At this very moment, Levi Johnston is undressing for a Playgirl photo shoot. But last night he was at The Box accepting an award from Fleshbot while a scrum of reporters poked and probed the Wasilla boy for a story.
He did a remarkable job of not saying much. At 8:15 the party had barely begun at the downtown hotspot, known for its strict velvet rope and the racy performances on its main stage, the gregarious Tank Jones and his brother Marvin (in the role as Levi's trainer) were some of the first people to arrive. They installed the one-time human campaign prop at a table in the corner of the balcony so that several PR people could start the parade of press. The rest of the venue was practically empty, but everyone was clustered around Levi.
As the Observer's John Koblin interviewed Playgirl's spokesman Daniel Nardicio about the future of the magazine, the Levi interviews started. Everyone made way for a camera crew from Entertainment Tonight, which has exclusive access to Levi for all the behind-the-scenes action for the photo shoot that is taking place right now (if everything goes according to schedule). We didn't get close enough to hear what they asked during their ten minutes with Levi.
As they clear out, there were more print interviews to do. Michael Musto came by to say hi, but he interviewed Levi at his hotel earlier. I asked Musto if he was a good interview. He said yes, but agrees that it's hard to get him to say much. Jo Piazza from CNN came in and taped a few second with the Johnston crew. Before she started her interveiew, Tank said he's not answering questions about Sarah Palin or about suing for custody of Tripp, Levi's son with Palin's daughter Bristol. Then he flirted with her a little bit as she squeezed in next to Levi to ask her questions. Most of the questions were the same all night: How is this different from Alaska? What is he going to show? Is he ready for the shoot? Does he know that he's a gay icon? Will he do more porn? What does the future hold?
Levi always answers with the fewest words possible. This may make him appear a bit dim, but it seems a smart move for a guy who's standing around a bunch of people paid to turn any utterance he makes into "news." With the reporters gone, he quietly joked with Tank and Marvin.
When Piazza was done, he joked a bit with Nardicio, teaching him how to tuck a dollop of chew under his lip. "Don't you throw up on this table!" Tank chided. A PR person came by and said there were more interviews to be done. "I know. This isn't my first rodeo," Levi said. Another reporter sat down, this one from People. They knew to send a pretty girl.
When she left, the PR man told Tank that Page Six boss Richard Johnson wanted an introduction. Tank responded, "We're not talking to them. No pictures, nothing." The PR man conveyed the message to Johnson. "He just wants to say hi," Mr. PR pleaded with Tank. But Tank had made up his mind: No Levi for Johnson. "That's fine," said the Page Six editor before heading back downstairs. After he left, Tank complained about a Page Six item accusing Levi having a small dick and thus afraid to do any full-frontal shots: "That's not true!"
There was a break in the action and a PR girl brought by the trophy Levi will receive later in the evening: an 11-inch dildo made of silver. Everyone at the table laughed nervously and made jokes about how Levi isn't going to accept a dildo. Levi returned his trophy to the nice lady and said, "I can't believe I just won a giant silver dildo." He and Tank conferred and decide there can't be any pictures taken of him holding it, so they plan to have Nardicio take the stage with him and hold the award.
Then the photographers arrived. In groups of two, they came by the corner, their flashbulbs blinding in the dark club. Levi knew to look directly into the camera and then occasionally look away to blink. He didn't look like he was having any fun. When all that was over, he passed some time ogling the scantily-clad go-go dancers down below. Tank said, "Those are all real women right? I don't want to look if they're not real women." Another laugh. Nardicio tells them that they're all real women. I pointed out that there were definitely some drag queens in the mix. "That's OK, I didn't want those ones anyway," Levi responded. He told me that he hadn't had any time to go out and party while in New York City. "It's been all work. I'm all about business," he says. "But I like New York more each time I come here." What does he think about this event? "It's different," is all he'll say.
As the show starts, Gawker alum Joshua David Stein showed up asking questions for New York magazine. It was getting loud, the house was full. Tank informed him they'd do an interview later. Levi leaned over the balcony to watching the award ceremony on stage and performances by the likes of boy/boy/girl aerialist trio Mantryx. When the intermission came, the crew decided to go outside for some air.
Out on the sidewalk, it is a whole different scene. Dressed in identical tuxedos like they all went shopping at the same men's store earlier that evening, they moved as a unit. Flanked by two enormous black men, Levi wasn't easy to approach. That didn't stop the reporters. Kelefa Sanneh from the New Yorker came up received a stern lecture from Tank about not asking about Palin or custody. Sanneh started his round of questioning but was cut off by the arrival of two 20-something guys who made up TMZ's camera crew. They'd been tailing Levi and his crew ever since they arrived in New York and seemed almost like old friends. Sanneh backed off, to avoid getting captured by their camera. TMZ doesn't care about restrictions and they began asking about custody and Palin. Tank demurred. "Come on, you know better than that."
While Tank was distracted by dealing with the TMZ mess, Jacob Bernstein from The Daily Beast snuck up and peppered Levi with questions and scribbled furiously in his notebook. A male-female duo from Hollywood Life sidled up and began asking their own questions and with a Flip camera. After the questions, the Hollywood Life crew each took their picture with Levi. With Levi alone again, Sanneh came back for a second attempt at an interview. This time, though, he talked more to Tank that Levi. It's easy to go that direction, since Tank is a gregarious quote machine while Levi answers everything with about three words.
Levi was scheduled to accept his award as soon as the ceremony restarted after the intermission. The PR girl shadowing him told him and Nardicio to go hang out at Nick Denton's table so they'd be right next to the stage. but there isn't any room at the Gawker Media overlord's table. Levi headed instead for socialite Tinsley Mortimer's table where photographers eagerly snapped the unlikely pairing. Joshua David Stein returned for his promised interview, but Levi said he needs clear it with Tank. Stein rebutted that Tank had already cleared it, but Levi — who either didn't remember, didn't care, or simply wanted to protect himself — turned him down again, this time a little more firmly. Marvin stepped in and said they'd talk to Tank and do the interview later.
Levi asked who he needs to thank in his speech which he obviously hasn't thought about until then. Nardicio told him to thank Fleshbot and The Box. Levi added that he should also say something about the upcoming issue of Playgirl and to tell people to buy it. He is all business.
When his award was announced he and Nardicio went on stage where Levi successfully avoided being photographed with a big silver dildo. His speech was exactly what he planned: He thanked Fleshbot and The Box and then told everyone to buy his issue of Playgirl.
After leaving the stage, he meets up with Tank and Marvin and they head out the door. He has to get up early to work out before his big shoot. Our colleague Irin over at Jezebel got her questions answered about the type of ladies Levi likes and JDS eventually got his interview, making poor Richard Johnson the only person denied the chance to exchange banalities with the man of the hour. Levi, like he said, was all about business, and last night his business was spectacle.
Top three photos by Hee Jin Kang, bottom by GuestofaGuest