Perez Hilton is an OG. Long before social media was a thing, he was blogging and giving us our celebrity gossip on the daily. Now, with TMZ, Daily Mail and a million other competing sites; he's still around and more popular than ever.
How the heck does he do it?
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Perez at his home, where we talked about everything from The Kardashians to how he’s achieved longevity in such a competitive business.
Tom Ward: The first thing I want to talk about is how controversy has helped you grow your career. We had two Kardashians get pregnant last week and you said that Kylie should, “Abort the baby,” which got a ton of flack.
Perez Hilton: That’s how a lot of people interrupted it but that’s not what I said. I said, “If I were her mother I would have told her, when they found out in July per People magazine, that she should have gotten an abortion back then…It was wrong of me to have said that and that was hurtful, so I owned that...and apologized for it organically. No one forced me to do it.
But yeah, I believe for me, any press is good press, even bad press. The same isn’t true for everyone...This week Megyn Kelly debuted her new talk show and she’s got a ton of bad press.
Ward: Is that good for Megyn Kelly?
Hilton: No that’s not good for Megyn Kelly because the people in the decision making roles are, more often than not, terrified of bad press and are cowards…It wouldn’t surprise me if they cancelled her before the end of her first season, if the bad press continues.
Ward: Was “Perez Hilton” a creation and if so what was the vision and how did it help you become successful?
Hilton: Perez was always an extension of me and for the last couple of years I have tried to step out from this character that I’ve created. But when I first created this character it was out of necessity.
Ward: How so?
Hilton: Back then, in 2004, I was blogging under my real name…And back then Clay Aiken was a big deal…And I outed Clay Aiken and I talked about him a lot and his fans were not happy. And in 2004 he had very passionate fans, the Claymates! Laughs. They found out my home address and phone number and posted it online and I was like, “Wow. I need to stop using my real name and make it harder for people to track me down.”
Ward: Now take us back to 2004 when you started. It’s crazy to think about because there wasn’t even really social media back then.
Hilton: I didn’t have a MySpace in 2004. The only thing I did to promote my blogging was I posted a bulletin on Friendster. Friendster was around before MySpace...That was it. There wasn’t a YouTube, a Facebook a Twitter…The landscape was so different.
Ward: So what made you start? Were you sitting in your basement somewhere and were always into Hollywood and celebrities and just started writing about it?
Hilton: Yeah that’s pretty much it. I discovered the world of blogs. The thing that made me do it was it seemed easy. I used a tool, called Blog Spot, and it made blogging so easy. In a couple minutes you could click a name for your blog, customize a template, and be communicating online with the rest of the world.
Ward: So you’re using BlogSpot, you’ve got this idea; you’ve got this character created by then. What are you writing about? Is your whole day thinking about creating content, while at the same time having to pay the bills? So how did you manage it and what was your plan when you started?
Hilton: One of the best things that ever happened to me was, and it’s a great story to share with you guys because it’s business related, was between Fall of 2004 and Spring of 2005 I got fired three times from three separate jobs…I was working at this gay men’s magazine, The Instinct, as the senior editor. Big title, very little pay…I was responsible for the half of the magazine and one of my sections was the book section. I assigned the books for review for every month and all of the books that weren’t going to make the cut; I was selling them on Amazon for money.
Ward: Laughs. Always hustling! I like it.
Hilton: I didn’t think it was illegal or a fire able offense…But one of the other magazines, Out Magazine…
Ward: Outted you! Laughs.
Hilton: Yes! Outted me! Laughs. They found out and told all the advertisers...So they told me they had to let me go...So I ended up getting a long term temp assignment at E! as a receptionist…And I kept the blog going during all of this. One day Janice Dickenson comes in. I’m the receptionist…Janice Dickenson was a big deal in 2004. She asks me where the bathroom was. She goes and then halfway there screams, “Shit. I forgot my tampons!” because she left her purse with me and her gayboy assistant. She comes, gets her tampons and heads back to the bathroom. And I’m like, “Please she stopped ovulating a decade ago!” Then it gets even better. Hey gayboy assistant goes inside her purse, gets this prescription pill bottle, and snatches a bunch of pills.”
Ward: Laughs. Now, is it any surprise that Janice Dickenson is on a bunch of pills?
Hilton: No! Then, he puts the pills in his pocket. And I see this all happen in front of my eyes…So I had to write about it…The very next day the Human Resources guy took me into his office and asked me if I wrote this. I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You’re fired.”
Ward: On some level are you happy someone read the article?
Hilton: Yes! Because I had only been blogging for a month and a half. I didn’t think anyone was reading this. Laughs.
Ward: So you got fired and were collecting unemployment so you could focus on it the whole time. Was that obsession key to your success? Just staying laser focused and not having to worry about all those other distractions?
Hilton: I think I owe a lot of my success to growing up in a Cuban household. My whole family fled the Castro regime, fled to Miami with no money, and had to make a life for themselves there. They always stressed to me the importance of hard work and education…When I speak to young people, especially college students; a lot of them have unrealistic expectations. They want their dream job right away. They don’t understand the concept of paying your dues and they have this idea of balance and they want balance in their life. They want it all! Not just the dream job but also a great relationship. If you want to be truly successful everything must suffer, except your professional life. That means your health, your family life, your fun life. All of that has to come second. Number one has to be your job, your work. You need to put in the hours.
Ward: Being a YouTuber is the number one dream for kids out there…What advice do you have for them?
Hilton: You have to work hard. You have to be familiar with YouTube…Know the space. Know what works and what doesn’t…You have to engage...You have to go to the conventions. You have to treat it like it’s your job, even if you’re in high school.
Ward: You were one of the first influencers out there. Did you ever thing it would turn into this?
Hilton: I love seeing young people expressing themselves, unapologetically so and don’t care if you’re straight, bi, trans, questioning, whatever. It’s really about being authentic…I love it. I watch a ton of YouTubers.
Ward: Who are your favorites?
Hilton: My favorite YouTubers are the hot mess ones…One is Trisha Paydis. She’s a former stripper who has dated a lot of powerful guys in Hollywood, who cries a lot in her videos. Eats a lot in her videos. She’s a hot mess but she knows it and owns it. My other one is an Australian one, named Cluam Sutherland…He (we’re not sure on the pronoun he uses, so we mean no disrespect if this is incorrect) talks about having sugar daddies and he talks about travelling the world with this sugar daddy or that sugar daddy…Those are my two favorites and are brilliant recommendations.
Ward: How do you keep up in this world when there’s so much competition? Sure, when you started there were the Entertainment Tonight’s of the world.
Perez: When I started there wasn’t even a TMZ.
Ward: That’s what I’m saying. Now in the world of TMZ, Daily Mail, all these other things how you do compete and stay up with them?
Perez: I don’t. I don’t try to compete because they can’t compete with me.
Ward: What do you mean?
Hilton: They don’t have me. That’s what separates me apart from everyone else.
Ward: You said you’ve got to do everything equally but you can’t. What’s your priority? Is it still PerezHilton.com? Is it YouTube? What is it? How do you cut up your day?
Hilton: I would say my biggest priority is TV. TV is what helps set me apart from all these other influencers. I’ve done a lot of TV over the years and a lot of these YouTubers and Instagrammers haven’t. I’ve been doing a lot of acting lately too...So it’s cool that I get to do it all and I love doing it all. So I don’t get much sleep but I don’t complain because it’s almost 14 years later and I’m still here! And I’m still having fun and that’s the most important thing.