BRONWYN: Hello, Mister Kelly, and welcome to "Read 'em and Weep."
MK: It's a delight to be here, even in the form of a severed head.
BRONWYN: The earliest work you've posted on your website dates from September-October 1999. Is that when you began writing, or is that when you were released from incarceration, or what?
MK: No, it's when I got a computer, I've been writing since I was three and have never been published, which is why I hate the world and hope someone releases a virus which wipes out the entire human race in agonizing pain, and may I just say I resent the implication that I have ever been in an institution or would ever need to.
BRONWYN: Why did you choose to begin posting your work on-line?
MK: Well, it was partly in the hope that I would become well-known and someone would give me a writing job or publish my novel or something, and partly just that I had all these short funny pieces I'd written and I had nowhere else to put them. I don't know, there might be a couple of places in America that publishes stuff like that, but in Britain there's really nowhere, and I wanted people to read them and the net was the only place.
But enough of this shop-talk. Isn't it about time we talked about panties?*
[*There had been some sort of running gag about panties on the show when I'd listened the previous week. ]
BRONWYN: Yes, of course. Have you ever written anything that's been printed on panties? Or written any stories about panties?
MK: No, but I actually write while wearing panties over my face. It's an adrenaline rush.
BRONWYN: I'm very surprised that you've never published anything in the UK. They seem much more open to toilet humor and rude jokes at the expense of the Germans over there.
MK: Miaow! Get you! That's what you think I do? I'm never rude to Germans. I'm never rude to anyone, you silly tart. How am I rude to Germans? The Roy Orbison in Clingfilm thing was affectionate to Germans. And the thing about Germany reconquering Poland was the idea of a German e-mail friend of mine. Only I think he was serious.
And I don't do toilet humour. There's the occasional swearword or sexual reference, but most of it is really urbane, witty, sophisticated literary humour of breathtaking brilliance. There are a few masturbation references, but, well, you have to write about what you know.
BRONWYN: There aren't many mainstream outlets for short fiction in the U.S., but there are lots of little "alternative" magazines and weekly newspapers that I think would be delighted to print writing that's as funny as yours. Your recent piece about a week in Wigan would be right at home in The Onion, if anybody at The Onion had any idea where Wigan was. Or I bet Bitch Magazine would publish you, if you could somehow convince them that you're a woman, in spite of your name.
MK: Well, that's interesting, but what's more interesting to me is that I just realized I can make you say whatever I want, and the concept excites me deeply. You have sworn to read out all my replies word for word, so I can make you say anything. I can make you say 'panties' over and over. I can make you say 'purple peep-hole panties'. I can make you say 'thighs' and 'abdomen' and 'PVC push-up bra'. I can even make you say 'quivering mounds'. I could make you say, 'Seize my quivering mounds, Michael, you gorgeous barbarian hunk of British Beef.'
I'm sorry, what was the next question?
BRONWYN: Is your middle name really Horatio, by the way?
MK: My full name is Michael Horatio Quivering Mounds PVC Thigh-boots Stroke My Pert Nipples Take Me Take Me You Pagan Brute Kelly
BRONWYN: Why am I surprised that this whole thing has devolved so quickly? And you can't make me say just -anything,- actually, because our federal government's FCC will take away the station's license if I do. I'm forbidden by law to say a lot of words that are freely broadcast every day in Britain. But let's get back to your writing. Have you ever thought of self-publishing your work? That's kind of like masturbation, in that you do it alone by yourself and it's considered more respectable in literary circles than it used to be.
MK: Wow. What kind of fascist country do you live in? You can't say 'quivering mounds' on the radio? How about 'gruttocks'? Are you allowed to say 'gruttocks'?
And what do you mean, devolved so quickly? You're talking to a severed ventriloquist dummy's head, for heaven's sake, it was never going to be Plato's dialogues.
Okay, sorry, self-publishing. Well, it's a lot more expensive than masturbation. I couldn't afford to pay to be published. Putting stuff on the net is sort of a cheaper version of self-publishing anyway. And I like the fact that no-one has to pay to read my stuff. Because, you know, if they had to, they probably wouldn't bother.
Oh! I just of thought of something else that excites me that the FCC can't possibly object to. I'm going to make you say the word 'mirror'. Americans are incapable of pronouncing the word 'mirror'.* You all say 'Mir', like the Russian space-station. I find it adorably cute in a woman. Play Misty for me and then say Mirror for me.
