"Truly, this has been the most unusual job I’ve ever had, and I don’t know if I could ever have another 9-5 job, because what do I do for an encore? What would top this?" After years of serving as senior editor of Playgirl magazine, Coleen Kane is leaving her post and the big city for Baton Rouge. Gothamist caught up with Colleen as she prepared for move to find out about what it's like to work at a porn office, the sleaze, awesomeness, and ridiculousness she's encountered, and how Playgirl played a part in her meeting Kurt Vonnegut.
How did you end up as Senior Editor of Playgirl magazine?
I often ask myself that same question. The short version is, I started out an innocent Irish Catholic bookworm from the charming suburb of Stirling, New Jersey with lots of guilt about everything. And then I worked at BUST magazine and from there went to Playgirl. When I applied for the Playgirl job, I thought, “Heh. This is exactly the kind of ridiculous thing that would happen in my life.” And it did. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my mom laugh as hard as when I called to tell her what my new job was—after a few minutes I was like, “…You’re not crying, right?”
Now after spending most of the ought years working in both of those locker-room-style corporate cultures, I have a savant talent/curse for making filthy puns on demand, and I no longer know what topics are inappropriate to discuss among general audiences.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
I really enjoyed working with and befriending the classic-rock-era groupies Cynthia Plaster Caster and Pamela Des Barres. I put together two comedy issues featuring many of New York’s super-talented comedy personalities, which was quite fun. But overall the job has been more like a series of bizarre experiences rather than feeling like I’ve accomplished much. I certainly appreciated the weirdness and much prefer that to a boring job. When life gives you nude hunks… make jokes about their bad sun tattoos.
How did working in the Playgirl office compare to what you imagined it would be like?
As with a lot of things in life, I had no idea what I was in for, and that was probably for the best. Kind of like now, with my plan to move down to the Deep South later this month. At first I did have culture shock, because I came from a naturally-lit, open loft-style work environment with music playing all day surrounded by the funniest, coolest women I knew (at BUST), to a silent, fluorescent-lit cubicle environment surrounded by porno-makin’ guys (they produce numerous hardcore porn magazine titles in the same office), most of whom I hadn’t been introduced to. But I made friends with a few Playgirl staffers on our tiny staff of four and eventually befriended some of the more social, fun guys in the greater office.
How did staring at so much male nudity for so long affect your psyche?
You know, I have done my best to not stare at the male nudity. Being in the editorial department has fortunately made this much more possible than if I worked in the art department. It also wasn’t much of a temptation because the majority of the dudes who pose nude for Playgirl, I didn’t find attractive. I wanted to avoid getting desensitized to the nudity, as I can only imagine my coworkers have when they have to stare at one thing all day long. I would see guys from the other porn mags that are made in the office, color-correcting women’s most private areas at 500% magnification all day long—and this is their job. I can only imagine it affects what they want to see or not see or do when it’s time to get romantic.
That’s not to say that I haven’t seen way more gross dudes nude than any woman should ever have to see. There’s an amateur section in Playgirl called “Real Men,” a la Hustler’s “Beaver Hunt,” where Ron Jeremy got his start in the late ‘70s, and he pretty much set the precedent for the candidates today: it’s typically the most gnarly, old, skinny, potbellied, bearded and/or longhaired and/or skulleted, delusional men who would strike curious poses with various props and costumes and lingerie. I’d get those pages to proof and be like, OK, just look at the text...then my eye would be drawn by something in the photo—a Confederate flag in the background or what have you—then suddenly I’m looking at the old coot from the end of the truck-stop bar, naked as a jaybird. “Good God, no!” Ohhh, the things that I’ve seen…
You've been given a great deal of relationship advice books for free. What's your opinion on the genre?
I want to murder them all. I received numerous new titles in this genre every week—one of the most ludicrous ones lately was called If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs, and it is like stream-of-consciousness advice to the ladies written by a celebrity bodyguard and former playa called Big Boom. It’s an Essence bestseller. It disturbs me that if so many of these books keep coming out, there must be a receptive market for them. And of course they’re nearly all aimed at women, because it’s the woman’s responsibility to worry about why things aren’t working out romantically and how she can change to remedy the situation. Or 50 tips she can try on the guy. Or what plan she can adopt so love will find her. I think most lonely women would have more luck finding happiness if they made a bonfire of these books in the town square than if they tried to follow the conflicting advice in them. At least they’d meet some fun friends that way.
A common association with porn is sleaze. What's the sleaziest thing you've witnessed while working at Playgirl?
Good question! I’m trying to think of an answer that would be legal to tell you and wouldn’t slander anybody. I got propositioned by a rocker I was interviewing right after he got off the phone with his girlfriend. That’s pretty sleazy, right?
Are there any misconceptions about working in the office that you'd like to clear up?
Some people probably imagine it’s all hunks in togas fanning you with giant leaves, feeding you grapes as you lay on the divan all day long. But sometimes the reality is more like opening the reader mail and getting lonely dispatches from the red states that are tragicomic, semi-literate cries for help.
Or to dispel one aspect of the biz people tend to speculate about, let’s just say that fluffers are no longer necessary thanks to pharmaceuticals… Truly, this has been the most unusual job I’ve ever had, and I don’t know if I could ever have another 9-5 job, because what do I do for an encore? What would top this?
You're leaving New York for Baton Rouge. What will you miss most about the city?
