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Friday, May 7, 2010

Deeper Dish with Tom Judson

During his 49 years, Tom Judson has been an actor (including the national tours of Cabaret and 42nd Street), writer, musician, composer, waiter, bartender, porn star (a.k.a. Gus Mattox), magazine columnist (The Advocate, Out, Unzipped), carpenter, self-taught house renovator, activist, peer advocate for an AIDS center, streetfood vendor, bike messenger, chorus boy and male escort. That's a very diverse list of jobs - and together they make him a very fascinating person.

I was first intrigued by Tom when I learned two surprising things about him: that he became the "world's oldest porn star" at the age of 43 and then retired two years later after making over a dozen films and winning the industry's "Oscar" - the 2006 GayVN award for Performer of the Year - AND that he wrote the music for two films that I love - Metropolitan (1990) and Grief (1994). I thought to myself at the time, "There's a heckuva lot more to this groovy guy than just a pretty face and a great body."

Then in March 2009, Tom announced on his blog that he was packing up his cat, Mickey, and hitting the open road in a 50-year-old camper that he restored and dubbed "Canned Ham" - which was also the name of his new one-man show that he would be performing around the country during this trip.  And now he's currently performing Canned Ham - sans camper - at The Cavern Club Theater in Los Angeles through May 16.   Although the original scope of his project has changed in the last year, the show itself is still all about the life and times of Tom Judson - and hopefully he'll be bringing it to Chicago someday soon. I am so delighted to have Tom here on the Dish to discuss a few of his past and present jobs and answer some pop culture questions.

Let's begin with Canned Ham. What inspired you to sit down and write the show?
I basically went broke when the real estate bubble burst. I had been flipping houses in upstate New York and all that fell off the cliff. I was trying to figure out what I might like to do next and the idea came about of doing a one-man (+accordion) show that I could travel around the country with. The original idea was more of a glorified stand-up routine that I'd perform in bars, but when the script turned out to have a bit more heft than I anticipated, we decided to treat it like a real play (albeit with a one-person cast) and play in more legit theatrical venues.

When did you start playing the accordion?
I bought a beat-up old accordion at the Salvation Army in Hell's Kitchen in the mid '80s, and I taught myself.

What songs do you perform with the accordion in Canned Ham?
I do a bunch of little snippets of songs in the show including "Lullaby of Broadway" and "California, Here I Come".

How did you end up making your gay porn debut at age 43? I was "discovered" by Chi Chi LaRue in a bar in Minneapolis. Any more than that and I'd be giving away the show! Where did the name "Gus Mattox" come from? I'm asked that question so often you'd think I'd have a good answer for it. I honestly don't remember how I came up with the name! Neither name has any personal significance to me. I do like double letters - and an "X" in a porn name is always a good thing. Maybe those were in the back of my mind when I thought it up. What is the most memorable moment you have had while performing - either onstage or in a film? When I was touring in Cabaret during a lift in the opening number, I once dropped a girl onto the stage, then fell on top of her and then screamed "Oh, fuck" into a live mic. Have you had any job that you absolutely hated? Many! I once sold fresh-squeezed orange juice from a cart on the streets in Rockefeller Center. Hideous. I was a candy vendor on roller skates at a concert venue in Central Park. That lasted one day. If you could go back 30 years and give your younger self a wise piece of advice, what would it be? Don't let go of that rent-stabilized apartment you're paying $185 a month for! In high school I was: Really popular with the girls and called "faggot" every day by the jocks. My favorite comfort food is: Chocolate The last good book I read was: George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of: The Brady Bunch and The Mary Tyler Moore Show Today I never miss a television episode of: 30 Rock and Mad Men The first record albums that I purchased with my own money were: Art Garfunkel's Angel Clare and The Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup Three of my favorite movies are: Leave Her to Heaven, Withnail and I and Murder on the Orient Express If I was asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive - besides my boyfriend [sorry, guys, he's taken] - it would be: Dennis Quaid If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people: Frank Lloyd Wright, George Gershwin and Hillary Clinton
What's next for Tom Judson? The immediate "next" is three months in Provincetown doing my show and also serving as Varla Jean Merman's accompanist. After that we'll be doing Canned Ham around the country and hopefully, eventually landing back in New York City. As for beyond that? I long ago stopped making predictions about my crazy life. Who knows what/where I'll end up. All I know is that it will be fun. Thank you, Tom, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish.  To learn more about Tom, check out his website and blogs at And to learn more about Canned Ham and purchase tickets to upcoming performances, go to

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