JOE MANNETTI: “This Is What 50 Looks Like!”
Who is Joe Mannetti? ” He’s one of the most visible faces (and torsos!) in the Bear world, being the Recipient of multiple local and regional Titles as well as having the distinction of being named “Best Bear Fundraiser of the Year 2009 and 2010” in The “Best of the Bears” Poll not too long ago. The performer/writer/activist hugs… uh, I mean, embraces his role as a bona fide Bear icon in a big way, while fiercely maintaining his own individuality. To paraphrase a popular singer, “He does it HIS way“! Joe is a member of Sandy “Mama” Reinhardt’s coast-to-coast philanthropic org Mama’s Family, where he was named “Mama’s Care Bear” for his dedication to the Leather Nation and the GLBT community at large. Joe is also Mr. Southern California Cub 2006, Mr. Long Beach Pride Bear/Cub 2008, Mr. Los Angeles Bear 2008, Mr. Southern California Bear 2008, and Mr. International Daddy Bear 2009. Whoa!!! (Maybe my first interview question should be, “Do you have a separate room dedicated to all your sashes?”!) He’s also a Goodwill Ambassador of Hope for The Dab the AIDS Bear Project, a community-based organization of concerned citizens infected and/or affected by HIV and AIDS.
Mannetti is also a writer and a performer as well as an activist, having been seen in the popular gay indie films “Another Gay Movie” and “Bear City“. Smarter than the av-er-age Bear, Mannetti holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling, has worked as an HIV testing counselor, and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the woof-inducing online magazine “All Bear“ and in other online webzines. Joe Mannetti will soon be celebrating his 50th birthday. At a time in life when so many gay men are stripping a few years off their real age or are still hiding that decaying portrait in their attic, Mannetti is hugging… uh, I mean embracing his age in a big way. Personally, I want to take a giant picture of Joe (shirtless, of course!), scrawl “This Is What 50 Looks Like!” across it, and parade it across town. The bear-lebrity spoke to Jed Ryan about the his upcoming endeavors. This is my second interview with Mr. Mannetti… but don’t you dare call it “sloppy seconds”!
JR: Hello Joe! Thanks for speaking with me! What projects have you been involved with lately?
JM: Howdy Jed! It’s always a pleasure speaking with you! Thanks for stopping by to chat with the Ol’ Daddy Bear! Congrats on your Leather title, Mr. Rawhide 2011! You are doing a great job fundraising for our communities and to help support Leather history archives. Keep up the good work, Champ!
JR: Thanks! I do my best!
JM: As for me, I have been keeping busy trying to get my acting career going. I have always been involved with work in low-budget independent films. But I was always the “Bear cameo or walk-on” at the end of the movie. It was fun. But I am trying to get better roles in films now. I want a chance to really act. If I have talent, hopefully I will get that chance. I acted in a gore-fest flick that is making the rounds on the film festival circuit right now. I got to play a featured lead in one of the segments in it. My part is very dark. It is unlike anything that I have done before. The movie is your typical blood-bath piece of shit. But I have one scene that allows me to truly act in it. That is the only reason why I agreed to be in the film in the first place. I have not seen it myself. But I have been told by several people who did see it that they really liked my acting. I also just submitted to audition for some roles in some other film projects. I am seeking professional representation that will finally get me into SAG and AFTRA, and I just posed for some new shots taken by photographer Adam Woomer in NYC. We’ll see what happens. I have no problem with anything that I have done – even being a Bear Pin-Up. But, let’s face it. I will be 50 years old in a few months. I need to focus on other goals. Not that there is anything wrong with the Bear Pin-Up stuff!
JR: I’ll say! Hey, a Bare Bear is always a great thing! Now, recently, IBR (International Bear Rendezvous) has come to an end, with the last one having been in February 2011. This event, founded in 1994, was considered to be one of the biggest and most emblematic Bear events in the country and even the world. The creators of the event, The Bears of San Francisco, stated that the official reasons were financial in nature, as well as burnout by the Coordinators. They also stated that registration for their event dropped, even though there was a proliferation of other Bear events popping up all over the country competing for attention. What do you make of the end of IBR?
JM: Well, if anything happens, it usually happens for a reason – or a variety of reasons. Sure, the current economy had something to do with it. But that doesn’t explain why, despite the current economy, IML (the International Mister Leather event) is still going strong in Chicago. Chicago is facing its own financial troubles just as much as San Francisco is right now. Different cities might be experiencing more or less economic crisis. There is a lot to explore and examine. But I strongly suspect that money was probably not the bottom line issue as some people are claiming now. I definitely think that money and costs had something to do with it. But it was other contributing factors that really brought the curtain down in my own humble opinion. Burnout probably was a factor. But how much encouragement was given to new coordinators who came on board? I don’t have the answers, and I am not trying to wrongly accuse anyone or make incorrect assumptions. I loved my IBR experiences, and I was treated very well most of the time. But I know that others had different experiences, and I observed that myself too. It was unfortunate. I think that if “change” had been more aggressively embraced along with listening to the desires of our communities, Bear and Bear lovers alike, IBR might have continued longer. I could be wrong. I do know that I met some amazing people like John David Elam (Mr. International Bear 2009). Together, with the help of so many great volunteers, we were able to raise a lot of money for some very worthy support services that help our communities. That is a wonderful legacy for IBR to have left behind.
