When it comes to getting intimate, comic writer Isaac Oliver is no idiot.
His hysterical debut book,“Intimacy Idiot,”is a collection of essays, vignettes, poems, lists and diary entries that document the poingnant, hilarious and awakard moments of initimacy between humans.
Metro caught up with Oliver on the phone during which he discussed writing, his thoughts on PrEP and the strangest thing to hit his face recently.
Are you excited for Pride? Do you have anything planned?
I am! I’m doing a big show with some friends of mine at the Bell House on Sunday the 28th that’s Pride Sunday and it’s called “Pride at the Bell House.” I’m co-hosting it with my friends John Early, Cole Escola and Ham Sandwich. We have Julie Klausner and Jemima Kirke from “Girls” as special guests so it should be really fun!
Will your show mostly be about “Intimacy Idiot?”
I’ll probably read a few pieces; I’m going to try to write a couple new things.
Do you just live and write about it? How do you find these moments in “Intimacy Idiot?”
The book is sort of a collection of things that happened over several years. It’s not like they all happened in the span of two insane months! I don’t sort of seek out stories per se, and I’m certainly not on Grindr thinking, “Oh, he looks dramaturgically exciting.”
Not at all.
You don’t look for people where you’re like, “Youlook like you might murder me? That sounds exciting”?
Exactly. I haven’t had a murder scare yet, so, second book!
I think everyone has stories like this. I mean there were a lot of really boring hookups that were unremarkable, that weren’t story-worthy, but the ones that were — they were often the hookups that I would be thinking about like days later.
That brings me to my next question because one of my favorite chapters in “Intimacy Idiot” was “Big Ben.” Your description of the events prior to the hookup with this dude and his very large package had me laughing nonstop. Then the chapter became very real and very serious when the topic of protection came up.
That took me a very long time to write. A lot of people commented and sort of shared, or expressed concern [about the story] and my parents were a little horrified to read that. This was before there was sort of the epilogue, you know, before I found him again online and we reconnected for a conversation but it was sort of the darkest the modern day gay hooking-up trajectory has taken me and I don’t feel a great inkling to go darker. It was sort of accidentally a reckoning of sorts.
It’s important to me that this book is sex-positive and sort of celebratory of the fun and joyous and weird and sometimes poignant moments you can share in casual sex. I mean it, there’s a way to have responsible, thoughtful casual sex and still be intimate with someone and I never want to not celebrate that or condemn that in any way, but there was this encounter with this guy where we were not communicating.
We wanted different things and we were having just a strange fight that evolved into him literally screaming “Why are you doing this to me?” which is so outlandish — that it just started with something so banal and commonplace in gay hookups, to fight over the condom and how far people will take that, which we’ve all grappled with and is even more complex now with PrEP and everything.
People in the gay community have been talking a lot about PrEP — a prescription drug that HIV-negative people take to decrease their chances of infection.What do you think about PrEP? I feel like there’s a growing elephant in the room with PrEP and bareback. It’s come back, no pun intended, and there’s a divide.
There is a divide. I don’t feel a desire to have bareback sex with strangers. That’s not something that appeals to me, but I don’t harbor judgment. It’s not my place. I just sort of think about myself and try to keep my eyes on my own paper. There is an element of blind trust that you have to sort of toss out there. I am going to go on PrEP; it is something that just seems like a safeguard. My doctor is very supportive of it and in his words, it is only going to combat the same spiral that so many of us have after hooking up with people and it is just one more thing that makes us feel safer, but combined with condom usage.
Onto a different subject, the title of the book is “Intimacy Idiot.” Can you describe an “Intimacy Idiot?” How do I know if I am one?
Well, I would never call you an intimacy idiot. I would never call anyone else that! It’s self-identifying. For me, it’s about the very New York experience of being intimate with a large group of people sitting in total silence on a bus or on a subway. But then what happens when you’re in a room alone with someone?
It’s that moment of opening your mouth and speaking to one person that just feels so backwards to me — of just my ability to sort of be in a crowd or large group of people or on a stage reading these stories to an audience and feeling completely comfortable, but then sitting at a restaurant table with a handsome man and not really knowing how to conduct myself.
Should we be excited to turn 30? Are the 20s all that great?
No, you should be excited to turn 30. I think our 20s are like the true adolescence. I think that they are just like acne-ridden and sweaty in weird places. Being 24 to 29 was really hard for me, so I’m pleased to be in my 30s now, actually. I think you grow a lot. You are not the same person at 29 that you were at 24.
You start seeing fewer people, talking to fewer people, your community of friends is refined. You hone that relationship with yourself and I think that becomes deeper as you become a little more okay being alone and being on your own those nights on the couch. I mean you make new friends like wine, but I do think the major shift for me was becoming more self-possessed. That means saying no to things and also saying yes to things becoming a little braver.
What is the funniest or weirdest thing to have slapped you in the face most recently?
To have slapped me in the face?
Here’s a story: I was leaving the subway and there was this very cute guy walking ahead of me and he was holding a book and I can see it’s my book, which is like a watershed moment. So I ran squealing into the deli: I have to celebrate; I have to get something! So I get this black chia seed kombucha, and I’m like this will be good, good for me. So I run squealing to my apartment — I’m on cloud nine — and I stand in my kitchen and I open the kombucha and it just explodes all over me. Like it hit the ceiling, the cabinets, all on my face and neck, and dripping down my body. So yeah, wet chia seeds propelling against your face and neck is like you’re being thrown up on.
That’s exactly the answer I was hoping for.
You can catch Isaac Oliver at PRIDE at the Bell House in Brooklyn on Sunday June 28th.
Matt Lee is a Web producer for Metro New York. He writes about almost everything and anything. Talk to him (or yell at him) on Twitter so he doesn’t feel lonely@mattlee2669.