Daniel Nardicio: Promoting Bad Behavior
On a recent hot Thursday night, John Fischer, Metropolitan Community Church choir director, gives his crew last minute instructions. "Remember, we do this every Sunday," Fischer tells the men and women, all dressed entirely in white.
Minutes later they step onto a small stage, their eyes getting lost in the crowd of mostly young men holding drinks. The choir members shake their last minute jitters and belt out a song called "Jesus all the way."
The "service" is meant to commemorate the passing of Jerry Falwell and other right-wing church leaders. This is all fine and well, except it's taking place at The Cock, a popular gay cruisy spot in the East Village.
"Jesus all the way," says Daniel Nardicio. "That's so gay."
What comes next is gayer: a go-go dancer who goes by the name of Tigger!, wearing a priest outfit. Piece by piece, the outfit flies into the crowd, like targetless missiles. He licks a cross as if it was made out of candy and then gives the audience the illusion he is extracting a uniquely large rosary out of his butt (Madonna should take notes).
Most gay choir members leave right away, since they agreed to perform before the go-go boys took the stage. Lost in the dark silhouette of the crowd, Nardicio shakes his head slightly to the sound of the beat. He may look like any other 40-year-old boyish bar customer here, in t-shirt and shorts, salivating over semi-naked men. But make no mistake. This is Daniel Nardicio, the mastermind behind this scene. He's better known as New York's King Of Queer Sleaze and the St. Patron of Gay Dirty Parties--both titles he happily upholds.
"Everybody is so afraid now," Nardicio says of the gay party nightlife. "I'd rather ask for forgiveness than permission."
Gay party life may have lost its glory days, with most gay party promoters looking for safe bets, often forming alliances with area businesses and police. Nardicio, however, is determined to put the "life" back into nightlife, not to mention "sleaze." Club parties are supposed to be raunchy, dirty and bend the rules. If party promoters don't do this, then who would? he wonders.
"Daniel Nardicio is kind of like our queer, modern-day Larry Flynt. Well, minus the wheel chair and the paralyzed pecker," says Sweetie, drag queen, party producer and New York City's self-proclaimed big-titted honky soul momma (and who, in her man-drag, sometimes does Nardicio's door.)
"Daniel really believes in pushing some serious buttons where sex is concerned," Sweetie goes on. "He has always been pretty unapologetic about ruffling feathers and shaking things up. Let's face it, he's got some of the biggest balls in the business."
What does it take a person to become a ballsy, sex-button-pushing party promoter? That's a question Nardicio sometimes asks himself. Looking back at his life, however, it seems as if he seemed destined to be a creature of the nightlife.
Nardicio began spending his nights in strip bars back in the 1960s while growing up in sleepy Painesville, Ohio. He would sit with his mom under smoky lights as the crowd of mostly men filled the room. At a certain time in the night, his mom would ask him to go play outside.
The young Nardicio would obey, wondering what his mom was doing inside the large place blasting loud music. It took him years to find out his mom, whom he remembers as a replica of a young Elizabeth Taylor, danced topless at the bar.
"I was too young to know what she was doing," he says. "She was a party girl."
As soon as he turned 18, it was time for Nardicio to become a party girl himself. For that he had to leave the pain that was Painesville to seek his fortune in the big city, in this case Los Angeles. There, he crashed on sofas before debarking for Germany. Always, he gravitated toward the local nightlife.
It was not until he moved to New York in the early 1990s and discovered the East Village that he knew he had found his niche. He began exploring the grittiness of this part of the city, where he found local nightlife still a bit tamed. So he decided to shake things up a bit, organizing his own parties.
He quickly caught the attention of other party promoters with his unique East Village theme parties, such as the popular "Flu Shot" events. This was not your grandfather's flu shot. In Nardicio's version, happy bar customers took flu shots, liquor poured inside the penis' foreskin of go-go boys.
"People were asking themselves 'Who is this Daniel Nardicio?'' " he recalls. "I became the bad one."
He is legendary for his parties at The Cock, The Hide and old-residency spot Slide, where, at his Underwear Parties, everyone--boy, girl, young, old, gay, straight--had to strip to his or her skivvies. The parties were sexy and fun. There was dancing, and, yes, there were other things going on. Nardicio brought his underwear parties to Fire Island and branched out to other clubs. In the meantime, he bought a house in New Orleans, pre-Katrina--a town he has adopted as his second home.
Meanwhile, back North, in order to stay bad, Nardicio enlists dozens of go-go boys, many of whom find him first. They tend to be new to the city in search of fast-income. He has about 60 in his roster. "They send me emails with photos and once I meet them, I assign labels--skater, pussy-boy, etcetera," he says.
Tigger! (real name: James Edgar Ferguson) likes Nardicio's party-hearty style. The edgier, the better, he says this night after his priest performance. The night of Falwell's "funeral," he cleans off his make-up and takes a breather to brainstorm on his recent number. Does he feel any qualms pretending to be pulling religious artifacts out of his rear?
It takes him about one second to respond: No, not at all. "Look, I have been doing this for 10 years. Compared to performing live sex acts and jerking off in public, this is nothing," he says. "After you do that, everything else is a lot easier."
While parties continue to be his trademark, Nardicio knows that the future in lies taking the name he has made for himself into media. He has already created his own web site, D-List, a myspace.com-type site "only dirtier and gay," he says.
He also hosts a Saturday podcast on www.eastvillagaradio.com. His next project involves taping his own program. Beginning in mid-August, his own documentary/reality show, entitled "Nardicio's Great Gay American Road Trip," will make the rounds of clubs.
The cast, which includes Downtown personalities such as Bianca Del Rio, Sweetie, Dina Delicious, Gio, Chase, porn star Ben Andrews, Glenn Marla, and go-go boys Brad and Jay, will ride a bus cross country, holding go-go boy contests. The winner from each town will join the cast.
"I want to bring drag queens and go-go boys to small-town America," he says. "I want to film that. We need to open America's mind." That's the side very few people get to see of the rogue gay party promoter, some nightlife inhabitants say. The side that mixes sleaze with activism.
"I do think Daniel's public persona is far different from the genuinely sweet, sometimes shy Ohio boy that loves to cook at home and volunteer at the local animal shelter," Sweetie says. "You expect Daniel's apartment to have a fisting sling in the living room and half a dozen naked twinks flitting around with feather dusters hanging out of their asses. Instead it's really a 'Golden Girls' marathon on the television and Daniel in the kitchen baking organic bread and giving tips on seasoning popcorn with amino acids."
It's another hot Saturday night: While hosting his radio show in the East Village, Nardicio ponders about the state of nightlife gay parties in New York. He puts his headphones down, zips from a cocktail and acknowledges, "It is not like it used to be, back in the '80s and '90s," he says.
He looks out into the busy East Village streets. Some curious people peek into glass door of the small storefront studio. He seems pensive, his mind going back to his early years in Painesville and then how far he has come here in New York.
"There was an innocence to Painesville. I always look for innocence in people. That's hard to find here," he says and then points out to the streets. "I love the East Village though. Look at this. I love this, traffic and trannies."