Colby Keller isn't your regular gay porn star. The tall and scruffy former art student has distinguished himself from the rest of the industry not only by his unconventionally hipster aesthetic, but by his unconventional interests. In his well-read blog, the Big Shoe Diaries, Keller writes about everything from Marxism to Foucault to his and his friends' art projects. Keller's blog is a testament to the way porn celebrity is changing in the 21st century, as performers face the increasingly difficult task of distinguishing themselves in a sea of free or pirated content. It's also incredibly charming.
One of Keller's most memorable obsessions is his search for images of penises in unexpected places. In a playful feature called "I See Penis," he collects images of phallic objects from around the world, sent to him by readers. We collected some of the most memorable entries, and spoke to Colby about penises, the generational divide in gay culture and what it's like to be a 21st-century porn celebrity.
So how did this series get started?
We started off doing "I See Asshole" and "I See Vagina," and then came "I see Penis." For whatever reason the joke never wears off. There's always something a little funny about these penises because sex is something everybody thinks about and it's ever-present and finds itself replicated consciously and unconsciously all around us and yet we're supposed to ignore it. There's something magical about sexuality, that it can do that. And penises are just these weird things you've got on your bodies. They change. They get hard. And they're visual, which is partly why when you get into a bathroom stall, you want to draw a giant penis on the wall.
So you put out a call to action on the blog? And people started sending in photos?
Occasionally I'll ask people to submit things, but mostly people just do it on their own, and "I See Penis" is the No. 1 submission I get. I get so many of them, I can't post them. I feel kind of bad because I had a whole file of photos people have sent me and it's hard to get to them all.
Your blog has a much more diverse and unconventional following than most porn performers' blogs. Why do you think that is?
I don't want to say anything negative about my fellow performers, but some of their sites can be porn-heavy and about their relationships to other porn stars. Unless you're really engaged by gay porn culture, it's probably not that interesting to a wider audience. and a lot of it is self-promotional. I do a lot of that on my blog, but it's kind of ridiculous because I'm not a big giant porn star. I joke that I'm the supporting cast. And I think that kind of self-deprecating humor in general is attractive to people.
Right. Your persona on the blog isn't really that of the conventional porn star. You're much more of a normal guy, who's interested in art and other more highbrow things, the kind of gay guy a lot of people would want to be friends with.
I once had a really offensive conversation with a former friend in a car and he was interrogating me, asking, "Who is Colby Keller?" He wanted Colby to be this Midwestern yokel who's not very smart and going on and on. It was this really horrible vision he had of me as a performer. I decided that it's actually more interesting if Colby Keller is just a part of myself. It was kind of an experiment, that maybe people would find that interesting and maybe they wouldn't.
There seems to be increasing pressure on porn performers to create personal brands for themselves, by tweeting and blogging all the time. Do you think it's a reflection of how the industry is changing?
A lot of studios have less invested in promoting models and it's a lot harder because there's a lot of free porn out there. But I think what people find appealing about porn stars on Facebook and Twitter is they want a real person. They don't necessarily want someone who's always performing as a sex worker, and I think that may be a kind of a mistake a lot of people go down. I think people who have more successful porn personas are ones that are closer to themselves as human beings. Going back to when I was younger, there was a porn performer I really liked, and I would envision him as my boyfriend. But I also didn't want my boyfriend to be a sex worker all the time, I wanted him to be a real person. I think that helps a porn performer if he makes himself real to people rather than just writing, "I'm on set today with so-and-so and he has a big dick!" I blog about work on occasion, but I think on Facebook and Twitter people want something honest and real.
I was shooting with someone recently who asked me if I identified as gay or straight and I asked him what he was, and he said, "I'm uncomfortable identifying as gay." But I could tell from the way he was telling it to me that it wasn't because he was insecure with his sexuality, it was that he didn't identify with gay culture and that's kind of where I'm at. I feel very out of place when I go to Chelsea or West Hollywood. I think there are a lot of younger kids for whom that kind of gay ghetto culture no longer makes sense, and as they're more accepted by broader society that culture will disappear. It's about redefining ourselves and who we are and what kind of role our sexuality plays in our everyday lives.