Billy Procida is a nice guy who means well. He is also a New York-based comedian, a self-described hopeless romantic, and the host of “The Manwhore Podcast,” a forum in which he interviews women with whom he’s “hooked up” in an effort to talk openly about sexuality. It’s sort of like “Guys We Fucked,” only hosted by a dude and way less outwardly focused on feminist social change.
And that might be why, during the nearly two hours Procida and I spent talking at a quiet East Village bar a few weeks ago, I found myself nodding in agreement with so much of what he said, but also left the bar feeling agitated. I wasn’t so much aggravated by Procida himself, but by the different standard to which society allows him to hold himself, and still feel comfortable and shameless. Basically, I was annoyed once again by male privilege.
Here’s the thing: Procida is doing feminist work with “Manwhore,” which he started last spring after kicking around the idea for several months. His premise began with the recognition that he is a seeker of love and commitment, who also happens to enjoy casual sex and happens to fall for women who aren’t interested in being in a relationship. Procida views his predicament as a classic role reversal, which makes sense -- but it’s also an odd benefit of feminism that allows men like him, who are in touch with their feelings, to express themselves. It’s also what allows women who enjoy sex unapologetically and without seeking romance to express themselves, too.
Surely Procida would -- and did -- say that these are positive changes, but he was hesitant to use a feminist vocabulary, or to describe himself as a feminist at all. He decried the politicization of, well, things he doesn’t find to be political, which is something he, a recipient of male privilege, can afford to do. That privilege is a pesky hurdle to equality, but not always -- because sometimes, even without checking themselves fully, people like Procida do meaningful work to help meet progressive ends. They just don’t always go about it in a perfect way.
Procida and I discussed that frustration toward the end of our interview, when he asked me how I thought I might introduce the Q&A. We also discussed the reasons he doesn’t identify as a feminist, and what it means for a man to claim the word “slut” as his own, and how “The Manwhore Podcast” has -- or hasn’t -- changed all the casual sex he’s having. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
I guess we should start with the origin story.
I didn’t want to just do a blog and talk about everyone I have hooked up with. I had been kicking around ideas and I didn’t know if it was a podcast, Web series, or blog, but I knew something might be there. I was never thinking about actually doing it. Then, I fell for this girl really hard. We had instant chemistry. I was thinking it will surely be a thing, to the point that I went to my therapist and was like, “If this one doesn’t work out I will do that fucking podcast I kept talking about.” Surely, like a week or two later, she goes back upstate with a friend, runs into her ex, and they decide to get back together. So I go to therapy and tell my therapist about this, and without missing a beat she goes, “So you are going to do that podcast.” It was like, son of a bitch! Fuck. Now I have to do it.
Say that “Guys We Fucked” didn’t exist. Regardless, if you flip the concept around and you have women doing the same sort of exploration you’re doing, it becomes this anti-slut-shaming political move almost by necessity, because of the implications of women talking openly about enjoying sex. For a man to do the same thing, do you think it’s necessarily as political?
I think anyone who is instantly going to say “women does x, it’s this thing,” and “guy does x, it’s another thing,” without actually listening to their things, is a simple person and should be treated as such. I’m a person. I’m a guy, but I don’t want to be treated as my gender. I want to be treated like Billy. I know not everyone is going to see it like that, and that’s why I tend to not respect a lot of people. It’s just not fair. I was an outcast for a long time. I was bullied and had no friends until I got to college. I had 18 very lonely years. I think that’s why I latch onto the other groups, because I felt like that.
So why do the podcast? Is it political? I’m not trying to be political. I’ve got opinions on certain things that I’ve ranted about on the podcast, like the shitty transgender bathroom laws that were proposed in Kentucky and Florida a couple of months back. I’ll rant on that. Sex-ed is probably my No. 1 thing.
You started with this initial purpose of exploring your own personal stuff, but the show has grown so much that clearly it’s meant to serve a larger purpose.
When I started the show the two things I wanted to do was this personal exploration, and at the same time I get to talk about these topics I’m very passionate about: sex-ed, sexuality, marriage equality, gender equality, and things like that. There are things that get me called a “fag” by all my comic friends when I’m hanging out, having a good time. I’ll speak up about something and then they make fun of me for treating people like people.
How much does slut-shaming matter to you? Would you consider it a goal of yours for the show to make it easier for other people to talk about sexuality?
That was a goal of mine before I even had this show. That’s why I talk about it so openly. I think that’s what we all should be doing.
What do you think the benefit of that is?
We normalize it. Then when we normalize it, it’s not so scary to teach kids, and we can lower teen pregnancy rates, which also tends to lower abortion rates, STI rates, etc. Hopefully one day, in our lifetime, we can legalize prostitution so it’s not this super dangerous thing all the time -- not that it’s super dangerous all the time -- so we can make it safer to be a sex worker, so you could call the cops if you are in trouble with a John, so you don’t have to end up dead on Long Island. The more you talk about sex, the less scary it can become. It’s going to take a lot of talking to get people used to the idea.
Your show seems to have originated from being in touch with the link between emotions and sexuality, while also acknowledging that the two are not always intertwined. How has your conception of discussing those two things, as they relate to each other, changed?
