The name Colby Keller might be unfamiliar to you if you don’t follow mainstream gay media (or don’t watch gay porn, I guess). But if that’s your thing then you have surely heard by now that Keller, a ten-year veteran porn performer, has decided to buy a van and cross the country (and maybe Canada) in order to make porn in all 50 states. There’s an Indiegogo campaign to help him do it, and right now he’s actually surpassed his goal.
Colby Keller is tall—especially for someone in the porn industry—and scruffy, which is a thing now in gay porn but which wasn’t, really, when he started. He has a pretty massive fan base that likes him for his kooky sense of humor as much as for his porn work. He also visits more museums than anyone I’ve ever met who wasn’t directly employed by one, which he frequently documents on his blog, Big Shoe Diaries.
I’ve met Colby a handful of times. We have mutual friends, and a couple of years ago we saw each other at The Hookies, the international gay escort awards. (Those exist.) He was presenting one of the trophies and kindly snuck me his wristband to get into the VIP area, where a small group of us awkwardly marveled at everything that was happening around us.
He’s in LA right now on something of a media blitz—Vice declared him “the Marina Abramovic of gay porn” just a few days ago — but he was nice enough to answer some questions about Colby Does America over the phone.
You recently lost your apartment in Baltimore because of neighborhood gentrification. You also gave all of your belongings away in a pretty public way. Why did you feel like you had to leave the city and not just the apartment? And why a 50 state road trip, of all things?
A lot of people had negative ideas about what I was doing, that I was going to commit suicide or something. I had to move and couldn’t keep the stuff that I had, and I had this idea for an art project that opened up an interesting space—what it means to be a porn performer that also makes art, and to see the country and to travel. It just seemed like a moment to explore, it’s not like there was a specific rationale other than that. But I think of this project as an art piece and art shouldn’t really be completely defined when you start it. There’s a lot of revelation in the process.
Explain how this is an art project.
When I gave everything away, that was a piece, and I made things with people and gave other artists agency, and in some ways that’s how I see this project, too. I mean it’s a big thing, so I’m definitely the one that unifies it and give it meaning, but It’s not really important to me to have some kind of authoritarian ownership of it.
So will you be on the road nonstop? Or do you plan to have a home base and do side trips?
What probably makes the most sense is to do it in waves. I’m going to need to work out a lot, especially if I’m going to be appearing in these videos. I’m going to start mid-to-late September and try to work out a schedule for the fall. I also want to work with other filmmakers. So I might go to Chicago for a week and hit four of five states from there during that week. And I’ll find a gym I can get a one-week pass at. I think it’s very likely that I might do a bunch of these and then realize that I might not be able to finish, but that’s where the licensing deal would definitely help.
Where will you find your scene partners?
I don’t have that all planned out yet. My thought originally is that I’d just look on sex networking sites, but I’ve already had different people in different states that are interested in working on projects. Timing is the difficult part. I’m doing a scene in Maine in a couple of weeks, so I’ll try to figure out Maine and New Hampshire. I’ve never been to Maine before. Will I be able to find a guy there who’s willing to show his face? Or will I have to get somebody from Boston to drive up?
How far north are you talking?
I have a friend who has a place that I think is near Portland.
Oh, you’ll be fine. There’s an art school, and an hour away there’s a gay resort town.
I’m bringing a friend from Baltimore to film it. We’re already planning locations out, but that might all change once we get there. I expect there to be a lot of adventures and a lot of fun videos.
What about Alaska and Hawaii?
Those are the last on my list. I’m not really gonna know what the budget is until I get on the road and see what happens. There’s food, and gas prices fluctuate, and finding places to upload video might be a challenge. I thought about the territories, too. But people have been so helpful already. Who knows, someone from Alaska might invite me up there to shoot a video and pay for it.
Yeah, are you worried about quality control? There are so many variables! And so many new people.
I’m really open to there being a lot of different visions, so I’m very open to that. We have one vision of what pornography is, and I think it would be interesting to play with the idea of regular people making porn and seeing what it looks like. I don’t know what that looks like! Maybe it looks like regular porn and maybe it doesn’t. I’m sure there will be a lot of really shitty homemade porn videos made, but I’m also really happy with the first one. It was my friend’s idea and he shot it and edited it. I’m really open, but I’m not worried. It might not be successful in the way that some people might consider successful.
And works out the logistics…
I definitely have a role in helping people execute their vision, but it’s also their vision. I won’t know what’s happening tomorrow, but, you know, life is pretty much like that. When you try to plan it’s pretty horrifying. It’s not important for me to have that sense of control.
There’s a lot of art that uses porn these days. It’s really everywhere, if you’re looking for it. What’s different about this project?
