After-dark inquiry: Jonny Porkpie

The burlesque vet unveils his new game-show extravaganza.

Jonny Porkpie

Jonny Porkpie Photograph: Don Spiro

“The Burlesque Mayor of New York” unveils his new flesh-baring game-show revue, the Naked Truth, at the Triad on Saturday 17.

I’ve read that you come from an old theatrical family. True?
All three of my parents were actors. My mom and dad were both active in the old WPA, and a lot of Off-Off Broadway theater.

Wait, did you say all three of your parents?
Yeah, my stepmom came in a bit later. She was actually one of my dad’s students when he was teaching theater. They were involved in the old No Smoking Playhouse and that sort of thing.

Do you think that your love of showbiz comes from growing up in that sort of environment?
I don’t think I ever really had a choice about it. Some things are genetic and some things are choices, but whatever the case, it was a situation where I really couldn’t avoid being onstage. There were a couple of years that I really tried, though.

Didn’t you go to college for something besides theater or acting?
My major was visual arts, because that was the only department I could con into giving me a degree. I did study a lot of theater, along with creative writing. There was this one course that I really didn’t want to take—theater history—that kept me from being a theater major. Actually, I think it was a single essay in that class that I didn’t want to do.

You were determined not to be a theater major?
My parents were from that world, so they were determined to keep me out of the business.

Apparently they failed, but we’re all richer for it. On another note, I think you are the first person I’ve ever interviewed that has ever run for mayor of New York City.
I was actually talking last night about running again in next year’s election! I really wanted to do it for this year’s election, but apparently there isn’t one. Anyway, I got into the race because the Naked Cowboy entered the race. I looked at him and said, “I know naked. Some of my best friends are naked. And you, sir, are not naked.” I mean, the man’s wearing man-panties. Also, I read some of his campaign stuff; his hero is Reagan, apparently. I was thinking, This cannot be the guy to represent the naked community.

So it was your duty to run.
I couldn’t not run. There are two ways that things happen in my life: One is that I can’t not do them. The other is that I come up with a really stupid title, and then I have to come up with something to go with that title. Like the predecessor to the Naked Truth, which was a burlesque game show called Grab My Junk—that happened just because one day I said, “If I had a game show, it would be called Grab My Junk.” And then I did a show that was called Jonny Porkpie’s Bad Ideas—which is exactly what it sounds like—and part of it was a Grab My Junk thing. Far and away, it was the part that people loved the most, and everyone was going, “That was fantastic. When are you doing it again?” So I worked it into another show, and again, it was everyone’s favorite part of the show! I was like, I’m not stupid here—I’m gonna really do Grab My Junk! And 30 cities, five countries and three continents later, here I am back in New York, launching another one.

Very few people have done one burlesque game show in their life, and here you are, starting up your second one.
Well, I’m coproducing this one with Gary Beeber from Gotham Burlesque. And while his shows aren’t quite classic burlesque, they are a bit more high-end than what I sometimes do. When we started talking about doing something together, originally we were just talking about Grab My Junk. But it occurred to him that the kind of audience that’s going to pay $35 or $45 a ticket wouldn’t want to do what the contestants do at the end of Grab My Junk…which is two reach down my pants and grab my junk. He didn’t think it would target his audience very well. So we were trying to come up with Grab My Junk’s better-dressed uptown cousin. There are similarities between the Naked Truth and Grab My Junk, but the game play is somewhat different. Both of them have the essential element of discovering intimate, personal secrets of the performers, but the ways in which we put that into play aren’t the same. We’re coming up with all-new challenges for the suckers…er, contestants. Round Two is all about getting them onstage and embarrassing them…I mean, giving them challenges.

Are you working with Scott Rayow again?
Yes. Scott, my announcer, is someone I’ve worked with for many years. He’s a really talented voiceover actor, and also has been an important contributor to my shows. Every time we’ve done a show in New York, he’s been the live announcer; when we’re on the road, he records announcements that get played during the show, but obviously it’s great to have him in person because we can work off of each other. Jo Boobs” from the New York School of Burlesque is in the show as well.

Between her, Angie Pontani, Harvest Moon, Little Brooklyn and the Maine Attraction, you’ve got quite an all-star cast for this first edition.
Yeah, and it’s just gonna go onwards from there. Next month, we already have Julie Atlas Muz, Trixie Little & the Evil Hate Monkey and Peekaboo Pointe.

You’re not screwing around, are you?
That’s the idea! We want to give people a real top-shelf show.

Obviously this is your first Naked Truth, but has anything particularly weird happened—I mean, weirder than normal—at past editions of Grab My Junk?
Well, lots of them. But one that comes to mind was at this show I was doing in Detroit. At the end of Grab My Junk, I’m wearing several pairs of underwear for my own protection. You tend to get a bit of groping from some people—mostly straight guys, believe it or not, the guys that get up onstage with the torn-off T-shirts and big muscles. Those are the guys who tend to go straight for the package. But this one person decided to reach fully down into my pants and make skin-to-skin contact. And that person happened to be Roxi D’Lite, the 2010 Miss Exotic World. She’s a friend of mine, of course. If you do a show called Grab My Junk, you have to be willing to let people grab your junk, I guess. And if you a show called the Naked Truth, you have to be willing to get naked. But that goes without saying.

Besides all of your other accomplishments, you also wrote a book, The Corpse Wore Pasties.
Yes, published by Hard Case Crime.

Was that another case of you having the name, and figuring that you better do something with it?
Actually, that was an instance of where I couldn’t help but do it. The editor of Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai, had been brought to see one of the Pinchbottom shows—the scripted burlesque shows with a actual plots that we were doing a few years back. He did something sneaky: He left a bunch of copies of a book called Money Shot around the theater. It had a picture of a naked women and a gun and a hundred-dollar bill—and it’s called Money Shot—so of course everybody took one. Then we did this show called the Boob Show, and he got in touch and asked, “Can I sponsor you and give away a book to every member of the audience?” And I was like, “Why not?” So we got to talking about what else we could do together, and what we came up with was that he could pay me to write a book.

You got paid for writing the book? That doesn’t happen so often nowadays.
Believe or not, yes, that was the deal—actual cash money. It just got to its second printing, too. And there’s a sequel in the works.

Congratulations! By the way, is there any advice you would give to a budding burlesque game-show host?
You mean in the rapidly expanding burlesque game-show host industry? Well, I can tell you my secret: I have a favorite kind of audience, and that’s the audience right in front of me. That’s the most important thing for anybody who works in front of a crowd, not just a burlesque game-show host. You’ve gotta love ’em; the minute you start to hate ’em, they’ll feel it and hate you right back. And, boy, that’s a hard moment. It’s like, Oh, crap. But it’s still your job to entertain the audience, even if they hate you.

The Naked Truth debuts at the Triad on Saturday, March 17