Michael Gaughan is a 32-year-old artist who does paintings, drawings, performance art, and some music. But the show he’s been putting on lately has him under the guise of a 22-year-old dorm room rapper named Ice Rod. Onstage, he constructs fake walls bedecked with stereotypical dorm room decor—Bob Marley smoking weed, Uma Thurman smoking cigarettes in Pulp Fiction, a poster of oversized cans of PBR—and he sits on a bed with a laptop, opened to the website Chat Roulette, that part-novelty, part-social video chat experiment that lit up the Internet a few years ago. And then he raps. The whole thing is projected on a screen, and, unbeknownst to the people on the other end of the camera lens, there’s an entire audience watching. Ice Rod will be hitting the road on his first-ever tour, including a stop Saturday at The Frequency. The A.V. Club asked him about his favorite reactions so far, why this project excites him, and what happens when someone finds out they’ve masturbated in front of an audience.
The A.V. Club: Before you did this onstage for the first time, did you just practice by yourself or with friends?
Michael Gaughan: We would go on Chat Roulette and my friend Erin would move her mouth and not say anything, but I would be offscreen and talking, and with the lag of the site, the voices and images are never matched up, so it would just look like she had a man’s voice, and everyone was very confused. The idea for this show kind of came all at once after doing that.
AVC: Was this several years ago? When Chat Roulette first came out it was kind of a big deal, but really you don’t hear that much about it anymore.
MG: When it first came out, I just thought that it wasn’t for me. But, really, some time in the last year was the first time that I ever went on the site.
AVC: When you did this with your friends, did it just click that you could create this persona and make a stage show out of it?
MG: I had been a rapper before this, and whenever I rap I’m always Ice Rod. Ice Rod was just an extension of me. He was a character who I always thought a rapper should be. But now the character is who I think a kid in a dorm room wanting to be a rapper should be. There’s another layer added to it this time around.
AVC: Chat Roulette is known for dick- and boob-flashing. How do you deal with that onstage?
MG: Right. Well, there are three settings you can select from, and one setting is “I want to see a dick and will show a dick,” another setting is “I want to see a dick but I won’t show a dick,” and the third setting is “I don’t want to see dicks and I won’t show a dick,” and that’s actually the setting that I’ve been using lately, because the people in that channel are more likely to interact. They want to hear you rap or hear you talk to them; they want to hear your song. You still get people flashing their dicks or whatever, and I think that’s really funny. Too much of it isn’t funny, but in moderation, it spices it up. I like the unpredictability of it. You never know what will come up next, and I love the different ways people will socialize. You never know what people will do.
AVC: Do a lot of people “next” you instantly, or is that mostly the dick-flashers?
MG: It’s never consistent. But I will say that if it’s well lit, if they can see my face and see who I am, they’ll stay on longer. If I have a moment to ask them a question, they’ll stay, but if it’s dim or lagging, people will “next” you. If it seems like I’m a real person, people feel more inclined to stick around.
AVC: What are some of the best reactions you’ve had from people?
MG: The best interaction was this guy who kept trying to one-up me, or match me. He was in his room eating a bunch of food, and I started eating food. He started showing his muscles, so I started lifting weights. And then he started showing his girlfriend, so I had a girl from the audience get up onstage with me. Other people have heard me rap and started rapping themselves, and that’s always fun to have them sing unknowingly for an audience. Some people are just upset and are on there to be negative. That’s funny too. I love the variety of it, the unpredictability of it. It keeps me excited.
AVC: Do you ever reveal that you’re onstage?
MG: We do. Not that often, but when there’s a magic moment I will. Whether it’s someone jerking off or someone rapping, sometimes I feel like I owe them some truth. In the situation where I’m having a good conversation with someone, or good freestyle, and then I show them the audience, I’ve had funny reactions. One person said, “Oh my God! I’m on national TV!” For the February show, I was running late, so everyone was at the club already while we were trying to iron out our technical things. I was still setting up, but the chat was on, and the first thing we see is a guy jerking off, so I turn the camera to the whole crowd, and you can just see this guy go limp, like he just shrinks, and everyone just started cheering and I started rapping right there. Other times people see that they’re in front of the crowd and they get thrilled that they’re in front of a huge group of people. But the masturbating is such a small percentage of interactions. Eighty percent is dudes just chilling out, or some girls in a bedroom or people in a classroom. Since I put that filter on it’s a lot more actual interactions. I hope people think that the show is just more than masturbating.
AVC: Do you have any issues projecting people unbeknownst to them to a club full of people? Do you worry about that at all?
MG: Well, there’s a disclaimer on [Chat Roulette], and if you click on it then you agree to being filmed. I don’t care, though. Maybe I should worry more about that at some point.
AVC: There’s definitely a huge aspect of anonymity to Chat Roulette. Like, what are the chances that you could identify someone?
MG: Exactly. You can’t really identify someone because there’s no real name. It’s not even a real person. It’s just pixels.
AVC: Have you ever made a friend on Chat Roulette, or like, added someone on Facebook because of Chat Roulette?
MG: No. And also I should point out that like whenever I have one of my shows, a bunch of my friends and people I know hang out on Chat Roulette just waiting to find me, and it hasn’t happened yet.
AVC: Right. It seems unlikely that you'd run into someone you know.
MG: Exactly. And just going back to your first question, and the intention of this. I really do want to bring joy to people on a deeper level. So, my manifesto is really just to entertain the people at the club and the people on Chat Roulette, but not at someone’s expense. I’m not trying to humiliate people. Or battle somebody, or use my rap to put people down. It’s coming from a positive place. I’m trying to have a party, and I want it to be fun.