Funny lady Bex Schwartz can not only laugh at herself, she can also find the humor in every kind of celebrity scandal imaginable. In her frequent talking head appearances, she skewers everyone from Tom Cruise to Anna Nicole Smith, and was recently in LA interviewing Danny Bonaduce for the reality show Breaking Bonaduce, which premieres September 11th on VH1, where she ‘s a Senior Writer/Producer in the On Air Promos department. Additionally, she does the occasional comedy show; I caught her dishing about drugs at Brutal Honesty–namely, a member of a famous Southern alt rock band snorting a certain white powder off her chest. The 26-year-old Glen Rock, New Jersey native regularly wears a star necklace around her neck which matches the three stars tattooed on her back and one on her wrist, signifying “wonder,” which Bex says is “the most important word to me.” She revels in her delightfully wacky persona—in person, on the job, on TV and on her blog. Bex manages to pull combine giggles, wittiness and a refreshingly irony-free fondness for pop culture. Below, she dishes the dirt on why rock stars are so hot, reclaiming the word “groupie,” go-go dancing vs. stripping, the wonder of Diet Coke, and shooting All Access Wacky Canada.
Can you give us a brief Bex Schwartz life story, in 20 words or less?
Grew up nerdy and boring while secretly wanting to be a revolutionary; changed persona whilst in college; 20-something tv whore. (that’s 20, if the hyphenate counts as one word. Which I believe it does).
So, what’s it like to be a straight girl working on LOGO, the new gay cable channel? What exactly is your role at the station and how’s it going so far?
I was mildly concerned that I was going to be outed and I tried to play it really bi for as long as I could, but then I ended up getting really sick and having to go to the hospital and my boyfriend fielded all the calls from work, and then the jig was up. But it didn’t really matter—I did, after all, go to Wesleyan, where everyone’s kinda heteroflexible. At first I was worried that I didn’t necessarily imply a “genuine” voice for the channel, but then I would just think back to college and I felt like less of a sham. Heh.
I really work at VH1, but my boss was called in to form an emergency SWAT team of people to brand and launch the channel. I was doing pro-bono image spot pitches for Logo (back when the tagline was still “Different. Together”) and I was familiar with the brand strategy, so I joined the team. My boss brought in a few people from around MTVN and some killer awesome people from across the country and the team was responsible for the way the channel looks and feels—the logo, the graphics, the packaging, the promos, the voice, the basic identity—and we were like a motley band of renegade gay television people. I did the promos for all the GLAAD stuff and a cartoon about gay penguins. I hope people like Logo (which is not an acronym, btw), but I haven’t seen ratings. Ew, I just totally sounded like a producer.
For those of us who haven’t seen the channel yet, what are some of the highlights? What’s been the most challenging part of the launch process, during which you sounded incredibly harried?
There’s a documentary series called Real Momentum that has some really amazing stories and well-made docs. They’ve also acquired a lot of films straight (ha) from the festivals that no one’s ever seen on tv before.
The most challenging part was getting the fucker on-air by the launch date. There was a lot of having-to-be-in-four-places-at-once and a lot of really intense deadlines—a not enough time in the day sort of situation. I lost five pounds in one week because I didn’t have time to eat.
Is the show aimed at solely a queer audience, or are straight people just as interested in GLBT topics? Within the queer community, is there a specific demographic you’re targeting?
It’s a channel aimed at the entire LGBT-and-allies audience—that group covers a whole lot of territory. My take on is that a good movie is a good movie, and that I’ll watch a good movie no matter what channel it’s on (unless it’s on ESPN and then it’s probably about sports, and I don’t watch movies about sports. Except for movies about figure skating). Ideally, people won’t get bogged down in labels and watch the channel for the content. We’re aiming at everyone—which is why it’s harder to nail the brand philosophy. VH1 and MTV and Nick and SciFi know they have specific audiences and they can target them accordingly; our key demos span age and gender barriers so it has to be a lot more all-inclusive.
