Fan Fic and French Fries With Dream Baby Press

Fan Fic and French Fries With Dream Baby Press

Story by Tobias Hess / Photography by Marcus Maddox
Nov 28, 2023

An Oscar nominee, a Real Housewife and a Bandcamp legend walk into a two-story Burger King in FiDi. This is not some hyperbrain mad libs, but a real description of Dream Baby Press’s latest reading: a night of fan fiction, kegs and schmoozing that had the tone of a middle school reunion, with the slight vibe of a fashion week afters. If you ever wondered what it was like to hear musician Frankie Cosmos tell the story of Tony Stark making love to Kermit the Frog’s “puppet hole,” all while being tables away from Oscar nominee Austin Butler, well, you probably missed your chance. Moments like these come only once in a lifetime.

Or maybe, thanks to Matt Starr and Zack Roif, the twisted, perfect minds behind Dream Baby Press, you too can experience such heights. The friends and creative partners have become in-the-know NYC staples for their “Perverted Book Club,” a reading series that pairs especially frank readers with surreal, mundane locations. Events have taken place in the Sbarro in Penn Station, Peter Pan Donut and now, a multi-leveled Burger King, just a block away from the Oculus and the 9/11 memorial.

Chatting over the phone the following day, Starr and Roif were overjoyed with how their mad plot turned out. “Aesthetically, there’s something so familiar [about a fast food restaurant],” Starr shared. “Juxtaposing that with literature, specifically fan fiction... there’s poetry in that chemistry.”

“It’s two of America’s favorite pastimes,” Roif chimed in. “Hamburgers and erotic fan fiction.”

The evening featured seven readers, all reciting different works of fan fiction, the internet’s favored literary form. It’s a genre known for its spectacular strangeness, with its stories of celebrities and pop culture figures completing its authors’ nasty, if not tender, sexual fantasies.

“[Reading] fanfiction is a very online, solitary experience,” Starr tells PAPER. Thus hearing these stories in IRL community leads to a particularly resonant experience. “You already have relationships with these characters. To hear them in these crazy scenarios, doing crazy things: It’s pure joy. It's surreal and absurd, but the writing is so fucking good.”

All of the night’s readers shared works written by other purveyors of the genre, except for Ivy Wolk, the singularly genius internet provocateur and actress, who read an original piece of fan fic she wrote when she was 11. The story is about the controversial Colleen Ballinger (known to the world as Miranda Sings). In a surprisingly complex narrative that involved Ballinger, her husband and a blind, southern, homeless man, Wolk told a yarn that brooded with rage and intensity. After Ballinger finally kills her husband for the crime of always shoving his “side hoes” in her face, Wolk sighed out a killer line: “His lifeless body in my living room,” the room cackling along.

Other highlights of the night included performer Mackenzie Thomas, who shared a sort of proto-typical piece of fan fic about One Direction turning an admirer into their permanent servant. Starr offered a deeply heartfelt piece about a pregnant (yes, pregnant) John Lennon having loving intercourse with bandmate (and husband) Paul McCartney. Artist Jon Burgerman detailed the kinky connection between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.The most surprising story was read by actress Sophia Anne Caruso who told the tale of a shy Charlie Brown and typically embittered Lucy, who, when trapped in a closet with him, demands they fornicate. In a dramatic turn of events, Lucy also requires him to leave himself “inside her” as they sleep in the dark and musty closet. Such bizarre, specific details were the crux of each story, giving vivid life to narratives that were almost destabilizing in their surreality. They make you feel somehow grounded in this upside-down world, where puppets sleep with cartoons who sleep with pop stars who sleep with us.

I was curious as to why so many of these narratives feature characters and tropes of adolescence. It’s an icky, uncomfortable thing to talk about as adults, but I posited that these tropes are coming up because it's teens themselves who are writing these pieces. This is their way of dealing with new desires and feelings head on.

“There’s a lot of shame around sex,” Starr says. “Nasty things come out in fan fic. It’s a safe space to work through these lustful thoughts.”

A wistful, giddy mood permeated the air as I was brought back to my own, early desires. The pieces of pop culture that I remember seeing as a pubescent boy, and the strange, exciting feelings I couldn’t yet name. This uniquely vulnerable, nostalgic ethos was helpful in instilling a safe, joyous space inside of the fluorescent-lit Burger King, even as its inhabitants were sometimes intimidatingly chic. Actor Austin Butler and the model/actress Kaia Gerber were cuddled coolly upfront; I sat next to writer Rayne Fischer Quann and TikTok fashion maven Clara Pelmutter whose banter and commentary I was grateful to engage with; and close to the stage was Blizzy McGuire, Twitter pioneer and my former profile-subject, who buzzed around around and giggled.

When I mentioned that the event’s attendees was quite the group of notables, using the word “sceney” in passing, I sensed a real hesitation from Starr and Roif. “We don't come from a literature background,” Starr says. “The scene for us is just people who want their readings to be fun and exciting.”

“It’s not like we have a spreadsheet of people we want to be there,” Roif adds. “We’re like, let's create the environment that we think would be most interesting, and people will come.”

A crucial component to the “Perverted Book Club'' magic is the people who run the establishments themselves. The Burger King team in particular took special pride in hosting the event. They even decorated the space in Thanksgiving decor before and sent the organizers daily updates. Starr and Roif plan on fostering those relationships; it’s imperative, they tell me, to have the readings become part of multiple communities, and not just act as fashionable flashes in the pan.

And it certainly did reach new people, even if those people were a bit caught off guard. The Burger King was still operating on the first floor. Occasionally, you could hear the confused rummages of customers who couldn’t help but hear the provocative language emanating from above. One grounding moment happened while Leah McSweeney, the former Real Housewife of New York and streetwear venerable, was reading a salacious story about Samantha of Sex and the City bedding a young lay. Some Burger King customers made their way upstairs and moved through the crowd, probably looking for a table. Slightly disrupting the crowd’s intense focus, they chatted amongst themselves, before they looked around and realized the extent of the happenings. “You know this is a Burger King, right?” they asked the focused listeners.

I guess they were right, but it felt much different.

Photography by Marcus Maddox