Best of NYC: Thank Gay Party Promoter Josh Wood

Partytown, USA

There’s no better proof that America’s back than the fact that New York’s gays still aren’t the least bit married. They simply run around the clubs searching for endless amounts of hot, wanton bachelor sex, unrestricted by commitment or validation! Could there be anything more staunchly Republican?

And for the unapologetic playing field they romp around in, you can thank Josh Wood, the best gay promoter in town in light of his hit weekly bashes like “Rooftop” Sundays at Hudson Terrace and “Fox” Thursdays at the Park. Wood floats because his trick has long been to bring in piles of sweaty men having fun under the moon (or the glitter dome), watching them feverishly exchange contact information, while never even appearing to break a sweat himself.

The Kansas-born Wood grew up in Chicago, where, he says, “My biggest aspiration was to get out of the suburbs. I had a typical Midwestern suburban gay-boy dream of moving to New York and doing something big. I just didn’t know what it was.” (Again, inspiringly patriotic, no?)

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After studying film at the University of Wisconsin and UCLA grad school, he worked for Jodie Foster at Paramount, then landed in New York, where the film jobs were scarcer than cups of deli coffee. “But Stephen Pevner, who produced Neil LaBute’s movies, hired me,” he remembers, “and it turned out he also owns the rights to the Saint-at-Large. He handed it all to me. I never went to the Roxy. I was a stay-at-home, and all of sudden I started producing these giant parties!”

And I went! The rest of our illuminating conversation—carried on in total, uncharacteristic quiet except for the sound of some light flag-waving on both ends—went like so:

Me: So what’s your secret to cooking up a good gay party, Josh?

Wood: It’s all about mixing it up. New York has gotten much more segregated: The freaky hang with the freaky, and the East Village boys hang with the East Village boys. But for a good party, you need a little of everything—the freaks, the cute boys, the weirdos. A little fringe to give it context. For years, [promoter] Kenny Kenny and I worked together, and I also did events with Larry Tee at Bank. I’d bring the West Side boys and fashion people, and they’d bring the draggy and underground elements and people from Brooklyn. But something happened where the crowds separated out. Everything’s become much more niche. You used to be able to get 1,500 people out on a Thursday night, and that’s impossible now.

Me: Why is that, perchance?

Wood: In New York, we got nailed with the economy, the city cracking down on nightlife, and the people addicted to the Internet. Those big events fell out of favor, but that’ll bounce back.

Me: Your party at the Park isn’t mixed at all, I must say.

Wood: No, it’s not. I try. For some reason, all those good-looking West Side boys all go, and it alienates other people. It’s like alchemy—it’s hard to get a good equilibrium.

Me: I guess they want to be with each other.

Wood: They do, but I wish other people wanted to be with them.

Me: Well, your amfAR “Inspiration” gala at the New York Public Library was mixed to the max. Give me the deets.

Wood: Kylie Minogue hosted it, and it was Ricky Martin’s first public event after coming out. The theme was black tie and black leather. Every menswear designer donated something—Jacobs, Lagerfeld, Ford. It went so well that I did it in Paris for Men’s Fashion Week. And we’re doing it on Halloween at the Chateau Marmont. It’ll be the big annual thing there for amfAR.

Me: How was Ricky Martin? Loca?

Wood: Totally easy and sweet. I approached him before he came out. His people knew it was for amfAR. They knew who I was and who my audience was. I couldn’t figure out, “Why is he doing this?” At the time, I assumed he was gay, but it was not my objective to out or exploit him. I thought the guys in New York would love to see him. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Me: Bingo!

Wood: And I brought over Matinee, which is the biggest party in Europe right now. We had 3,000 people on Governors Island. We’ll have more Matinee dates throughout the year. It’s a cooler European version of a circuit-party-meets-an-outdoor-dance-party.

Me: I can never find you at your own parties, by the way.

Wood: I’m there! I maintain a professional distance. I used to be more social and the center of attention. Now I enjoy being behind a sort of curtain. For me, it’s more interesting creating an event and getting people there and figuring what works and doesn’t work. As I get older, I’m not as good at small talk.

Me: But you micromanage every detail, right?

Wood: I’m in charge of everything—the idea, hiring the staff, negotiating business deals. I have to always keep it fresh. Nightlife is one of the things that are naturally meant to fall apart because it happens late at night and people are drinking and they’re sometimes not reliable. And people get bored very quickly. You always have to add something new. You have to make sure your hosts are really hosting and the DJs are using new music and the images are really fresh.

Me: Ever have a bad party?

Wood: Having a party where no one comes is the worst feeling in the world. You want to die. It can be the weather, a competing party, or a shitty venue and a terrible idea. Some things work and some don’t. A lot of it is nightlife magic. I said no two or three times to the Park because it didn’t seem fresh and I didn’t think it would work. My boyfriend thought it would be good. Everyone loves that venue and it seemed like long enough since the last time they were there. But I tried to get a big, monthly Saturday dance party at (le) poisson rouge off the ground and that didn’t work. Sometimes a room doesn’t have the right spirit. If you go out a lot, you can feel a good room or a bad room once the people are in it.

Me: Has an event ever worked out and then the club itself destroyed it anyway?

Wood: Yes! Kenny Kenny and I threw a party called Sebastian [at the Madison] in 2008. It was like the last days of disco, right before the club went down. The owners used to literally lock themselves in the office at night and pretend they weren’t there, so they wouldn’t have to give us money. We’d be banging on the door early in the morning. At the end, they owed us like $10,000.

Me: Any other horror stories? How awful are disco divas, comics, and other needy performers you’ve worked with?

Wood: A couple of them were really angry people. When it’s late in their career, they get anxious about their performance, so they take it out on everyone. Once the downward spiral sets in, they’re horrible!

Me: Yikes. You’ve faced some real hideousness in order to create such fun. Still love your job?

Wood: Yes! I love waking up and figuring out how to throw an event.

Me: God bless America.

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