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The Impresario of Smut


The Porcelain TwinZ, peacocking between sets.  

Over the past 22 months, as he’s refined his idea of what plays at The Box, Hammerstein’s taste seems to have narrowed and grown more extreme. If he likes a performer, sometimes he’ll try right there and then to fine-tune the act so it feels more appropriate for The Box. KENiMATTix are a pair of male gymnasts who performed their hand-balancing act at The Box on a nightly basis for about six months. “First Simon asked if he could oil us up, make us look shinier,” Ken Berkeley says. “We explained to him that we’re hand-balancers. We need to be able to have continuous contact with each other; oil just wouldn’t work. So he asked if we could do the act naked. Because of what the act is, that wouldn’t work either. So he suggested costumage, starting with a jockstrap.” (Hammerstein insists that if made, the suggestions were in jest.)

Before she came to The Box, an artist named Narcissister had been performing at burlesque clubs around the city, doing an act in which she emerged from a giant Russian nesting doll and then birthed several small dolls from her own body. One afternoon at rehearsal she showed this to Hammerstein, and they started discussing how to alter the act for The Box. “Simon told me that the smaller dolls don’t read because The Box is such a big venue—the people in the back aren’t going to be able to see what they are,” says Narcissister. “He asked me if I can do it with a larger doll. I said, ‘Absolutely not. There’s no way.’ ” But she agreed to experiment and was pleasantly surprised. “I realized that’s a gift that all women have.”

The “panvestite” performer Miss Rose Wood had an awkward first audition. “I had a number that I did that was a tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe, and it involved, at the end, inserting the whip in my rectum. The difficulty was that I’d forgotten my lube. And so it was an unpleasant conclusion. Everyone in the house covered their eyes. Then Simon said to me, ‘So, can you pull a string of Christmas lights out of your ass?’ I said to him, ‘Well, you know, I’m Jewish. And so before the Christmas lights come out, I’ve got to dislodge the menorah.’ ”

“They have a very good eye,” says Rose of Hammerstein and Kimmel. “They’ve certainly helped me with a number of my acts. A lot of people going in don’t want to take direction. To which I usually say, ‘Look, if you go to audition for a Broadway show, you don’t get the part and then tell them what you’re going to do. You work with the director. You know, you’re offering to be part of a show, not to do whatever you want.’”

“When we first started,” Hammerstein remembers, “I said, ‘There’s no way we can do this. People are going to be horrified.’ ”

Hammerstein’s instincts range from the genius-tasteless (like when he said at rehearsal, “What we need is a woman who can sing with her vagina,” and an aerialist named Marsha nominated her services—they named her Queen Laqueefa) to the truly offensive. There was the time, according to witnesses, when he asked the trio the Harlem James Gang to perform in blackface. And when he asked a member of a music group to perform a skit with a dildo stuffed in her mouth. (Hammerstein denies both these accounts.)

The Porcelain TwinZ, who describe themselves as “world-famous performers and the pioneers of fetish-burlesque,” have said their audition was “one the most insulting experiences we have ever had to endure.” The twins, Heather and Amber, had whirled and twirled on cold alloy in strip clubs on the West Coast and elsewhere for the better part of a decade, and they were insulted that Hammerstein asked them to alter their act. “They wanted us to cut pretty much the whole art of our show and just leave the cum shot—you know, the finale,” Heather says.

The TwinZ clashed with Hammerstein from the beginning. It wasn’t just that he wanted them to cut their twelve-minute act down to four—it was, they claim (and he denies), that Hammerstein interrupted their first audition halfway through and asked them if they could play with each other. The TwinZ, who say that they were feeling vulnerable and feared they would be dismissed otherwise, requested that a stagehand find them a glass dildo. “We had a smoking-fetish show,” continues Amber. “It involved toys, but it was always just simulated contact. Simon was like, ‘Can you do it for real?’ ”

One afternoon a few weeks ago, I sit with Hammerstein in the mezzanine of The Box. Onstage down below, two female performers—former Penthouse Pet Justine Joli and Marsha, the aerialist—are rehearsing a new skit, a spoof Bert-and-Ernie pizza-delivery porno act. Justine pantomimes knocking on an imaginary door. Marsha answers, and before you know it, Justine is on her knees simulating oral sex. Hammerstein yells down to them. “Excuse me, ladies. Are you combining ideas like we discussed?”

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