I met Royal Young after his first day of recording audio for his memoir, Fame Shark. We met for a beer at El Castillo de Jagua on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, a place he frequented quite often as a kid for the sunnyside-up eggs and homey vibes. Royal, born Hazak Brozgold in 1985 to a mental health professional and an artist, grew up in the grit and grime of a crime ridden, “Duane Reade-less” Delancey Street. Through Royal and his perpetual quest for fame, Fame Shark viscerally captures the shallows of American celebrity culture, and the boundless, complicated nature of Jewish family.
I spoke with Royal about his turbulent childhood, perceptions on celebrity culture, and his new outlook on the depths of fame, addiction, and family.
In the beginning of your book, you ask Rene Russo for her autograph and tell her, “I’ll always sign my name for kids, I promise.” You also hold items like your vintage Cat Stevens jacket in very high esteem. Since then, how has your perception on the power and significance of celebrity ephemera shifted?
If anything, my relation to celebrity has lessened and weakened because A) it took me to such dark places and B) because in my work as a journalist I ended up doing what I thought I wanted, which was a closeness to celebrity. And when you are that close you realize that people are people and everyone is a human being with their issues and neuroses and fuck ups. But at the same time, now signing my actual book for people and giving that to them—I do understand how important it can be. I understand when parents come up to me and they want me to sign a book for their kid—so I kind of kept that promise, in a weird way.
You explore your sexual identity in great depth throughout Fame Shark. You’re sexually harassed at eight years old by a female classmate, explore homosexuality for fame, and generally find yourself in twisted relationships with emotionally unavailable females. When and how did you get to the point of self-love and less to the point of self-destruction?
I just got tired. The self-destruction, whether it’s through pursuing fucked sexual relationships or fucked connections with disturbed people, it just really starts to weigh on you so much, and there came a point when I was just forced to let it go. I just couldn’t do it anymore—physically or mentally. I was just so lonely, desperate, and at the end of my rope, that I kind of forced myself to break down those walls and barriers that were keeping me from connecting in a real way to women romantically and to people as friends. I eradicated all that from my life.
That being said, the “normal” relationships I’ve had since the book ended, have had their own tumult, weird passion, and kinkiness. You know the saying, “we accept the love we think we deserve”? It was just about deciding that maybe I deserved a little bit more.
There are no boundaries in your family.
There still aren’t!
I very much related to that part of the book, and it has me wondering, do you think it’s more of a Jewish family thing or an artistic family thing?
It’s totally a Jewish thing and totally an artistic family thing. In terms of Judaism, I was raised Jewish, so culturally it was about constantly questioning. If certain cultures I was exposed to contained sex or violence, as the world does, that was never censored in my family. For me, Jewish guilt is not the same as Catholic guilt. Catholic guilt I see more about censorship or original sin. Jewish guilt is more about “visit your mom, stay in the conflict, and never leave the home.” Jewish families fight and it’s crazy and weird, but they never leave each other. Jews stay in it, no matter what. So that’s part of it.
From the artistic side, my parents, both as artists and mental health professionals, were never about censorship. It was just not part of the language they spoke. They would have rather me experience those things and explain it to me. That was healthier—me asking the questions and them being able to provide an answer. It was also just living in the Lower East Side in the 90s surrounded by hookers and my dad’s penis plates and orgy paintings; they just couldn’t ignore it.
In the book, you left rural Vermont at Bennington College to back to New York City, depressed and pathless. When did you end up getting your degree and where?
I went to the New School. I was at Bennington for a year, and I fucking hated it. It was like The Shining meets summer camp. It was the worst place ever, for me. Everyone was naked and on drugs and weaving underwater baskets, or whatever they do. I dropped out, came back to New York, and just drank and did drugs for a year. And a lot of that is the stuff that’s in the book. And then towards the end of the book—I don’t write about it in it because it didn’t feel like it had a place, I wanted the end to be more focused on coming to terms with your family—but I started taking classes at the New School with this amazing woman, Susan Shapiro, who has become my writing mentor. She was the first person to get me published. She saw my ambition and was able to channel it and hone it into something that had direction and gave me purpose instead of making me purposeless.
When did it hit you that the lure of celebrity itself wasn’t enough to sustain?
In the book when I’m trying to be a model, I met this modeling agent who basically told me “I don’t know why you’re doing this, it’s fucking stupid, you should write a book, because you have talent in your writing.” So the first rough drafts of Fame Shark came out of that. So I started writing the book while I was still in the mindset. And I think for me I initially thought, well this book is going to be “the way” to make me famous and successful. But I was still so caught up in that lifestyle that I couldn’t write. I couldn’t maintain a linear narrative. I was just drinking doing drugs and partying so much I just couldn’t. After I met Sue and started getting published I came back to those pages in a more disciplined way. I had burnt out that celebrity lure at that point, and all these notions of the “one thing” that would make me.
What’s your take on social media? As a past addict of drugs and social media, how much do you use it and how has your usage shifted?
To a degree, everyone, I mean everyone, whether they will admit it or not, uses social media as a tool to promote themselves. Whether it’s for a professional persona or just a personality, like what they ate for dinner. For me, social media is important, but I think you have to call it was it is. It’s fun, it’s a tool, it can be hugely helpful, and an exciting way to meet interesting new people. But it also shouldn’t be your life. I get so disturbed when I see photos of Instagram of people on their vacations. Dude you’re in fucking Peru, why are you loading so many pictures on Instagram? It drives me nuts. It’s about being present in the moment and drawing that line. And yeah, it’s about addiction, too. We get an adrenalin boost every time we get a like. How much do we need that and how much can we live in the moment and enjoy it without publicly broadcasting to the world what we’re doing?
In the book, when your mother asked you if you didn’t like being Jewish, you responded, “Of course I do, but I don’t want to always feel like I’m constantly wrapped in an Israeli flag.” Was it just that you felt like the name Hazak was too Jewish?
It’s not even Jewish—it’s just crazy! I never disliked my name; it just never fit. It never fit and it never helped me to fit in with the world around me. When I would introduce myself, the first question would be “where are you from.” I got tired of it, just as I got tired of drinking too much and weird relationships—it’s something I outgrew. It really had nothing to do with not relating to being Jewish. Relating to being Jewish is something I’m hugely appreciative of and admire and respect. It felt natural. Again I didn’t choose Royal, Royal chose me. I know that sounds cheesy and lame. But it’s who I’m meant to be.
What are you working on now?
I’m actually working on fiction. Putting out a memoir is awesome and validating and crazy, but it’s such a pain. Your family kind of hates you for a while, and your friends are weird. My parents didn’t initially react well to it. I’m working on a novel, it’s a baby right now. But it’s all about sex. It’s going to be something like Harold and Maude meets Lolita. It’s really dark and fucked up.
I love Harold and Maude. Well, those are all my questions.
Awesome, now we can just drink!