Sorry, next question.
[* This cliche is a staple of British humour. Unfortunately it turns out not to be true, or not always true. Anyway it wasn't true in Bronwyn's case - although I suspect her of having practised it - making the next 17 references to it increasingly embarrassing, as if the whole ventriloquist dummy farrago wasn't bad enough already]
BRONWYN: I'm afraid to say that I'm curious about your background. Could you please tell us something about yourself and about what's influenced you as a writer, without making it sound like a personals ad?
MK: You mean, what kind of man looks at me in the mirror every morning? I don't know, there's not much to tell. On my website I develop the persona of myself as a sort of comic loser or angry loser, and I exaggerate a bit, but that's pretty much the truth. I bumble along from one crappy temporary job to another, and I spend a lot of time unemployed, and I don't get out much, and that's it. I'm sorry, I'm trying to be helpful before you start kicking this severed head around the room, but I don't know what to say, there isn't much to tell.
Influences, do you mean writers that have influenced me? There's too many to list them all, I don't know where to begin. I always really loved those sort of short humorous essays that S.J. Perelman did or Robert Benchley or Woody Allen or Stephen Leacock, and very often what I write on the website is a sort of rougher-edged, sort of punk version of that. Or Max Beerbohm, he's a genius. Oh, P.J. O'Rourke, I think P.J. O'Rourke is a god. And then there's an English humorist called Beachcomber who was very surreal, and Monty Python of course and Peter Cook and people like that, and all those French surrealists and the Dadaists and so on. And various English people you probably wouldn't have heard of, for example there's a man called Keith Waterhouse who used to write a column for a newspaper called the Daily Mirror.
I thought of something else. I don't think Americans can say 'corridor' properly, either. They tend to say 'Cawdor', as in the Thane of Cawdor. I'm going to make you say 'corridor' too.
BRONWYN: Thane of Cawdor? Ah, the Scottish play! One of your favorites, I gather from what I read of your correspondence with Needa. On your website you've preserved some of the exchanges you had with readers who signed your guestbook, and parts of it are very revealing. I learned that you're rather older than I'd thought, and that you're very well-read, and that your favorite color is violet. From the influences you've cited - like Robert Benchley, I -love- him and I'm always recommending him to people and I don't really know anyone else who's ever read him - anyway, from the variety of writers you mentioned and from the many literary references you make throughout your writing, I wonder how far you went in school. Because in the US we always assume that English people get through 8th grade and then they drop out and go on the dole, unless they're rich and go to boarding schools where they get buggered until they finish University and go into politics, and either way they all have bad teeth.
MK: Yes, we have bad teeth, and you know why? Because we're not complete narcissicists like you people and we don't spend all our time preening in front of the mirror and the adolescent years that Americans spend at the dentist we spend learning Geography and Latin and how to pronounce the word mirror.
I have no idea what school grade I got to because I don't understand what Americans are talking about when they say 8th Grade or whatever. And it's vexing to me, because I sometimes get fanmail from young American women containing delightful sexual propositions and they say they're in the 8th grade or something and I have no idea if they're nubile young women I can rightfully letch over or if they're bloody ten years old. So I could be missing out, and it's annoying, and all because you people adopt this weird terminology no-one else can understand. I mean, what's wrong with you? You just make up strange words just to be different. Like you say 'truck' instead of 'lorry' and 'fries' instead of 'chips' and 'computer' instead of 'calculation engine' and it's just out of sheer perversity.
The one English word you should replace, actually, is 'mirror', because none of you can pronounce it. You should make up some weird-arsed alternative to that. Just pass a law that from now on a mirror will be referred to as a 'reflecto-sheen' or something. Start saying 'Do you have a reflecto-sheen in your handbag? I want to check on my teeth' or 'A good driver makes full use of the rear-view reflecto-sheen' or, 'Take down the reflecto-sheen, Brad, and I'll chop up this coke.'
Anyway, I dropped out of school and went on the dole at the age of 18. I have no idea what that translates to in your ridiculous colonial 8th-grade dog-years alternate universe. Oh, and what the hell do you mean by saying I'm older than you thought? I'm 30, you deranged harlot, how old did you think I was? Do you think a callow youth could write works of such brilliance?
Now look what you did, you made me be impolite, you miserable woman.
Anyway, yes, Benchley, he's a genius, you're kidding me, right? I can't believe people don't read him over there, I would have thought he'd be a cultural icon. He's hilarious, just a sheer delight, everyone has to read him, if you can possibly spare the time from visiting the dentist and admiring yourselves in the reflecto-sheen.