You talk onstage about how you changed your name from Rebecca to Bex, because there were things "Bex" would do that Rebecca wouldn’t. How’d you come up with Bex, and what have you done since you’ve become her that you couldn’t have foreseen doing as Rebecca?
I grew up as a Becky, and my friends called me Becks as a nickname; I just decided to spell it was an X because I thought it was edgy and implied everything about the person I wanted to be. Becky was a prude and a teetotaler and a goody-two-shoes; I really wanted to grow into who I was becoming and I felt that my old name was bogging me down. Also, by changing it, I could introduce myself as “Bex, like Sex, with a b” and I thought that would just be a hell of a peachy idea. And then I added, “Covered in honey, buzz buzz,” but very few people ever got it.
Basically, Becky didn’t drink or do drugs or have sex or get naked or scream obscenities or have any self-confidence. Bex is just the opposite. Bex also finds that speaking in the third person makes her slightly nauseated.
At this point, is "Bex" a persona, or is she you unfiltered? When I saw you at Brutal Honesty, you were very unselfconscious about telling your story, weaving in giggles along with painting a very funny picture. Do you ever get self-conscious or does performing come naturally to you?
Hmmm. I’d like to think I’m all me, all the time (although I try to behave a little better in the office, now that I have a career and stuff.) On stage, it’s just me unfiltered. All my heroes are people who just got up and spewed the truth–Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Karen Finley–and it’s just that old adage that it’s funny because it’s true. The truth is usually much funnier than anything I could make up, it’s just the way you tell it. Like if you take what Alan Alda keeps saying in Crimes and Misdemeanors about how “comedy is tragedy plus time” but you spin it into being “comedy is something I should be embarrassed or upset about, but I’m going to tell you all about it anyway.” And you point out that Alan Alda is so much more entertaining when he’s playing a prick, like in that movie.
You used to be Porno Jim’s sidekick in The Porno Jim Show. The night I saw the show someone was filling in for you, so can you give us a rundown of what you did with the show and how it felt to be in a show about porn? Did you learn anything about your own porn preferences?
I was the Paul Shaeffer/Robin Quivers/Bimbo to Porno Jim’s pornevangelist role. I played the theme song and made obnoxious comments and tried to serve as the bridge between the audience and the porn, by making them laugh about it. I also was portrayed as a woman who loooooved porn, so hopefully that made other ladies feel less ashamed about it. I learned I really like magical porn, as in porn with fairies and goblins and witches and demons and that sort of thing.
Speaking of sexy, I hear that you once go-go danced at Liam McEneaney’s birthday party, which you allude to on your blog, and may have a secret past as a go-go dancer. How’d you get started doing that and what was it like? Would you do it again now?
I went through a phase where I thought I could save the world by teaching people that it was cool to be comfortable and casual about their bodies and sexuality; I somehow thought that eliminating sexual repression would lead to a greater sense of enlightenment . . . then I stopped drinking so much and realized that I wasn’t leading the healthiest of emotional lifestyles and I toned it down a bit. I’d go-go dance again, maybe, but I’d have to wrap the burlesque in something funny or political; I’m not feeling the exhibitionist-for-exhibitionism’s sake all that much these days. Ew, does that mean I’m all growed up? Fuck.
Let’s pretend we’re in some twisted universe where teachers would ask questions like this. Go-go dancing vs. stripping: compare and contrast.
Go-Go dancing is less exploitative because it’s not about a wringing a sexual release out of the dance routine; I prefer to think it’s more cheerful and full of joie-de-vivre—like Golide Hawn on Laugh-in. But then, stripping is powerful and dynamic-shifting and intense and full of a whole different type of energy . . . I don’t know. I had lyme disease and it fucked up my hips, I’m lucky if I can do anything sexy.
