We got a special holiday treat last year when Jonny Porkpie, Hard Case Crime author and Burlesque Mayor of New York City, swung through London. We got the full Porkpie experience - first his eye-opening (and hilarious) show, "Grab My Junk", and then a lengthy interview about... well... pretty much everything. Read on for cruises, politics, crime and lots and lots of nudity. (No pictures though. Find your own.)
Pornokitsch: We dropped in on your show in London. We're both ashamed to admit it, but that was our first very burlesque experience. It was so much fun, and everyone was very enthusiastic. Are the crowds normally like that?
Jonny Porkpie: Yes. People tend to come to burlesque shows without a chip on their shoulder. They come specifically to be entertained in a titillating manner. And that can mean anything from "jokey funny comedy" to "deep, emotional, angsty stuff".
Audiences are open. They’re excited, They’re ready. It's such an inclusive art form, not directed towards men or women or straight or gay. So you see all sorts of people in a burlesque audience. The gender balance is about 50/50, with a full range of sexuality.
PK: What prompted you to sit down and write a book?
JP: At the time, I was doing scripted theatrical burlesque shows, called Pinchbottom, with Nasty Canasta. The shows attracted a very interesting crowd - a literary crowd. Charles Ardai [Hard Case Crime] saw it, liked it, and the next time he came he brought along copies of Christa Faust’s Money Shot, which he left all over the theater.
When we did a show with a heist theme (called, of course, "The Boob Job"), Charles asked if he could sponsor the show. He contributed books to give away as prizes. That got us talking about projects on which we could collaborate, and I managed to convince him that the best idea was for him to pay me to write a book. Which worked out great for me.
Basically, he liked the writing he saw in the Pinchbottom scripts, and thought he’d take a chance on something with more words in it.
PK: What prompted you to write with yourself a hero?
JP: Well, I’m an egotistical bastard. Who else would I choose? I’m a character already. It was a lot of fun to write that character into a - I learned this word, Roman à clef. Tigger, (a great boylesque star) told me he enjoyed my "roman à clef”. And I said “.... the what now?” I looked it up. It wasn't as dirty as I'd hoped.
PK: How much of the book, besides yourself, came from real life? I was really pleased to recognise part of your opening speech in the show from The Corpse Wore Pasties.
JP: Amusingly, some of that opening speech was created specifically for the book - then I started using it on stage. But that's it. Nothing else is from real life. Not a thing.
Certainly no one in the book is based on anyone real. Absolutely not. Everyone is a completely fictional character, created entirely from my own imagination. Some people claim to see influences, but that’s ludicrous (and actionable, I think). Jo Boobs, for instance, thinks that the character of Jillian Knockers is based on her. And I just don’t see the similarity. Jo has her New York School of Burlesque, Jillian has her Gotham Academy of Ecdysiasts, but the only thing those two have in common is the word "of". Jillian has a side job as a dominatrix, and so did Jo, but, again, these are superficial details. The essential characters are completely different.
PK: I have to admit, I’m slightly disappointed to hear that. Your book may contain something like five of my top five literary crushes in one volume. Such an amazing cast of femme fatales.
JP: Well that’s good to hear. Then absolutely don’t come to New York because you will not meet anyone like the characters in the book. The murder victim especially is not based on anyone.
JP: No. Absolutely not. I’d never do a thing like that.
PK: Not to spoil the book, but The Corpse Wore Pasties mainly takes the form of a series of great one on one encounters between Jonny Porkpie and this cast of great characters...
JP: Fictional characters.
PK: … fictional characters. But there’s also an action scene where Jonny Porkpie is being chased across across the Brooklyn Bridge. And is that based on real life? Have you ever, in any way, crawled naked across the Brooklyn Bridge with a metal band in hot pursuit?
JP: Um. My lawyers advise me not to answer that question. I’ve certainly crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in my life, but I can’t comment on my state of undress while doing so. It is true though that while you run and look down, you can see through it. It does that zoetrope thing - pretty fantastic, your knees get a little rubbery.
PK: What’s the background on your trademark hat?
JP: It is again an interesting and rather long story, filled with action, adventure and sexual situations (of course). You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what a porkpie is. My dad insists that this isn’t a pork pie (he said, holding up his hat), because the brim is too wide, it’s got to be a short brim like the one in the movie - Popeye Doyle’s. And he’s, of course, wrong - dad. But it's actually this indentation on the crown, which looks like the top of a pork pie. Which is, of course, what people think of here in England when you use the phrase.
The short story is: When I woke up, it said porkpie inside my hat, so I assumed that was my name.
PK: How long have you been on stage?
