Greg Mania: The Dream in the City that Never Sleeps
Written by Liam Sweeny on September 27, 2020
Some people are just interesting. It isn’t their clothes or their hair, but those things are interesting because why wouldn’t they be? These people are just interesting. Their presence at a thing is what makes it a “thing.” And if you get a chance to see what makes them tick, you might want to wind your watch to it.
Greg Mania is interesting. Writer, comedian, denizen of the city that never sleeps… with a new book out, he’s been making the rounds to share some words. And he’s made his way here.
I sit with Greg and we talk about superhero action figures.
RRX: One of the things I’ve always loved about New York City is that you can be anyone. It’s odd in the way that the attitude of “you do you” that some find uncaring about New Yorkers can allow people the freedom to find their niche. How would you guide someone through the rough New York exterior to find their way?
GM: It’s just that: a rough exterior. Yes, we huff and puff when our train is delayed, deploy life-ending glares in a flash, and, above all else, tell it like it is. But that’s just the surface. What’s really rough is how fucking expensive everything is; you leave your apartment to just go on a walk and somehow get an alert on your phone saying your account balance has dipped below $25 and you’re like, but how? Like am I renting the air I breathe, too? Ugh. But the people, man do I love them.
I think just by virtue of being in a place that has a niche for everyone—or invites you to create your own—you will eventually find a spot that’s yours. That’s why so many people come here. There’s always a way to find.
RRX: You came into the New York scene as an openly gay man, not only just experiencing that aspect of city life, but blogging so that others could vibe off of what was going on. But your parents didn’t know at all. This is a really tough thing for kids that don’t feel they can come out. What was the fear of accidental discovery like?
GM: Terrifying! I was on edge all the time. The more I came out to my close circle, the city around me, and the public in general—I was basically treating the Internet like a diary—the more anxious I became about the people back at home finding out the truth. I think, no matter what we come out as, we just want the people closest us to keep loving us. And if there’s a chance of that changing, it scares us. Change is scary, period, but revealing a part of yourself to someone who has known you for all of your life is shifting the bedrock of everything you’ve ever known. But that shift—no matter the outcome—is, ultimately, important. You deserve a life of authenticity.
RRX: You are really known for being bigger than life in a really cool way. And, in my experience, there’s usually one story, or even a snippet of a story, that is emblematic of a “day-to-day.” Let us be you for a day, or an hour, or fifteen minutes if they were dynamite. A kickass story… what have you got?
GM: Oh, no, this is my worst nightmare. Listen, as a retired extrovert, I am BORING. If these walls could talk, they’d be like, “um, how many episodes of Top Chef can this loser watch in a row?” Or, you’d find me locked in the bathroom, scrolling for blackout curtains on my phone. Embarrassing! I would never put anyone through that experience.
RRX: So you have a book out, Born to Be Public, from our friends at CLASH Books. I’m assuming at least some of it is autobiographical. But I imagine there’s more to it than just an event ticker of your life. There’s always high-concept, there’s always a theme. So when you were writing did you have the high-concept, or did you find it in the words?
GM: I didn’t even set out to write a memoir. I woke up one day and was like, oh, this is a snapshot of an era in my life that incorporates specific elements of my childhood that usher the narrative along? GUESS WE HAVE A MEMOIR NOW. My initial intention was just to compile a collection of funny stories and humor pieces, but then I started writing about mental illness, trauma, toxic relationships—all the things I hold near and dear to my heart!—and realized that my job was just to be as honest as possible, because if I care about this story, someone else will. I don’t know if this book is high-concept as much as it is just the most accurate representation of me. I’m a blubbering idiot in real life, and this book conveys the things I can’t in any other medium.
RRX: I want to ask about New York City. Albany and New York City have a relationship, sometimes a rocky one. But we have a large number of transplants, so going to New York for us isn’t like going to a foreign country. Have you ever been Upstate? Or does New York insulate that well? And if so, any cool Upstate stories?
GM: One of the things I like to teach in my writing workshops is trusting your instinct, to not discard the first idea that pops into our minds for fear of it being reductive, stupid, or just not worth pursuing because there are bigger and better ideas out there —so let me follow my own advice and tell you about the time I went to Tarrytown. I don’t actually think Tarrytown is technically Upstate like a place like Buffalo or Albany is; I think it’s “upstate” in the same way a place like New Rochelle is, as in you can take the Metro North and it’s really just north of New York City.
ANYWAY, my brother was invited to an old friend’s wedding in Tarrytown a few years ago and brought me as his date. I got drunk in a castle. Granted, it was a castle-turned-spa, but there were still turrets and everything. Anyway, I threw up behind a gargoyle and then we went to a 24-hour diner across the street from our hotel.
RRX: We’re hurting. New York is hurting. Entertainment; when it exists, half of it is underground, or it’s heavily controlled. Aside from any reasoning behind any of it, it’s a wound we are all licking in the arts and entertainment industry. Screw the money mags; from you, on the ground, how does New York survive this?
GM: It’s painful to watch. And it’s not just the arts and entertainment industry, it’s small businesses whose gravitas isn’t sustained by social media clout. It’s neighborhood staples that aren’t receiving proper government aid or support, which trickles down to employees and anyone else whose income is linked to the local ecosystem. I have friends: bartenders, tattoo artists, nightlife workers, etc. who are just trying to stay afloat. But New York is nothing if not resilient. Everyone is saying it’s “dead,” and that everyone is, more times than not, other rich transplants taking note of other rich transplants leaving. And honestly, BYE! Let our local communities thrive again, without the threat of co-opt. And I think it will; New York is like a weed, in a good way. It’ll always grow back.
RRX: This is where you answer the question I didn’t ask. Best hair product? The real seven words you can’t say on television? Educate, enlighten, emote – the floor is yours.
GM: This is dangerous, because I will just go off about the final season of Charmed. But, for the sake of decorum and respect, I will thank you for granting me the opportunity to hawk my very gay book in your publication. Also, Arrojo fierce firm hold hairspray.