cast and crew

Back to all news clippings


The Real World’s first gay housemate, Norman Korpi, discovers the value of parody

By Daniel A. Kusner
Lifestyles Editor

It’s kind of difficult to feel the slightest hint of sympathy for anybody who ends up on The Real World. The spoiled brats who live rent-free for a few months and become instant celebrities are paraded before the mass media for our voyeuristic entertainment. Degrading these selfish neurotics about their silly arguments is all part of the reality-TV fun. They’re just characters. And without going into how victimized they all end up feeling after their 15 minutes have quickly ticked away, some of them happen to be actual human beings.

Michigan native Norm Korpi was one of the original “seven strangers” from the first Real World installment. Back in 1990, he was just a post-grad art queer making the rounds in New York when he agreed to be a part of “some kind of TV documentary” that later became a pop cultural phenomenon. Without being a militant activist, the amiable Norm is undeniably a queer pioneer of reality programming. Ten years ago, things were a little different about gays represented in the mainstream media. Norm was easily “tolerated.” His name even had an eponymous “normal” ring to it. But — not that he had a lot of control over it — his sexuality label was just a little bit off.
“In one of the very early episodes — we didn’t even know each other all that well — one of the cast members referred to me as ‘bisexual or whatever,’ and that episode was released to the press and the bisexual label stuck,” he remembers. “At that time, there were no Ellens or K.D. Langs. It was pretty much just me. But I think it took almost three whole years for the general public to realize that I was a gay man through-and-through. And overcoming that was sort of frustrating.”

Reality TV celebrities are always griping about how their public personas are distorted and shaped by clever editing. But what’s interesting is how much control the network has over those meticulously constructed “cast members.” Without a doubt, The Real World is a high-dollar commercialized project. The former housemates could easily cash in on producing scintillating enterprises about their experiences on the show. But many of them haven’t had much luck in that department.

“There’s so much that we’re legally prohibited from doing. Every single Real World participant has signed thicker-than-steak contracts that restrict what we can do with our experiences on the show. I mean, they don’t have the rights over my biography, but it’s a fine line as to what we can and cannot do,” he explains.
But — if properly executed — corporate brass can’t say anything about parodies, and that’s where Norm’s new movie comes in.

The Wedding Video, a selection in Fort Worth’s Q Cinema film festival (see review on Page 45), is a madcap spoof of the series that chewed these roommates up and spit them out. Ten former Real World-ers were cast to play friends who converge on Beverly Hills for Norm’s gay wedding. It’s a low-low budget film, but it’s also a near-miracle that the MTV-stylized mockumentary even got off the ground.

“A large portion of the film’s budget was spent on lawyer fees — advising on what we could get away with. This project is actually a big step in figuring out just how far we can take things without crossing some line in the sand,” he explains.
Apparently, once The Real World hits the air, most of the cast members find themselves in a weird media-circus limbo. While everyone in the freethinking world seems to know who they are, they have a tough time gaining a foothold in the non-televised world. After the series ended, Norm tried working in a coffee shop but his employment was terminated because distracting Real World fans would never allow him to do his job. Instead of boo-hooing with “goodbye cruel Real World” antics, Norm grabbed his bootstraps and began setting the wheels in motion to produce films. Eventually, The Wedding Video project started coming together.

“It’s weird. So many of the cast members become these, like, refugees who are washed up on Hollywood Boulevard. But most of them are really smart, talented and nice people. We have something in common that bonds us together, and almost all of them are totally there when one of us needs them,” he says.

There was no elaborate crew working on The Wedding Video. But Norm managed to get a sizeable number of Real World-ers to participate in an independently funded film that required them to sacrifice a significant amount of time. And in true self-sufficient fashion, Norm not only starred, wrote and directed the project, he also had to learn video editing.

“When I found out how expensive it was to hire a professional editor, I learned that it was cheaper to teach myself how to edit over 60 hours of footage, and that took a good year or so,” he admits.

His Real World experience ultimately helped pave the way for shows like The Osbournes. So what’s Norm’s reaction to that show’s recent $20 million deal for a second season?

“I couldn’t have been happier. Anyone who can squeeze money out of Viacom has my most sincere admiration. But honestly, even though she got $20 million, I still think that’s really nothing compared to what she’s really worth to MTV,” he says. “I was on their very first reality program, which I believe spawned the entire industry. Real World was essentially the engine that propelled MTV into the conglomerate it is today. It gave them the money to do things like buy Paramount Studios.”

While he didn’t make a fortune back in 1990, Norm acknowledges the impact he’s made on modern culture.

“I know that I haven’t done that much. There are plenty of other dedicated people who are really out there really trying to shape the public’s perception about gay people in a healthy way,” he says. “But I can at least say that — at the time — I was one of the very few openly gay people out there in mainstream media. At the very least I was that.”

The Wedding Video will be screened on Saturday, June 22 at 7:15 p.m. at Caravan of Dreams, 312 Houston St. in downtown Fort Worth. Filmmakers Clint Cowen and Norman Korpi will be in attendance. Following the film is The Wedding Reception, a kitschy meet-and-greet party complete with bridesmaid gowns and champagne fountains, which will be held at the Sundance West Highrise Apartments. Cover charge $5. For additional information visit

Back to all news clippings

© 2002 Fruit Films - All Rights Reserved.
Fruit Films and this site have no affiliation with The Real World, Bunim-Murray Productions, or MTV.