Explaining the events of a party to someone who wasn’t there feels treacherously close to “telling-them-about-your-dream-last-night” territory. Before the pandemic, the concept of party reporting wasn’t all that interesting to me. Now, I want to hear everything. You went to a party? With who? What did you say? Did it feel normal? Were people weird? How long were you there? Can I come next time?
My curiosity is equal parts thanks to my re-emergence from a year and a half of hibernation, and the writing of Brock Colyar. The New York Magazine writer and the voice behind the outlet’s new return-to-partying newsletter has a knack for documenting the varied scenes of New York City’s freshly-vaccinated nightlife with equal doses of humor and skepticism. In each dispatch of are u coming?, Colyar accompanies a different pop culture enigma (from Bowen Yang to Caroline Calloway) to their party of choice, lifting the curtain on everything from the Fire Island Pines Party to a Long Island City rave to a Bushwick roof full of TikTok stars.
Remembering how to party again is one thing — reporting on said partying sounds like an even more unfamiliar experience. This blurring of lines between the professional and the social is something Colyar says they’re still learning to navigate. We spoke on the phone about what it has been like to witness New York City’s nightlife once again, and what it takes to report on a party in this brave new social world.
Study Hall: Before we get to the parties, I’m curious how you got started in journalism?
Brock Colyar: I went to school for journalism, and I’ve realized I’ve kind of been party reporting since I was interested in being a journalist. When I was in college, I was a gender studies major and deeply interested in trying to do feminist journalism and writing about mostly gender. And it was also at the height of #MeToo.
I became an intern for the journalist Peggy Orenstein on her book, Boys and Sex, and I would go to frat parties and essentially linger around as a very queer-presenting individual at the straight boy fat parties and really grill boys on their sex habits, their dating habits, and relationships. And also just picking up on the scene of what a frat party is.
Then I graduated from Northwestern and was an intern at The Cut for a while, and then returned to New York Magazine after graduation as the assistant to the editor in chief. And then just this summer I was promoted to a writer for the magazine. So this has kind of been my first big project.
SH: So party reporting isn’t necessarily new to you. What attracts you to that scene?
BC: It’s interesting because I don’t consider myself to be someone who is an uber-party-girl. When we were first having conversations about doing this column and this newsletter, I remember telling an editor at the time, “I’m not cool enough for this. I don’t think that I should be someone who is a voice in any way on nightlife.” But I think in the end that has actually been somewhat helpful. To have a bit of a disillusioned, nothing-is-fun view of partying can be a really good way into party reporting because I think you have just the right narcissism to call it a bad and uninteresting time when it’s a bad and uninteresting time. And yet it also allows you to be kind of surprised when you have a really great time and see other people having a really great time.
SH: What fascinates me most about party reporting is it’s these two incongruous concepts—work and pleasure—being combined. So I’d love if you could just walk me through what working as a reporter at a party even looks like.
BC: I think that is one of the things that, personally, has been the most difficult for me in doing this column. It often feels like a collapse of my work life and my social life, and the collapse of my weekends and my weekdays.
Every night is oriented around going out with someone else and doing it as a ride-along and trying to see the parties through their eyes, while also putting my own kind of narrative into it at the same time. I think people are really precious about their nightlife spaces sometimes and really precious about parties. So by doing this, by going with someone who would be there in the first place, I think that helps me integrate a little more.
I also think on a very specific level, I try to get together with the subject beforehand, pregame or a drink, and have a conversation with them about how they’re going to tackle the night. At the parties themselves, one of the ways I’ve been able to assimilate easily is also allowing my subjects some room to breathe. So even though it’s a ride-along and I’m spending most of the night with them and I want to be with them at the biggest moments of the night, I also let them kind of exist on their own at several points throughout the night, which makes them more comfortable with me being there and also gives me time to kind of absorb the rest of the scene.
SH: So you walk in, and do you just start recording everything? How do you remember all the details?
BC: I write down a kind of crazy amount of notes. When I was reporting for Peggy on frat parties, something she told me at the time, which is simple and also the biggest advice I could ever give on scene reporting, is to just write everything down. Even the things that you think are going to be inconsequential and that will not make it into the story at all: what color the walls are, how many lights there are, where the bar is situated.
Something about writing all these things down, when I go back to write the story, it just takes me back there so much more than writing down only the things that I think I’m going to use. Being able to put myself back in the environment by remembering the little things is really important. Similarly, I take a lot of pictures. I’m a quite visual person. So having that visual afterwards reminds me of things. And again, I leave my subjects with some room to breathe, which gives me, quite honestly, the chance to go to the restroom and turn on a recorder, or go out for a cigarette and turn on a recorder, and really recall to myself everything that’s happened in the last 15 minutes.
