5 'What?' Side Projects From The Most Famous People Of 2020
We could tell you what famous figures have been up to lately, but it turns out all of them have just been in the bathroom screaming lately. While relatable, that offers little new information, so let's instead dig into yesteryear, back when ....
Donald Trump Cameoed In A Playboy Porn Video
The most entertaining type of scandal is the genre known as "public figure caught secretly enjoying porn." At the time of writing, stories in the news include Michael Cohen plugging someone's OnlyFans and the Pope liking a sexy Instagram shot (not actually porn, but same gist), and we of course all remember Ted Cruz liking a stepmom video called "Dick for Two" or that one state legislator caught browsing porn while in the senate chamber voting on a bill. These scandals are fun because we get to laugh at politicians for something that doesn't actually matter. And every single time, the politician claims it was a misunderstanding, as they never intentionally laid their eyes on anything sexual whatever.
Then you have Donald Trump. Good luck shaming him for his connections with porn -- he revels in it. Back in 2016, people would hand him copies of Playboy he appeared on, and he'd autograph it for them. This was an issue from 1990, when, like many celebrities, Trump was interviewed by the magazine, and, unlike nearly any male celebrity, he also appeared on the cover. Looking at it now, you'd think we photoshopped it. Not because of Trump standing beside a model who's wearing just his jacket but because the "fax 'n' figures" headline is clearly just us making fun of the '90s.
Slightly more scandalous, though, than featuring on a magazine that people might totally buy just for the articles: Trump popped up ten years later on a Playboy tape. The appearance came to light in 2016 when Trump called out a critic for appearing in a "sex tape" (she hadn't), which prompted others to point out that Trump had appeared in an actual sex tape. It was called Playboy Video Centerfold - The Bernaola Twins, and while news sources described it as "explicit," they didn't specify exactly how explicit it was. In the interests of journalism, I sought to find the full video, but I could not. I could find Playboy Video Centerfold 2004:
As well as the soft-focused VHS known as Playboy Video Centerfold 2003:
And you can easily find Playboy Video Centerfold 2001, starring a future contestant on Celebrity Apprentice:
But not Playboy Video Centerfold 2000, with Donald Trump. Did the Trump administration scrub this video from the web to protect the president? Trump supporters and opponents agree: of course they didn't, that would require an extraordinary level of competence. And we do still have access to this GIF of the Trump cameo. It contains no actual sex acts, merely frothy sexual symbolism.
Stacey Abrams Wrote Eight Romance Novels
As a politician, why would you release a book under a pen name? Rather than capitalize on your fame and get millions of supporters buying the book whether they plan to read it or not? Probably, it's because the plot is a fictionalized account of real crimes you committed, and you can't let the public see through the veil and find out the truth. Or maybe it's just because you're embarrassed of all the dirty, dirty sex the book contains, which would seem to be the case when the cover looks like this:
When Stacey Abrams first started putting these books out, she was yet to go into politics. But she was working as a tax attorney in Atlanta and was also publishing "academic publications on tax policy," so that was enough reason to want to keep these books separate from her public life. As a professional, you don't necessarily want to be associated with cover art like this, even if the stories themselves aren't the nonstop bonefests that the illustrations promise. Abrams actually wanted to write straight spy stories, but her publishers told her she had to go for romance for them to sell, so they became action-romances, while the covers promised pure porn.
She chose the pseudonym "Selena Montgomery," which sounds like either a '60s activist or a minor character from Bewitched. The novels have characters hunt down serial killers, infiltrate terrorist groups, hunt down serial killers, hunt down serial killers, and more.
After her secret identity got discovered around the time she ran for governor in 2018, Abrams released a new novel under her own name, one that's a little more political and features no sexy cover art whatever. As for the old stuff, several are available as ebooks, but they're out of print as physical editions so can be hard to track down. One vendor thinks you might be willing to pay $100 for a secondhand copy of Power of Persuasion:
Which is an absolute bargain next to this $1,000 copy of The Art of Desire:
That last book has a handful of 4- and 5-star reviews from 20 years ago and then a sudden flood of 1-stars from after Selena Montgomery was outed as Stacey Abrams. Which brings up another reason to release a book under a penname: You don't want your solid reputation as an erotic thrill writer to be sullied by being associated with a sordid career in politics.
Related: 'Superman' Reboot Coming From Star Wars' J.J. Abrams, Award-Winning Author, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Meghan Markle's First TV Appearance Was As A Kid Complaining About Sexist Ads
Before Meghan Markle joined the Royal Family (meaning, before-before she and Harry left the Royal Family), she was on American television. Wait, come back, even if you've heard that before. We're not talking about all the seasons on the USA network she spent handling Suits cases, or her 34 episodes on Deal or No Deal handling suitcases --
-- we're talking about when she was 11 years old and appeared on a news segment for Nickelodeon. The show was called Nick News and was hosted by Linda Ellerbee, and if you think it was a demotion for Linda Ellerbee to go from NBC News to anchoring a show for children, well, that's just because you seriously underestimate the importance of educating children. Experts believe that children are our future, and there's no greater proof of this than Meghan Markle, who would exist in the future, being in 1993 just a child.
