An Interview With Daniel Nardicio
No matter how you much you’re anticipating the long, hot summer ahead, there’s probably no one more excited than nightlife guru/showbiz entrepreneur Daniel Nardicio. Speaking about his Second Annual Icon Series on Fire Island, Nardicio declares, “Think about it: Seeing Chita fucking Rivera at Floyd's for breakfast! I could pee myself!” Indeed, the man behind some of New York’s most notoriously naughty parties has created an amazing lineup of performers for the upcoming Speedo season: Chita Rivera! Carol Channing! Margaret Cho! John Waters! Paula Poundstone! And… Lynda Carter! (Yes, "Wonder Woman" herself!) What’s better than seeing these showbiz icons live on stage? How about seeing them on one of the last bona fide gay meccas left on Earth: Cherry Grove! It was Nardicio who coordinated the pairing of friends Liza Minnelli and Alan Cumming for a now-legendary show on Fire Island in 2012, as well as the duo’s highly praised (and sold out!) two-nights-only collaboration “Liza and Alan” at Town Hall last March. Among other renegade distinctions through the years, this true multi-tasker has also been credited for reviving the printed version of “Playgirl” magazine (then 37 years old) back in 2010. (Daniel has since left the mag.) Nardicio and I got to speak on a Friday afternoon, just as he was preparing for his famous weekly “rain or shine” D-World Underwear Party later that night. We spoke about the Icons Series, Liza and other legends, and what the man behind some of New York’s sexiest parties finds sexy himself…
JR: So, Daniel, congratulations about the summer Icon Series! You've been one of the busiest guys in New York City nightlife. How long have you been involved in the Fire Island scene?
DN: I've been doing events on and off on fire Island for the past 11 years. I basically move my entire office out here in May. I go back to the City two days a week so that I can eat Thai food and go to a movie, and do "real" stuff at my City office, but by and large-- as Mark Twain said-- I put all my eggs in one basket and then I watch that basket! I pour everything into Fire Island. We don't do Gay pride events, we don't do Memorial Day or Labor Day events in the City. I just really like to focus on one place... and in the summer, it's Fire Island.
JR: Well, watching baskets is always a good thing! I'm sure there are a lot of great baskets to watch on Fire Island! (Laughs)
DN: Yeah! I love watching big baskets!
JR: So, when it comes down to "The Pines versus Cherry Grove", where do you stand?
DN: The Pines boys are incredible! And, they come to my events and they're really fun, and they want to have a good time. So, I love the Pines boys. The Pines business owners are a little cunty. You know what I mean? When I say "The Pines", people think mean "the people". The people are great! It's the business owners that try to be cutthroat and copy people. At the end of the day, what I do is this: I took a rundown little bar in the Grove and made it the biggest event on Fire Island. And, the boys are coming, and they're having a really good time. And they don't care about Pines versus Grove, or whether there's a Community House...They don't care about the politics. They just want to have a good time. So, those are the people I'm focusing on: The people who come to the parties. Both The Pines and The Grove have both been really supportive of what I do. That means a lot. With the Icon Series in particular, that was financially a massive risk for me last year. I basically put all of my money on the table and said, "I believe people will pay money to go see talent on Fire Island!" I don't mean to sound awful, but there really hasn't been a lot of talent out here. There's a lot of drag queens, there's concerts at the Whyte Hall, but there hadn't been an actual concentration of talent out here in very many years. When I first came out here, people were like, "Sarah Vaughn used to perform out here!" and "Ella Fitzgerald used to come out!" and all these performers who were big in that day, like Della Reese. Why aren't they coming out now? And that was sort of my goal. It started with me getting Lady Gaga four years ago, and then Liza and Alan... and now it's become a little bit of a hit enclave. I realized a few years ago that I got tired of seeing drag queens perform Liza Minnelli, and I was like, "I just wanna bring out LIZA MINNELLI!" And that was a career-changer for me. I want to work with these people. I don't need to work with performers who are emulating them! I made a goal of it, and since that time I've been working with all of them.
JR: That's great! Speaking of Liza: I know that the Liza and Alan show received a lot of publicity, and really got your name "out there" among those who didn't know you-- especially with the so-called "mainstream" press as opposed to just the "gay" press. What was that like for you?
DN: There's the "mainstream" press, then there's the "gay" press and within that there's the "mainstream gay" press...
JR: I know what you mean!
