Recently, The Donkey Show has enlisted the aid of Robyn Byrd and Stuttering John as celebrity hosts on Wednesday and Thursday nights, respectively. Well-known from his contributions to the Howard Stern show, Stuttering John is also beloved as a DJ; and Robyn Byrd, as any real New Yorker knows, runs a cable show featuring New York's finest--its finest strippers, that is. This is the show that is watched on lonely weeknights by those too embarrassed to let their spouse, parent, or conscience see pay-per-view porn charges on the cable bill. The Robyn Byrd Show, uh...comes in both gay and straight flavors, so to speak, with the occasional gender-bender thrown in for good, uh... measure.
Ms. Byrd and Stuttering John were invited on board The Donkey Show at the behest of producer Jordan Roth. I caught up with Roth at his production office in midtown and asked him for the scoop on this creative casting; the buzz from the announcement that The Rocky Horror Show (Roth's first Broadway enterprise) had garnered several Tony Award nominations had phones ringing and people talking in the background throughout our conversation. Well-dressed, witty, poised, and urbane, Roth put up with my ham-handed questions and told me all about the genesis of his scintillating, perverse notion to feature celeb guest stars in his runaway Off-Broadway hit.
THEATERMANIA: How did Stuttering John and Robyn Byrd get into the creative mix at The Donkey Show?
JORDAN ROTH: Hosts are what the club business lives on. You know, you pick up a flyer for a club and it will list 15 hosts. That's a different thing from what we're doing, but it's part of the world of The Donkey Show. It's akin to charity balls where the host committee sends out invitations to their list of people and then hopes that, because "Jessica" is on the host committee and will be there with her lovely husband, you will want to go. In "clubland," that works nicely. For us, it sort of developed out of the radio. The first key to The Donkey Show's success was radio--not theater-style radio, but club-style radio. Those stations have a programming mode of a Saturday night dance party, which is built for clubs; their listeners are interested in what is the KTU or the Jammin' 105 Saturday night dance party. We sort of figured out relatively quickly that the show can be a dance party, because it's in a club, and that concept helped us tremendously. Part of the dance party formula is that one of the DJs comes to the venue and hosts. The idea is that the stations promote the fact that they will be broadcasting live from The Donkey Show at Club El Flamingo--Joe Causi from WKTU or Broadway Bill from WKTU or Beth Becall from Jammin 105, or any one of the radio DJs. Then, if the DJs have a good time at the show, they talk about it the week after, too.
TM: And this builds an audience?
ROTH: This builds an audience. And it also demonstrates the beauty of the guest host. In the beginning, they were just there saying "hello" and getting on the mike after the show. We have a DJ booth as part of the set; the guest hosts would hang out with the DJ and, at the end of the show, they'd greet the crowd and introduce themselves. That would be broadcast live on the air, and it had a brilliant effect. Then Boracio, who is a late-night/overnight DJ at Jammin 105, started coming and hosting on Saturday nights. The Donkey Show became the place where DJ's would come and bring their friends just to hang out. They would bring the whole office sometimes, and it would just be this ongoing party. Boracio is still with us on Saturday nights. Then Stuttering John joined the gang, and that's when the guest host became more of a character role in the show.
TM: It was proposed to him as a role?
ROTH: We wanted to integrate the [celebrity] appearances into the show so that we could advertise that these people are really a part of the show, not just hanging out. Stuttering John had done Tony N' Tina's wedding, so he was interested in the theater world. The Howard Stern show is our perfect demographic; that's where we hit. So, this Thursday night stint evolved. He's on Stern in the mornings and then, middays, he has his own program. He talks about the show all the time, and he plays a real character in it.
TM: A Midsummer Night's Dream character?
ROTH: A Donkey Show character! He had a post-promoter role; we love that theater world/real world crossover. Mr. Oberon's a promoter who walks around and Titania is his arm-candy. Stuttering John attends them with a bottle of champagne. He does the opening speech just as a promoter would, introducing "your purveyor of entertainment, Mr. Oberon." And he does the Donkey Show speech, announcing it as the main attraction.
TM: Robyn Byrd also makes sense for the role, in a number of ways...
ROTH: It makes sense in that Robyn is a Manhattan phenomenon; her show does not go anywhere beyond Manhattan. And we are a New York happening: We are for New Yorkers who "know" and people who want to be New Yorkers who "know." Robyn is a fabulous personality. She's a little different from Stuttering John, because she doesn't put on a character; she's Robyn Byrd. Which makes sense in its own way because of Robin Goodfellow in Midsummer. Who better to be Mr. Oberon's host?
TM: The Donkey Show experience includes an actual dance party after the show.
ROTH: Yes. The way it works is, as you are coming in, there's dancing, mingling, drinking, and fun. Then the show erupts out of the dance floor. It's under an hour, and you are invited to stay and dance through the night. When you come in on a Wednesday at 7:30 or so, you will meet Robyn; she's dancing on the floor with her glass of champagne, having a terrific time, and she welcomes you to have fun with her. So many people come up to her, especially women, and just blurt out things like: "You totally allowed me to, like, have sex and feel okay about it, just from watching your show." Being set free but still being in control is what The Donkey Show is about, and what sex is about. Or, rather, what good sex is about. Good sex and The Donkey Show!