The Hardest Working Bear in Showbiz!
The Stonewall Inn, in New York City‘s colorful Greenwich Village, is considered to be the birthplace of the modern gay liberation movement after the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Forty-two years later, in June 2011, Stonewall held its first ever “Mr. Stonewall Bear Contest”. Out of five woofy Contestants, Mike Fass, better known to legions of fans as DrummerBear, won the Title of Mr. Stonewall Bear 2011. He jokes about the Contest, “I think I was the only one old enough to remember Stonewall!” DrummerBear is used to getting a lot of attention. True to his name, he was one of the hardest hitting power drummers in all of rock, with his name featured on the credits of records by many artists. He was also one of the most popular nude Bear models on the web. Yum! As an actor, he was most often seen playing bikers and bad guys before being cast as an assortment of father and Daddy Bear figures. Today, Fass is best known worldwide for his portrayal of a well known, thickly-accented Russian musclebear: “Street Fighter” legend Zangief, in the runaway hit series "Street Fighter: The Later Years". Among many distinctions, he is the first self-identified Bear celebrity to portray a Bear icon on a hit series. DrummerBear’s latest projects are two testosterone-fueled web series: He plays “Luke Barger” in the sci-fi action adventure superhero drama "Major Ursus", and “Torgo” in the gritty new urban drama, "Chickenbones", both shooting this fall. Being an actor isn’t always glamorous as it looks, folks! The characters he plays are often naked or in abbreviated clothing (We can all be grateful for that!). Fass remembers an uncharacteristically cold 52 degree October day when he was shooting a rooftop scene-- in just his bear skin. He had to do naked jumping jacks to stay warm. Wearing his own fur, apparently, wasn’t enough! Fass was rewarded with applause from some nearby construction workers, who clearly enjoyed the free show.
Fass was born and raised in New York City and lived there until 1988, when he was “priced out“ . He then moved in Union City, and now calls Jersey City, New Jersey (sometimes called “the fifth borough”) his home. The hirsute hero and I met to speak about his, ahem, “body” of work…
JR: Hi Drummer Bear. Thanks for meeting me.
DB: Thank YOU!
JR: When I was writing your bio for the "Men of the Sash" calendar, it was hard to keep it "short and sweet". Your "resume", shall we say, is pretty impressive: actor, producer, screenwriter, musician, model…
DB: Yeah. When I do my resume, I have to try NOT to make it look like a telephone book!
JR: It can’t be easy being a "multi-hyphenate".
DB: It goes hand in hand with getting old! (Laughs)
JR: Oh really? I thought it was just a New York thing!
DB: When I was younger, there were so many fewer pages. You just build up all these things that you’ve done.
JR: Do you ever have any time for yourself?
DB: Rarely. As a matter a fact, I have to hire a few personal assistants to answer mail and that kind of stuff. I can’t read and answer that much mail. It would be nice to just take some time off and just do absolutely nothing-- to take a nice long vacation. But even the last three times I’ve had a vacation, I take work with me. I know I shouldn’t do that! My manager has said, "I don’t want to see a thing in those books! No notation of any kind. No business cards, no phone numbers, no addresses…" He said, "Just don’t do it!" It’s so hard not to. Coming from him it’s really odd, because my manager takes work with himself as well. He’s just as bad as I am. Maybe that’s why he is telling me this!
JR: I don’t see anything wrong with taking notes even when you’re on vacation. It may be a source of inspiration for an upcoming project, like the writer who sleeps with a notepad under his pillow and gets an idea at 3 AM…
DB: Some of the best ideas I had as a songwriter came at 3 in the morning. Such spiritual things have happened, and you want to capture them right away. I always forced myself to get up and go to the keyboard. Write it down, and then go right back to bed…
JR: Yeah! So, congratulations on winning the Mr. Stonewall Bear 2011 Contest back in June. Do you have any specific goals that you want to accomplish during your title year?