As a school assignment, Meghan had to analyze the TV commercials, including one where a bunch of women throw rubber gloves out the window while a voiceover says, "Women everywhere are fighting greasy pots and pans." She figured ads shouldn't be telling everyone that women are the only ones doing the dishes, so she wrote Proctor & Gamble a handwritten letter asking them to change the tag to "people everywhere." P&G, lacking a social media rep who could post a witty reply everyone would like, had no choice but to obey Meghan Markle and change the ad, which was a move surprising enough to make this whole thing newsworthy.
I remember watching this episode when it first aired. It might have been the first time I'd ever heard people criticizing sexist stereotypes, or even the first time I'd heard people critiquing the social impact of media at all. I also remember how the segment ended: voiceover changed, Meghan was still unsatisfied, because the ad still featured only women washing the dishes instead of men too. Clearly, she was gearing up for a career as a tireless internet writer. If that dream job fell through, she'd have to settle for becoming princess or something.
George Floyd Rapped Over DJ Screw Beats
If it sounds like we're mocking all these people for their years-old side hustles, that's just your own cynicism talking. Some of this might be embarrassing, but some is just stuff-you-did-not-know. For example, despite all you've heard about the death of George Floyd, how many of you can say what the man did while he was alive? Did you know he rapped? Even plenty of people who heard his voice on tapes by Houston's influential DJ Screw didn't know who he was at the time and only found out years later.
The idea that someone who rapped in Houston in the '90s might die prematurely is not exactly unthinkable. DJ Screw would overdose in 2000. His group the Screwed Up Click also included Big Hawk, gunned down in 2006, and Fat Pat, gunned down in 1998 (Floyd's recording below is a sort of tribute to Fat Pat). Three others who rapped with them -- Big Mello, Big Moe, and Pimp C -- each died at age 33. Still, "kneed to death by cops for nine minutes after leaving a grocery store" is not the sort of end anyone should expect, and if you manage to avoid the twin threats of firearms and purple drank, and you turn around your life after various arrests, you should hope to escape being murdered at all.
Does Big Floyd sound kind of, um, drunk on some of these tapes? That's because he was. Rapping while intoxicated is a grand tradition, and freestyling while drunk and still managing to make anything close to sense is a major accomplishment. Truly, some people are capable of great things. Other people, however, are Mike Pence.
Mike Pence Had Some Thoughts About Hollywood Films
Mike Pence hosted a radio show before he joined Congress, and listening to it now is surreal. Today, he comes across as a quiet religious man who averts his gaze when people start square dancing because it's a vertical expression of a horizontal desire, but switch over to the show, and boom you've got that classic agitated radio personality cadence. That difference doesn't come with just age. That difference comes when someone deliberately chooses their persona. We guess that as you go from volunteering for the local Democratic Committee as a teen to Republican Vice President, you have to make a few conscious changes.
While most recordings of his show are inaccessible today, he had a website, and digging it out of the archives reveals some old Mike Pence thoughts that he arranged into articles. A couple years ago, we told you about Pence's fury at 1998's Mulan, a film he said might lead to the real-world integration of female soldiers into combat units. This, he predicted, would be catastrophic, shivering at the consequences of "young, nubile, 18-year-old men and women" comingling. Also, he insisted that the relationship between Mulan and her superior was problematic. Disney agreed 20 years later and angered fans by removing it for the remake, so we guess moral outrage from opposite ends of the political spectrum isn't so different after all.
Pence also wrote on Titanic. Trying to decipher what made the film so successful, he concluded that it was a metaphor for the '90s economy. Self-absorbed, careless baby boomers (the choice generation to criticize at the time, figured Mike) falsely believed the economy would plow forward forever, but it really faced choppy waters. This was actually a very relevant interpretation back in 1998. If you've spent the last several decades listening to politicians promising to fix the broken economy, here's a good source for a laugh: Go look up the presidential campaigns leading up to 2000, when candidates bickered over the best way to spend the $10 trillion surplus they all predicted the government would take in over the next decade.
And who's the foolhardy, reckless crew in this metaphor? Why, it's those who "push harder and harder on the throttle of government taxation and regulation," said Mike. Most people would liken tax and regulation to pushing back on the throttle, but not Mike, because then the metaphor falls apart. And if you think Titanic clearly preaches for more safeguards, not less, Mike's got that covered too. Just like the boat skimping on lifeboats, people nowadays falsely think themselves too good for the "antique restraints" of "faith in God, marital fidelity and the sanctity of life." (A few years later, Pence would share a ticket with the very first guy we mentioned in this article.)