No Fooling Around Here

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While Buck Angel scares up FTM visibility (among other things), Marc Felion and Fausto Fernós of the wildly popular Feast of Fools podcast are bringing AIDS in Africa to the forefront by joining The Global Fund’s (Red) Campaign.

The only gay media outlet partnering with the initiative founded by Bono, the boys are hoping to pump much-needed money into AIDS ravaged Africa: a terrifyingly difficult duty, to be sure.

Though busy saving the world, the boys found sometime to chat with Queerty about how they got their podcast start, why cynicism doesn’t pay, and how you too can help fight AIDS.

Queerty: What brought you two boys together? How did you guys meet and decide to start working together on the podcast?

Marc Felion: Fausto and I met at a leather bar in Chicago in 1999, although neither of us is big into the leather scene. It was the closest gay bar to our homes. I was in the back bar of the place, while my friend was in the “back back room” doing God knows what when Fausto came up to me and said “Do I know you from the Internet?” I of course said, “No, you must be mistaken.” It was 1999 and I was not into the whole hooking up with people on-line thing.

Fausto Fernós: You owned a slow-ass PC with a dial-up connection. All you could run was Microsoft Excel on it. How depressing!

MF: Everyone had dial up back then, but I was still cruising the bars. I miss those days when people used to cruise you at the bars.

Now everything is dirty online and super clean cut in the bar scene. I may be married, but I still like to flirt. Fausto insisted that we had chatted online and that he had my picture. He lived just around the corner, so I said I would go to his place to verify if it was me or not. He showed me the picture and of course it wasn’t me. I was there in his apartment so I slept with him anyway. What I didn’t notice in the dark bar light is he had a buzz cut that was dyed with rainbow leopard spots…

The podcast evolved from the live cabaret style shows we use to do around town. I was always involved in writing and costume making, but I never actually performed in the shows. We were going to do a cable access show and then podcasting burst onto the scene. We thought it would be so much better, because the costs were lower and we could do anything we wanted. I originally wasn’t going to do it, but then it started to take place in my living room, so I really didn’t have a choice. I’m glad I fell in love with it.

QT: Did you guys expect to be so successful?

MF: We have always believed that if you work really hard you will achieve.

FF: We worked hard, and we got lucky. According to iTunes, we’re the world’s most downloaded podcast for a gay & lesbian audience. We’ve been on top of the charts since the very beginning when iTunes started to support podcast subscriptions.

Since Marc and I met we had long discussions of what our dream “show” would be like. We’re inspired by people like Oprah, Martha Stewart, Bill Maher and Pee Wee Herman and wanted to create a show that pulled elements of “how to” shows as well as talk shows and comedy shows. The great thing about self-producing your own podcast is that you can make it anything you want it to be.

Feast of Fools is the result of over a decade of work. In 2005 we wanted to start doing cable access shows, and then the idea of attaching an audio file to your blog appeared out of the blue sky, and we jumped on it almost immediately. When we began, we didn’t even call our show a podcast, it was “The Feast of Fools Online Radio Show!” Now it’s grown into an entity all to itself. We have more people listening to one show than some cable programs. That’s why big money TV and radio are falling all over themselves to be a part of something we not only helped to start, but also define.

QT: What’s your favorite Feast of Fools memory?
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MF: One of my favorite memories was listening to George Takei, the actor who played Sulu on Star Trek. Hearing him talk about cruising a bathhouse in Indiana in the 1970’s was hot! He’s such a wonderful storyteller and he’s also super sexy for an old guy. I want to be just like him when I’m seventy.

The pictures we took of us with Takei made it onto E!’s “101 Hollywood’s Best Kept Secrets.” How did they know about these pictures in the first place? It just goes to show that some TV producers are following what we do closely.

FF: Sitting in the back seat of Kathy Griffin‘s limousine and asking her if she was going to “pull a Tyra Banks” on the next season of her show – in other words get a plastic surgeon to grab her breasts to see if they were real. She replied to me, “Why don’t we just find out now, Fausto?” and insisted I grab her breasts. I was so nervous! So I grabbed her, gently. When she asked me, “So, are they real?” I had to admit I had no idea what real or fake breasts feel like!