DB: I do have a charity in mind, focused in Jersey City, New Jersey where I live. It would benefit anyone who was about to be evicted: the hard-working people who are just not making their rent payments because the economy is so hard. It is so lofty that I wonder if I can pull it off. I am fortunate enough to be friends with New Jersey State Senator Brian Stack and the Commissioners. They could probably help me pull this off. In North Hudson County, there’s something called the North Hudson Community Action Agency. It’s an emergency relief fund to use when all your other resources have failed. The problem is, it’s run under such a heavy bureaucracy. The one woman who is your final gateway to getting things done-- meaning, getting the money-- is your classic "senior bureaucrat". I think the only reason they haven’t fired her yet is because she probably knows "where the bodies are buried" (Laughs). That’s the impression I get. I actually heard her brag to me about how one time she wouldn‘t let a guy get his funds, because he they had locked him out of his apartment. There was actually a padlock on his door. She insisted on getting certain paperwork from him that he couldn’t get, because then he’d be arrested for breaking into his own apartment! She was very happy and pleased by the idea that they couldn‘t help him out because he needed that paperwork. Then, you have people who don’t fit in: the "square pegs in round holes". They have a system whereby only a specific group of people who happen to be in need can "get in". There are some people who don’t fit into those rigid parameters, but who are just as much in need. They don’t get the benefits and services which presumably their tax dollars are going for anyway. So, what I want to do is have an agency which is a backup for that, but without the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is something that happens out of nowhere, so it would have to be constantly self-policed so that the bureaucratic aspect never enters… and so that someone who needs the money can get it without being evicted or locked out of their apartment. We’d have to find out some kind of advertising or business model to keep the money coming in after the fundraising, to keep it running.
JR: Sounds great! So, you are considered by many to be "Bear royalty". As a mover and shaker in the Bear community, what makes a "Bear" a "Bear"?
DB: I never had anything very original to say about that! Nothing is written in stone, except that "You know a Bear when you see one!" When you get past all the particulars-- which are all arguable-- you pretty much just know one when you see one: "That’s a Bear!". A guy lumbering down the street: "That’s a Bear!"
JR: Some guys get bogged down in specifics, like how big a guy is, or how much body hair he has.
DB: Yeah. How much weight, how much body hair, your hairstyle, your choice of dress… Basically, it’s an attitude more than anything else. It’s a celebration of masculinity, and a rejection of all the stereotypes that people have tried to throw on gay men for the longest time. I think that because the gay community as a whole has all shared the same struggle, we have kind of all gotten "lumped up" together. It’s very interesting. I don’t think a station like LOGO, for example, would run a show like "Major Ursus". LOGO has never really found their market. Because they aim to cater to the entire lesbian/gay/transgender/bisexual community as a whole, and because we are such a disparate community, they really don’t take into consideration that there are different factions who like their own thing. The number one cable station that gay men watch is not LOGO. It‘s Spike.
DB: Because it’s all "guy stuff". It’s all men! So, Spike is number one with gay men.
JR: LOGO must be like, "What did we do wrong?"!
DB: There was a wonderful cartoon by Rick Fiala from a while back that showed two groups of people sitting at their desks in an office. A group of women gathered around the book "The Joy of Gay Sex". The men gathered around the book "The Joys of Lesbian Sex". The caption read, "Two new books find their markets". (Both laugh.)
JR: That’s great! I don’t have cable TV, so I never watched Spike, but I guess I should start!
DB: It’s fun. It’s a guilty pleasure with a lot of stupid programming. But it’s for guys: stuff blowing up, and guys fighting each other … and it’s all guys doing it!
JR: While we’re on the subject of fighting… Let’s talk about "Street Fighter". Since I discovered masturbation at age 11, I stopped playing video games, so I am not much of an expert on the subject. How would you describe your "Street Fighter" fans? Are they guys who were fans of the video game when it first came out in 1987? Or, is it a new audience?
DB: I researched the character Zangief very carefully. I realized that although "Street Fighter" is not from my generation-- I am old enough to be the FATHER of that generation!-- I appreciate nostalgia. My own is sacred, so I know that theirs is sacred. I wanted to make sure I played the character in a way that was familiar to them and was not foreign to them. But as far as the show was concerned, it played on their nostalgia and it could have gone either way. When you have a different generation doing a character that you remember, you never know how it’s gonna go. I asked our series creator, Sam Reich, after the first night premier, "Did you expect it to be this huge?" He said, "I knew it would be popular, but I never thought it would be a monster like this!" The public embraced our interpretations of the characters that they grew up with, even though we’re new actors playing them. They didn‘t have to. That was the beauty of it. We were just very lucky.
