When I was an acting student at NYU’s Tisch School back in the mid 80’s they did not teach a class for this… There was nothing that taught us how to deal with the public, odd and so often irresponsible child that it is, in the unlikely event of popular “success,” whatever that really means. My perception of most of my classmates was that they had stars in their eyes; visions of media stardom, wealth, and prestige. I suspect that they assumed that they would deal with the vicissitudes of fame as they arose. For most, they never did. Me, I had always considered myself first and foremost a stage actor. My media aspirations were always, for me, a means to that end.
But how, in the world of television and film, to remain just an actor?… How to be not Cruise nor Costner nor Clooney, but yet to have shown up visibly in places and in ways that generate interest, that make a splash, that foster a healthy, or unhealthy curiosity, but then to return to being just an actor again, not nearly as present on the popular radar, leaving those who rose to celebrate my presence in wonderment over where I disappeared to, and why?
One must be flattered by the attention of others, even if those bestowing it are unwholesome in what’s prompting their focus. For an actor, for just an actor, attention from others suggests that you are doing something right. We must remember that the term, “celebrity,” originally pertained to an individual who was being celebrated; one who was honored with the attention of the public because they were worthy of it. But it is simply sensation that we honor today; the sensation of being arrested blind drunk with a half a pound of cocaine in the trunk, or for being taped having sex in a hotel room. The culture that has arisen of people who have found a living in making of their own lives a sideshow, putting all of their business, whether real or made-up on public view for a dividend, is worlds removed from that of being just an actor. And these “celebrities” are not wholly to blame. We, the audience, are a culture as well. We are a culture of watchers, looking for escape from frightening lives of our own, with puerile interests and morbid curiosities. “Why?” is a question that we hardly have the time to ask of ourselves anymore for fear we might miss the start of the next episode of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” We can barely step away long enough to look all around, and at ourselves, and observe how very ugly, and empty, it has made us.
Who is this petty, pathetic, and ignorant beast that gathers around the TV to watch the “reality” of the latest train wreck? It is all of us together, unhappy and afraid, who just acquiesce, setting our standards so low, accepting these sordid trivialities as entertainment. Individually we know better. Individually, we love better. Individually, the better angels of our nature say to us, “There is a better way for you to be.” Individually, sometimes, we listen.
In becoming a somewhat public figure, I didn’t think I could, nor even ever wanted to avoid exploitation by the pimps of popular culture. Quite the contrary. There is, in the perceived life of a film or TV actor from time immemorial, a sense of magic and fantasy that offers a vicarious thrill to his audience. This is not a bad thing. It is rather what many careers have been built and sold on. But is there a line that the spectator, evaluating the propriety of their own behavior, standing on trial in the court of their own conscience knows not to cross? Probably not. But I hold out hope.
In April of 2010 an article surfaced on an obscure internet site called Socyberty. I have yet to understand what the site is actually for, but it seems to sell advertising, so my assumption is that people are looking at it. It’s content seems to be varied, but apparently anyone, posing as whoever and whatever they want to be, and saying nearly anything they want to say, can upload to it. What might be the purpose of such a site; another extraneous URL in a sea of internet inanity intended mostly to swallow up the time and attention of those who could discern for themselves no better purpose in life? I truly do not know. My initial reaction to the article entitled “Keith Hamilton Cobb Out of the Closet” was basically this: Some human being feeling somehow dispossessed and insignificant resolved that he could give himself a greater sense of value by becoming the “journalist” who was granted an interview with Keith Hamilton Cobb wherein said actor revealed to a stranger “writing” for no established publication the unequivocal truth of his sexuality. During the “interview,” besides candidly discussing his homosexuality and his hatred for women – topics that he had NEVER broached in any public forum EVER, but suddenly felt the pressing need to confide them to a nobody of absolutely zero relevance or visibility in the journalistic community – the actor apparently also took the time, of his own volition, without any solicitation from his interviewer, to bash colleagues whose good work and confidence had only ever helped his career, and criticize institutions that had gainfully employed him. I suppose the actor was letting the greater world know that he never wanted to work again. Don’t most actors do that? Further, the actor went on to lambaste his fan base referring specifically to a particular cross-section saying, “Do you know what it’s like to be stalked by middle aged white females, some with clip on dread locks?…” Hmmm…
Don’t most actors make it a point to estrange themselves from their fans as well? I mean if you’re a racist, sexist homosexual who hates everyone who has ever helped you to a career, doesn’t it make good sense to let the world know about it by giving an interview for an anonymous article to the first stranger who asks??? Why mince words? Who really needs a career anyway?
