Jonny Porkpie’s pulp novel THE CORPSE WORE PASTIES, in which Jonny Porkpie witnesses the death of a burlesque performer, will be released by Hard Case Crime later this month. To promote the book, Pinchbottom Burlesque is producing Lurid Pulp!, an interactive-murder-mystery-book-release-party-burlesque-show, in which Jonny’s fellow burlesque performers finally read Jonny’s book, recognize themselves, and decide to kill him. Metafictional fu! I recently met up with Jonny Porkpie at Ward III to chat about pulp fiction, producing burlesque, and being an egotistical bastard.
JDX: You went to Brown. How do you think an ivy league education has helped you in your current career?
Jonny: It taught me a disdain for authority figures. I studied theatre there, theatre and creative writing, and both of those things—there’s a reason we do burlesque the way we do, there’s a reason we do fully scripted shows [at Pinchbottom]. “Jonny Porkpie’s Bad Ideas” and “Sweet and Nasty” are looser shows, but the core of what we do are the Pinchbottom shows, and that’s bringing the theatrical background and all the snooty education into it. We taught a class at Burlycon this year… we taught a class on arc, how to take a number that’s “all right” and make it good by putting dramatic structure into it. Really fascinating thing to do. The acts that work, realizing why they work, because of the stuff you’ve had installed into you, is a fascinating process. And when we were writing [the class] out, I realized that a lot of the acts I wasn’t liking, I wasn’t liking because it wasn’t doing this thing. So I think we take a lot of our obnoxious snooty theatre training and mise en scene and that bullshit and apply it to burlesque.
JDX: A highbrow approach to the lowbrow.
Jonny: Or vice versa.
JDX: The World Famous B*O*B has said that “the difference between a stripper and a BQ performer is that a stripper gets paid.” Is there any money in burlesque?
Jonny: Absolutely. That’s part of why we do it instead of theatre. We do this full time. Nasty Canasta and I do this for a living, this is it, this is our full time job. We’d probably make a lot less stripping, the two of us. I think the difference between burlesque and theatre is that a burlesque performer gets paid.
JDX: You were running for actual mayor… I didn’t see your name on the docket. Was it just a publicity stunt?
Jonny: Pretty much everything I do is a publicity stunt, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some grain of truth to it.
JDX: How do you feel about Bloomberg’s reelection?
Jonny: I prefer him to Thompson, [but] I would not have voted for him. I don’t agree with the third term thing, which is why a lot of people didn’t vote for him. I don’t agree with the amount he spent. I think he spent the gross national product of a small country on his campaign. I think that’s ridiculous. [But] I think he’ll do a solid job. I feel mixed.
JDX: Do you consider yourself primarily a producer or performer?
Jonny: The tax return asks that question. Producer/performer/writer is what I tend to write down. I produce because there’s a certain kind of show I want to see done. I perform in it because I’m an egotistical bastard who wants to be on stage with all these beautiful women taking off their clothes. I take off my clothes because if you’re casting Tigger! in your show and you’re a guy in the show not taking off your clothes you’re going to get mercilessly mocked—mercilessly mocked. There were many years where I described myself as a cartoonist, and maybe that still applies, even though I don’t draw cartoons anymore.
JDX: A live action cartoonist.
JDX: There seems to be a preponderance of male/female producer/performer burlesque teams. Do you think the women drag the men into it? Who’s pimping whom?
Jonny: In my and Nasty Canasta’s case, I like to say that I rode her coattails into burlesque. Basically she started doing it, and she needed a puppet flower for a number. Well I had some experience in puppetry, so I did that. And then she needed a guy to sit there during her number, so I did that. Then she needed a guy to take off his clothes, so I did that. The reason I think I started doing it solo is to not embarrass myself in front of Tigger! And I have to say as a man in a woman’s world, it is more comfortable to be putting yourself out there in the same way your performers are.
Look, Nasty is the inspiration for everything I do. I wouldn’t be in burlesque without her, I wouldn’t have written a book without her—she’s one of the main characters in the novel.
She is the train and I’m… running alongside it? Tripping and falling, rolling down the hill next to the tracks.
JDX: Are you a fan of detective fiction?
Jonny: Yeah. Love the Nero Wolfe books, the character of Archie Goodwin is just fun. I’ve read other things that Rex Stout has written—he just hit a character there—the other things are just not quite as good. But the standard—Lawrence Block, loved Agatha Christie as a kid, Chandler, Hammett. Always been a fan of mystery fiction.
JDX: How did the book deal come to pass?
Jonny: Charles Ardai, the editor of Hard Case Crime, came to a show. He was brought by a woman named Liz Gorinsky, who was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to Pinchbottom. She went to the super hero show the first time we did it, and apparently fell in love with it and kept bringing people, and bringing people. She brought him once, he came back, and left a bunch of copies of Hard Case Crime downstairs—at Collective Unconscious there’s a downstairs quote-unquote “lounge,” which is really a dingy basement. But he left a bunch of these books, it was called “Money Shot,” it had a camera and a stripper on it so of course we all picked it up. He’s a really smart marketer, Charles. Then when we did our heist show he emailed me and said, “This is kind of along the lines of what I do, could we sponsor you in any way? How about we give a book to every member of the audience.” So we did that, and then we started—can we work together? What can we do? Eventually I managed to convince him that what he wanted to do was hire me to write a novel for hard case. Which he did. It was a grueling process. It’s much harder to write a novel than a burlesque show.
Jonny: It’s gotten several good reviews, which I’m pleasantly surprised by. I was afraid that people wouldn’t take it in the spirit in which it was intended. Which is fun. It’s a lark. It’s a burlesque show in literary form.
JDX: I read the chapter posted on Hard Case’s website. My favorite line is this: “Fine,” she said, following the word with a sigh that would make dead man punch a duck. What the fuck does that mean?
Jonny: But you know exactly what it means, don’t you! You know exactly what it means. It’s one of those things that I think you stumble on—and brilliant writers do this all the time (and I do it… I think that’s the only one in the book)—but where they say something in a way that makes no sense at all but says exactly what they mean.
JDX: Is this a roman à clef? Do the characters match up to real people?
Jonny: None of the characters are based on real-life performers. All of them are completely, totally original creations that I made up myself.
JDX: Why do I suspect that you’re lying? Gillian Knockers—nothing to do with Jo Boobs?
Jonny: No. Nasty Canasta—nothing to do with Nasty Canasta. I think it would be ridiculous to make comparisons between real-world people and fictional characters.
JDX: Why did you decide not to use the names of the people you work with?
Jonny: What do you want, the serious answer?
JDX: Whatever answer you want to give me.
Jonny: The serious answer is that everyone’s personality, everyone’s stage persona, is their brand. They’re responsible for their brand. I’m close enough to Nasty and her brand, and I write for her brand enough, that I can write her into a book, have her read it and approve or disapprove. I’m not that comfortable representing other people’s brands. If someone sees a similarity between Gillian Knockers and Jo Boobs, well sure, maybe you might say it was “based on,” but that’s different than actually having a character named “Jo Boobs” in the book. That is taking her brand and making it—and using it in a way that I’m not comfortable. That’s the serious answer.
JDX: So you have morals. Scruples.
Jonny: No. Absolutely not. Why would you even—? This interview is over.
Photos by Melody Mudd.