Last night at the party Michael Urie and Joan Rivers hosted to celebrate Michael Musto’s 25th anniversary at the Village Voice, pretty much everyone was full of nice things to say about a columnist who doesn’t exactly specialize in doing the same. “It’s amazing that you can just command people to just show up in public and kiss your ass and they’ll do it,” Musto marveled to us, scanning the room full of gays, drag queens, and downtown celebrities. “It’s everything I ever dreamed of! It’s also my worst nightmare.” Michael, you see, used to be very shy. For someone whose job it is to be a man about town, he at least used to rarely be the center of attention. “My favorite thing about Michael is that he goes to parties and does not actually party,” Sirius XM Radio host Derek Hartley observed, and it’s true: Michael is almost invariably the best person to sit next to at a party — but doing so usually involves sitting in a back corner of the room.
Former Daily News gossip columnist Ben Widdicombe told us a cute story that encapsulated Michael’s former very particular brand of shyness:
“As a young Australian gay journalist who arrived in the city in 1998, Michael was the first person I ever interviewed in the city. I interviewed him for an Australian gay newspaper which is now defunct called Outrage,” Widdicombe told us. “I was so impressed that Michael agreed to have lunch with me — which he paid for — at the Bowery Bar. To Australian readers he was a huge star and still is, because the Village Voice is available in Australia, but you would pay like $5. They would send like a hundred copies to this one store in the suburbs of the city. And Michael was kind of a legend to the cognoscenti of Australia.
“The thing that I remember most about that first interview was before lunch I went up in the Village Voice elevator with him, and he was so shy. We were in the freight elevator, which is quite large, and we were the only two people in it. I stood next to him, and he shuffled away from me, so I shuffled away from him and he shuffled away further and I shuffled away further, and literally by the time we got to the floor her was on, it was me in one corner and him in the other because I thought I was invading his personal space. And he was facing the wall!”
Shortly after Widdicombe told us this story, Michael took the stage (with his messenger bag, as ever, dangling off one shoulder). “You people are my 550 closest friends!” he howled into the microphone like he’s been emceeing weddings his whole life. “And you have never abandoned me, thank you! But some of you did push me out of photos tonight.” Not long afterward, the burlesque dancer Dirty Martini did her act for him, and as hundreds of guests cheered him on, the Village Voice columnist gamely shoved his face between her swinging breasts. (See photo.) We couldn’t really imagine this same person hiding in the corner of an elevator in his own office building. But then again, this is the guy who recently spoofed our own nude Lindsay Lohan cover with a nude photo shoot of his own, which ended up lying on newsstands all over the city. It goes to show that this city can make anybody braver than they already are — even someone who’s been blazing his own trail for a quarter of a century.