Upon reading this, I had thought to retort to someone, but whom, “Do you know what it’s like to be slandered and defamed and have your professional relationships threatened and your fan base insulted and compromised by a self-serving, petty-minded, mean-spirited individual, who, by some steaming pile of rationale, unilaterally decided one day that it was okay for him/her to meddle about in both your professional and personal life at the same time like a rat in garbage?” The individual did not make it easy. They were basically anonymous. And posted comments to the article were edited by the author, which means anything that they didn’t want anyone to see in reference to the article was never seen. No one could post that they knew better. Not that any of that would have mattered if anyone had bothered to check the author’s credentials (I’m sure they had none), or check the veracity of the facts (The place where the interview was purported to have occurred doesn’t exist. There is no place in New York called The Red Bull Theatre.). And the very presentation of this article on a page where seemingly anyone can post anything regardless of journalistic integrity is ridiculous on its face. The data as presented is obvious hearsay, and no intelligent reader will buy it, I thought. Right?
Yes, I am naïve. But this was already way too much thinking for me. It didn’t deserve more. I would have dismissed it and never concerned myself with it again, except that the steady stream of mail to my fan mail address from gay men sending would-be provocative photos with words of congratulations and encouragement, and invitations to correspond, or meet for dinner, began to strain my faith in the public intellect. It was not only they. I also received mail from a number of angry fans scolding me and saying, “How dare you speak that way about us? Don’t you know we made you, you dick?!!!” Then, a number of emails arrived from young gay men expressing their gratitude for the example I set for them in their lives. Further investigation revealed that this “article” had metastasized, finding its way onto gay blogs and chat rooms across the net, and even onto Wikipedia! The young men related stories about their hesitance to make public declarations of their sexuality for fear of being ostracized by family, or society at large, etc. Because I had ostensibly “come out,” I was now a role model to them of some sort, and they were grateful for the example I had set. Holy shit! I didn’t know what to say.
How to express unconditional love and support; that I would defend their right to be whoever they were, advocate for them, take a punch in the head for them, and embrace them as equal and important members of any American society that I wanted anything to do with, and yet to need just as strongly to say, “Don’t be so stupid ALL your life, Bro! You got enough problems being gay in a homophobic culture. You have the inalienable right to be both gay AND a moron, and the culture is changing slowly in your favor, thank goodness, but with the deck still stacked against you, you might wanna work on being just a little less of a dummy. What other idiotic, uncorroborated, dumb-ass drivel do you read on the internet and buy it like gospel? You didn’t read about me in The New York Times, Bro. What the fuck is Socyberty, and what sort of a gullible rube do you have to be?!” There ARE, in fact, legitimate interviews I’ve done with legitimate journalist online if you look for them and use just a tiny bit of your common fuckin’ sense! I’m all for ya, Bro, but Jeez! Help me out here!!
Well, I never indulged the need to say any of the above, regardless of how strongly I felt it. To those few to whom I felt compelled to respond directly, I believe I was able to suppress the entirety of my vitriol, and offer them instead the encouragement that they seemed most to be seeking. And had I said any of it, I fully realize that I would have been conveniently targeting an undeserving cross-section of the culture no more prone to blatant idiocy than it seems we all are with regard to this sort of stupid shit. So for everyone, here’s what a legitimate interview with a legitimate journalist (in this case, Keith Boykin) looks like… Here’s another… And another…
If one Googles my name now they will see any odd number of sites and blogs that are referencing this original piece of trash. It is interesting to peruse the various blogs and the comments written to them (and I encourage everyone to do so) to see how people speak to a thing as if it were an utter truth even though it was clearly nothing to be taken seriously in the first place. Most recently, people have been calling my attention to a site called Madame Noire. There, someone else calling themselves a journalist, and referencing the Socyberty article, holds forth claiming that they got their facts from People Magazine! Why don’t they feel ashamed? Of course, veracity is relative, isn’t it? You believe in a thing because you need to believe in it. Do we need to believe in the particular inclinations of one’s sexuality one way or the other? Why? A few posters had questions. “Can I believe this?” “Why should I believe this?” Most others, however, spoke in absolutes, even gauging “my” attitude during said interview, and expounding on how it informs “my” character.
