Comedian Margaret Cho and Stephen Elliot, editor of The Rumpus


For the bar staff of the Makeout Room on 22nd Street, 6 p.m. was crunch time: stacking glasses, slicing limes, and reconfirming every detail. The eclectic décor blended well with the new gold and silver decorations reminiscent of New Year’s Eve 1999 in Times Square. With the comedian Margaret Cho and a few of the reading writers already there, the pre-launch party for was set.

“We’re trying to provide an intelligent place for people to go on the web, and that’s a lot harder than it sounds,” said Stephen Elliot, editor of the Rumpus and host of the party. “And you think the web has everything but actually it doesn’t.”

It didn’t, he thought, have a place for “highly educated temps in unintelligent jobs who want to f*** off for an hour on the ‘Net while at work.” So, on Dec. 2, went live. Updated almost 15 times a day, the site has been receiving thousands of hits daily, he said. It’ll take hundreds of thousands to make the site profitable. Huffington Post, one of the most successful online sites, got 4.5 million unique visitors in October 2008, according to

The drive, he said, has been good content that people want to read. Some of the contributing writers include Lamda award winner and contributor to The Believer magazine Michelle Tea, and The Ice Storm author Rick Moody.

Comedian Margaret Cho and Stephen Elliot, editor of the Rumpus.

“It’s blowing up so quickly because there’s so many writers that are like ‘Oh yeah, finally I got a place where I can go. I can publish my stuff online,’” Elliot said.

It’s unclear how long the enthusiasm will remain. Most of the contributors are Elliot’s friends, and they all work for free. A handful of them read from published stories and books on a recent Wednesday night.

Writer and porn star Lorelei Lee, who thought the crowd might recognize her more from her film F*** Slaves 3, opened the readings. With platinum blond hair and eyes like a doe—resembling Aubrey O’Day of pop group Danity Kane more than a porn star—she read a story full of eroticism and heart.

The room was at its 200-person capacity, with many trying to get as close to the stage as possible—for a reason. Burlesque singer Mariel a la Mode took the stage next and by the end of her song she’d stripped down to sexy bottoms and pasties.

“You know you’re a San Francisco writer when this is the first time I’ve followed burlesque … just like Faulkner,” joked writer Daniel Handler, who read from one of his stories after a la Mode.

Headliner Margaret Cho was last to perform. “This is really lovely and I really believe in what he’s doing,” she said about Elliot. “It’s a really cool site. It inspires me to write. But I’m lazy. I smoked too much pot.”

“I saw the flyer, and I saw Margaret Cho on it and that was really what drew me,” said Andy Major, who traveled from the East Bay for the party. Her first priority was Cho, but she said she would check the site out later.

“It’s really strange looking across the room and saying ‘That woman looks familiar,’ because it’s Margaret Cho,” said Heather Golder, who loves the site and showed up to see Jerry Stahl and Stephen Elliot.

Elliot hopes to raise money for with proceeds from the party and a few T-shirt sales.

“I bounced a check today so this is good for that,” he joked. But he later said he thought the party was successful.

“It was like a huge success,” he said over the phone. “We’re actually doing better than the Huffington Post. And Margaret Cho told me that it was one of the best shows she’s ever done.”

While the Huffington Post comparison was likely hyperbole , it was clear Elliot was pleased.

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