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POP INTERVIEW: Joe Wenke Teaches Us How to Become Culture Arsonists!

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Comedian Joe Wenke is the author of You Got to Be Kidding, described as a Bill Maher take on religion, shutting down myths and stories as he probably irritates the entire Bible belt. The very second I heard he referred to himself as a “culture arsonist,” I wanted to be one. As it turns out, I was sad upon learning setting random things on fire is not involved – the book description says it is actually about “causing trouble” – but pleased I can be at once angry-bitter and living in Hello Kitty Land.

joe wenke

What does a “cultural arsonist” actually do? Is this anything like a help wanted ad put out by Ann Coulter? Why did you want to call yourself this moniker?
A cultural arsonist is somebody who sets fire to stupidity and burns up bigotry, metaphorically, of course. That’s what I do, so that’s what I call myself. I have lots of rhetorical tools at my disposal, but the primary tool is satire. Ann Coulter? No, she is definitely not a cultural arsonist. In fact, she trades on stupidity and bigotry, so she’s the opposite of a cultural arsonist.

Did being a cultural arsonist derive from your years working as a speechwriter, sort of being silent while you told other people what to say, essentially? Or did it strengthen your opinions more so?
It didn’t derive from my having been a speechwriter. I’ve always been very outspoken and questioned everything since I was a kid. I have to say, though, that being a speechwriter is a weird job. You have to have a huge ego to deal with CEO types and other so-called big shots, but then you have to pretend to have no ego when they set about changing what you’ve written. But you do learn to be very persuasive and adept at arguing different positions. Being a speechwriter also helped me to become a very fast writer.

Is being angry required, or can I be a cultural arsonist too in a Pollyanna sort of way? I kind of want to crack jokes while I’m attacking culture and hand out healthy, low calorie cupcakes I decorated before I grill people. With Sanrio products somehow involved. What steps are involved in my path to being one?
My own style is playful rather than angry. My artistic models are the Beatles early press conferences and Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope. I mean, sometimes the best way to win a debate is to just let the other person do all of the talking. Actually, being a cultural arsonist is more about pushing limits and boundaries than being angry—sort of like, if you see a line, cross it, or if you think you’ve gone too far, go further. It’s also about how you live, how you present yourself to the world, as much as it is about writing. I’m very girly in how I present myself to the world. I have long hair, wear mascara, eye shadow, pink fingernail polish and girls clothes. That look definitely pushes boundaries and is very edgy and funny. It’s very disarming—like handing out cupcakes before grilling your next victim.

Your book info says it “tempts readers to more closely examine the stories they think they know about the Bible.” What is an example of a Biblical story that needs to be restudied?
How about Noah’s Ark? Scientists have identified more than a million species, so how big was that boat? It’s just a guess, but I’m thinking something along the lines of the state of Rhode Island. And just how did Noah round up all of the animals? I mean who went out and picked up the polar bears and penguins. And what about the kangaroos and kiwis? Also, was every insect species on board, or was there a cut off point? Did roaches and mosquitoes make it? How about bed bugs?

Why did you want to focus on Christianity? Why not other religions?
I wrote about the Bible, which is the foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition, because that’s the belief system that I was brought up in. I wanted to expose the absurdity of the Bible. How is the Bible absurd? Well, the most absurd thing about the Bible is that in all probability nothing of importance described in it ever actually happened. Also, Old Testament morality is really more like tribal code like we get today from the Taliban. I also wanted to call out people who use the Bible to justify their own bigotry against gay and transgender people as well as their contempt for women. If God did write the Bible as the fundamentalists contend, then my message to them is just because God is a bigot doesn’t make it right.

And while we discuss other religions, what do you want to pick apart from Buddhism or other religions?
Absurd beliefs of any kind are worthy targets of satire. At the same time, I really don’t care about what people believe. People believe all sorts of crazy things. That’s fine with me. That’s what makes the world go round. I object when somebody thinks that their religion is the one, true religion or when they use what they view as scripture to justify their own bigotry against people who are different from them.

What are some great things people have told you about your book? What have the worst critics, or possibly a group of people you may call “haters,” told you?
There have been more than 40 reviews of the book, and almost all of them have been very positive. I love that people find the book to be very funny. I think that the humor of the book is very disarming. It opens up people’s minds to entertain new ideas. One reviewer said the book should be part of any library, particularly a religious library. I like that. One guy trashed the book, and said it was sophomoric. That was good too since it reminded me of how much I like the word “sophomoric.”