JR: It’s like with comic books. Fans are very protective of their favorite comic book characters.
DB: I am too!
JR: That’s why if you do something ridiculous, like reinventing Spiderman, for example…
DB: I think they already HAVE reinvented Spiderman… I grew up with Spiderman. I was a latecomer. I didn’t start reading him until about 1967... but after that, I got hooked. So, throughout the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, and ‘90’s, I was constantly reading "Spiderman". I was a huge fan. To see him reinvented is kind of painful for me. I remember Kathryn Leigh Scott once describing the second "Dark Shadows" series with a whole new cast on NBC in 1991: "It’s kind of like coming home to your apartment and finding all your furniture rearranged." That‘s how I felt about that. I am very protective of the heroes I grew up with in my childhood. That was a very sacred time.
JR: Who is your "Street Fighter" audience?
DB: Mostly under 30 and male. My own sister is only a year older that I am, and she didn’t even know what "Street Fighter" was. All I could think was, "How did you get through the ‘90’s without having even heard of "Street Fighter"? I wasn’t a gamer, but I got acquainted with Zangief quite by chance. In 1991, there was a "Street Fighter 2" video game console at a pizza place in our neighborhood. It was brand new. Kids were playing it right away. One time, when the kids were away, I just started to take a look at the game. Some of the characters were pretty hot. The Muay Thai kickboxer with the eye patch was pretty hot . He turned out to Sagat. The Russian guy with the Mohawk was pretty hot, too. After the kids had left, I looked at the "Character Select" screen which had all the closeups of all their faces. I looked at Zangief, and I thought, "If I just shaved my head (At the time I had shaggy "Beatles" hair.) down to a Mohawk, I would look just like that guy!"-- never knowing that, 15 years later, I would actually be cast to play him. Even when I got the part, they asked me if I could do a Russian accent, and I could just barely. If you watch the first episode, it’s a really weak Russian accent. "Make crazy, Zangief!"
JR: Yes! Make crazy, Zangief! We like you best that way! Now, how about the two upcoming web series you have: "Major Ursus" and "Chickenbones"?
DB: I just got cast in "Chickenbones". I am playing a guy named Torgo, a grizzled old ex-Leather Master from the ‘70’s and ’80’s who presided over the old Meatpacking District in New York City. He’s really disillusioned and disgruntled by the fact that the neighborhood has become a bunch of trendy, posh restaurants with yuppie crowds, and everything is high-priced… and all the places where he used to enjoy his favorite sexual activities are now just eateries-- of a different kind! (Both laugh.) He’s upset by this. So, that’s the basis of the character. I know little more than that! We start shooting this fall. "Street Fighter Reunion" is the spinoff of "Street Fighter: The Later Years" that we’re doing. I’ll be playing Zangief again, and most of the original cast will be reunited for this.
JR: And "Major Ursus"?
DB: Yes. "Major Ursus" is the series that I created. It’s a superhero action-adventure-science fiction outer space drama with Bears. It‘s been described as "Oz" meets "X-Men" meets "Star Trek".
JR: That’s "Oz", as in the HBO prison drama, not "The Wizard of…", I take it?!
DB: Yes. An example of another gay show that would have probably had difficulty finding funding-- so they never called it a gay show! Heterosexual men are fascinated by homoerotica… but just don’t CALL it "homoerotica" and just don‘t call it "gay", and they will watch! Case in point: "Spartacus: Blood and Sand". It wasn’t a very good show, but it was very entertaining nonetheless! It was extremely homoerotic. More people watched it on the web than on television.
JR: I never watched that show, but I heard a lot about it!
DB: Gay men found it! We always do. And I think gay men will find "Major Ursus"! I am hoping it will have the same appeal. There’s only one scene in the first season when they actually acknowledge that they are Bears. Everything else is just so matter-of-fact. It’s just presented to you in a such a plain, "right out there on the table" kind of way that it does not need an analysis or a description.
JR: Wow! I can’t wait! So, as a musician, you have worked with a lot of high-profile artists. What was one of your most memorable moments?