JP: Oh, I was on stage prenatally. I appeared first as a large lump. On the burlesque stage, almost eight years. I started as the puppeteer in an act called Miracle Grow where Nasty takes off her clothes to encourage a lascivious flower to increase in size. Subtle, no? You can catch some of that on YouTube.
PK: And you’ve never looked back?
JP: I look back all the time. But everyone behind me is dressed and everyone in front of me is naked, so I keep going forward.
PK: Sorry about the generic question, but who are your literary inspirations?
JP: Well... Dickens.
PK: Oh yes. That definitely showed through.
JP: That guy could write.
In the mystery genre, I like a lot of the standards - Hammett, Chandler. Those are the ones I have in shiny editions on my shelf. I’m a big fan of Nero Wolfe. I first found Nero Wolfe in my teens on my aunt’s bookshelf and have been collecting second-hand editions ever since. I haven't read all of them, which is great, as it still leaves me a few to track down.
PK: What are you reading outside of mystery?
JP: Currently I’m reading a book called The Power Broker, about Robert Moses. A fascinating guy.
PK: Will there be further adventures?
JP: I’m currently working on one. It’s been slow going, since I spent the past year seeing as much of the world as I possibly could, and showing as much of myself as possible to the world.
The sequel takes place in Las Vegas during the fictional “Superstars of Striptease Showcase and Convention” amongst the contemporary stars and the past legends of burlesque - the sixty to ninety year old women who stripped in the 60s and 70s, and take the stage again at the convention. Again, totally fictional situation. The title will have to be “The Big Strip”. No other option there, really.
And in the back of my mind, there are a few other ideas lurking. I’d love to set a book in Coney Island, in the sideshow. The fictional sideshow that I just made up.
PK: I ask this not knowing anything about the history of burlesque, but after the show, we were talking about the strong 1940s theme to a lot of the acts.
JP: I've been told that London embraces the classic, but I've seen a great range of stuff while I've been here. New York is very neo - classic burlesque just one of the many influences that goes into the mix. And those influences are... well, everything. You name a performance genre and there’s someone doing it as burlesque. People come from circus, they come ballet, they come from modern dance, they come from performance art - I came from theatre. But they all have one thing in common in neo-burlesque (the "neo", by the way, has been getting dropped more and more in favor of just calling it 'burlesque'); they’re taking off their clothes.
None of the definitions I've seen of burlesque quite captured my impression of it, so I made up my own. “Burlesque (n); a live performance style which incorporates a change in the status of undress”.
PK: What sort of stuff are you seeing in the rest of the world?
JP: New Zealand is a relatively new, very exciting scene. It has this energy “what are we going to doing with this now that we’ve found it” attitude. Australia is more established, great performers there too, they have a full range of classic and neo.
JP: I’m looking for the Antarctic gig. You know it’s hard to find.
PK: There must be a cruise somewhere.
JP: I wonder how well this would work on a cruise...
PK: Can you tell us a bit about your mayoral run?
JP: It was a close race, but I ended up losing. By a landslide. I made some promises to the voters that I was looking forward to keeping. I knew that New York was getting sick of the same old sex scandals, so I promised an entirely new type of sex scandal. I could easily have delivered on that. I got in the ones of votes. If I remember correctly, I tied with Hilary Clinton and Minnie Mouse for Mayor of New York. Good company.
One of the votes I only got because my friend went to vote and was given a write-in ballot because the machines were down. So she wrote me in, and has regretted it ever since.
I'm planning on running again. I have a better chance this year. Everyone I’ve met in all the countries and cities I've visited would be happy to vote for me for Mayor the New York. That’s a lot of votes - most of the other candidates are just going to get votes from people in New York, and that’s a mistake. They’re missing a whole demographic.
PK: Bloomberg’s awfully weak right now.
JP: You know, if you beat people up in the park in the middle of the night, it just doesn’t go over well.
PK: Think people are ready for a more peaceful, uh, loving approach?
JP: Oh, I’m going to declare war on New Jersey. I think that’s overdue. They keep trying to take the Statue of Liberty. What’s that about? As somebody once said, nobody came to the US, looked out at the Statue of Liberty and said “thank god, we’re finally in New Jersey”.
This time around, though, I’m going to start my own political party. It will be called "the Afterparty".
PK: You can sign us up. Thank you very much for your time - we look forward to seeing (all of you) again!
Jonny Porkpie's first book, The Corpse Wore Pasties, is out now in the US and UK from Hard Case Crime. Our review of it, in which we call the book "a well-constructed mystery and a sterling debut", can be found here. If you're interested in seeing one of Mr. Porkpie's shows (and we recommend the experience whole-heartedly), all his upcoming events can be found on his website.