Ohhhh, the book-learnin’, everything bagels with sun-dried tomato tofu cream cheese, the extensive vegetarian dining options, the way you can hobnob with and become friends with people whose work you admire, the endless possibilities, the city’s creative fountain of youth that seems to keep citizens younger and more vital than their suburban counterparts, the comedy scene, movies and rock shows at McCarren Pool, the walking culture, and having my friends and family nearby.
Right now there are a lot of things that I won’t miss, such as the noise; slowly suffocating on the stuffy subways in summer; and the sense that I can keep on toiling away but will still have to live like a college student unless I sell my soul to an investment banker. Reminding myself of those aspects is one way I am able to leave this amazing city until I’m in a better position to return.
You're going to be working on a book. What can you say about it?
What I can tell you right now is, I'm drawing from what I know. And when you read it, you will be like OMG ROTFLMAO.
Please share one of your strangest "Only in New York" moments.
A few days after September 11th, a few friends and I made it into the sealed-off downtown area to try to volunteer at one of the hospitals. We ended up sitting in a waiting room for hours, not being of any help to anyone. The whole front glass wall of the waiting room was covered with missing-person fliers. While waiting there I saw, on the fuzzy local TV news (all the TV towers had been knocked out, remember) President Bush boarding a small plane to come to New York. That’s right, that goon is President, I was reminded again. Finally we gave up waiting around to help and headed out. I peeled a scrap of paper from a car that was covered in that damp, gray-white dust that was made up of the collapsed buildings and humanity and planes. It said “Appendix,” and I kept it in my pocket. As we walked uptown we were stopped by a cop, on a corner across the street from City Hall. All pedestrian traffic was stopped on all corners at that intersection, though we weren’t told why. Finally a succession of black SUVs and other Secret Service vehicles with tinted glass came around the corner heading down to Ground Zero…it was the Presidential motorcade. New Yorkers on each corner of the intersection stood silent as the motorcade slowly proceeded by, then we saw President Bush’s grinning monkey face at one window, and he waved and gave us the thumbs up. The fucking thumbs up?! Was he joking? Nobody waved back, cheered, booed, or said much of anything, really. It was just like, Holy shit; that was the President. It was just another odd sight to an already stunned populace at one of the most unreal times ever.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
I resent that New York has become a playground for the super-rich. Not only to the typical extent of the rich having the biggest apartments and all that usual claptrap, but the rich are changing the skyline of the neighborhoods where they previously did not want to be, with these luxury condos that stand out like sore, rich jerkface thumbs. It seems like the regular slobs now have a harder time making it than usual, because the real-estate market is getting more and more out of hand, and the local arts community is suffering as a result. Just look at the recent closures of Tonic, Sin-e, Collective: Unconscious, etc. So what I would change is, POP! I’d burst that pesky real estate bubble. The meek shall inherit a loft in a desirable area for reasonable rent! I would also like to reroute all the traffic that will come to the planned Nets arena in Brooklyn to park on Bruce Ratner’s personal grounds.
Which New Yorker do you most admire?
I tip my hat to a New Yorker who recently departed this mortal coil: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. He was my favorite kind of person: a smart, funny, loveable curmudgeon who still has hope for humanity, though he pretends not to. He was pretending pretty well at the end there, what with saying, “We’re all doomed” and all, but I like to hope that he still had hope. I was very fortunate to meet him one day outside of the porn office, since it shares a building with NPR, where Kurt was doing an interview to promote his last book. My coworker and I had been tipped off to his presence and we were waiting for him outside, and when he came teetering out in his white suit, we were speechless. The doorman let Kurt know we’d been waiting for him and Kurt leaned in toward us and said, “Well, I’d love to date both of you,” then turned away and left. Amazing. I was much more delighted about that one encounter with that 70-something-year-old man than all of the models I dealt with at Playgirl combined.
What do you consider to be a perfect day of recreation in the city?
One of my most notoriously fun days here happened with a best friend who is now living in Melbourne, Australia. She and I met up at Tompkins Square Park one September Saturday but our original plan was cancelled. I convinced my pal to come to my nearby favorite restaurant, Kate’s Joint, for takeout, which she’s avoided until then, and we charmed the bartender, who we became friends with after this, into giving us free drinks. We went back to the park, climbed over a fence into an off-limits area, both of us in heels, and had a hilarious impromptu picnic, just loitering there all day talking trash and leaving prank voicemails for our friend. Then we discovered that the whole time we’d been lazing around in the grass, we’d nearly been sitting on a hypodermic needle. So we posed for camera-phone pictures with the needle juxtaposed amid our food trash. Then once it started getting dark, a time you don’t necessarily want to be young ladies in Tompkins Square Park, we went back to Kate’s, and there my bff met the Australian guy to whom she is now married, who worked there. And that’s why she lives in Melbourne now. So the moral of this New York story is, sometimes you find what you were looking for here and it takes you somewhere else, like what is going on in my life right now.
I’ve found that the best times I’ve had here haven’t necessarily been about the activities, but the company. And for that, New York is amazing. One of the aspects that can be so frustrating about living here—we are surrounded by and competing with the cream of the crop from every small town across the country—is also one of the city’s greatest assets. Let’s face it: some people are more awesome than other people. You’ll find more of those special people here.
Keep up with Colleen and learn all about her adventures by reading her funny and highly entertaining blog.