It's September 11, 2002, but Richard J. Botto isn't at home watching the relentless CNN coverage of last year's terrorist attacks. Instead, the native New Yorker has agreed to meet me for drinks at Sapporo to talk about Razor, the national men's magazine he launched two years ago. Botto is pitching the Scottsdale-based glossy as the answer to younger, edgier guy mags like Maxim and FHM, and dated old-guy rags like GQ and Esquire. Wags have dubbed Botto "the new Hugh Hefner," a profile he boosts by appearing in each issue sporting a red-and-black smoking jacket. For our meeting, Botto is wearing civilian clothing and, in an indisputable New York accent, extolling the virtues of sexy babes and celebrity bylines.
New Times: How is Razor different from, say, Details or Maxim?
Richard J. Botto: I get asked this all the time. We get lumped in with Maxim and FHM because we put a woman on the cover every month. The difference between Razor and a lot of these other magazines is GQ and Esquire cater to an older crowd, and FHM and Maxim are for a younger, less sophisticated audience.
NT: And Razor?
Botto: We're after the 25-year-old who's trying to get beyond that frat-house mentality, and the thirtysomething who's just fallen in love with success and wants to have more of it. The weekend warrior type.
NT: Razor's tag line is "The Real Man's Lifestyle Magazine." Can sissies read it, too?
Botto: Yeah, they can. That whole "real man" thing is just an update on the Playboy guy of 30 years ago, the guy with the tux and the martini, and of the GQ guy of 20 years ago, who was an athlete who suddenly learned to put on expensive clothes at night. They were the magazines of those eras, but right now, there's no magazine out there that captures the real man of today.
NT: Who is the man of today?
Botto: The dot-com era spurred a lot of self-made people, and so the young man of today is more driven, you know, he aspires to be with good women. He's not the guy who's sitting on his couch on the weekend, watching Adam Sandler movies and drinking Coors Light. We're promoting a healthy, active lifestyle; life doesn't have to be about going to bars and standing in the corner, talking with your friends about which girl has the biggest boobs.
NT: Speaking of boobs, there are quite a number of them in your magazine.
Botto: Yeah, but they're clothed! I think you'll see that we present these women as women, not as objects. I know, that sounds really old and tired and '60s feminist, but I got tired of men's magazines that present an actress in a sexy pose and then interview her as if she's an idiot. She's got an Oscar, and the writer is asking her, "Have you ever been in a three-way?" We're not asking her about the last time she had sex with another woman, we're asking her about her favorite books. Listen, I'm not trying to blow smoke up your ass. I'm not gonna sit here and claim that every girl we put on our pages is a brain surgeon. But you know, at least we humanize them a little bit. At least we don't turn them into a blow-up doll. We pick women who have something going on, a little something to say, and we present them in a sexy way that doesn't depend on lingerie or a wet tee shirt. A woman in a G-string is just a cliché.
NT: What about a woman with something to say who's flat or sort of plain-looking? Flat-chested girls are not given photo spreads in men's magazines.
Botto: Yeah, but society promotes that. And women are to blame for that as much as men. Let's face it, we're a vain society. Everywhere you turn, vanity is king. But everything is cyclical in America. We went through our waif period, we went through our full-bodied period, it'll come around again. In the meantime, I don't think any plastic surgeon has to worry about losing business.
NT: Your models are known as Razor Girls.
Botto: They're cover girls who are beautiful but also self-motivated and goal-oriented. They're not on the cover because they have increased their bust size four times. I mean, everyone loves a woman in a bikini, don't get me wrong.
NT: Well, not necessarily everyone. Speaking of covers, Razor has two each month, the second one printed upside down on the back. Is that because you haven't yet sold the back cover to a major advertiser?
Botto: No. We did that so we could present two different women on the cover. We needed a personality, and this was a good way to define our magazine twice.
NT: That's an expensive gimmick.
Botto: Well, we'll sell the back cover eventually, if it's the right offer.
NT: A few years ago, there was a shift in the demographic of several men's magazines -- suddenly, they were all skewed a little younger. But the ads were still from upscale clothiers and pricey cologne manufacturers. Do younger men have the income to support those advertisers?
