The one thing that all the well-adjusted, fiscally responsible, long-term sex workers I know have in common is a sense of humor. Not that I hate my job, but certain things have happened where I’ve had a choice of either collapsing into a fetal position and bawling, or folding over with laughter, with really no middle ground between the two. It’s like Abe Lincoln said, “I laugh because I must not cry.” (Actually, I just wanted to quote Abe Lincoln and have no idea whether he’s talking about the Civil War or what.)
As a fan of standup comedy, I’ve had to sit through too many jokes about my vocation to count. There are just so many strippers’-names-are-so-fake, dead hooker, and porn star bad childhood jokes out there.* Have you heard the one about how we’re all dead inside, which you can tell from our lifeless/soulless eyes? Yeah, me too, about a million times since I first heard it on Family Guy. Sometimes after I hear these jokes, I worry that people can smell the stripper on me, what with the blond mane and the not laughing. And then I wonder why these people at the open mic can’t make fun of their own coworkers at Kinko’s and why I can’t just see some comedy without being reminded of my daddy issues.
Where are all the sex-positive comedians with Women’s Studies degrees who can discuss Female Chauvanist Pigs? Wouldn’t it be nice if they were also Jewish and loved animals? These guys really exist and their names are Eli Olsberg** and Jake Weisman. They host a podcast called The Morning After and I love it. Each episode typically has one porn performer guest and one comedian guest and they all discuss the porn industry and life.
The hosts don’t play armchair psychologist or dare guests to hop on their Sybian. Everyone just has a conversation—the kind normal people have. The questions aren’t even remotely creepy so the porn guests aren’t guarded, which sets the tone for the comedians to open up and speak candidly about their personal masturbation habits. The comics don’t need to pick on the sex workers because the sex industry is already so ripe with material that just talking about it is going to be funny no matter what. But if they’ve been invited to be on the podcast then they aren’t the type to do that anyway, says Eli. “…it’s always going to be with someone we know and trust. We had on an amazing comedian named Sean Patton who barely watches porn, but was respectful to our guest and the idea of the show, and had nothing but good things to contribute to the dialogue.”
Although the format of the show isn’t too rigid, the porn performers usually answer recurring questions every episode. They share how they got started doing porn and the stories are so varied; you never know if they were discovered or just got burned out on being a professional oboe player. I’m partial to the former strippers, but it’s interesting to know that exotic dancing isn’t really the gateway to a slippery slope that leads to a downward spiral that ends with porn (or prostitution, depending on who you ask). The thread that ties all the decisions together is the financial piece (It’s always the money, duh), and it’s nice that that’s never challenged.
Usually the conversation meanders through career plans/life goals, the difference between escorting and porn, decriminalization, race, coming out, family, Twitter, fans, and definitely to relationships. The parallels between the comedians and the porn stars are always really interesting with commonalities like busy schedules and feeling alienated from “civilians.” In fact, the female comics have almost as hard of a time with men feeling threatened as the women who have sex on camera do.
At almost sixty episodes, it’s turning into a thorough who’s who in the porn industry right now. It’s well-rounded, too; besides the quintessential Barbie-looking contract girls, they’ve interviewed tattooed alt performers, a plus-sized icon, straight and gay male performers, black performers, sex-positive feminists, transsexuals, a British transplant, crossover actresses, and even a porn attorney (not that any of the aforementioned descriptors are mutually exclusive). The list of porn stars and comedians who have graced the podcast is such a roster of cool that it seems suspiciously like Eli and Jake are having dinner party and are allowed to invite anyone they want, living or dead. Take the Madison Young, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon episode, for example. (Madison explains to everyone what shibari is and everyone explains to Madison what Ke$ha is.)