Why are we in this ridiculous place? If you’re standing on the line at the grocery store and you read an article in “The National Inquirer” or some other rag that says Bigfoot was found walking around in Central Park, or that the world is ending at 4pm next Tuesday, do you rush home to blog about it?… But some anonymous voice simply states that he/she has been handed the facts about a person’s sexuality… I remain amazed at the stupidity we indulge in, seemingly for lack of anything more relevant to do. Our technologies advance in huge leaps by the second. Our spirituality does not mature at the rate that technology advances. We are generally too compromised; too hurt, too afraid, too greedy, too needy, too utterly irresponsible to be allowed access to such a powerful tool. And it’s worrisome, if you care.
Some thoughts about sexuality and being just an actor… Our job is to make you see what you want to see. In my professional life, I have never indulged in conversations about my sexuality because it is simply beneath my dignity. More, however, is that, as just an actor, ambiguity is important. Many who were taken with the character of Tyr Anasazi on Andromeda said, “He can’t possibly be gay. Or if he is, he certainly gives the lie to many stereotypes about gay men.” On the other hand, those who watched the actor on Noah’s Arc said, “He can’t possibly be straight,and if he is, he is an amazing actor.” But isn’t that what actors worth the money do? And what has it really to do with who they are in their off-camera lives? And why is it anybody’s business, unless that knowledge is a tool used to judge, or otherwise categorize them? Whatever happened to being judged by the content of one’s character? In fact, where does that even come into play when all that’s ever been offered up for opinion is a performance?
I stood silent with regard to this matter for a long time. Perhaps too long. Perhaps I should have remained so. But, as I watch the various mail come in, I am reminded of the wide diversity of my fan base that I’ve been blessed to always enjoy. Certainly, gay men have always been a large cross-section of that fan base. A part of me can not help but want to give over to the rationale that anyone stupid enough to believe what they read in some random internet posting does not deserve my attention nor concern nor respect. When I think about the purported “interview,” can you imagine any self-respecting man talking like that in a public forum, gay or otherwise? But it would be too easy, and way too sad for me to rationalize that idiocy is the prevailing characteristic at work here. I think surely there must be innocence somewhere in this as well. I mean, if I am naive enough to believe that we are better than this, why shouldn’t there be thousands naive enough to take internet chatter for gospel?
But here’s the thing… Last time I checked, any gay man I knew was no less possessed of integrity than any straight one. What sorry sack of pissy, mean-spirited, self-righteous homosexuality would that “interview,” if true, have made me then? My point is whoever this may concern in the gay community should be as affronted by it, if not more so than I am. And furthermore, if you buy the “interview,” the assumption is that gay men behave this way, is it not? I don’t personally know any actual MEN, (the way I use the word) gay OR straight, who do behave this way. And what piece of shit excuse for a role model would I be if I did? And for whom?… Why would any good person, gay, straight, bi, trans, write in to correspond, thank, congratulate, honor, or celebrate the asshole ostensibly speaking in that article?! You are all better than that.
Some will not have been able to make it through this entire essay. For many it would not be a quick enough fix. Many would gladly trade six pages of truth for two short paragraphs of juicy fabrications. Some will have gotten this far only because they were scouring each paragraph with a creepily obsessive focus for a definitive statement from me one way or the other about something that was never even slightly their business to begin with. I’m not going to give them the satisfaction. But if you’ve made it to the end, here is something that you might like to know about me. It’s not the sort of thing that IMDb might offer up without my permission, or, say, some poor, repressed soul with a busy mind and too much time on his/her hands might fantasize about. But it is a thing directly, completely, truthfully from me, because I’d like you to know:
I’m just an actor.