I love sex. It confuses people. People try to put people in boxes so much that it will blow their mind when they can’t figure things out. A lot of the times, stereotypically, it’s a guy who wants to bang a bunch of chicks, or a guy who wants a relationship. But you don’t really hear about the guy who is lovesick, but is still going to sex parties. That confuses people. But yes, sex can be emotional. Sex doesn’t have to be emotional. It can be both of those things and one person is not stuck having to do one or the other.
What benefit do you see adding women’s voices to this conversation?
One, someone can call me on my shit. I have had a couple of moments where I was wrong. I’ve had times where the women who came on as guests felt like being more honest now vs. then. Sometimes I will learn new things about our relationship that I didn’t know that maybe was in their heads. Sometimes I get closure that I didn’t have previously.
It seems like you are evading the use of the term “feminist.”
I’ve never called myself a feminist.
I did not take a gender studies course. I’m sure people would call me that. I just believe people should be equal, whatever you want to call it. Call it that. I have this thing with the word “feminism” because I don’t know better. I haven’t learned. It’s not that I’m against it, I just haven’t gone into the queue yet. I don’t go around screaming it. Do I avoid the word “feminist”? Yes, because I don’t understand it and I don’t want to use words I don’t understand.
You should try to understand it. Anyway: You’ve said on the show that you rely on “The Ethical Slut” definition of the word “slut.” What benefit do you think there is to reclaiming the word? Do you think you can even reclaim it, as a man?
To treat genders like that is a simplistic question.
Which you can say because you have male privilege. I will call you on that.
Again, a guy can be a slut. Go on Twitter and search “man-slut,” “manwhore,” and those things. You are going to see a bunch of girls calling dudes slut. Guys can be sluts too, in both a positive and negative light.
Would you agree that the repercussions for being called that are different for men and women?
I don’t know. I’m single because of that. I’m not representative of all men. Fucking “not all men.” I don’t think in terms of reclaim. Comedians, we catch flak for words. I’m a big fan of a word just being a word. If I just wrote a word on this table, it has no context, it has no intention, it has no inflection, there is nothing else around it. I’m just thinking of what words are correct in their usage here, what sounds good, what has the right amount of syllables -- I’m not thinking in these political ways with words. Because, again, we are talking about words, I want to choose my words correctly. Or else I’ll be on the front page of Jezebel.
“Salon interviews asshole Billy Procida.”
All that matters at the end of the day is what you meant when you said it, what’s the context. If I say, “You dirty fucking despicable no-good disease ridden slut,” it is a very different sentence than, “We are hanging out with my slutty friend Jen.” Same word, different meanings -- different uses, I should say. And words change. “Literally” doesn’t even fucking mean literally. Can I reclaim the word “slut” as a man? If anyone fucking says “mansplaining” to me when all it is is explaining, I will lose my mind. I’m not reclaiming, I’m just using a word that is accurate.
I am curious how the show has affected your sex life. Do you go into new situations with women thinking, “I’m going to talk about this on my podcast”?
Never. Some people said that. That was the initial joke. By the way, I should just clarify, it’s not just women I’ve just had sex with. It’s anyone I’ve hooked up with in some capacity. Sometimes I’m calling women six years after we made out in a bar in college, once. Now I’m hitting them up. Stuff like that.
How do you obtain contact information for all of them?
Sometimes I have to Google ninja like a motherfucker. Some women I will never reach. There’s very few where I don’t even have a name to go off of. But I don’t hook up with people just to have them on the show. Anyone I hooked up with in 2014, I wouldn’t have on the show in 2014.
How do women feel about you doing it?
I don’t want people on the show that I’m currently sleeping with unless I feel there’s a reason. I’ll let some time pass before I have them on. I don’t know how that’s really impacted my sex life. I still hook up. Again, I enjoy sex. I still go into things that I know are not going to go down a romantic route just because sex is fun. I’ll do things, but I don’t do them because I want more guests. I’m not pursuing things with new intentions. Any casual sex I’m having, I was already probably already having.
What else? I’m out of questions.
What do you think of all of this?
I guess I can tell you what my takeaways are. I think you have benefited from male privilege in a way that you are unaware of.
I’m aware of it, but I also still want to be treated like a person.
I think that you reject your privilege. And I think you have been given license, not necessarily through your own doing, to effect change aimlessly. You don’t have to identify as a feminist, you don’t have to have political goals … It’s because of male privilege that you are able to say things like, “I want to be treated like a person.” When I say I want to be treated like a person, it has a completely different meaning.
But I don’t want it to have a different meaning for you either. I do a lot of correcting. I’m not always the fun guy to have in the group of friends because I’m the guy who is usually saying something and fucking up everyone’s good time by talking about equality and logic. But I think it’s important. I think a lot of guys who are good guys, I think a lot of us don’t know what to do. Sometimes I will feel powerless with that. So for the last few years I realized what I could do is at least affect my immediate circle. So I try and correct. If I can change somebody’s mind, maybe they change someone else’s -- I feel like that’s the most I can do.