This show has been filling in the gaps (no pun intended) in my limited knowledge of the porn industry***, which I’m grateful for. I felt like I was already learning so much after the first few episodes and wanted to know if the hosts were surprised by anything they’ve found since starting the podcast. “I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned since starting the podcast is how much the industry is shifting to a DIY business model. A lot of what happens is in the performer’s hands. For such a male-driven industry, there is a lot of it is controlled by the performer. Thanks to the Internet, porn stars have the capability to manage their own content, social networking, and even connect with fans through camming, which essentially compensates for tube sites and torrenting (a little). I also learned that most negative stereotypes about girls in the business are actually more applicable to male talent. […] Most girls in porn now have more entrepreneurial motives and are doing what they do because they want to. Piracy has forced a lot of performers to work harder for less money so the idea of a girl being pimped out or feeding a meth habit is super antiquated.”
Unfortunately though, those ideas are still prevalent enough that there was a huge backlash over ex-porn star/ Entourage actress, Sasha Grey, reading to kids as part of the Read Across America program at an elementary school in Compton, CA, last week. Media coverage suggested the problem isn’t even Grey’s eligibility as a role model, but whether she should be around children, as if having worked in porn makes her a depraved predator. (I would much rather have Sasha Grey around my kid than a major college football coach.) Even if you think the #SashaGreyReadsToKids hashtag is cute, it’s a shame that Sasha Grey should even have to release a statement in order to justify volunteering:
I committed to this program with the understanding that people would have their own opinions about what I have done, who I am and what I represent. I am an actor. I am an artist. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a partner. I have a past that some people may not agree with, but it does not define who I am. I will not live in fear of it. To challenge non-profit education programs is an exercise in futility, counter-productive and anti-educational.
I started this blog post before I got a job as a “featured extra” in a brothel scene for the pilot of a TV show starring an Australian Dane Cook equivalent. Over several takes with each camera angle, I had to walk by as he tells my character, “Sorry you knew your uncle too well!” The entire crew went wild the first time they heard it. Everyone in the room was all, “BRA-VO!” like he was the Neil Armstrong of sex worker incest jokes. The general public—the same people who think Sasha Grey shouldn’t be allowed to read Dog Breath to kids—are probably going to think it’s totally hilarious and “edgy.” I didn’t laugh once at any of the lines in two days of shooting. Comedy is my passion, yet I felt like an old schoolmarm. I was one of the only people who couldn’t see the emperor’s new clothes.
I remembered what it felt like to laugh when I was listening to The Morning After Podcast on my headphones. It was such a relief to hear people who didn’t sound like they’ve been digging through Tucker Max’s trash. The opposite of bro jokes isn’t a humorless PC academia bubble; it’s good jokes. It’s people who get it: “If I hear a comedian at a show or open mic make a joke about anyone or anything in the sex industry and I know it’s false or something that could be demystified immediately, in my head, I become a protective mom. Yeah, a mom! I rarely confront people about it because the few times I’ve tried to correct it, I realized it won’t change their point-of-view and chances are the joke wasn’t funny anyway. ”
*There are a few amazing ones too, such as Hannibal Buress’ bits on how to properly make it rain and the expression “ho to housewife.”
**who was kind enough to answer some questions via email
*** Listening to this show caused me to question why I’ve never really been a consumer, which reminded me of the time that I was 18 and traumatized by a bunch of vintage (1915-1950) porn films. I had misread the movie listings in the paper, and showed up at a local indie theater thinking something else was playing. I figured black and white pornography would be harmless and interesting as long as I was already there. What I got was things like a silent era film where a man delivers a bucket to a woman’s door. The woman struggles with a live eel for the bulk of the film, and then finally like, kills the eel enough to penetrate herself with it. There was another movie starring a really enthusiastic Great Dane, which was small potatoes compared to that poor/terrifying eel.
I also think the “Vivid talent scout” who said I could never succeed in the porn industry due to being a freckled freak made me feel like I should stay away from porn altogether out of respect. I did know about some things just by default from stripping. For example, I was familiar with the My Daughter is Fucking Blackzilla series because my coworker was in it. I used to dance in a juice bar adjoined to a dying porn store that was a money-laundering front. I liked to peruse all the ancient VHS cases when I was bored, but I was just trying to be punk and they didn’t seem like anything I would consider masturbating to.