Botto: All men's magazines are bowing to the success of Maxim, which is shooting for an 18-to-45-year-old demographic, even though they read like they're dipping a little lower -- going for 15-year-olds. But you can't have it both ways. You can't have an article on Ten Things a Guy Shouldn't Do After Thirty and then on the next page an article about your first prostate exam. No demo is that broad. I think the readers are going to come to us, because a magazine like Details is getting younger all the time but still trying to keep that older reader. It's schizophrenic.
NT: Details lost me a couple years ago. All of a sudden there were fashion layouts featuring latex pants and shirts with zippers.
Botto: Exactly. Their cover lines last month were things like, "Are Her Breasts Bigger Than Yours?" and "Marky Mark: Don't Think of Me As an Underwear Model!" These are the cover lines of a woman's magazine.
NT: Felix Dennis, the publisher of Maxim, said recently that men don't like long-form journalism.
Botto: Yeah, something like that. He said men don't have the mental capacity to read, they aren't emotionally capable of appreciating anything but fart jokes. I disagree tremendously. I don't know what a 54-year-old British guy knows about American male sensibility, anyway. But I won't let long-form journalism die in my magazine. We ran this article by A.J. Benza about how he was trying to get home to New York on September 11, and he commanded 5,000 words, and it was riveting. If you want McNugget-type journalism, that's fine. But anybody who had a hard time getting through that story, I don't want them as a reader.
NT: All of the letters from readers that you print are pro-Razor. Doesn't anyone ever write in to complain?
Botto: Believe it or not, we haven't received that many negative letters. Those we have gotten are from guys writing to say, "You need more tits and ass in your magazine." And why print those? We ran a really controversial article by Ted Nugent about 9/11, and we got like 45 letters and there wasn't one negative one.
NT: Yes, Ted Nugent. Razor features a lot of celebrity bylines: Tom Green, Robert Townsend, A.J. Benza.
Botto: We like to have a diverse group. We try to have a feature by a standup comic every issue, and let me tell you, you get to see them in a different light. When they're onstage, they're funny, but when they have to write things down on paper, they can fall flat on their face.
NT: Your promos refer to Razor as a trend-setting magazine, but you're doing spreads on cars, fashion, sports, and cool new shaving products. What am I missing here?
Botto: Right now, men's trends are being set by the teenage mentality that's out there: "Let's wear our pants around our hips, pull our Calvins up to our belly buttons, and say derogatory things to every woman who walks by and hope that one of them gets turned on by it." By setting a trend, we're not reinventing the wheel, we're saying, "This is how the man of the new millennium should live, how he should dress, what he should drive." For guys who are getting ready to make that transition from frat boy to adult. We write about $80,000 cars, but we also have an article coming up about men's sex toys. It's all part of the landscape.
NT: I enjoyed the copies of Razor you sent over, but your media kit was even more entertaining. About you, it says, "Young, good-looking, and highly ambitious, he is as sharp and innovative a businessman as there is."
Botto: That's my PR firm doing a really good job. I don't think me being good-looking has anything to do with it. I'm not saying, "I'm gorgeous, buy my magazine." I'm saying there's an association between what we say and what we do. Because I'm living the life that my magazine is about.
NT: There are a whole lot of photographs of you in the new issue. I counted 17.
NT: Well, it's your magazine.
Botto: We're trying to put a face on the magazine. You can't do that with a guy like Felix Dennis; he isn't going to be doing PR for his magazine. Because he's an overweight 54-year-old British guy, and his 22-year-old readers are gonna look at the guy and go, "Who the hell am I following? What does this fat old British guy know about my life?"
NT: Your editor, Craig Vasiloff, used to perform with KISS and Duran Duran?
Botto: No. He's written some stuff for them, though. He's done some producing for them, some writing and studio work. He used to be in a famous rock band, but I can't think of the name of it.
NT: I see. Are those your real teeth?
Botto: Yeah. These are mine. I wore braces for six years to get them this way.
NT: Okay. In your current Publisher's Letter, you use the word "dissertating."
Botto: What word?
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NT: "Dissertating." It's not really a word.
Botto: How did I use it? I don't remember that. Do you have a copy of that issue with you? You know, I take great pride in all of those Publisher's Letters. I put a lot of thought into them, even though I know a lot of people skip over that page. But I use that page to put across the Razor philosophy.
NT: Which is . . .
Botto: Go out, live your life, but don't just dream. Do what you have to do to live your dreams. Don't just sit back and have that beer-and-babes mentality. Broaden your horizons a little bit. Get out there and just do it, man!