DN: "Next" Magazine and a few others have always been incredible to me, but I noticed a few years ago that the mainstream gay press ignores me. "Out" Magazine has never written about me, and I’ve never been in their "Out 100"... and frankly, I deserve to be on that list... more so than about 70% of the people that are on it. I don't care, but they never even wrote about me. So when the Liza and Alan show was announced, "Out" Magazine ignored it but the "New York Times" sent someone out. I was like, "Fuck the gay press! Move beyond it. Get out of the ghetto!" "Metrosource" didn't cover it either. it was ignored by the mainstream gay press yet "New York" Magazine covered it, and “The New Yorker“, and the “Huffington Post“... I knew I just needed to get out of the gay ghetto because they've never written about me-- even though I am continuously creating really interesting events, like the Road Trip reality show that I did; and the Fire Island stuff;, or the D-List networking site. I'm doing different things. I'm not just a nightlife person, and they've never really acknowledged it. I need to move on. So, I picked myself up off my scraped knees, and moved on to the mainstream media . I've really made it my focus to NOT be reliant on mainstream gay media to make things happen in my life anymore. I'm creating really interesting gay culture in new York City, and I thought "Fuck 'em... I'm moving on!" So, it's been incredibly gratifying when the mainstream press came out and wrote about it. I'm very thankful and very blessed. Liza has given me great opportunity, and Alan has given me great opportunity... and there's much more coming with the three of us together. We're working on a Broadway show together, and more. They've given me the opportunity of a lifetime, and because of it I've tried to be very honorable with working with them.
JR: One of the best moments of "Liza and Alan" was when Alan was telling the anecdotes of being backstage with Liza on Fire Island: There was also a boylesque performer back there as well, and Liza was so impressed with how he could contort his body into all these positions. The audience really loved hearing those stories. They ate it up. It's moments like that in live performance that you can't replicate. The rapport between Liza and Alan and you must have been really amazing.
DN: Everyone knows that Alan is incredible. People talk about him with such high reverence-- but with Liza, it's easy to put her down. It's easy to take potshots at her, because she's Liza Minnelli and she's had her ups and downs. But let me tell you something: That woman came out to Fire Island and did two shows in 100 degrees for her gay audience... and gave the money to charity. She showed up and she fucking NAILED it. I was just super-impressed I was like, "That is incredible!" A lot of people were like, "Let's see if she shows up!" Well, not only did she show up, she DELIVERED! I was really, really, really impressed with her. Working with her has been nothing but incredible. I'm really awed by her. She's just super-generous and super-sweet.
JR: Wow! Now, that's an impressive lineup that you have for the summer. I was on Fire Island for their Leather Weekend, when it was still before the season had kicked in, and a lot of people were buzzing about the Icon Series. A lot of people who don't consider themselves "Fire Island people"-- like the New York City Leather guys-- are already planning to show up for some of the dates. It's gonna be big! Is there any particular performer who you're especially excited about?
DN: I love the Series, and it may seem like I'm patting myself on the back. I don't mean to! But I'm really proud of the variety. It's not all comedians, it's not all music... It's something for everyone. That's what I really love about the series. It would be boring if it was just "old Broadway women", or if it was just "young hot comedians". I really sat down and thought, How can i curate this? Personally, for me, Chita (Rivera) and Carol (Channing) are the high points. To be honest with you, it will probably be the last and only time in my life I get to see Carol Channing on stage. I've never seen "Hello Dolly", and... she's 92! Not that she's gonna die anytime soon (Laughs), but this is the first time she's been on stage in two years . I don't know that she's gonna ever get back up on stage. She's doing this because it's Fire Island. And, Chita because-- I'm not a Broadway queen, but people go crazy for Chita. I met her recently, and she's a powerhouse. So, I'm really excited about those two. Interestingly enough, the ones most other people are excited about are Paula Poundstone and Lynda Carter. Lynda Carter mainly. It shocked me to find out how many people are into Lynda Carter. There must be so many Wonder Woman fetishes!
JR: Well, how many of us gay guys must have spun around in our rooms when we were kids, hoping to turn into Wonder Woman?! (Laughs)
DN: Exactly! I didn't realize that. I never even watched the show once... but I heard that her cabaret act is really great, and I thought it would be kicky. At first I was like, "Would people even go?" ... but people are going crazy for Wonder Woman! And of course, people are going crazy for Chita and Carol too... but there's something about Wonder Woman. She's pushing buttons in people.
JR: A lot of people didn't realize that yes, Lynda Carter SINGS! And, going by the reviews and the audience reaction, she sings very well.
DN: She’s bringing a full band, and backup singers. She’s like, "This is Fire Island, and this is my gay audience, and I'm really gonna give then a show!!" And that I love! She's bringing "the whole cavalry". I'm excited, and so is she! Chita was in "Edwin Drood" on Broadway and it closed early, and she was gonna take the summer off. I talked with her musical director Michael Croiter, who's also happens to be Alan's musical director too-- and I was like, "Is there any chance..?"... and he was like, "Yeah, we could get Chita out there!" It was saying that it was Fire Island that got her. She was like, "Oh, that sounds like fun!" And that's the key to the series for me: Performers coming out to have fun! Like, Liza and Alan: They just wanted to come and have a blast, and have a mini-vacation
JR: (Laughs!) Yep! There's variety, but all these people are gay icons in one way or another. Like Lorna Luft-- I suspect that most of her fans are the gay boys. The gay guys are always looking for what's hot and fresh and new, but there's a real respect and affinity for classic, old-school performers as well.