BRONWYN: Of course, an 8th-grade education in England is the equivalent of a Masters degree in the US. Our schools are pretty tragic. Like, we can say "merde" on the radio because it's French and no one in America knows what it means.
MK: Oh, cool. Can you say scheissenhausen?
BRONWYN: Do you speak German? Because the first piece of yours that I ever read was one of the Roy Orbison wrapped in cling-film things. (For our Listeners who don't speak British, "cling-film" is Saran wrap.) When I read it, I thought it was funny but I also thought it was actually written by a German guy. It wasn't until I found your homepage and read some of your other work that I realized.
MK: Why do you keep obsessing about the Germans? What do you care if I speak German or if I'm rude to the Germans? What are you, some sort of German-lover? Do YOU speak German? Are you some sort of German yourself, maybe? Is that your secret? Is your real name Brunhilde Von Karlstadt or something? Or do you...fraternize with Germans? Are you some sort of collaborator? Hmm? You like to hang around beer-halls and wear lederhosen, Miss Bronwyn the She-Wolf of the SS?
BRONWYN: I don't know why the German thing keeps coming up. Station Manager Ken has a German sing-along record that he plays on his show sometimes. Sluggo, my trophy husband, has a pair of lederhosen that he got in a thrift store in Colorado, and he's very fetching in them. But otherwise, I don't know why.
MK: Well, that sounds very suspicious to me, and I think someone should investigate Sluggo and Station Manager Ken, if that's even his real name. This may be amusing to you but it won't be so amusing when you wake up to find a Panzer division in New Jersey.
I think the Germans need watching. It's all very well all this business in the Middle East, but someone should be keeping an eye on the Germans, because they strike when you least expect it.
The thing with Germans, actually, being serious for a minute, if you ever meet a German, it's heartbreaking, they're so sweet nowadays, they're incredibly nice and painfully polite all the time, and wracked with guilt, and people still tease them about the war, and, you know, no-one can be that nice all the time without breaking something. They're really repressed, and I'm worried they're going to snap one day and lash out. And so I think they should be given one day a year where they're allowed to revert to the old ways, just like a yearly holiday, call it Nazi Tuesday, you would have this big German holiday called Nazi Tuesday, and once a year they would be allowed to dress in black uniforms and chase people with alsatians and say things like 'Achtung' and 'Raus, raus, schnell', and deliver ultimatums to small countries, and then the next day they'd be nice as pie again and go back to work in the BMW factory, refreshed and free from stress.
But you could extend that to other countries too. You could have like Pompous Brit day, where for one day a year we're allowed to pretend we still have an Empire, and really give ourselves airs.
[BRONWYN ad-libbed on the night: Every day is Pompous Brit day.
I also seem to remember that at some point, while Sluggo was reading my parts out, she started singing 'Goodbye, Nazi Tuesday' to the tune of the pop song 'Ruby Tuesday'.]
MK: And the French could have Napoleon Day, where they would all worship the smallest man they can find. They would make some midget Emperor, and follow him around Europe, and for that one day everyone else would agree to pretend to lose battles to them. This is a way to heal the world I think.
BRONWYN: So let me get back to the part of your writing that -isn't- rude to foreigners. One of the main things I admire in your work is that I'm never sure where you start making things up. (Although that might not be a tribute to your writing so much a confession of how famously gullible I am.) For example, in the piece about Victor Mature's eyelids, did Victor Mature really get into a car accident? And is "gruttocks" really a British word, or did you just make it up because it sounds plausibly naughty?
MK: Well, you know, to read my website is to enter a world where appearance may be deception and reality dances hand in hand with illusion. It's like walking down a corridor lined with mirrors, if you will, or attending some metaphysical striptease show where layer after layer of truth is revealed until reality stands naked apart from a pair of purple peep-hole panties.
So I don't want to give too much away but, yes, that was a real news report, Victor Mature really was afflicted with his droopy eyelids after a car accident. As far as 'gruttocks' goes, the next British person you meet will probably slap you in the face for saying it. And I can't believe you just said 'gruttocks' again of your own will. You like saying 'gruttocks', don't you, you dirty tart?
BRONWYN: Besides all the writing you've posted on your website - including the full text of your first novel - you've got some sound files up. What gave you the idea to add sounds, especially the auditory porno?