JR: Yeah! In June 2011, the iconic New York City gay bar The Stonewall Inn held its first ever Mr. Stonewall Bear Contest, with Mike Fass (AKA Drummerbear) receiving the Title of Mr. Stonewall Bear 2011 and Jay Edwards receiving Mr. Stonewall Cub 2011. As a mover and shaker in the Bear community yourself, what advice would you give to these gents– or any new Titleholder or aspiring Bear activist– about being a role model for the Bear community?
JM: My advice is not to focus on being a role model. I certainly do not consider myself one. I would never advocate that anyone, for any reason, hold up my life as a blueprint to be copied for any model of success. My life is my own. Your life should be your own. A title holder should bring in his own vision and his own sense of self to his journey. If I could share anything, I would say be true to yourself and to your communities. Focus the spotlight on something that you feel offers a contribution of lasting and significant value to others. The title, in and of itself, stands for nothing unless you make it stand for something. You decide what you want it to represent based on your own vision and abilities. Connect with people and organizations that support your goals. Make a difference and always acknowledge the fact that anything that you accomplish requires a collaborative effort with others. Nobody achieves anything significant alone, with or without a title.
JR: You have lived in Los Angeles and spent a great deal of time in New York City too… and you now call Connecticut your home. Many people have opined about the different mentality between life in L.A. and life in NYC… and then, of course, living in the suburbs adds a whole new perspective into the mix too! Where do you personally feel most “centered”, especially when it comes to being a self-identified Bear?
JM: I love New York City. I was raised in New York before I moved to Los Angeles to give life a try in Movie-Land, USA! I made a lot of great friends who I still love very much in the Southland. Obviously, I did dig a lot of stuff about life in L.A.! I lived there for 24 years! But, New York is my home. Regarding the “Bear” scene, I would have to say that San Francisco remains the HUB of Bear life just as Chicago is considered Leather Central by so many folks. There are Bear communities that are THRIVING all over the world! But I still say that San Francisco is the main station where Bear history and communities are most identified as being celebrated worldwide. New York City is MY home in my heart – now and always.
JR: That’s great to hear! So, Joe, what do you feel is the most important issue facing the GLBT community as we start to see 2012 on the horizon? When I have asked that question to the masses before, the predominant answer seems to be marriage equality. What’s your opinion?
JM: I think that equality and recognizing same-sex marriage are very important issues! How could you argue that point? Of course, same-sex couples deserve the right to legal marriage! It’s absurd to even argue about it. It’s a no-brainer! But, for me personally, I would like to see the dialogue on finding a cure and a vaccine for HIV/AIDS get re-ignited again. The virus is still with us. It is still infecting people. It is still impacting lives. Gay marriages, and Straight marriages, would be so much greater if our quality of life was improved by the absence of HIV/AIDS in the world. Don’t you agree? I would also like to see even more attention directed towards programs that support and protect LGBTQ youth, senior LGBT folks seeking housing and assistance, increased efforts to promote meth addiction recovery services, and we need to support awareness and outreach that protects Transgender people!
JR: You made a decision to go back to being an actor and performer full time. I know that you have had some ups and downs along the way… and a good deal of drama too! What is it like trying to make it as a professional actor? It seems like you’ve learned a lot about the film industry as of late– both positive AND negative!
JM: How can you avoid “drama” if you are involved in the acting field? I mean, that is what acting is all about, right?
JM: Seriously, I feel that the only drama that any actor should have to focus on is the professional emoting that he attempts to develop in his work. It’s been my experience that the personal drama that can erupt on sets between some casts and crews is most often the result of something else. When unprofessional behavior is inflicted upon others by amateurs on power trips who get off on bullying people who care about their work, it creates the personal drama. There is never any such thing as a perfect work environment. But when you feel exploited in one too many bad productions spoiled by hack directors pushing bad scripts, it can really do a number on you. The bad films that I have acted in were horrible experiences. Most of it had to do with the director and his production team in each case. This can happen at any level of filmmaking. But, when you have no union protecting your work, an actor can become a target for some very unprofessional people. Unions like Screen Actors Guild were developed for very good reasons. Low-budget filmmaking can be the most exciting and exhilarating experience any actor can have with the right director and the right team. It can also be Hell on earth with the wrong director and the wrong crew, especially in a non-union situation without any guarantee of any professional guidelines or the promise of even a minimal salary for your hard work. So, what have you learned, Dorothy? No actor should work for anyone without pay. If they offer you nothing, it establishes that they think that you are worth nothing. It’s a set-up for a truly horrible experience no matter how desperately you may want the opportunity to be in a movie. Don’t do it. Actors need unions. Working non-union may be necessary when you are starting out. But, if you are serious about advancing in the acting field, you must get union representation as early as possible to insure decent pay, appropriate credit for your work, and respectful/civil treatment on any movie set. Screen Actors Guild would never have allowed even one fraction of the truly abusive and unprofessional behavior that I experienced and observed on my last non-union movie project. I realize that now, and I am sure that the director who took a sick kind of pleasure in having free reign to exploit others realized it at the time too. It was a grotesque experience. I really have nothing positive to say about any director who sends actors emails calling them “dumb faggots” or sends messages to women online calling them “cunts.” It’s a disgrace to the low-budget independent film industry that this director is winning awards for his movie on the indie film festival circuit right now.
