Please explain Ron Jeremy to me.
February 1, 2013 10:19 AM   Subscribe

This question is about Ron Jeremy and porn, so I guess I'll put it below the fold.

So Ron Jeremy is in the news right now because he's having health issues. And looking at the picture that accompanies the story I'm struck by the reaction I always have when seeing his picture: He's really not attractive.

Sorry if that's insulting; I'm not super-attractive myself and I'm certainly not trying to be judgmental. I'm just having a disconnect between reality and my admittedly rudimentary understanding of porn as being something that happens with participants who are perceived as beautiful.

So, what is his allure? He's evidently worked in porn for many years. Was he "prettier" a long time ago? Is there some particular reason that the combination of him + hot ladies = something the customer/consumer wants to see?

I know this is a little lulzy, but I really do want to understand this, and I'm afraid to google it. If you have an answer or can point me in the direction of some intelligent writing on this subject, I'd appreciate it.
posted by BlahLaLa to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: In short, he has an unusually large penis. He was also less terrifying looking 20 years ago.
posted by zug at 10:21 AM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: 1980s Ron (SFW)
posted by jquinby at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also he was willing/able to work a lot and doesn't seem to have been too picky about what jobs he took. His longevity in the business has a lot to do with his fame as many male porn actors are practically anonymous, the emphasis being on the female performers.
posted by tommasz at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2013

He's also managed to be willing to make fun of himself in such a way that he's known as a celebrity porn star outside of, I guess, people who know who porn stars are. Case in point, I know who he is and what he does but have never actually seen a pornographic film starring Ron Jeremy.
posted by cmoj at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: So, Ron Jeremy is pretty complicated. First, his penis is basically Novelty Oversized, which, I mean, yeah, male performers are expected to be hung, but his is like those big sunglasses you get at the fair.

Next: There's a lot of pornography in which the dudes are not expected to be conventionally attractive, and rather just look like regular dudes. Why? Lots of reasons, but it basically boils down to the viewer having an easier time imagining them in the scene when it's the Hedgehog and not a bronze Adonis they never were and never will be. And, yeah, he was better looking back in the day.

Finally, Ron Jeremy is a personality. Like he's this ribald character of a man whose persona oozes a particular kind of fun. He's known, and known well, outside of porn in a way few male actors are. He's not just a porn star, he's a bona fide celebrity.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2013 [30 favorites]

He's also apparently a really great guy, so women request to work with him. In straight porn, the attractiveness of the guy is pretty low on the totem pole.

I've actually never seen his porn, but I did see him speak at a movie festival, and he does seem to be a genuinely likable guy.
posted by politikitty at 10:25 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

He made a documentary about himself if you want more insight.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well, there are a couple of things. I think when casting male porn stars, they cast the penis first, with face and body secondary. In fact, in the kind of porn he makes, which is really for straight men rather than straight women, it could even be to his advantage to not be threateningly (to men) attractive.

Mainstream straight porn has always cast men who are average looking at best. Now that pornographers are waking up to the fact that straight women would watch porn too, if it were in any way designed to appeal to them (e.g. not filmed from the man's view exclusively, not full of acts liable to be highly uncomfortable and not particularly pleasurable for most women) we might start to see more conventionally attractive male porn stars like James Deen.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 10:48 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Back in the pre-viagra days the ability of a male performer to become and stay erect on command and repeatedly was a huge asset. Apparently Ron was good at this and then spun out his porn career into a (as said above) media personality, one of the first to do so.
posted by The Whelk at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

In addition to his "everyman" appearance....

More important than the size of his cock is the fact that he can operate it professionally. He can get hard at will, indefinitely prolong his orgasm, and come almost on demand. Even under hot lights. Even with co-stars he may not like or find attractive. Back when porn was shot on film, Ron Jeremy was the guy you hired when you wanted to be able to see the action (because he was big) and because you didn't want to be filming any longer than necessary (because he had control).

That's why he had decades of longevity in an industry where most guys wash out in a year or less, even when he was getting kind of weighty and/or unkempt. Because he got the job done.

Also, he's a decent bloke. Easy to get along with. He doesn't take himself seriously. He knows that being in porn kind of "brands" you as not quite fit for polite company. And he was okay with that in a non-ironic way. He never had any sort of shame about what he did. It was a job, he did it well, and there you go.

He's an icon, but he doesn't lord it over you. What's not to like?
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2013 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Was he "prettier" a long time ago?

Yes, and.

The notion of male porn stars as being of equal notability as female porn stars is a relatively recent one, at least in straight porn. This in part is because of whatever changing societal attitudes but also because internet commerce and the ability to fine-tune demographic awareness have made producers realize that, although they do not exist in the same numbers as an audience, women do buy porn. In other words, it is being consumed by someone besides straight males.

