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Posted on Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

Dan Savage offers his advice to Michigan Theater crowd

By Jenn McKee

About 900 people came to the Michigan Theater on Sunday to hear writer/activist Dan Savage do what he does best: offer blunt advice on matters relating to sex and relationships.

“Since I’m in Michigan, I’d like the first comment to be just the word ‘vagina’,” Savage joked upon taking the stage, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and tennis shoes. “I expect to be censured by the Michigan Legislature before I leave town.”

Savage - who first gained fame for the Seattle-based advice column "Savage Love," and later went on to found the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying video campaign, as well as becoming a television staple (“Real Time with Bill Maher,” “The Colbert Report,” Savage U,” etc.) - didn’t offer prepared remarks on Sunday, but instead spent nearly two hours answering audience questions (written on index cards, submitted before the show) on the fly, with a little help.

“You’re getting the hopped up on codeine and Theraflu version of me,” Savage said before diving into questions, adding that his “big, sweaty gay agenda” often sparks protests, as happened last week in Colorado Springs.

Savage argued that he actually had no agenda, though, and that if anyone in the Michigan Theater was offended by what he had to say, “You’ve got no one to blame but yourselves, because I’m just answering your questions.”

Savage answered a variety of questions about: how a gay person tells straight friends that he/she doesn’t want to talk about gay rights all the time; what it means when pornography inspires nothing but laughter between two people in a relationship; whether he makes up the column’s questions (“I am too lazy to write my own mail”); gay pride; how a bisexual woman might honor and celebrate both elements of her sexuality at her wedding; ageism within the gay community; Savage's alleged “transphobia”; what a teacher can do about one parent’s anti-gay gun threat; how long-distance relationships might work when two people don’t feel the same way about opening up the relationship; how to handle a sexual harasser at work; the Petraeus scandal; mismatched libidos; and how to deal with a homophobic sibling.

“Cut them some slack,” was Savage’s answer, who went on to explain that one of his older brothers said lots of homophobic things as a teen. Savage later learned, however, that his brother had felt that saying something gay-positive to Savage would be piling on in the moment when Savage was vehemently denying being gay, so the slur was a misguided, backwards adolescent show of sibling support.

“I had underestimated him,” said Savage. “ … Give them a chance to come to you. … We’re born into straight families. … When they have to choose between their hatred or their church or their son or daughter, they almost always end up choosing their son or daughter.”

Another attendee asked what to do when your family is crazy.

“You create your own family,” said Savage, who noted that while his mom, Judy Savage, was a terrific parent, her own childhood, as the daughter of an alcoholic mother, was a harrowing mess. “ … There are other Judy Savages out there, who want to do for you what wasn’t done for them. … Your family of origin is not a ball and chain. … You don’t have to take their calls just because you share their DNA.”

After the show, Jenna Schmidt, of Ann Arbor, said, “I listen to (Savage’s) podcast, but it’s cool to see it in person.”

Sara McNamara, of Ferndale, said, “The questions during the podcasts are a little more crazy. But it was still fun.”

Ethan Romero, Grant Meadors, Chad Sell and Dan Camacho, all of Ann Arbor, came away highly impressed with Savage’s talk.

“Most people couldn’t do that - captivate an audience just by talking,” said Romero.

“It’s incredible he kept it up for two hours,” said Meadors.

And although these Savage fans noted that certain themes come up often in Savage’s work, Romero said, “There are times when you can tell he’s surprised at what just came out of his own mouth. And that keeps it from getting repetitive.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

@Jenn, Do you know if the video of the event will be posted online anywhere? Thanks!

Jenn McKee

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Savage apparently has clips from his Michigan Theater appearance up at his YouTube channel, but there are also clips posted by audience members, like this one:

Jenn McKee

Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

I don't - and unfortunately, some short videos I shot were pretty washed out because of the lighting and where I was seated (though you can still check them out on AnnArborCom's YouTube channel). I'll ask reps from the Michigan Theater about who was shooting the video and whether or not its available for viewing.

Nice in A2

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

Dang, it would have been 902 if I could keep better track of local events.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

To borrow another Michigan term, the event was Pure Savage: insightful, honest, challenging, funny, and warm. A great two hours and impressive that he went at lightning speed despite the flu. Thanks for the good writeup, Jenn. Given how much ground Savage covered and the speed at which he speaks, summarizing those two hours was not an easy task.

Jenn McKee

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

You're welcome! This was my first time seeing Savage live. I think one of the secrets to his success is that he speaks to a big crowd as comfortably and confidently as he would to an old friend: with affection and candor; with no inhibitions and no taboos; and with an eye toward humor. A really enjoyable program.