any city in the country and have someone to hang out with.
I can't speak for the entire New York blogging community, but some of my nearest and dearest friends here are people I've met through blogging. You can get such an intimate glimpse of another person's outlook on life and what that person digs through a blog that you that it's only natural that you'll hit it off with most of those folks when you meet them in real life.
Helping that sort of community thing happen is a big part of why we do the WYSIWYG Talent Show – not just through the shows themselves, but also the afterparties. We try to offer a mix of lesser-known and better-known bloggers each time so that people have a chance to be exposed to people whose work they might really enjoy. There's just so much good storytelling and provocative thinking out there in blogland, and we hope that doing the shows help bloggers and non-bloggers alike make connections that are rewarding for everyone involved.
What's the most challenging thing about being a blogger? I would guess it might be trying to keep up with all the blogs you read, but maybe it's something else.
There's no way for me to keep up with all the blogs I like; my blogroll is hopelessly outdated most of the time. I don't have blogging time where I work, and I've gotten better about tearing myself away from the computer when I'm at home, so there are some blogs I only manage to check every couple of weeks.
One challenging thing for me is intermittent periods of feeling pretty uncreative. But then every time I'm about ready to throw in the towel I eventually come up with something. I'm fortunate that I have a small but loyal group of readers who are patient enough to deal with the occasional cat photo or knitting post to wait for the occasional good stuff.
I guess the hardest thing for me is trying to figure out what sort of content is going to appeal to my readers. Sometimes I'll spend an inordinate amount of time on a post that I'm personally pretty proud of and then – pfft – no comments at all, then I'll post something that's sort of a throwaway and my readers go ape. After three years of doing this I still don't have much of a sense of what's going to touch a nerve, so I just toss it all out there and see what happens.
The next WYSIWYG Talent Show happens tonight at PS 122 at 7:30 pm. Find out more about Chris Hampton at Uffish.com.
Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel