Every day a circus: Behind the scenes of The Queer Edge with Jack E. Jett
In my last post, I told you about TV pioneer Jack E. Jett and his criminally underappreciated talk show, The Queer Edge, which was nationally televised for 96 episodes in 2005-06 and then disappeared.
Getting Jack and his all-star show some posthumous enshrinement in an LGBT media archive is a passion project for me.
You can follow me on Instagram as I tease never-before-seen Queer Edge excerpts all month long.
But how did I, Seannie C. lately of Cleveland, Ohio, join Daddy Jack’s glimmering TV circus?
The tale I’m going to relate to you here is one of those storied “only in L.A.” moments that I never believed was possible in real life—even when I was young and naive.
Welcome to Hollyweird
Back in the early Oughts, I hung with Germs and Dethbrëd drummer Don Bolles nearly every day.
On Tuesday, October 4, 2005 after a day trapped in my K-town apartment attempting to scratch out a living with my alt porn-PR-slash-concert-promotion business, I called up Don. “I am so fucking bored and anxious,” I complained.
“Well,” Don replied, “My old band Celebrity Skin is getting back together to play this TV thing. It’s homosexual television, Sodomite (that was Don’s nickname for me). You should pick us up and come with!”
Gay TV? What? “This I gotta see,” I said. “Where do I need to go?”
Thirty minutes later I’m picking up Don and his drums and driving to Media City Production Studios at 2525 Naomi St in Burbank, California, where it all went down.
I knew this was a special day when we were greeted in the green room by none other than Randy Jones, the cowboy in the Village People.
Holy hell—that doesn’t happen every day! I thought back to those block parties in the late ’70s boogying with the grandmas in my ‘hood. They would have just died to meet this handsome mustachioed man.
Randy in turn introduced me to Kay Sedia, the #1 Tupperware salesperson in the world at that time and an outrageously well-built and gorgeous drag queen.
While Celebrity Skin applied their make up, I made my self inconspicuous and spied on the production crew hard at work in the studio. Queer Television Network (QTN) was a legit television production facility with a union crew and a massive production staff. This was not cable access. These folks were getting paid—they were working their asses off.
To offset that it was apparent that QTN was saving money on post-production by broadcasting live or recording live-to-tape all their shows, which gave the place the an old school vibe. Think ’50s/’60s or maybe a round-the-clock Jerry Lewis telethon. You know, with drag queens, trans folks, muscle boys, and club kids just lounging around. Plus Steve Kmetko. It was a busy and wacky place.
Soon, Celebrity Skin came out (ahem) to soundcheck and totally slayed.
I couldn’t stop banging my head and dancing to the beat. So exciting to hear them play! A large dude—6’4″ tall, square-jawed, handsome and kinda portly—sidled up next to me. He was bopping around too. We both were doing our dance and he high-fived me afterwards.
“That was great—just great,” he said in his thick Texan drawl. The dude was sweating profusely in the sweltering studio.
He said: “You like this band so I know you have good taste…”
“Yeah I drove the drummer here,” I smiled.
“Oh wow,” the guy said, “I bet you know a lot about bands.” Which was true! I had recently started promoting the Sean Carnage Monday Nights concert series at a joint called Il Corral. It was the best of the cutting-edge every Monday night.
“Yeah I do.” For once I was not bullshitting one bit.
“Well, maybe you could bring some of your bands on this show?” my new friend said as he grabbed my shoulders and drew me into him. This was Lyndon B. Johnson-style touchy-feely Texas persuasive politics at its finest.
“Uh, sure, I’d love to!” I stammered.
“Okay but they have to be cool,” he said smiling and patting my head. “Someone will come talk to you after the show,” he shouted as he walk/skipped away.
Hmm that was an interesting fellow, I thought. But you know, people make promises all the time…
It’s show time with Daddy Jack
Imagine my total shock when not 30 minutes later my Texan friend came bounding out with an outrageous spiky hairdo and a far slimmer belly than earlier (later when I was called on to help tighten his girdle I understood). On each hand were his ubiquitous fashion trademark: pastel kitchen gloves with a random finger cut off.
“Hey everyone, I’m Jack E. Jett and I want to welcome you to The Queer Edge,” he announced before boldly charging into the most unhinged TV talk show monologue I’d ever heard.
The show was a raw and freaky scene. Jack was like a cartoon character, switching things up constantly—flirting with guests one moment and attempting to bring them to Jesus the next.
Jack was hilariously random and he got Randy Jones and Kay Sedia talking about shit you’d never hear on any other show. It was almost Howard Stern-like (Stern was all the rage at the time) but with a Texas preacher / homo vibe that was unique.
Jack’s foil, news presenter Jackie Enx, was cool. She was a rocker with a wry sense of humor and a great broadcast voice. I guess she was Jack’s Robin Quivers / voice of reason or something. At least there was one professional on camera?
There were also the glorious, glamorous Barbarellas—Elizabeth Melendez and Shari Ansari. I suppose some folks probably thought Shari and Liz were simply go-go dancers which, by itself, is pretty novel on a TV talk show.
But the Barbarellas were more than that. Though they had wildly different makeup, hair and outfits for each show (the QTN hair and makeup department was the best in L.A. at the time), their presence was the consistent through line for the entire series. The Barbarellas were always on: dancing, smiling, shaking their heads at Jack’s gay grandpa jokes. Later, Liz showed her true colors as a multi-talent and she took roles in various skits. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I laughed all the way through this first Queer Edge. It was really impressive. And I started worrying, gee, I hope someone comes and talks to me after. I need to be a part of this.
And…someone did. I met producers Joel Sturdivant and Veronica “Vee” Andrade and they told me who to call and when I called the next day the casting director said they’d give me a flat fee per booking name my price. What? Goodbye, porn PR! This was gonna be amazing!
But would they book bands that I thought were cool?
Being weird is always better than being boring
I’ve had this theory since Nirvana happened back in the early 1990s that if you are ever given a “big break,” you should go for it and do the weirdest shit you can possibly dream. No holds barred—nothing to lose. If you’ve only got one shot, maybe your inherent freakiness will appeal to the people in charge or the people in the audience or both. Being conservative when you are given a shot is not ever going to get you what you want. But being outrageous and being yourself just might.
I was delighted to find out that Jack Jett shared that belief.
So I sent The Queer Edge the weirdest and best bands and performers I could think of—and they accepted them all, and all of them were FANTASTIC on TV: Creekbird, Nora Keyes, The Top Drawer, Laco$te, Michael Lucid, Bedroom Walls, Fireworks, Joanna Angel, Books On Tape (aka Todd Drootin), and DJ Swamp.
I met and worked with some incredible underground musicians like Romak & the Space Pirates and Punk Bunny, and met John Famiglietti, the bassist from Health, at QTN studios (John was working for another cable network). I was the first person to get a CD recording of Health and they soon became superstars of the underground music scene… But I digress.
Jack was commuting to L.A. each week for three days to film the show. Then he’d go back to his husband. Jack, as it turned out, loved to smoke pot as much as I did at the time, and California has the best weed. So when he got off the plane, someone from the staff hooked him up with a big bag and—boom!—time to smoke. Jack and I had long talks about music and artists.
Jack was very confident about his vision. The other QTN shows had drama and budget woes and The Queer Edge did too, but not as much, and we were never hassled by network brass. Daddy Jack had created this giant fun bubble in which Queer Edgers could run free.
You know, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me as an artist and as a person to have a boss like Jack who totally got it and loved outrageousness and encouraged everyone to get more wild with what we presented every single time. Jack never asked us to tame it down.
Maybe it was because Jack Jett was a survivor of the golden age of 20th century faggotry—that period when, if you were gay, you had to live a dichotomy.
You had to be bold and speak up for yourself, yet integrate into society that was in most cases hostile to homosexuality. You had to be cultural warrior and know gay history (suppressed as it was and is), but you had to keep it loose. You had to party because life is short—the HIV epidemic had probably killed off your circle of friends.
You had to be down with punk rock because the rock ‘n roll scene was where the action was. You had to survive in small town USA while being able to turn on Hollywood fabulosity at a moment’s notice.
But most of all, in the great tradition of Andy Warhol and so many of our LGBT predecessors, you had to be a connector—you had to use your queer outlaw status to make allies from the bottom to the top of the social heap.
Jack asked me to photograph behind the scenes on the show as QTN did not have money for an on-set photographer. Soon I was Jack’s official webmaster turning the photos and his writings into the official Queer Edge website. Then I scored a paying gig as the show’s PA. For 2006, I became associate producer.
Gay job = day job
I hung out at QTN studios just about every day. For the first three days of the week Steve Jones (not the Sex Pistol), the executive producer—and later Tim Hamilton—would lead us through the filming of five episodes in 3 days. Two were live-to-air, three were live-to-tape. No re-dos. That kept everyone on their toes.
The other days of the week I got to know Rob Williams and David DeAngelis who were performers, writers and producers on the show. These guys were my first exposure to Hollywood writers and I definitely learned a ton about how to pitch ideas and then refine and execute them. Things develop (and are sometimes discarded) very quickly.
Some of my favorite bits the guys cooked up featured guest performer John Price as Laura Bush, Rob as Barbara Bush, Rob and especially David as Jesus (sassy gay Jesus—c’mon, girl).
When Sandra Bernhard came on the show we went through some changes: fewer guests, and we lost Jackie Enx, which was a terrible bummer.
With “Sandy” as my boss I was in charge of making sure her lyrics were properly loaded on the teleprompter (part of her deal to co-host the show involved allowing her to sing on camera when she pleased, which she did just about every other episode). She marveled at how I found lyrics on the Internet, which she was not into at that time. She also moaned at me when the Internet got the lyrics wrong. Oopsies.
Overall, Sandra Bernhard was a dream to work with. She liked cleanliness and the Dyson we gave her (also new at the time) and organic foods—she was about 10 years ahead of the clean eating craze. I thought from her act she would be intimidating (she was a little) but in fact she was generous and so lovely.
The teleprompter duties led to me becoming the liason with the union crew who Jack often times tangled with. They were a hard bitten bunch but I did my best. Jack did funny and cruel things to them like cajoling one crew guy to get his face pierced by Fakir Musafar, the inventor of body piercing, when he was on the show.
The teleprompter lead to chyron duties which led to working with Robert Dahlem who created the many cool motion graphic pieces for the show. This was fascinating and foreshadowed my later work as a producer in the advertising industry.
My other big job duty was compiling bios on and pre-interviewing guests. Like Omarosa, who gossiped my ear off about the bizarre hidden behavior of Donald Trump. Super heavy duty foreshadowing!
I’ll write more in depth about our guests in the next post. There were so many notables and so many funny stories. Check out The Queer Edge episode guide I created and see for yourself.
All fall down
I began to dream that this gig would never ever end. Which is dangerous in Hollywood where every show, eventually, meets its end. It’s just question of when…
Our was when we showed up for work one day and there were padlocks on the doors. QTN = out of money. Or the money was stolen. Or the Chinese bought the station. Or…I don’t feel like we’ve ever gotten the straight story there (pardon the pun).
Sheriffs’ deputies let us in to gather our belongings. Jack told me to run to the vault and grab anything and everything I could, which is where I got the lo-res DVD rips you can watch on YouTube.
I was about to sign a lease on a tiny house nearby with my partner at the time and I was terrified to have to go home and tell him. Jack knew the situation and he said, “Come with me.” He marched down to the QTN empty boardroom with me in tow and kicked a door in the back open, revealing the sad piggy network owner and his humpy-looking security detail cleaning out the safe (I shit you not).
Jack got real belligerent and exploded on the dude, telling him how many people’s live he was ruining by not paying QTN’s bills. Don’t mess with Texas!
The owner was blubbering “But but but but-” but Jack was not allowing him to speak.
Jack snatched a fistful of $100 dollar bills from pig dude and placed them in my hand. $1200 bucks. Then Jack narrowed his eyes all dramatic and said to bro, “I had better get my tapes.” Then we turned and ran the hell out of there.
It was over. Jack thanked me for my work and I was in tears and so sad to be leaving, but he said “You never know what the future holds.”
And the future did hold some pretty nice surprises as well as some awful ones. Jack died in 2015 of a heart attack age 58. Our great team got dispersed to the four winds and I’m so sad we can’t work together again. But these photos and tapes show what fun we had and that this crazy gay circus dream was real.
Watch for yourself:
Full Queer Edge episodes are on my YouTube—please subscribe.
View vintage posts from QueerEdge.tv—made live again for the first time since 2006.
Follow me on Instagram for a monthlong celebration of all things Jack. I’m rolling out the best clips and bits.
And stay tuned—”‘Cuz we Queer Edgers are a-go!”
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