DN: Let's face it: If you went to see Liza last year and then see Lorna this year, you've seen Judy Garland's two daughters! That’s a pretty impressive thing! You know what I mean? That's incredible for gay audiences. What's great about Lorna is that she's a really good singer. A lot of people don't know that!
JR: Yes. people may be attracted to the genetic link to Judy... but then they learn that she's an established singer! So, just for fun: Do you have any good celebrity anecdotes?
DN: Kind of. I got a phone call from Carol Channing, and that was a big thrill for me, to talk about the show comin’ up. next week I'm going to be talking to both Carol and Justin Bond at the same time. We're gonna do a three way, and that's the most exciting three-way I've had yet this year! (Both laugh)
JR: Coming from you, I'm impressed!
DN: (Laughs) That's a three way where I don’t mind taking it AND giving it: Carol Channing, Justin Vivian Bond, and me! Of course, I’ve been friends with Justin for over 25 years, but putting Justin and Carol together is gonna be really fun for me, because Justin is a huge Carol Channing fan. It's gonna be very "Inside the Actor's Studio", where Justin is gonna have questions for Carol and the audience gets to ask questions, and then Carol is going to tell stories about her life. That's why we're calling it an "intimate evening"... because it's very intimate: sitting in a room with someone with such a rich history. She'll probably never come out to Fire Island again after this!
JR: Well, I have to say that I've met Carol a few times, and I can say that she is every bit as warm and non-pretentious as can be. She doesn't feel she has to put on an "act" for anyone anymore!
DN: She's kind of a dying breed. Oh, and I just booked Joan Collins this morning for BB King's for November 5th! This is how much I love Joan Collins: I tried to get her for the summer, and basically her manager said, "She can't. She summers at her house in the south of France." Of course she does! She’s Joan fucking Collins! (Laughs) It's not like she's sitting in the City in the heat. She's in the fucking south of France! But I said, "PLEASE let's figure out something!", and we got the November date. So, I'm really excited about that. These women-- Joan, Liza, Carol, Chita-- are a dying breed. They're glamorous. I went to see Alan in "Macbeth", and I sat with Liza... and other celebrities were going, "Oh my God, It's Liza Minnelli!" I was sitting there watching her effect on people. She's really a true A-lister. She has that effect on people. There will never be another Carol Channing. There will probably be another Sutton Foster or another Kristen Chenoweth, but there will never be another Carol or Liza. They are true originals. And this may be among your last chances to see them... So I'm really excited!
JR: So are we! So, I have to ask: What does Daniel Nardicio, a guy who is constantly surrounded by sexy guys, find sexy himself?
DN: You know, I had a boyfriend and we broke up about a year ago. When I met him, he was the most innocent, sweet kid... and New York City really got a hold on him. He became less and less innocent and more hardened, and more aware of how good-looking he was... and it just became unattractive. I really like innocence. I like purity. Whores are a dime a dozen in new York... but if you have innocence, you don't grow old. You can be 50, but if you're innocent, it shines through. Last night I went to this porn event in The Groove, and I walked around and I was like, "Whores! Every last one of 'em!" (Both laugh) You know what I mean. I don't mind it, but there's this whore mentality: everyone's doing things for the money, never for the greater good of the world. I just love purity and innocence as a commodity.
JR: (Laughs) Innocence and purity are on the endangered species list nowadays!
DN: They are. But some people do have them... and those are the qualities I'll fall in love with!
JR: Gotcha! So, is there anything else you'd like to tell the people, besides "Get your tickets for the Icon Series early?"
DN: Let's see… What else do I want to say to everyone? Basically: If you've never been to Fire Island and you want to come out, email me. I'll make it possible for you. Everyone should see Cherry Grove. I’ll get you a place to stay. You can sleep on my face... I mean my floor... (Laughs) You can come do my work study program if you're under 30... But I want young people to come to Fire Island because there's nothing like it. People come from Europe and are blown away, because there's nothing like it there. It's full of nature. Cherry Grove is the birthplace of gay rights-- and there's a lot of GLBT culture and history here. It's great! So many people have never been to Fire Island, and that's just stupid. It cost $50 to get here, and then there's just so many fun things to do. Soooo… if any of your readers are younger-- I say younger because if you're over 30 then you be should be able to afford a hotel room! (Laughs) Just kidding! And even if they're older and they want to come out, I can put them up!
JR: Or, you can always sleep on the beach! Thanks, Daniel! See you on The Grove!
Paula Poundstone: June 29th
Bruce Vilanch: July 6th
Margaret Cho: July 13th
John Waters: July 20th
Bridget Everett: July 27th
Lynda Carter: August 3rd
Chita Rivera: August 17th AND August 18th
Justin Vivian Bond and Carol Channing: August 24th
Lorna Luft: August 31st
All shows are at Saturdays, at The Ice Palace, Cherry Grove, 8PM (Doors open at 6:30PM) unless otherwise noted. Visit www.DWorld.us for the full schedule, ticket info, and much more!