Michael Malice excels at the over-the-top statement, making it often tough to tell whether he's joking or not. To him, life is straightforward, and his worldview is laid out in the new book Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story by Harvey Pekar, whose cover depicts Malice as Icarus about to lose a wing. Using Malice's own words, Pekar, along with artist Gary Dumm, have attempted to enter and expose the mindset of one of New York's smartest, yet most baffling, creative souls.
Posting on his site the night before the book's release, Malice writes, "I will wake up too famous to speak with any of you." This penchant, and passion, for the extreme, for seeking out his own version of justice, is Malice's hallmark, and has propelled him to rise from his roots as the son of Russian immigrants, growing up largely unhappy and misunderstood in Brooklyn, to edit the highly successful website Overheard in New York (and its sister site, Overheard in the Office). Called a "geeky egotist" by Paper and a "slacker genius," by GQ, Malice slips charmingly in and out of these labels, alternately seeming to care desperately about his self-image and being so true to his vision of himself conquering the world that other people's opinions are meaningless. The confirmed "Hillary hater," who wrote on Gothamist last fall that "Cindy Sheehan has failed in her natural role as a mother," touching off a firestorm in the comments, also acts as the "Libertine Director of Outreach" for The Jinx Project, has authored a novel, Infidel, turned Overheard in New York into a book along with the site's publisher S. Morgan Fridman, and still finds time to be obsessed with plants, bloggers, and Lucifer.
If none of this computes for you (or if it does all too well), you can see this self-proclaimed "Supervillain" and pick his brain yourself tonight, when Malice and Pekar read from Ego & Hubris (details below). Here, Malice explores the "surreal" nature of having his memoirs published at age 29, why he should've gone to NYU or Columbia over Bucknell, and just how much he loves his fellow New Yorkers (hint: with a "violent passion").
Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story by Harvey Pekar is being released today, in which you recount, in your own words as arranged/written by Pekar, growing up in Brooklyn and not fitting in. Firstly, how does it feel, at age 29, to have your life story on bookstore shelves?
How do you think it feels? No idea, huh? Well, I don’t have an idea either. This is so far past surreal . . . I honestly expected this whole big career and to end it at 50 with my memoirs. I guess I’m ahead of my own curve.
Were these stories you've recounted in some way or another to friends or things you were telling to Harvey that you hadn't really explored in depth with anyone before?
There’s A LOT I never told anymore. The biggest example is when my parents got divorced and I didn’t tell a single person. And I keep my social life compartmentalized, so everyone is going to learn something.
How exactly did the collaboration for the material take? Did you have input and final say over the project?
I wrote out a few long documents and mailed them to Harvey. He wrote out the script based on that and on phone calls to me. Then Gary Dumm, the artist, and I went back and forth a few times. Harvey gave me a lot of leeway with the book.
You seem pretty gung ho about the book—is there anything that's disconcerting for you about being a "character" in a comic autobiography?
The only disconcerting thing was that I was scared people were going to view me as a wounded bird or think that they knew what “my problem” is, so to speak. I made a couple of friends read it before I would. One told me that they thought people would view me as “evil, funny and smart.” Well, those are my three most salient characteristics in real life, so I’m delighted.
Much of the book seems like a chance for you to get revenge on people who've slighted you in the past, such as teachers, your parents, and other people who've spurned you. Do you expect any attempts at retaliation?
Not if they know what’s good for them.
You refer to choosing Bucknell University as "the worst mistake of my life." Why, and if you could go back, what school do you think you'd choose instead?
NYU or Columbia. I haven’t actually thought about what I would have done instead until your question. I don’t think in terms like that, rewriting history. The one good thing I got from Bucknell was learning firsthand how despicable most white people are. Bucknell is a school based solidly on social conservatism, by which I mean an emphasis on non-antagonism and a rejection of intellectual thought of any kind.
Are there any lessons to be learned, either for you or readers, from Ego & Hubris? You picked the title, so I'm curious to know whether you credit those qualities for your success.
