The king of YouTube-driven rap videos that saucily comment on sex and pop culture with some serious deadpan, gay playboy Cazwell has put out a succession of popular ditties like "All Over Your Face" and "I Seen Beyonce" (at the Burger King, where she was...well, just go to YouTube and find out. It wasn't pretty.) He's also branched out to work with artists like curvy Amanda Lepore and beefy Big Dipper. And since the performing artist--born Luke Caswell--is quite a looker himself, it makes sense that he's branching out into form-fitting underwear. Inspired by his own candy-colored song "Ice Cream Truck," Cazwell has collaborated with designer Geoffrey Mac to create a collection of men's briefs to wear to Burger King and even nicer places. Just the other day, I slipped some on and gave Cazzie a call.
Hi, Cazwell. Why underwear?
Originally, Geoffrey Mac wanted to do a line of sportswear with me. They did Sharon Needles T-shirts and shorts and leggings. They wanted to do Cazwell basketball shorts and tank tops and things I wear most of time. But I said, "I always wanted to do underwear." I did some research and figured out what my demographic was and what kind of underwear they would want. Originally, I thought they would just say "Cazwell" on them, to be bold and more masculine. But then I thought I should make it really, really cute, but still sexy. Playing off "Ice Cream Truck" made sense because when people say, "I love your video," they're usually referring to that one. It was the first video of its kind, in 2012. Usually in hip-hop, it's women in their underwear and bikinis shaking their asses, so to have guys do it was a new thing at the time.
Have you made sure to include hot guys in your videos ever since?
Not all of them. But I do notice that videos where I have guys half naked tend to get more "likes."
But without all that, your "Beyonce" number did amazingly well.
Yeah, I think because we were talking about Beyonce and it was right for its time. It was at a time when people started making more celebrity references in their songs. There was a campy feeling in the air when I wrote that song.
Do you consider yourself a hunk?
Oh, my god. Straight out of the 1970s, Michael. I definitely don't think I'm a natural when it comes to showing off my body. It takes a lot of work. I'm not one of those people who enjoys going to the gym. I'd rather be sitting on the couch eating Ben & Jerry's and Oreo cookies and not worry about what I look like, but I have to. Gay men are very hard on each other. In one video, I thought I looked so good, but people said, "You have to lose weight." I DO??? You have to aim for perfection because they'll knock you down.
So a club wouldn't book you if you had some unsightly overhang?
I don't think so. Maybe I'm wrong.
What kind of music did you listen to, growing up in Massachusetts?
For the most part, hip-hop--Public Enemy--but also mixed with Madonna.
Have you ever pursued any other line of work?
When I first moved to New York, I was a psychic on the phone. I had to do so much talking that I couldn't perform afterwards because I'd have a sore throat. So I had to quit because I had no voice. I had a book that gave me a combination of Eastern and Western astrology, so I was actually pretty good at it.
So it was basically bullshit?
For the most part, but it was well thought-out bullshit.
Is your primary gift the fact that you deliver satire on the culture?
Yeah, I'm pretty good at that. I'm pretty funny with my rhymes. I definitely bring a sense of humor to my songs. Sometimes I'm more serious, but I think I have a relatability that appeals to gay men.
So your demo is what, 90 percent gays?
I think so. Whenever I look at who's liking me on Twitter, they all look like gay men to me. And a lot of women.
Not to get all '70s again, but do you have groupies?
Yeah. I just try to make sure they don't know what hotel I'm staying at because I've had guys show up with their boyfriends, and they want threeways.
What's the problem with that?
[Pause] Well, it's not always a problem.
Have you ever been banned?
"All Over Your Face" was banned from Logo when it first came out, but then they decided to play it. I don't think it was the content of the video as much as the content of the song. Jizzing on someone's face--there was no way around it.
It couldn't be a water gun, I guess.
"It's all over your face/ Tell me, how does it taste?" They're gonna get it.
Not to mention "I masturbated/ Till my KY faded." Do you get an electric feeling in front of an audience when it's really clicking?
Definitely, when I'm getting the love. When I'm not, it feels like hard work. When I first started, I was in [the duo] Morplay, and one night, someone was eating a sandwich and threw it. It could be worse. I prefer the positive reaction, but nothing is worse than no reaction.
How has your status as a video star changed over the years?
When I started, I only had to drop like two videos a year, but now I have to rush and get five or six videos out a year. There's a higher expectation. You're in competition with other people and you've got to keep the video interesting. Guys in underwear always help!
And I know just what kind of underwear your co-stars will be wearing. Congrats, Cazwell!
SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
An openly gay opera singer with a Tony award (for South Pacific) and a dream, Brazilian-born Paulo Szot performed at 54 Below last week, doing a relaxed and lovely tribute to the collaboration between Frank Sinatra and bossanova king Antonio Carlos Jobim. Those two cultural greats did a landmark 1967 album, from which Szot covered numbers like "Change Partners," "The Girl From Ipanema," "I Concentrate on You," and Kismet's "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads," which he blended into a medley of South Pacific numbers, like "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" and "I'm in Love With A Wonderful Guy." (No, he didn't change the pronouns, thankfully.) It was all richly sung and warmly delivered, with lots of commentary between--and sometimes in the middle of--the songs. And Szot saved the best for last.
After a swinging "Fly Me To The Moon," he encored with a persuasive "Old Devil Moon" and ended with a stunning version of his South Pacific showstopper "This Nearly Was Mine." With an intimate, Brazilian-flavored instrumental backup, Szot delivered the goods even more soaringly than he did on Broadway. I cried into my sorbet!
A MOVIE ABOUT AN LGBT LEGEND?
I'm crying tears of joy over a possible development in yay-gay cinema. It involves Maria Bello, the noted movie and TV actress (A History of Violence, Touch) who came out as bisexual in a 2013 New York Times article that she's expanded into a book due out in April called Whatever...Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves. And Maria just contacted me to say she's fascinated with the story of fiery drag activist/entertainer Marsha P. Johnson, a beloved figure who was found dead in the Hudson River in 1992. Marsha is the subject of a documentary called Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson. ("Pay it no mind" is how Marsha always explained the middle initial P. in her name.) The doc was directed by Michael Kasino and features talking heads such as myself, which is why she tracked me down for input. And she has a connection to the story. Maria was sitting with her then-boyfriend by the Hudson in '92 when she looked out into the water and wondered, "What is that? A head?" "No, it's a log," the boyfriend assured her. "It's a head!" insisted Maria. It was indeed the remains of the missing Johnson. Someone called the cops, leading to the retrieving of the body parts and an investigation, which concluded, controversially enough, that Johnson had committed suicide. Well, one of Bello's book chapters is called "Am I LGBT or W?", the "W" standing for "whatever." And that made her think of the "P" for "Pay it no mind." And Bello wants to pay it some mind and write and direct a loving feature film about Marsha through her personal production company. She even has a big-name male actor in mind for the part--and a medium critic (me) vowing to help her get this off the ground. I'm sure it will capture Marsha in all her baubles, bangles, and beads.