Later on I grabbed my half-sister’s silicone implants (which look great on a 60+ woman) and it’s safe to say that Kathy Griffin’s breasts are her own. She’s even more beautiful and charming in person that you’d think.

MF: We often receive more emails [from our fans] than we can handle. We read as many as we can on the show. One time we got a letter from a “Madame Lola”: a person claiming to be a Thai gay brothel madam. One of our regular guests, Miss Ronnie tore up the scene with her hilarious portrayal of Madame Lola, with a squeaky Thai accent. I was laughing so hard I had to leave the room.

QT: Any plans to expand into other forms of media? Fausto, perhaps you could help organize a stage production of Feast of Fools – it could be very avant-garde, something with which you’re familiar…
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MF: About four times a year we tape our shows live in front of an audience, which ads an exciting new dimension. However we’re really excited to be working on some video podcasts and our revamped website that is going to blow everyone out of the water!

FF: Martha Stewart better look out! She might not be in jail anymore, but we’re eyeing her pie. I know this sounds like an ant biting at an elephant’s heels, but you gotta dream big if you want to be big. I want to go on Oprah and cry. I promise I won’t jump on her white couch. Oprah, are you reading this? We’re working on expanding our website to make it a lively portal for queer and alternative content creators to promote and interact with their work. There won’t be any porn on it, so don’t get too excited. It launches on Dec 6, 2006.

QT: Now, how did you guys first get involved with The Global Fund and the Red t-shirt mission?

FF: We like it when colors symbolize things, not just in fashion, but in a conceptual way. I had heard about the concept several months ago and thought it was very intriguing. As you know the rainbow flag is such a powerful symbol for gay people and the red ribbon has done an amazing job of bringing AIDS in the last decade into forefront of people’s minds. This is a disease that has devastated gay people everywhere and is devastating communities globally.

When I saw Oprah and Bono holding red iPods, a red light bulb went off in my head and I thought, “Join RED? We’ll join red too!” Our podcast raises funds to pay for production costs by selling blue t-shirts and we thought we would join the fight against AIDS and ugliness (cause our shirts make you look so good) by putting out these fabulous brick RED t-shirts with a red Feast of Fools logo on them.

MF: The shirts come with a DVD of mp3 files of our “Best Of” shows, so along with a red iPod they make the perfect socially conscious holiday gift. We also encourage people to simply donate the money to the fund itself. Either way it’s a win-win situation.

QT: So much attention has been given to the AIDS crisis in Africa – and rightfully so – but do you ever feel that the celebrity endorsements around Africa (i.e.: Bono, Madonna, Oprah) take attention away from other areas of the world ravaged by the disease?

MF: I would really be hard pressed to think of any place in the world that has been more affected by AIDS then Sub Saharan Africa. I invite you to listen to one of our earlier shows where we debriefed a relief worker from Malawi. The stories she had about their society becoming decimated are very powerful. One of the big problems there is that their professional class has been hit very hard by the epidemic: teachers, lawyers, civil servants, all of them dying. It’s a brain drain on their society.

FF: Celebrities are people who for many reasons attract the attention of the media for whatever it is they are doing. So why not endorse and encourage people to participate in helping out in Africa? But let’s face it: this solution really needs the world’s government’s help. We as citizen’s of the world need leaders who will put our resources into fighting diseases locally and globally, [rather than] fighting ridiculous wars that accomplish nothing except death and resentment.

I see the Join RED campaign as a symbol to find ways to fight social problems in your everyday life. I think every company should be doing this, anyone who sells merchandise can easily donate a percentage of the money to fighting AIDS. Join RED means to join it.

QT: You’re donating 5% of all shirt sales to The Global Fund. Why only 5%, gents? Why not up the ante a little and give 10%?

FF: We chose this percentage to respond to what Apple was donating with the sales of their red iPod. We also upped the ante by making these shirts much more glamorous and expensive to manufacture in order to entice the public to buy- they are made out of the finer, softer combed cotton, and the design is professionally silk-screened. It makes you look hotter and sexier. Even Clay Aiken would look good in one of these shirts!

MF: It’s important to note that the costs of both the RED iPods and the RED Feast of Fools t-shirts are exactly the same as their non-charity counterparts.

FF: I want people to incorporate AIDS into their every day lives, I mean AIDS awareness. Don’t be unconscious about AIDS.