I like the book cover art interpretation. Somehow, it speaks a lot for being so subdued. How did you declare this to be what you were thinking? Because people really do judge a book by its cover in the publishing world.
I absolutely love the cover of my book! My good friend, Gisele Xtravaganza, who is a very beautiful and successful transgender model, is the nun on the cover. The original cover designer had proposed the idea of having a laughing, scandalized nun on the cover. I thought the attitude was a little heavy handed and obvious, but I liked the nun idea itself. I bought a nun costume online and gave it to Gisele. She tried it on and took a picture of herself. She looked so beautiful and angelic, very close to the image that we have on the cover, and I though, oh, my God! That’s it. Jeffrey Michelson, the ultimate cover designer and the designer of my website, loved the image too but said quite rightly that it also had to be funny. He came up with the idea of having a cartoon balloon with the book’s title coming out of Gisele’s head. So, to me, the cover art really captures the point of view of the book, which is very funny while at the same time calling out bigotry against gay and transgender people.

joe wenke book

Other than religion, how can we find sarcasm, wit and humor in life?
Objects of satire are everywhere around us—politicians, celebrities, our family, friends, people at work—the list goes on. Life is crazy and difficult, but humor is very powerful. It exposes hypocrisy and absurdity, and it makes everybody feel good at the same time. We argue about everything, but if something’s funny, it’s funny. It’s hard to argue about that.

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Watch Brian Balthazar and Wendy Williams Talk About What’s Trending Now

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Always SO much fun going on the Wendy Williams show to talk about what’s trending! In this case, the best part (for me at least!) was wearing a creating by art director Michael Lee Scott, who recreated the iconic hat worn by Billy Porter at the Grammys! What a recreation!

Brian Balthazar Billy Porter Hat

 

 

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Wendy Stuart Kaplan Knows How To Party – Now She’s Throwing An Epic One Of Her Own!

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Wendy Stuart Kaplan knows her way around a party. In her book, ‘She’s The Last Model Standing,” she wrote about her headline grabbing days at Studio 54, and now throws more than a few of her own. The latest is her “Reading For Filth” and her birthday extravaganza, where she, hosts Eileen Dover and Nick Lion and others (including yours truly!) will perform a collection of wildly entertaining essays, poems, comedic rants and more. The kind of person who is so ‘on the go’ you get exhausted just thinking about it (she, however, does not) I caught up with her as she was taking a break between a radio show, a modeling job and a party tonight. If you want to catch up with Wendy, you have to be flexible… she’s probably got a full schedule that day! Her party this Friday is one that will not only celebrate a wildly varied and entertaining life, but also celebrate the spoken word from a variety of performers.

Anyone who’s ready your book “She’s The Last Model Standing” knows you’ve been partying since studio 54 – when did you first realize you were a party girl?

I first realized when I came back to New York after college! I wasn’t until then, because there was no good place to party.

Where did you go to school?

SUNY Binghamton where I majored in anthropology – and then I went to Nigeria! I definitely enjoyed partying eventually, but back then I really, really wanted to go to Africa, which I did!  I have gone back often, most recently to work on my documentaries.

Wendy Kaplan was a bold faced name for tearing up the dance floor AND going home right after.

That’s wild! But it’s not surprising to hear of that passion since you make films about wildlife conservation there. But your festive side eventually DID come out! We all know you now as a social butterfly! Whether you’re at a party, or working a film premiere – but were you as confident and comfortable in the spotlight as a kid as you are now?

I was an oddball kid. I had two things: I had my friends in the Bronx, and the ones that I had in school and they didn’t mix all that well. I loved growing up there, that was home – but I remember as a kid I would get stomachaches before parties! How weird is that? Until you asked me I had forgotten all about that.

What were you worrying about?

Social pressures – what if nobody talks to me – oh my god, I’m not pretty. I had a short mop of brown hair because my mom thought I looked better with short hair, and I had chubby cheeks. I didn’t love that look. I used to put on wigs as a kid and imagine myself with long blonde hair!

And here we are! 

Here we are, right? Long blonde hair. I morphed into it. I’m totally self made!

Tell me more about Reading for Filth – your event this Friday at Club Bedlam.

