Last friday night — Friday the 13th — my beloved and I went to see Bret Easton Ellis speak at the glorious old Athenaeum Theatre, an appearance organised by the Wheeler Centre in conjuction with the Melbourne Writers Festival. I like Ellis’ books — Lunar Park in particular is outstanding — although I haven’t had a chance to read his new novel, Imperial Bedrooms, which this tour is supporting. I had minor reservations about seeing him in person — “I hope he’s not a dick,” is what I said to Jason on the way in — as I didn’t want the personality of the author to override my future reading of his work. This is a real danger. There are authors whose work I used to like a great deal before I met them in person, or saw interviews with them, or something else, and they turned out to be dicks. If they turn out to be big enough dicks, that colours my view of their work and I find it hard to enjoy it anymore. But Ellis wasn’t a dick. He was cool. And funny. And had lots of interesting things to say about himself, and writing, and pop culture, and much else.
It was a meta-interview of sorts: Bret Easton Ellis dissecting the interview process, the publication process, the writing process, the process of being Bret Easton Ellis, and his fans were happy to play along. The Q&A section at the end, while stupid and somewhat embarrassing, actually felt like a continuation of the whole performance of Bret Easton Ellis as Bret Easton Ellis. Very clever-clever questions, very well-rehearsed, often straddling the border between insult and come-on, often tumbling clumsily to one side or the other. Apart from the last awful train-wreck of an exchange between a self-important, self-avowed “inner-city hipster” and the obviously bemused and perplexed author, the most obnoxious one was probably: “Do you ever wish that maybe someone killed you at the peak of your career?” Because, yeah, not only does Ellis wish he was dead but he’s quite happy to acknowledge that his best days are behind him!
It was a strange night. I’m not sure I know that much more about Ellis than I did before I went — although I am sure I know no more than he wants me to know — but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed the show. And now the Wheeler Centre has uploaded a video of the entire night for the viewing pleasure of those who didn’t make it along. It runs for over an hour, so grab yourself a tasty beverage then sit back and enjoy the ride. Even if you haven’t read any of his work, Ellis as performance makes for compelling viewing.