About a decade ago Rob Zicari (stage name Rob Black) was porn’s bad boy. His company, Extreme Associates, produced violent pornography so graphic that many in the adult industry shunned him.
In fact, few were surprised when he and his wife, Janet Romano, who directed under the name Lizzy Borden, were indicted by federal authorities for distribution of obscene materials. In 2009, after six years of legal maneuvering during which Black publicly complained about the lack of financial support from the adult industry, he and his wife each pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year and one day in prison.
Now Black is finally off probation—and three weeks ago, he launched a tell-all daily podcast that has the porn community “glued to their computers the way Depression-era families were glued to the radio for soap operas,” according to one well-known industry blog.
In his new incarnation, Black has directed his vitriol at his former porn colleagues, who he says need to clean up their act in a big way. Unsafe practices on set, business arrangements that exploit performers, common sidelines such as porn talent agents working their charges on escort sites—the industry is in trouble, Black says.
But that’s not why the adult industry is hooked. The reason is that Black, who spent years as a top director and grew up in the industry, has chosen to speak out in great detail about all the secrets of the trade. From the ins and outs of contracts to personal relationships among porn’s elite to drug problems on sets and personality issues with performers, Black knows what he’s talking about, and he’s spilling. Much of it is pure inside baseball for those not in the porn industry, and some performers (like Brooklyn Lee) have taken to Twitter to dispute Black’s claims.
But for now, Black again has the entire porn world paying attention to him. In this, his first interview since starting his podcast, The Daily Beast attempts to get the voluble Black to explain what he is trying to accomplish.
Why did you start this podcast?
I am a second-generation adult entertainer. My dad made movies. They weren’t gonzo movies—they were films. He did a Back to the Future parody called Backside to the Future. My dad had the first adult book store in Rochester, New York. He got busted something like 160 times for selling sex toys. My mom was arrested for selling vibrators in my dad’s store. So my history is the adult business. I respect the adult business. The adult business is my life.
So, when I got into the business I was a trailblazer. I did things that people said you couldn’t do. I said, “Why? It’s a First Amendment issue.” So, I went to prison. I went through the trials and tribulations of the business, and I’ve come to the other side. I survived. I am still writing my history. I got out of prison and I went right back to making movies. I was on probation and people still wanted to put me away. People still shunned me.
Do you mean porn people were shunning you?
Yeah, the establishment. The establishment that likes to continue to go on as it does without somebody vocal saying, “You guys are wrong.” And that usually happens to an outsider they can cast away and say that now they are in the religious right or they are this. No. This is someone who is in the business, and he loves the business, and he has history in the business. He is just saying what is wrong with the business and it should be fixed. The people who are fighting these changes are very hypocritical. Our business is littered with hypocrisy, and now I am calling the hypocrites out. How can you fight a condom issue or a work-safety issue with people that don’t care about work safety, that don’t care about talent? Then when I shed a light on it, then I am on drugs and I am on crack. Are you guys crazy? I am the same guy that you all loved in 1998 before I got busted. I am the guy who changed the business.
But before you were challenging John Ashcroft, and now you seem angry at the porn industry that you say you love...
Because they are John Ashcroft. It was about rights. And we are now dealing with a business that we are being assaulted from people who are trying to take away our rights and we are defending it with no defense. And, the defense we have are lies. So, I am coming in and saying I have a better defense. How about if you stop X, Y, and Z and then the powers that be can’t come at you. That is what I was preached getting into the business. We had sets of rules. Now every generation we push those limits. But at some point you have to have limits to push. If you push those limits, be prepared to feel the wrath of the government and you better be able to defend it. So, I can fight our own business by saying, “Guys, you are doing this wrong.” If you’re saying you care about performer safety, then the agents wouldn’t own escorting websites. They didn’t have that in my era.
But weren’t you the one pushing the envelope, doing the things that weren’t allowed before you were busted?
Yeah, but what were the rules? Who decides those rules?
Well, the Cambria List (named after the lawyer who created it) springs to mind as one list of things that if filmed would get you indicted. And didn’t you happily film those things?
No. Everybody was breaking those rules in the business. There were rules about interracial. There were rules about transsexual sex. There were rules about gay. Everybody broke those rules. Everybody broke those rules!
You didn’t feel like you were pushing boundaries?
Of course I was. I was prepared to fight and I had a defense. The industry doesn’t have a defense for what they are fighting against. That’s my point. My point is the industry was hard on me. Everyone told me, “Here’s the rules, Rob.” So, I pushed those limits and I went to prison. And I guess all those rules changed. I come out and I want to know what happened to all those rules, and everyone is like, Don’t worry about it. Then the government hits us.
If I understand, you are saying the things the industry marginalized you for filming before you went to jail, mixing violence and sex, that approach is routinely filmed now?
Yes. Not only some; that is what the industry is today. The industry is Extreme [Associates]. The industry is what I did. But they pushed it even further. They pushed it to a point where you can’t defend it. Because what I did was a fantasy. I was able to preach it is a movie. It is a guy in a costume. Now you have companies that do it in the guise of BDSM. You put a girl on a dog chain and chain her to a wall and then keep her there for two days and take a cattle prod and electrocute her and do all this under the guise of a documentary. You are taking the element of the movie out. Now, you are doing torture. You are taking the fantasy out. Now all of the sudden it’s, Let’s really do this under the guise of BDSM.
My business is under siege, because people say you are not safe and so we have condom laws. If you are going to defend our business and live in a glass house, you have to be prepared for the glass house to be shattered. We need to clean the business up. I am not going to do it. I am just going to talk about it. And if my business does not like me talking about it, so be it. It is about the people. I am not making my stuff to support other adult companies who didn’t support me. I am not making stuff to support agents who put my talent at risk. If anything I said on my radio show are lies, then I am sure I will get onslaughted [sic] with lawsuits. But I am not. Instead, I am getting half the industry saying you can’t listen to a guy who is crazy. Then the other half says, quietly, Thank you so much. Thank you for trying to clean this business and rid it of the bad things that are happening.