Let’s talk about sexmusk. You wrote on your blog after being interviewed live on MSNBC, "I was riffing about the whole ‘TomKat’ moniker and I realized that a tomcat is a male kitty who's in heat and sprays his sexmusk everywhere and that's kinda like what the whole Tom-Katie thang is." I was wondering if there are words you can’t say on those channels, and is that ever a challenge? Is it nervewracking to have to come up with quips on the spot like that?
I’m sure I can’t say fuck or shit or cock or motherfucker or cunt or twat. The seven words and then some. And probably not “kill the president” or “there’s a bomb in Penn Station.” It’s not so much nervewracking as it is amnesia-inducing—I’m so amped up that I blurt out whatever comes to my mind and sometimes I make verbal leaps without backing up the thought process that got me there. And then as soon as I’m done, I have no idea what I just said. Apparently, the last time I was on MSNBC it was like Hillary Clinton and Christianity, you just got served. But I don’t remember it.
How does, say, MSNBC find you when they need someone to comment on the latest celebrity scandal?
A producer at Connected, on MSNBC spent the weekend in bed and watched a lot of VH1 and emailed me that she’d like me to be on her show talking about pop culture. For some reason, it feels oddly legitimate to say shit about famous people I don’t know on MSNBC, but on VH1 it feels slightly more . . . salacious.
Speaking of celebrities, do you have any celeb predictions for the rest of 2005? Who will surprise us by getting married? Divorced? Knocked up? Coming out?
I hope to the stars about that this is the year that everyone just comes the fuck out. America’s making great strides in losing its collective homophobia, but when everyone stops hiding, the world’ll be a much prettier place. I betcha Jessica Simpson gets both knocked up and divorced. Lindsay Lohan goes lesbionic with Bijou Phillips. I was going to say something about a certain Scientologist and a certain Jedi Knight but then I thought better about it.
Now let’s discuss a very, very important topic that’s near and dear to my heart–Diet Coke. I agree with you that Diet Coke with Splenda tastes awful. What do you think about the lime, lemon and vanilla flavors? How much of it do you drink? Why are you so obsessed with Diet Coke? Caffeine vs. caffeine free? Have you every tried to quit?
Okay. It’s always Diet Coke before Diet Pepsi, always. Except for the flavored shit. I am fiercely loyal to Diet Coke but Diet Pepsi totally figured out the enzymatic flavors much, much better than Coca Cola did. I tried ‘em all, both brands, for novelty’s sake, but nothing beats a fresh, crisp fountain Diet Coke. Always caffeinated, who’s got time to drink any liquid that isn’t caffeinated? I drink a whole lot; at least a can or two if I’m working in a facility where there are easily-accessible cans of Diet Coke; sometimes I have such a fierce craving for Diet Coke from a fountain that I have to go to the Subway across the street for an extra-large beverage; then I stay up all night and my spinal column twitches from all the caffeine. I’ve never tried to quit; at least I like Diet Coke and not Columbian coke.
I’m sure you get these too, if not from your grandmother, than from "helpful" friends. How do you respond to those long forwards proclaiming that Diet Coke is going to rot your brain and kill you?
I hide my addiction and limit myself to social drinking. No forwards.
We all have our own answers to this question, but since you’ve written about and, ahem, experienced this topic, I will consult your expert opinion. Why are rock stars hot? Can you give an example of a rock star who’s not hot? What rock star would you pay a fictional million dollars to bang?
Rock stars are hot only when one loves their music. It’s a basic form of transference—you love their music so much so that you want to transfer your love for the way their music makes you feel into love for that musician. Basically, “I love this song so much I simply have to fuck you.” If I don’t like the music, I don’t find the rock star so fuckable. Like, I really dislike Steely Dan, so I’d never fuck either one of them, even though I’m sure they’re really good at having sex. Who would I pay a fictional million dollars to bang? Gee whiz, I never thought about it as having to pay to have sex with a rockstar. There’s no fun in it, unless you seduce them for reals. Plus, I love my boyfriend, so the whole one-night-stand-with-rockstar concept is nowhere near as attractive as it used to be. If I could fuck the way a band makes me feel, then it would have to be the anthropomorphized version of the Wrens, all together.