For years (with a few exceptions like Candida Royalle, and even she didn't get started in earnest until the nineties), porn was made entirely with a straight male audience in mind. Practically, this meant that the women performers were the actual stars of the show, while men only existed to perform roles that could not be done by women, and were essentially props. Every part of the thing was constructed to make the men fade into the background and allow the viewer to imagine themselves in that person's role. Mass-produced straight porn from that era, philosophically, is more or less bunraku, with the men filling the conceptual role of the black-clad puppeteers: you know they're there and the goal is to allow your brain to ignore them.

Consider the pseudonyms chosen by actors during that time, and how women's were usually showy and memorable, and men's were almost always deliberately chosen to be as bland as possible. It's not for no reason that the whole game of "what would your porn name be?" is always something outlandish for women, but for men it's your middle name and the street you grew up on, virtually guaranteeing something vanilla, something colorless. Peter North. John Holmes. Sean Michaels (no, not the wrestler). Ron Jeremy.

A lot of male actors were in good shape, but pretty much all they really had to be was not gross. Personality wasn't treated as a huge liability but it was not why anyone was getting hired.

There were exceptions to all of this, but like any business which runs on formula, the porn industry was slow to take hints from the successes of those exceptions. One of them was Ron Jeremy. He wasn't exceptional for his appearance - he wasn't a stunner but he didn't start really putting on pounds until later - but because he came off as likable and he tended to joke around on camera a lot, in a way that made the scene feel kind of fun and loose. He'd drop little one-liners during sex scenes. It could be argued that a lot of his success came from the way he brought a fun atmosphere to it and made the women he worked with feel relaxed - it creates a connection between actors that carries through on camera. So on a subconscious level, the male consumer of porn was maybe reacting to that, and on a conscious level, it was like, "Oh man it's this guy who jokes around, he's awesome."

The rest was persistence. He stuck around for a long time, he performed reliably, and would get namechecked by people who were kind of hip and his name got out there (see also: Orgazmo). So he had enough star power (such as it was) that he was being cast in porn for his name and not his appearance. It was around this time that the mainstream heard about him, and promptly asked themselves pretty much the same question you're asking here. But unlike them, now you know the answer.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:56 AM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Back when he started, I'd say he was frankly about average (or maybe slightly less than average) amongst the men in porn. Seriously, they were skeezy and hairy. So he wouldn't have been an outlier at the time. He only became so as porn evolved around him and he actively worked to develop a mainstream brand for himself. The other reasons posted here already are also valid.
posted by dry white toast at 10:56 AM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: Here's an article from Time Magazine in 2008, Ron Jeremy: My Life as a Porn Star (SFW), which has more background on Ron Jeremy as a person, and some information about how he got into porn.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:59 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Basically he has a large penis, and back in the time before Viagra he could get it up and keep it up for ages which made shooting porn so much easier. Basically no one was looking at his face in that time, shiny pretty porn came later.
posted by wwax at 11:15 AM on February 1, 2013

Pre-viagra, Ron was a champ--he seemed to genuinely love his work, too. From Vice (link NSFW). I've met irl, and he's a really nice guy.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2013

Where's all this porn with good-looking dudes? This seems like a terribly false premise to me. Seriously, as a straight women, at least half my gripe with porn is that the guys are universally, laughably awful-looking, to the point where I actually thought that was A Thing, meant to further debase the woman in question (i.e., this hot girl is such a greedy slut, she'll even fuck THIS gross dude!).

Having recently seen a vintage porno with Ron Jeremy in it, I can definitely tell you that at no point was he attractive-looking. Less gross back then than now? Yeah, sure. But that's a exceedingly low bar.
posted by involution at 11:26 AM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

I think a god with hooves has it: Ron Jeremy is a personality. If anything, his physical appearance adds to that - he's the porn dude you can (un)ironically love. One of my hipster friends in college proudly displayed a framed, autographed photograph of Ron Jeremy on her mantle, and we all thought it was funny and awesome and funny.

He also has a reputation for being a really nice guy, which is about the #1 thing people say after meeting him.

Also - he went into porn after receiving a master's degree.

Basically: he defies a lot of expectations that people might have about (usually anonymous) male porn stars, he really embraced his career and became a real celebrity from it, and he's got a personality (in addition to a penis) that makes him memorable.
posted by vivid postcard at 11:31 AM on February 1, 2013

vivid postcard: "Also - he went into porn after receiving a master's degree."

I didn't know that. Looked it up - Special Ed, no less.
posted by jquinby at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2013

(or he got the degree after? Either way, he has an MA, which surprises people, and adds to his personality and reputation.)
posted by vivid postcard at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2013

From that Time Magazine article, I learned that Ron Jeremy Hyatt wanted to be an actor, but wasn't making it in theater in New York, so he and his girlfriend took some pictures of him for Playgirl, with the idea that he'd get flown out to LA, and work his way into acting through male modeling.

