Since March of 1999, Philadelphia's gayest and straightest have tuned in to In Bed with Butch on WYBE/DUTV. It's not just gay-community fare — viewers like Butch Cordora's humorous interplay with guests like Ian McKellen, Margaret Cho, Jay McCarroll, Lady Miss Kier, Murray Hill and the occasional Village Person. Now audience can see more of the buff Cordora, when he gets naked with a bunch of flaming heterosexuals in his 2009 calendar, Straight & Butch. Long in the discussion phase ('07 to be exact), the stark photography comes courtesy of Tony Ward and a klatch of lensmen including Michael Itkoff and Christopher Gabello. I caught Butch at his home on 11th and Lombard, just back from the gym and ready to answer for himself and his 12 long months.
City Paper: Say it, say it: How old are you? When I ran into you at the calendar's release party, I thought you looked dashing.
Butch Cordora: I am 49 fucking beautiful years old. I would never lie or disrespect myself about that. It's all about being Madonna's age.
CP: I feel like we've been talking about this calendar forever.
BC: This was supposed to be an '08, calendar but I had such a hard time finding hets that I had to push it back a year.
CP: So Straight & Butch — when and how and in what state did that brainstorm occur?
BC: I've had the idea for six years now but really wanted to wait until I could do it right — save money, use Tony Ward. ... I came up with the idea because honestly, there were two different times in my 49 years that I dated straight men. Like, no kidding. One was married and one was engaged — both to women — and they sort of fell in love with me. Not dick, not men, just me, you know? Of course both relationships ended horribly. They both are still married with tons of kids, and they're totally straight. Anyway, that started me thinking of the fluidity of masculinity, sexuality, vulnerability, sexual tension, all that shit.
CP: What brought you to Tony Ward — other than that he's Philly's premier bare-ass porn-horndog snapper?
BC: Well yeah, just what you said. When you think of sex, photography, nudity and erotica, you think of him. So I figured WTF, I'll go right for the cream of the crop.
CP: How did other photographers come into the picture?
BC: The initial idea was to have Tony do all 12, but after a few photos I started rethinking the whole project. I thought it would add another dimension to have five or six different photographers sink their teeth into this one bold idea.
CP: Was there a specific look you wanted?
BC: [Tony] was the one who explained, "If you just have a gay guy and a straight guy in a photo, embracing, spooning, kissing, touching, in the heat of the moment, etc., well, it's just gonna look like two gay guys. He felt the idea was to show these guys were straight. In other words, capture their vulnerability, capture their uncomfortableness, capture any of the sexual tension. I couldn't have agreed with him more.
CP: What did you say to put the men at ease?
BC: Of the 12 I knew only three — Gervase Survivor; this guy John who works with my best friend, Kelly, at TLA; and Tony Borzotta, a cameraman who works on my show. Hmmm, I don't know, I really don't want to keep tooting my own horn or anything, but ... I am really, really, really very good with talking people into things.
CP: Did they have any say?
BC: Halfway through the project, another idea got thrown in. Initially, the landscape of the calendar was to do narratives — basically, telling a story. Working out with a straight dude, getting a haircut, shaving, getting a tattoo, giving a massage. But I also have always loved the art of pastiche. I think they're a fantastic homage to the original artist, and I feel they should be flattered by a gesture like that. So I though that maybe for three or four of these photos, I would do that. Some of them work better than others, but the four that I did were John and Yoko, Abbey Road, Janet Jackson's famous "hands on her breast" pic and the Cindy Crawford and K.D. Lang cover of Vanity Fair from 1993.
CP: What is with the Beatles allusions?
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BC: My favorite shot is the John and Yoko in bed. I watched documentaries about that day, studied both John Lennon and Annie Leibovitz biographies about that one specific photo shoot and labored over Yoko's facial expression in that pic. The whole uninterested attitude she had that particular day. Also Zach Brady, the 19-year-old kid I stalked at Whole Foods, did some mighty fine acting in that photo. He's straight but he genuinely looks like he's madly in love with me. I think it can stand on its own and hang in a gallery by itself.
CP: I adore the Tony Ward thing you shot at Tattooed Mom. Any good stories? It looks painful and sensual.
BC: It was soooo painful for Billy Barton, the model. The only weird story I have about that was, I thought it would be a good idea for the two of us to go in the bathroom and sort of jerk off a little. I don't mean anything gay or jerking each other off, I just mean, play with ourselves to get our dicks a little chubbed up for the photo. My TV camera guy was in there, too, it's all on video. But it didn't work. It's incredibly nerve-wracking to be naked on a set with nine people around.
CP: Do you think any of your straight boys harbored any gay curiosity?
BC: Yeah, I think I probably could have talked two or three of them to "do it" with me. But I honestly didn't want to go there because the main thing is this calendar and I wanted to — at least in my own mind — keep it pure and know in my heart that every guy was 100 percent straight. So I didn't even let myself go there. But I totally jerked off sooooo much thinking about each and every one of them.
City Paper: Did Tony Ward express any reservations?
Butch Cordora: No reservations. He did make it clear that he had and has no desire whatsoever to photograph the naked male body. But he was so intrigued and kinda blown away by my concept — if I do say so myself — that he signed on.
CP: I know you posted on Craigslist ...
BC: I made the mistake of putting in the ad who I was. So a lot of guys who answered the ad were gay and simply just came out and said it. They just wanted to grab a coffee.
CP: Coffee? That's pretty geriatric.
BC: They thought maybe if I met them I would change my mind, scrap the whole concept and want to photograph them because they're so fucking hot. It was ridiculous. Other guys I know were ... posing as straight just to say they were in a Tony Ward photo, or who knows, even just to say they did a nude photo with me. There was one circumstance where a "straight" guy showed up with someone transitioning. There was a guy who wanted to get a free naked photo of himself to give to his girlfriend and the minute I said I was gonna be in the shot with him, he stormed out of the coffee shop. I got the whole gamut.
CP: What's your least fave photo?
BC: Rocco and the painting of the face. It's just unsettling. It's my fault, I take full responsibility, it was just too out there. What are you gonna do? Some work, some not too much.
CP: You seem pretty comfortable with your body in these. Were you ever crazy self-conscious?
BC: In the beginning, yeah, maybe the first two photos. But it's really funny how comfortable you get being naked in public after you keep doing it over and over again. It's kinda surreal.
CP: So who is the market for these calendars — seems as much straight women as men?
BC: Yep, you got it. There's a weird thing about straight women, because almost every single straight guy who did my calendar are all getting laid more! I think it's just a turn-on for these women that their boyfriend/husband is so evolved to the point that he would pose naked with a gay dude. Gay guys are buying the calendar and I think some straight guys are buying it, too, 'cuz they recognize their buddy in the pic, just as a ball-busting thing. I would say, though, that no lesbians will buy this.
CP: So what's the next calendar concept?
BC: "Straight, Black & Butch" — that's an idea I've had — 12 hot straight black men and me. I also want to try and collect every freak, drag queen and tranny in Philly. Your friend Needles Jones is on my list. I want to do a shoot with each of them and call the calendar "Butch & a Bitch." I would love to pose with 12 beautiful sexy lesbians and try to pull off looking like a straight couple, you know? I guess it's all just about toying with sexuality, masculinity, femininity and the human condition.
More info at inbedwithbutch.com.