MK: That question is so dull it's beneath my dignity to respond to it. As far as auditory porn goes, though, I intend to listen to a tape of you saying 'gruttocks' every night for the next six months.
By the way, I have decided I'm going to deny all knowledge of this interview. I'm going to post a message on my website and on the WMFU message board saying that we never exchanged any e-mails and you're deluded and you made all this up yourself.* Everyone will think you had some sort of psychotic episode. Again. They'll think you just wanted an excuse to say 'gruttocks.'
[*I actually did this, after I heard what the puppet sounded like]
BRONWYN: But I don't -need- an excuse to say it, I can say it whenever I want. And I think you've forgotten that -I- am not going to be saying any of yr. answers anyway, Jack Dinsmore the disembodied head from the ventriloquist dummy is going to be saying them. So I hope you've got a fetish on for squeaky-voiced puppets.
I do think it's an excellent idea to deny that any of this is from you, though. It kind of opens the door for me to interview other people who don't exist. Like Steve Allen used to interview dead people in the person of his frightening arch-beast of a wife. I could stop e-mailing you right now and go do an interview with Robert Benchley. Or a German. And then I wouldn't have to think up any questions to ask about your novel.
MK: Oh, Steve Allen is so cool. I was told something about him the other day, apparently when he was starting out he was a songwriter along with his many other talents, and someone bet him that he couldn't write 100 songs in a weekend, and he took the bet and he did it, he wrote 100 songs in a weekend, and then he actually managed to sell most of them and made a shedload of money.
That's a great idea though. You could pretend to have Norman Mailer on the show and then beat yourself up.
Oh! Oh! Let's do that, actually, now. Let's pretend I'm someone else, and this will get really deeply weird. Let's pretend I'm actually a proper writer. I can't do Robert Benchley but I can do an ace Gore Vidal. Let's do the next few questions as if you're interviewing Gore Vidal. It will be a real feather in your cap to get him on the show, even in the form of an e-mail interview with a limey impersonating him being ventriloquized from a severed dummy's head by a madwoman.
BRONWYN: You know, this is getting too conceptual. Plus, we didn't really get to talk about your novel - is there anything you'd like to say about that before we stop?
MK: I'm answering this in the style of Gore Vidal whether you like it or not. Please read this out in a deep patrician Gore Vidal voice.* Ahem. 'Who in our post-Gutenberg age would be so quixotic as to attempt to bring a new novel to the attention of the reading, or rather, skimming public of the nation once described as the United States of Amnesia by the late Philip Rahv, or as he is now known, Philip Who?, a place where even Robert Benchley is forgotten, or, at best, remembered as the love object of Dorothy Parker in the biopic of that rebarbative lady, who, in turn, is known for her biopic and a few soundbites of wit. (Parenthetically, I wrote films with Dorothy Parker during the Golden Age and can reveal that the object of her unrequited love was not Benchley but the canine film star Lassie, later investigated by Hoover for being a communist.) We live in the age of author as performing self. Biography is everything, the works are consigned to time's winged wastebasket except when they provide material for scholarly speculation about the life. So we can only commend Michael Kelly for his brave gesture of defiance in bothering to write a novel at all. Unfortunately, his novel is not very good, and I would rather have spent the time playing a video game. It is, in fact, a steaming pile of what George Bush the elder, eloquent father of our eloquent Emperor, used to call deep doo-doo, and I would like to meet Mr. Kelly and kick him in the gruttocks.'
[*Bronwyn's husband Sluggo, who had taken over from the puppet by this point, actually made a manful attempt to impersonate Gore Vidal on my behalf, the high point of the evening]
BRONWYN: Uh-huh. Anything else you'd like to add?
MK: Quivering mounds. Oh, oh, and happy 100th birthday to Bob Hope! Comedy God.
Oh, and I should probably say, I was whining before about not getting published, but I don't want to discourage any young writers who might be listening, and I should point out that I'm starting to get some interest now, and a couple of people are asking me to write things for them, so, you know, persistence is the key, and don't give up.
BRONWYN: Right. Well, let me just say thank you to Michael Kelly for being our guest tonight on "Read 'em and Weep," especially under these very odd circumstances. You can read Mr. Kelly's writing - his novel, his short fiction, some of his e-mail correspondence, his plea for a proper job - and listen to his audio porno at "Michael Kelly's Page of Misery" at [old URL]. Good night, Mr. Kelly, and thanks again.
MK: The pleasure was all yours.