DB: Wow! There were so many… One time during the late 1980s I was backing the Skinny Vinny Band onstage and he had an intense fan following. Skinny Vinny was known as “The Black Donovan” which pleased him because he loved Donovan's music. Vinny had a heavily gay male fan base and he had a tendency to gradually—okay, maybe not so gradually—strip down to his brief throughout his stage act. One night a very enthusiastic young fan managed to leap onto the stage, throw his arms around Vinny's neck and kiss him passionately. Vinny's arms flew out and his guitar went, “KRANG!”, while the rest of us onstage laughed and kept playing. They loved that man. Of course we all did. What a sweet guy he is. Another time I remember when I doing a fill-in for another drummer for a group, and it was the first concert I have ever done live to Japan from America. I should point out that, no matter how much deodorant I slap on before a show, once I am playing drums all night long, I stink like the devil…
DB: … You don’t want to get near me until after I’ve had a shower! Anyway, the crowd was really excited. When it was over, I was leaving the stage and a very nicely dressed, attractive lady in an evening gown and jewelry just threw her arms around me and started kissing me. I’d think that I would be offending the hell out of her, but it didn‘t even matter. I guess that‘s the power of music. Music has the power to transcend common sense.
JR: Personally, I don‘t like guys to wear deodorant. I want to be able to lick their armpits and when there‘s deodorant it‘s like, "Ewwww!" The natural scent of a guy is always more appealing! But, anyway, was there a particular celebrity or personality who you particularly enjoyed working with?
DB: Yes. I enjoyed working with the wrestler Brimstone during something called "Kirby" that Chris Notarile produced and directed. It goes by the name "Kirby, the Short Film" on YouTube. I got to play Zangief again, and this time Zangief is Brimstone‘s coach for a fight that he’s about to have. I think the title kind of gives it away! (Laughs) So, because that went so well, Brimstone had contact me recently and asked, "What can I do to get a cameo on your new series?" I said, "Forget the cameo. We have to have you as a guest star. We have to write you into the next episode!" Comedian Paul Reiser is also one of the nicest men I've ever known in this business. We've played the same bill but, as yet, have never appeared in a series together. He's such a gentleman. Hope I run into him again someday soon.
JR: You’ve really embraced the new phenomenon of the "web series", which is great because it is truly universal and accessible to everyone. Is it something of a culture shock for the masses to be watching TV on the Web, as opposed to, well… on TV?
DB: I think it is. But, in my opinion, the crossover point and overlap is so narrow, because there’s a whole generation of kids who grew up watching TV on the web. They never really embraced television except when they were little babies. That’s pretty much where it ended for them. When we were developing "Street Fighter Reunion" as a television series initially, we had in the palm of our hands the one demographic which was the "Holy Grail" that television wanted back but couldn’t get: the 15 to 30 year old males. We had them, but we would have to "bring them back to television". When the bottom fell out of television, it was no longer practical to do it as a TV series. We had to throw out our whole itemized budget. It didn‘t make any sense anymore. We made our fame on the web initially, so we went "home". We redeveloped it as a web series. The kids never really wanted television. They want to watch their shows immediately, whenever they want, and as many times as they want to.,
JR: Yeah, it’s hard to put a genie back in a bottle! So, Drummer Bear: As a bona fide Bear sex symbol, what do you personally find sexy in a guy?
DB: I like ‘em real diesel, real rugged. I like brutes! But I also like cubs. Cubs are irresistible to me. They bring out the "Daddy Bear" in me!
JR: Well, we can all be grateful for that! So, what does Drummer Bear do for fun?
DB: I like sports. Swimming, martial arts, playing Frisbee, volleyball, racquetball… even badminton. It’s hard to get anyone my age to play sports with me, so I am always playing with younger people. Anything that requires a lot of cardiovascular activity: running, and jumping high into the air, and hitting things.
JR: Is that your secret for staying in shape?
DB: Yeah! It keeps my stamina up. Drumming was the one thing that kept my stamina up, and I don’t do that anymore.
JR: Well, there are always other ways to work up a sweat. Hint, hint!!!
See more at www.DrummerBear.com! See also:
Drummer Bear and Brimstone in "Kirby"
Mike Fass Speaks for Zangief
Mighty Zangief Speaks for Himself
Zangief's New Super Move Saves Ryu's Life:
A Few Zangief Dance Moves
And a Few More: