Fausto Fernos was hoping for a really big present this Christmas. For nearly two years, with the help of his all-but-legal husband, Marc Felion, Fernos has been podcasting the gaycentric Feast of Fools talk show an hour a day, five days a week. Created in the couple's Edgewater condo, each podcast is accompanied by chatty program notes, penned by Fernos and posted on the FOF Web site (feastoffools.net). In November Fernos was selected from a field of hundreds by Gay Bloggies, an American Idol-style competition, as one of the dozen best gay bloggers on the Web. Contenders for the championship who stayed the course then battled their way through 12 challenges, with a public vote at each step determining who would continue.
When Fernos learned in mid-December that he was one of three who'd made it to the finals, he had a pretty good feeling: in 2006, when the Bloggies had given awards in several categories, FOF won as best podcast. In 2007, though, the contest narrowed to blogging alone. While the challenges included photo and karaoke tasks, the competition was basically an essay contest with assigned topics. So Fernos blogged away about who he is, where he lives, and what he and cohost Felion are trying to accomplish on Feast of Fools.
The podcast grew out of a variety show Fernos first produced in 1998 as a benefit for the Randolph Street Gallery. The gallery eventually folded, but the eclectic show—which grew to feature drag queens, a plot of sorts, and a band—made subsequent runs at Big Chicks, Bailiwick, HotHouse, and, finally, the Ha Mien Vietnamese banquet hall. When Fernos launched the FOF podcast in 2005, he'd decided he wanted to put his energy into something more permanent. He's always thought of himself as a journalist. In Austin, Texas, where he went to college after growing up in Puerto Rico, he'd produced a cable show, El Chow de Faustina, interviewing local celebrities and artists in the persona of a blond Hispanic drag queen. Faustina's mostly gone, but on FOF (subtitled "Gay Fun Show") Fernos does interviews and roundtables, with an emphasis on "odd news, social trends, and self help." It's lighthearted and naughty, but the goal is to create something Fernos says didn't exist when he was growing up: a community for gays wherever they are.
Fernos, who has a master's degree from the School of the Art Institute, was working as a graphic artist at the Free Press when he started the podcast. Felion works as a bartender. They turned their living room into a studio and began with a seven-day-a-week schedule but soon found that their audience—apparently listening on the way to and from or (shh!) at work—was disappearing on the weekend. After two months they cut back to five days. The show is outlined ahead of time (Fernos says it's "about as scripted as Oprah Winfrey's") and is intended to be profitable. It costs about $1,500 a month to produce, and ads go for about $250 per show; gross revenues, including merchandise sales on the Web site, are now around $2,000 a month. He compares current returns to what might be made running a small theater company but says the upside is the reach, with each podcast pulling a larger audience than the combined audiences of all his live productions: FOF is now "the world's most downloaded GLBT podcast," he says, with more than 40,000 downloads per week.
When one of the later Gay Bloggies challenges required Fernos to write about the most important moment for him in 2007, he didn't have to ponder long. His beloved but distant father, an architect and "UFO fanatic" who lived in Puerto Rico, died last year. Fernos says he wrestled with how to present their last moments together in the hospital, "both of us crying," without being morbid. His entry describes that meeting, tells how a volcanic eruption on Montserrat kept him from making it back again before his father died, and talks about the funeral. "Years ago my father picked out for his service one of the strangest funeral parlors in Puerto Rico, the Celestium," Fernos wrote. "Maybe he discovered it in a local architectural journal because of its unusual structural design: monolithic domes, arranged in a triangle." This exotic place, where his father was displayed in a "'Sleeping Beauty' like plexiglas case" before being cremated, looked like a "concrete spaceship" and "was home to an equally strange staff": they looked to him like "Puerto Rican new-age lesbians who could have even been off-worlders themselves." It reminded Fernos that years earlier his father had looked him and his sister—then a couple of stunned teens—in the eye and made this pronouncement: "My children, when I die I will go to live on other planets in outer space and enroll in the great University of the Cosmos."
Voting ended December 21; the next day Fernos was informed that he had come in second. That meant a $1,000 prize instead of the first-place award of $2,500. No vote total was announced, and Fernos says the result took him by surprise because he'd been racking up many more comments than his competitors. He says it'll be interesting to see how people react: "The public was very vocal in declaring me the winner with a vast majority of comments—236 [on the last challenge] versus 40 for the winner."
Another Feast of Fools
The same week the Art Institute announced that its Gauguin faun sculpture, thought to be a pretty specific expression of Gauguin's wreck of a marriage, was a fraud, curator Douglas Druick led a public tour of the big "Jasper Johns: Gray" exhibit, which closes next week. About 40 visitors followed Druick through one gallery after another, peering at the succession of fuzzy gray canvases, pondering the deep meaning of the occasional collaged hanger or piece of string. Druick did a masterful job of explaining that Johns was rejecting abstract expressionism, aiming to eradicate the personal element in art—though, after a breakup with Robert Rauschenberg, it crept in. Johns, of course, is alive and worked with the Art Institute on this exhibit, so we know for sure that none of those splotchy maps or stenciled numbers is fake. v