A lot of people make work about sex but I’m in the unique position where I’ve been doing this for 10 years. Part of my role as Colby Keller is that I’m a business and I’m an industry. And we kind of like to think of art as being separated from the rest of the world. But I want it to be porn! I want there to be sex, and the social imagination that surrounds sex and pornography. And I want to open it up to other people, to see if other things are possible. Maybe they’re not! But this is who I am, this is the job I’ve had, and there’s not really a way around that that’s interesting to me, so I need to engage it. Does that make sense?
Totally, I think.
Really it’s about playing around with this role that I embody. A big part of who Colby Keller is isn’t just my own body. I consider the fans to be a part of Colby Keller and I like to engage these people in fun and creative ways. And that idea in itself is engaging to me. I don’t want to you to think that I’m trying to reinvent pornography.
And so what will make this different than videos that we’ve seen before? And will your scene partners look like porn models?
Well this is the thing. I want them to be people who I’m attracted to. I want them to realistically reflect my personality, and be a kind of honest portrayal of my sexuality. But I don’t know who will want to participate. I’m not opposed to working with other porn performers. Porn performers are people, too! And that’s part of the idea that I’d like to engage. It’s a subjective thing, though. What does a porn performer look like? I’d like there to be a lot of diversity, but I don’t know who will want to engage in this project. That again is something that I’ll discover as the project goes on. I want there to be surprise. When I was painting there’s this idea that the painting itself can dictate its own outcome, when it’s done. I’ve worked the other way, where I envision something and then work really hard to make that exact thing, and then at the end it’s boring and I wonder why I bothered. I didn’t have to make it at all because I already knew.
The 50 states travelogue is something I’ve seen before on crowdfunding sites, and usually not well.
It’s a trope, and I’m aware of that. But tropes are accessible. It’s not like I’m just asking people to pay for my vacation. All the money that I’m getting is going to be spent on this trip, and the content will be given back to people. And maybe part of it just is some homemade sex tape. But I can pretty much assure people that it will be more than that. I’ve already done some fun projects, and I feel like I’ve been a responsible steward to the fan base that I have. So, hopefully people aren’t afraid of giving money to something that they may never see. And there’s a lot of tongue in cheek humor, and that’s how I see my art practice, and how I see Colby.
I did a lot of work and labor with Big Shoe Diaries for free. I don’t escort, I never have and so I don’t really make a lot of money. So giving all my belongings away was a powerful and incredibly moving experience for me. And now I don’t have a computer anymore! So that’s the focus of this project. It’s gonna be a lot of work, and part of it is really daunting, and I’m completely willing to engage that.
Why have you never escorted? It seems like it would be a natural thing for a well-known porn performer.
I have a couple of reasons. I mean one, it is illegal, and I’m willing to put a lot on the line for sex but jail isn’t one of them. Not that I feel like it should be illegal, but it is. Another reason is that it takes a different set of emotional and physical characteristics that I don’t have. I think the best escorts are people that can sexualize the act itself, and to do it well you have to be able to have the emotional and physical capacity to do it, and I just don’t. I’d be a really bad escort if I tried it, and I give a lot of props to people who do it. It’s a really beautiful profession in a way, being able to give sexual pleasure to people that might not be able to get it elsewhere. It’s just not a part of my own sexuality.
What are the plans?
I might work on a licensing deal, so that will definitely help. $35,000 is certainly not enough to get myself around the entire country in a year, but people are helping out. Like a friend who’s a director who’s giving me some equipment. I did a video in Baltimore already and hopefully I’m going to work on a scene while I’m here. It’s all kind of a little bit of an experiment. I’m certain some parts will work and some things won’t.
It’s great. Yeah, I’ve been really surprisingly busy with projects. I was in a short film, Wes Hurley’s Zolushka, that got into Outfest [the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival]. It’s basically a reinterpretation of the Cinderella story. And then I’m off to Houston to see my family.
And this is the last week for your Indiegogo project, too.
The fundraising part of it, yeah. It ends Sunday! We’re in a pretty good position to make the goal.
I think a lot of the money comes in at the beginning, and then again in the last few days.
Yeah, I think that’s typically how they work. We did really well the first couple of days and then it kind of petered out. We just did a $5,000 in one day push to keep momentum going.
What’s your biggest fear with this project? Running out of gas in Wyoming?
A car accident! I’d hate the end of this story to involve me dying in a car crash, or being paralyzed by one. Or getting arrested, that’s not good. I wouldn’t like that. On a small scale I worry about finding models or running into problems with people that I’m working with. I’m going to encounter people that aren’t easy to work with and aren’t nice people. But for huge fears, car crashes are definitely at the top.