Except Playgirl liked the photos his girlfriend took, so they used the photos and didn't fly him out to LA. Hyatt quit teaching because he was making no money, and decided to perform in an adult film. He he loved acting, even if he was doing porn, his friends were still trying to get into theater in New York.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:43 AM on February 1, 2013

Having a large penis and, as someone said above, "the ability to operate it professionally," was the key thing for men in the pre-Viagra days, and facial/physical attactiveness was superfluous. So while Ron Jeremy was indeed more attractive (especially by the standards of the time) when he started, that didn't really enter into it. His penis is so unusually large that I imagine he'd have been able to get work in porn even without any other penis-related skills.

These days we porn-friendly people all love him so much because he's such a legend. His status as a legend comes from: having done so many films, been around so long, seeming to really enjoy what he does, and being by all accounts a genuinely nice guy. And also the giant penis.

But in general, if you look at "straight" porn from 1970s-90s, and much of it today, too, you'll notice that very few of the men are even close to the sort of highly-polished, over-the-top that we expect female porn performers to be. The reason why is a lot more complicated than just "Men only need to be able to operate their large penises," but that's the heart of it until you want to start digging into the sociology of gender and sex.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:48 AM on February 1, 2013

Ron is so far from my cuppa it's almost laughable, but having been to a multiple events where he is present, including to the Playboy Mansion, where he is perennially mobbed, I can also attest to him being a good sport and kind. Yet he still skeeves me a bit. It's probably because I got legionnaire's the last time I saw him.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Slate just published an article this afternoon with an answer to the same question. This NY Times profile from 2007 also has some insight.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 12:46 PM on February 1, 2013

Wasn't one of his tricks his ability to felate himself?

Also, he was the Laurence Olivier of Porn. There was no small part. He'd work in any kind of picture or fetish.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I "met" him when he did a signing some years ago in Sydney for his then-new DVD "Porn Star - The Legend of Ron Jeremy". He's short, witty and unthreatening. He's quite funny, as you'll find out if you ever watch the season of "The Surreal Life" that he was on. While these days he's fairly unattractive (I guess), when he first started he didn't look too bad (I say that as a straight male, you understand :-) - he has very unusually-colored eyes for example. Yes, he's got a 9 3/4 schlong and that's probably what landed him in the roles he's famous for, but he actually comes across (no pun intended - ok, maybe there was) as an endearing, comfortable, unassuming and thrifty person. I think you should get a copy of the Porn Star DVD, you'll definitely see a different side of the guy which may answer your questions. Looks definitely aren't everything - my wife married me anyway! :-D
posted by tra at 1:12 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ron Jeremy has been around basically since the start of the modern porn era in the mid-1970's, so he's been able to build up quite a network within the industry and cult following among fans. He's one of the few male actors who could sell VHS tapes back in the day, which is a metric of success.

On top of that, although he may not be pretty on the outside, his charming personality, combined with his status as a producer and industry player probably makes him considerably more attractive than the buff, conventionally handsome male porn actors who probably are not always nice to the female actors.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:26 PM on February 1, 2013

These days we porn-friendly people all love him so much because he's such a legend. His status as a legend comes from: having done so many films, been around so long, seeming to really enjoy what he does, and being by all accounts a genuinely nice guy. And also the giant penis.

By all accounts he is a mensch. A nice guy, gets along with his folks, has a sense of humor and a decent and realistic sense of himself as a zhlubby guy with a big cock and good control. He's got nice eyes, he was hairy back when being hairy was good, and he was decent to work with from the accounts I have read. The Porn Star movie is really worth watching.
posted by jessamyn at 3:43 PM on February 1, 2013

For what it's worth, I once spent about a year running the projection booth at a porn theater. We showed straight 1970s-1980s porn, nothing very kinky, and that meant a LOT of Ron Jeremy movies. You might say I watched porn professionally.

Yes, from my own observation of those films, Mr. Jeremy does appear to have somewhat larger personal equipment than the other male actors. He certainly isn't now and never was particularly attractive, from this woman's perspective; but then, NONE of the guys in those movies (at least all the ones we ran!) are very good-looking..... the women had to be attractive, with sometimes-obvious boob enhancements etc., but not so much the guys. My own personal theory on this is that the vast majority of the viewers are male, and those guys come to look at *NAKED BOOBS!*, not the male actors, so who cares what the guys look like, right?!? It's a way to draw the viewers into placing themselves in that actor's place: "you too have a giant dick and can screw tons of women!"

Plus, as others have noted, Ron Jeremy has always had a reputation inside the industry as a professional, easy to work with and with a great sense of humor. And too, he's also always been great with the press: he was happily available for interviews, which he did well at.
posted by easily confused at 6:03 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

A god with hooves, a god with horns said:
"He's not just a porn star, he's a bona fide celebrity."

I see what you did there.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:05 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

His autobiography is a good read.
posted by jadepearl at 10:49 PM on February 1, 2013

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