Three years ago, Dan Savage, editor of The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly, and author of the raunchy sex column "Savage Love," was an emergency master of ceremonies in Madison, Wisc., during the Association for Alternative Newsweeklies' (AAN) annual awards luncheon.
Using his caustic wit, a bottle of Jack Daniels and two young pretty boys he'd met the night before in a gay bar as his tools, Savage constructed the liveliest awards ceremony in memory, making attendees glad the scheduled speaker had canceled.
So, Savage was a welcome choice to emcee this year's event, held last weekend at the Horton Plaza Westin Hotel. But the host newspaper-the San Diego Reader-made Savage's appearance ironic, and he wasted no time turning the irony into comedy.
"I know you all know that the publisher of the Reader doesn't like homos," Savage, who is quite gay, began, referring to Jim Holman. He then asked if anyone from the Reader was in the audience, and, when no one spoke up, he mused that the only reason he was on the stage was probably that Holman didn't know Savage was the emcee.
Holman also publishes San Diego News Notes, a Catholic newspaper that regularly rails against homosexuality and abortion.
Savage held up the current issue of the Reader containing a cover feature story about mustaches and began to read from it in a flamboyantly gay way (It didn't seem to matter that the author of the story is actually a woman): "The first time my lips brushed against a mustache, I was 15 years old. I was babysitting. The missus was out of town. When the mister came home, we sat and chatted. The kids were nestled in their beds, upstairs. We were friendly. I had babysat there several times before. The family owned a fancy hot dog stand at the local mall's food court; I was thinking of working for them. The kiss was brief, the mustache wiry and foreign. I said I had to go, got cab fare, and left."
"I had to go masturbate three times after I read that paragraph," Savage said, drawing uproarious laughter.
Then he referenced something in the paper about skin care and concluded that the Reader "couldn't be any gayer."
Moments later, Savage said, "The other thing I wanted to talk about is this," and held up a copy of the AAN convention program bearing an illustration of a muscle-bound Navy sailor wearing a white tank top and a cute little sailor cap-a piece of art that, as Savage noted, was recycled from the paper's 2002 Best of San Diego issue.
"Sailors don't look like this anymore," he said, eliciting more laughs. "Only gay people who fetishize sailors look like this."
With that, Savage shed his shirt, revealing a white tank top, and donned a cute little sailor cap, and proceeded on with the awards presentation.
CityBeat took one award, honorable mention for a feature story (smaller-circulation papers), "Tom Metzger sings karaoke," by Didier Diels about the notorious racist and Fallbrook resident and his favorite hobby.
CityBeat's three sister publications also took honors. The Ventura County Reporter won first place in photography, second place in editorial layout and honorable mention in feature story (smaller circulation); the Pasadena Weekly won third place in investigative reporting (smaller circulation); and Los Angeles CityBeat won first place in photography (larger circulation).