Reading for Filth came about when Brian Butterick, also known as Hattie Hathaway, used to have these events. One had the byline, “low rent reading for a high rent city.” Reading for filth is an expression for ‘I’m going to read you to filth,’ as in, “I’m gonna tell you what I really think.” The performers would do a reading of their choice. Something personal, maybe about an old boyfriend, or something someone else wrote, and they’d get up and read it in front of a room. At the last one we had, Michael Musto read from Suzanne Somers’ poetry book. I didn’t even know she wrote poetry… here the same person who wrote about African violets is also behind the Thighmaster! Brought me to tears! I imagine her thighs going back and forth as she sits next to a table with a sole African violet in its little pot, which inspired her to write the poem.

The reason we chose to open my birthday party with it is, when Hattie passed away, my friend and partner in crime Michael Fontana (Eileen Dover) really wanted to keep it going. We say it’s such a downtown New York thing but it’s a New York thing. It’s a nationwide thing. Think about what’s hot right now: storytelling. And here we have had Reading for Filth going on long before all that other stuff. Brian Butterick had been doing it for six to ten years. He was very ahead of his time. We brought it back this past year.

You love people and being around them, entertaining them, but you also love your home life – please describe your NYC living situation. You have a beautiful place… but describe your roommates.

Well, we will have to go back about 30 years when I got my first rabbit. I haven’t lived without one for 30 years, so when one dies I always have one in the wings. Fast forward to now, we always have two rabbits. It’s nice if they have another rabbit to hangout with. Also, 33 years ago we got a baby cockatoo, named her Louise, fed her formula, and she is now hanging out with me in my living room. Did I also mention our blue merle chihuahua?

In my New York apartment everyone is loose. No one is caged.  Everybody is trained to go on those wee-wee pads you buy for dogs, and everybody goes on a wee-wee pad including the rabbits… but not the dog.

Wendy’s rabbit S’mores roams free in her apartment along side another rabbit, a cockatoo and a Chihuahua.
Wendy Kaplan’s dog Nugget does what it wants.

You know how to party – we know that – your wedding was no exception…describe your epic wedding.

So my wedding was 32 or so years ago. I should know that! Alan (a renowned photographer) and I got married in our huge loft, and you had to come dressed as members of a bridal party. It was on Halloween – you could be a bride, or a groom or a bridesmaid. The only problem was a lot of people thought it was a costume party and not an actual wedding. So we had people dressed as bridesmaids with five o’clock shadows and brides with full beards. They thought this was just going to be a big loft party – because we always gave huge parties – and not a wedding. But it was actually our wedding. I didn’t get many gifts because no one took it seriously. I won’t make that mistake again!

You’ve been modeling since you were in your twenties – what’s the best thing anyone can do to look and feel like a model whether they’re walking down the street or working it in the office?

You have to know who you are. What’s your style? What makes you feel good? What floats your boat? When you put on a certain dress how does that make you feel? Don’t go with trends, go with what you’re attached to! Listen to your inner fashionista. And you know what? We all have that.

Reading For Filth is open to the public this Friday at 8pm at Club Bedlam, 40 Avenue C, NYC. For more on Wendy visit her book’s Facebook page, her personal facebook page, or her instagram.

Visit her website, and buy her book on amazon!

 

 

 

 

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All 18 of the BAFTA Acting Nominees Are White, All Directing Nominees Are Male

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“Joker” is the one to watch at the upcoming BAFTAs, but if you’re looking for diversity and female directors, sadly you’ll have to look somewhere else. All the acting nominees are white, and all the directors are male.

Led by a lead actor nomination for Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker” received 11 nominations for Britain’s equivalent to the Oscars, competing with familiar Golden Globe nominees Taron Egerton, “Rocketman,”  Leonardo DiCaprio for “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” Adam Driver for “Marriage Story,” and Jonathan Pryce for “The Two Popes.”

Renée Zellweger leads the nominations for the best actress category for her role in “Judy,” alongside Jessie Buckley,  “Wild Rose,” Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story,” Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women,” and Charlize Theron for “Bombshell.”

Here are the other notable highlights:

See the full nomination page HERE.

  • 11 nominations for Joker
  • 10 nominations for The Irishman and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Nine nominations for 1917
  • Six nominations for Jojo Rabbit
  • Five nominations for Little WomenMarriage Story and The Two Popes
  • Four nominations for For SamaParasite and Rocketman
  • Three nominations for BombshellJudyLe Mans ’66 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The ceremony will be held on Feb. 2 at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

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