“Success," huh? Well, if I credit anything for where I am today it’s my intense drive and my intense sense of right and wrong. I picked the title because I knew how lesser people would view me, and this was me demonstrating self-awareness.
You're going to be reading tonight at Barnes & Noble Union Square along with Harvey Pekar from the book, and have been promoting it with TV and other media appearances, yet you are the main character, not technically the author. Do you think you have more riding on its success than Harvey?
I don’t think I have anything riding on its success. The book serves as a calling card and gives me an air of validation. If it’s a huge success, Harvey will get credit. If it fails, the experimental nature of the project will get blamed. It’s low risk.
The book certainly captures your penchant for saying things most people never would, which you've displayed here on Gothamist, such as when you tell a security guard "There's a reason why some people work upstairs, and some people work the door" after he stops you in the lobby of an office building. Do you exaggerate your views for effect, or simply say what you really think at all times?
I wish I could take credit for inventing that line, but I got it from Mike on the TV show Big Brother 2. No one on earth would deny that there is a reason for where everyone is in life—even if that reason is simply “life is unfair.” Yet me saying what I did is shocking to some people, although the sentiment is inherently banal. I don’t exaggerate my views—there’s no need. But I know how to frame things provocatively, and this gets the Morlocks riled up. And I chortle.
When you make some of these sweeping statements are you trying to convert people to your way of seeing things or simply stating your own point of view?
I have zero hope of convincing anyone of anything. Zero. If anything, I’m trying to upset their apple cart of decency where everyone believes things that fall into neat little packages. The world is full of radicalism and yet so many people worldwide think they’re simply minor misunderstandings and differences of opinions. Well, they’re not. And if they can’t deal with me being difficult or obnoxious, how do they expect to have a worldview that accommodates entire nations of people who want us dead?
You've led a very active life so I'm sure not every one of your most pivotal moments made it into the book. Is there anything especially juicy that got cut, either for space or legal reasons, that you can share?
Well, pretty much the last three years aren’t in there. And I’m the midst of things that might make for a very good sequel.
There's a good deal of irony in the fact that you edit a site filled with quotes from random New Yorkers, who you come off as hating, along with most of humanity, in your biography. How do you feel about the masses of your fellow New Yorkers? Do they amuse, annoy, entertain or delight you?
I do not hate New Yorkers and I don’t agree that I come off as hating them. I love this city and its people with a violent passion. And what’s unwritten about Overheard in New York is that if we’re this stupid or obnoxious or silly, then what does that say about the rest of the country and the world? Because it is a given that those are places and the people who live there are our vast, vast inferiors.
Overheard in New York ripoff sites have sprung up all over the world. What do you tell the creators of such sites?
The ones who get my permission and link back to us I don’t regard as ripoffs, and think they’re great. I love it and endorse them. The ones who act as if the idea came from nowhere . . . well, I hope they live long happy lives. Lives punctuated intermittently by their children dying, one by one, for no discernable reason.
Some of the various jobs you've held are recounted in Ego & Hubris, from temping to being a consultant to working on a TV dating show, yet you seem like someone destined to work for themselves. Could you go back to having a boss or do you need the freedom of being your own boss?
It depends what you mean by boss. If I were to do a TV show, then the producer is effectively my boss. One reason I am an elitist is because I recognize that social hierarchy is inevitable, and there will almost always be someone who has power over you or some aspect of your life. But as for a 9 to 5 job, I doubt I ever would do it again. Hopefully it won’t come to that!
What are you working on next? What would your dream job or career path be going forward?
I want to get a radio show or be a public speaker. It’s great to be paid to run your big fat mouth. I’m just as ignorant, ill-informed and yet opinionated as any of the people out there. But as an anarchist, I’m not beholden to political parties like they are. I also wouldn’t mind doing The Surreal Life.
Michael Malice and Harvey Pekar will speak, read from Ego & Hubris, and sign books tonight at Barnes & Noble, 33 East 17th Street at 7 p.m. Visit www.michaelmalice.com, www.overheardinnewyork.com and www.overheardintheoffice.com for more information. Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story by Harvey Pekar and Overheard in New York are available now.