Do you consider yourself a groupie, and do you think that’s a negative word? Should we be trying to reclaim groupie pride?
I’ve never been part of a backstage Guns ‘n’ Roses or Motley Crue or Velvet Revolver show, I only see the indie chicks draped all over indie guys. So I’ve never seen dogs eating bacon out of nether regions or public blowjobs or that sort of thing, so I tend to think of the word groupie as being something superduper kickawesome. I think some of us makes such strong connections to music that we just can’t help ourselves. I think we ought to reclaim “groupie.” I think it’s empowering (thanks, Pamela Des Barres) and I generally think it’s a better thing to be than someone who’s a rich-husband-hunter-on-Jdate type of person. Much more overt, much less shallow.
You’ve been on all kinds of VH1 shows, from All Access: Awesomely Badder Girls, Britney’s Most Shocking, Awesomely Bad Career Moves, Celebrity Feuds 2005, as well as Fab Life of Celebrity Kids, The Greatest: 40 Most Shocking Hair Moments, and 20 Most Awesomely Bad Songs of 2004 and 40 Most Awesomely Bad #1 Songs...Ever. First, how did you get involved doing these shows and what’s the first one you did?
The first one I did was Awesomely Bad Videos 2–yes, the sequel to Awesome Bad Videos. The producer called a friend of mine and asked if she could recommend any female comics; she suggested me. I sent him a tape of my comedy act, which was filthy, and he wasn’t sure if I was right for the show but I begged and pleaded. And did a few All Access shows and then did the season of a2z and then rejoined the All Access/Awesomely Bad/Greatest/ whatever team. I think of myself as being on the farm team–the Best Week Ever’ers are in the Big League. And I love strawberry Big League Chew.
What’s the process like? Can you walk us through from the moment you find out you’re doing a given show to watching yourself on TV?
Someone from the specific show calls and says, “We’re shooting a show on blah-blah-blah, can you do an interview next Tuesday?” and I say, “Blah-blah-blah, ick! But, okay. What time for hair and makeup?” Then I read the questions they send me and I do some research and read up on all the key pertinent blogs and then they make me look pretty and I talk for two hours. And then eventually, the show gets edited and I’ll see it on a tv somewhere in the office and I usually think I look fat and then sometimes I laugh at something I’ve said and then someone calls me on it and I get all ashamed.
What’s been the most fun VH1 gig you’ve ever done? What show do you wish they would do that they haven’t done yet?
I loved doing All Access Wacky Canada (or whatever it was called) because the guy doing the interview was one of my fave producers and we always have a good time getting goofy and silly. I also really like doing the Most Shocking aspects of the series because I get to be fierce. I like doing them after taking a few-months hiatus, because it’s nice to talk about new things. I hit a wall this spring when I was like, “Sweet Jesus, we need new things to discuss because there’s nothing left.” And, then, luckily, Tom Cruise started jumping on couches and everyone got too skinny and Britney might be having twins. Schwoo.
What’s next for you?
In my mindthoughts, I live to imaging that I host some amalgam of a newfangled Ed Sullivan show/Laughin/Smothers Brothers hybrid. But unless that happens, I reckon I’ll be making promos for a few more years, and shooting music videos, but I’d eventually like to write and direct my own tv show of awesomeness. Something as good as Battlestar Galactica in terms of storytelling and thought-provocativeness but with more political and philosophical implications, and pop culture references, and a lot more sex. And a kickrad soundtrack. And an up-with-people, save-the-world, yet tongue-in-cheek cynicism. And a lot of really, really hot sex.
Bex Schwartz does stand-up tonight at free downtown comedy show Chicks and Giggles at Raga, 433 6 Street at 8:30. Anna Nicole's Most Shocking Moments premieres on VH1 on August 8th at 9 pm. Find out about Bex’s latest TV appearances and zany thoughts on her blog.