JR: One of your recent projects is being interviewed in a documentary about transman and adult film star Buck Angel. What was your involvement with that project?
JM: Award-winning documentary filmmaker Dan Hunt told me he was working on directing and producing a film about the amazing life of Transgender Porn Mega-Star Buck Angel. I told him that years ago Buck and I had worked together. Actress and Performance Artist extraordinaire Selene Luna approached me at the time about her friend Buck Angel needing someone to agree to pose nude with him for some kinky shots.
JM: Back then, nobody would agree to work with Buck because he was a man with a pussy! I was outraged by their narrow-minded prejudice, and I was anxious to pose with such a sexy and interesting individual! I was impressed by Buck’s radical independence and spirit. So, I signed up for the gig, and we took the shots together! Buck and his assistant/partner were two of the most wonderful people that I ever worked for in my life. They treated me well, and they paid me very decently. I cannot say the same about everyone who I worked with in the industry. Years later, Buck thanked me for being one of the only men at that time willing to work with him. It was an honor. When I told Dan about my experience with Buck, he asked me to be interviewed for his documentary on him.
JR: Wow! I really like Buck’s work, so I can’t wait to see the final project! Now, while we are on the subject: In the past, you have been very open about your work in the adult film industry. You are now “retired”, but a lot of adult film stars have higher rates of recidivism than Lindsay Lohan. Would you ever consider going back to that career path?
JM: It’s enough that some folks still tolerate me being bare-chested in photos at my age. No, I do not wish to go back to performing in adult films. I really was never pleased or comfortable with my work in them if you want to know the truth. They were very cheaply shot productions. I don’t regret that I did it. I didn’t get wealthy from participating in it, as some folks seem to believe. I just got a lot of notoriety, and the producers got a lot of money. End of story. But I still do advocate that people should have the freedom to choose whether or not they wish to be involved in porn without being discriminate against for it. They also need and deserve protective guidelines. There should be HIV and STD testing available for all performers. I do not support porn that promotes unsafe sex (anal sex without condoms) or allows drug use/abuse on the set. Children/minors should never be sexually exploited in porn or outside of porn. Consenting adults have the right to do whatever the fuck they want to do on and off camera. Judging adults for being involved in porn is more perverted than anything that they do on the set. This current generation of “Gladys Kravitz” characters that self-righteously point fingers at others are truly pathetic and laughable. I am not talking about the Religious Right as much as the hypocrites that exist within our own LGBT communities. Get a fuckin’ life! Better yet, start getting fucked in your own life so that you don’t have to obsess on the fucking that other folks are enjoying on and off camera. Joe has spoken!
JR: And when Joe speaks, people listen! In your posts on Facebook, I learned that you have a fascination with Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, and a few other misunderstood, late blonde actresses from vintage Hollywood! So do I, by the way! Where does your affinity for these women come from?
JM: These ladies were individuals who challenged sexual boundaries and made the world a more sexy and enjoyable place for all of us in the process! What’s not to love about any of them? I don’t particularly love the way that most of them were treated by moralistic and sex-phobic bigots. But a lot of them did display a resilience that was wonderful. Jayne Mansfield laughed right along with everyone at her own image a good deal of the time. She was far more confident and in charge than Marilyn in response to her detractors. Marilyn, of course, was actually very wise and very sensitive about sexuality and how her image was viewed by the public. She was also treated very poorly by the people who exploited her the most ruthlessly. A lot of them are still profiting from her long after her tragic death. That makes me sad – and angry. There is a lesson there, and it is not just the crap about how troubled she supposedly was during her life. The more significant point, to me, is how much trouble was thrown into her life by some very mean-spirited and truly self-serving people. The ladies that I love also include Gypsy Rose Lee and Mae West. Gypsy, like Jayne Mansfield, laughed first at herself before others did. She was quite a gal. Mae West, of course, liberated and empowered herself with her sexuality. Mae was all about healthy living and being the best you that you could be. She advocated, “No drinking and positive thinking.” She never got into abusing drugs or alcohol, and she created her own material. I dig her style 100%. The more tragic figures like Barbara Payton and Yvette Vickers teach us as much about ourselves, in terms of the way that they were treated and their lives sadly ended, as they do about anything. So, I identify with a lot of the strengths and human frailties of all of them. Personally, I like to keep most of my focus on the strengths part. I am a strong person just in case you didn’t know by now.
JR: I noticed, trust me! So, what does Joe Mannetti do for fun?
JM: I work!
JR: Now, you know what they say about “all work and no play”! Be careful! Thanks again, Joe!