As a celebrity ghostwriter, Michael Malice gets paid to understand how other people think, and by all accounts, he does it well. The subjects of his books, like the comedian D.L. Hughley and the UFC fighter Matt Hughes, attest to that. But Mr. Malice, a kind of chameleon, has a reputation for blurring the sardonic and the sincere, and figuring out how he thinks might be the real challenge.
Last fall, for instance, Mr. Malice traveled to North Korea for five days. He gave three reasons for going. One, he was born in the Soviet Union, having emigrated with his parents to the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn at age 2, and the trip offered him the opportunity to see, in many ways, the kind of oppression his family once experienced. Two, he simply thought it would be a fascinating thing to do. “And number three,” Mr. Malice told The Observer recently at his apartment in Sunset Park, “so I could be a douche at parties and say, ‘You’ve never been? You have to go. It’s the new Milan!’” He smiled impishly.
Was he serious?
“He’s so ironic sometimes that I don’t even get it,” said Mr. Hughes, whose memoir, Made in America: The Most Dominant Champion in UFC History, made the New York Times best seller list in 2008. “I really pay attention to what he’s saying, because my brain doesn’t work as much as his does.”
One wonders what Mr. Hughes would make of Mr. Malice’s latest project, an “unauthorized autobiography” of Kim Jong-il, for which he recently raised more than $30,000 on Kickstarter.
Mr. Malice had been toying with the idea before he went to North Korea and decided to go ahead with the project when he saw the country firsthand. He said he hopes to shed light on the terrible fate of the North Korean people by taking on the persona of their capricious former leader.
“He’s not the kind of person who can come out and say something as is,” said Michael Fazio, who worked with Mr. Malice on the book Concierge Confidential. “I think his gift is to twist it all up, and get you confused, but ultimately get you to the right place.”
His surname, of course, isn’t really Malice.
“It’s pronounced ‘Malice,’” he said, smiling broadly.
There are any number of reasons why one might use a pseudonym, but mostly, according to Mr. Malice, his is a nod to two big influences: the cultural milieus that surrounded Andy Warhol and the punk movement, both of which spawned memorable nicknames, like Poly Styrene and Sid Vicious.
If you’ve followed Mr. Malice’s career, this will make sense on another level. His work is unapologetically commercial, like Warhol’s. Yet there is an air of defiance to it. Mr. Malice seems to be daring you to take his books—loud, gaudy things—as seriously as he does, and because they are successful, the dare is palpable.
Like the subjects of his books, Mr. Malice is an outsize personality, even though he stands only five and a half feet tall and looks quite boyish. His mind moves intimidatingly fast, and he is perpetually wired. His brown hair, flecked with gray, is flared up on the sides, as though two little devil’s horns are sprouting from his skull.
The satanic imagery isn’t inappropriate. In Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, a biographical comic book by the late Harvey Pekar, Mr. Malice, now 36, is depicted as a kind of Nietzschean weasel who abhors authority and spurns his friends, his family and his colleagues at every turn.