SH: How do you navigate talking to other people at the party as a reporter? Do you tell everyone you meet that you’re there as a writer?
BC: I’ve always kind of approached it as if I’m approached by another person, I don’t always announce my reasoning for being there. If someone is coming up to me and saying something kind of off the cuff, then I tend to tuck that away for just myself. And I do feel that for whatever reason, I’ve always been lucky that people…sometimes it’s good not to look like the scene that you’re in because people will talk to you. Otherwise I think it helps being young because otherwise I am doing a lot of walking up to people, telling them I’m a writer, telling them that I write about parties, and can I ask them some questions about what’s going on? Can I record? And I actually haven’t had too much difficulty with that. Again, I think that people really like to be seen as fun people. And again, it helps that I’m 23 and young and appear somewhat natural in these spaces.
SH: This is something I’m the most curious about: Do you drink and do drugs at the parties or do you have to stay sober to make sure you’re doing your job properly?
BC: That’s really tricky, and I do drink and take drugs. My general rule is to be as honest as possible about what I’m doing. I think in some ways it creates for a more natural and seamless time because again, throwing a journalist into this environment and everyone knowing that I’m a journalist can create some awkwardness that doesn’t let the night proceed how it naturally would. And I think often that in participating with them and showing that I’m, in some ways, going to be a little vulnerable with them, that creates a more natural environment. And it’s a really hard line to draw. I had trouble with it in the beginning, of occasionally consuming too much or thinking that I consumed too much. My general rule is I’m not doing anything that my subjects aren’t doing, and I think my brain is so hardwired that I need to be taking notes. It actually usually never gets affected.
SH: That’s so interesting. If you keep things professional that might actually hinder the flow of the night, so you kind of have to go undercover as someone who is an equally carefree attendee.
BC: I have had probably an ethical quandary once a week. When Janet Malcolm died earlier this summer, I was thinking about her and her iconic line about the profession being inherently immoral and it’s all about preying on people’s vanity and ignorance — I think she says that you gain trust by playing along. I don’t think she’s necessarily wrong. And so that’s been something I’ve had to work through.
SH: On a personal level, especially after a year and a half of a pandemic, do you have any social anxiety being in these spaces?
BC: Yes. The fact that it’s work means I kind of have no choice but to talk to people. That helps. I also think generally the nights that I’ve struggled with the most were nightlife environments that were actually most similar to my own, being in places in which I knew people and I knew people who were already going. I had a lot of nervousness about being watched and being in places that I would normally be as myself, but I was suddenly there at work. So I’ve actually had an easier time with the social anxiety in places that I don’t know at all, because I also just have a general curiosity of, you know, who are these people and how do they party?
SH: You’ve already given some great tips, but is there anything else you do to make sure the reports are interesting to people who weren’t there?
BC: I have a certain obsession with the kind of minutiae of social interactions, which I think can sometimes be really important for the reader to feel like they were there. How do people greet one another? What do they do when they need to go use the restroom? How do they order a drink? And all of these little tiny things, it’s kind of like the Real Housewives formula. Any time the women are getting together, it shows the whole scene of them greeting each other, it shows them picking out their outfits. It doesn’t always linger on the big, main moments of the night. And I think there’s something special about that. You feel like you’re there when you get all of those things that are seemingly not important.
SH: And finally, this one’s just for fun: Who have you partied with so far who you would definitely party with again?
BC: I think the people that have been the most fun to party with are the people who, unlike me in some ways, go into the night determined to have a good time and then are in a good mood the entire time they’re there. And the people around them seem genuinely happy to be around them. And in some ways Caroline Calloway was that subject. You can say whatever you want about her, but she is genuinely, in person, fun to be around. So that was one of the best times I’ve had. I also wrote two weeks ago about these kids who organized a rave in Long Island City that was baroque-themed. That, too, has been one of the better nights out just because they were young and creative and doing something new and providing an experience that no one else was providing in New York nightlife. And so the people who were there were genuinely excited to be there, genuinely excited to have a theme, to get dressed up to, were genuine fans of the music, and didn’t have to pay too much money to be there. So that also has kind of been one of the highlights of the summer. And again, it was at a rave, which is usually something I would be completely unattracted to, 800 people in a warehouse in Long Island City. So it was really unexpected to watch other people having a good time and then myself have a good time through that.