Ken J. Urban
“We had a mutual friend who was a graduate student—a woman called Ankhi Mukherjee. And Matthew told Ankhi that he thought I was cute. So Ankhi said ‘Oh, I’m going to see this movie’— ‘The Cellular Closet,’ of all things, which is this completely depressing documentary—and she said ‘Oh, well Matthew and I were going to go to it. Maybe we should go together, all three of us!’
It became pretty clear that I was being set up on a date. So we went to see this ‘Cellular Closet,’ and then Ankhi left!
And a bunch of my friends from college were in town this weekend: ‘Let’s go drink; let’s go drink and have fun!’ And I was like ‘I’m on this date with this guy.’ And they were like “bring him along!’
So this will be a real test about what he thinks of me. I remember we went out to this bar—three of my friends, Matthew, and I. And Matthew entertained the pants off of us all.
And I remember when Matthew went to the bathroom: ‘Oh my God you’re on a date! We’re so sorry we broke this up!’ ‘I told you this was a date.’ ‘Oh, we didn’t know! He’s awesome you should totally date him he’s really really nice.’
So that was our first date.
And we had these intense, passionate conversations about ridiculous things like Judith Butler and theory and philosophy and politics. I felt deeply connected to him as, as a soulmate. I just remember on one of our first dates we had this three-hour conversation about all these ideas and things like that, and it was just so thrilling and exciting.
He’s in love with the 19th century. I pretend to understand half of what it is that he talks about—about Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte and all this stuff that I don’t really care that much about. Those books are just too long for me to understand. I like plays because they’re shorter.
His parents were divorced. He was kicked out of his dad’s home when he was in high school and lived on his own for a year. Now he has a relationship with his mother and stepfather, who we both love very much. I remember him telling me all these lovely stories about his mother, and how she would buy him Gay Men’s Chorus CDs and things like that. I thought that was really wonderful—to think about growing up in a world where being gay wasn’t a problem. They’ve retired, and now they live in the wine country, which is quite lovely. We were there for the holidays last year. This year they’re coming out to spend the holidays with us, so we’ll still drink wine, but it’ll be much colder.
We’ve never collaborated on something together. We do joke a bit every now and then that we’re going to write a play about our experience at Harvard after we leave this place. We can’t write the play and still maintain our jobs.”
Matthew B. Kaiser
“I first met Ken in graduate school, at Rutgers University. I saw him for the first time in a graduate course on Foucault. And he hates when I say this because he claims my memory is faulty, but I remember him wearing cutoff shorts. He claims he never owned a pair of cutoff shorts, and that I’m misremembering.
I didn’t have a car in those days, so I would walk across the river to the town where I lived from New Brunswick. It was a really long walk up a hill, and at one point, Ken was driving by and saw me walking and stopped, and asked if he could give me a lift.
I said, ‘Oh, thank you!’ So he gave me a lift, but instead of driving me home, he dropped me off halfway because it was more convenient for him, which really annoyed me at the time. That was the first time we spoke.
But I’ve never gotten along with a person so quickly, so soon after meeting the person. We just instantly became really good friends. It was odd. I don’t exactly know why; you can’t really explain that.
He was living with a frightening roommate in a frightening apartment that had no insulation, and so it was really cold. As soon as the winter weather started up, it was unbearable to be there, and my place was nicer, and I had no roommate, and it was insulated, so that’s basically why he moved in.
I’ve met his family a few times in the 15 years we’ve been together. I think Ken thinks it’s 16, and it’s 15. At any rate, what’s really odd is that he’s the only person in his family who doesn’t have a heavy Jersey accent. It’s because he spent his childhood not listening to them. Every rare once in a while he’ll say something with a Jersey accent. But it’s one word, and it’s usually ironic.
He’s an entertainer, essentially. He writes for audiences who want to be entertained. He is very good about prodding me into writing in a more accessible way, to please people, to delight people. And I think that conversely, I’m really good about asking certain pointed questions, questions he sometimes doesn’t like to hear because they’re too academic, maybe. But they get him to think about his work more critically, so there’s a sort of symbiotic relationship between the artistic and the academic that works for us, I think.
I love all of his work. Some of his plays are just completely hilarious, but the hilarity is interwoven with philosophical profundity that is very appealing to me—the mixture of highbrow ideas and lowbrow humor. I love not only witnessing his plays, but also witnessing the audience witnessing his plays.
We were briefly kidnapped by a taxi driver who ended up taking us on a very lengthy tour of Palestine. Though we didn’t want one. It was supposed to be a five-minute taxi ride, and it took five hours by the time it was through. We ended up giving him all of our money so he would take us back where we needed to be. That was a little bit scary, although it was also kind of fun.
I guess the thing that makes our relationship work is that he really is my favorite person in the world. I just enjoy his company more than anyone else’s company. If you want to have a relationship that works, find your favorite person, the person who never bores you, the person who always makes you laugh. That’s the answer.”