Back in 2021, Brighton-based cabaret performer Joe Black packed his gothic garb to compete on season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Two lip sync battles and one fiery encounter with Mama Ru (AJ and the Queen 2020) over a certain pink H&M dress later, Joe’s time on the show came to an end. However, his stint on the reality competition show is just a blip in his lengthy career, which sees Joe continue to delve into fresh territory…including as a podcast host.
Last year, he launched Joe Black Meets: A Podcast, which features the admittedly-nosey entertainer chatting with some of his favorite creatives, such as Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events 1999), Dominic Skinner (Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star 2019) and more, about what makes them tick. Now, the podcast is back for its second series. This fresh round of conversations spotlights Drag Race star BenDeLaCreme (The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special 2020), comedian Suzi Ruffell (The Last Hours of Laura K 2015) and others to be announced.
To celebrate his growing success as a podcast host, PopHorror caught up with Joe Black to discuss the creation of Joe Black Meets, his history in the cabaret world, favorite horror flicks, The Last of Us (yes, he’s a Pedro fan) and more. Watch the interview below, or read on! The written interview has been edited for length and clarity.
PopHorror: How are you today, Joe Black? Thanks for doing this!
Joe Black: I am alright! It’s a bit later for me than it is you, lovely three o’clock in the afternoon here. It’s the morning for you, so I’ve had a few hours of pottering around and doing what I needed to do. But am I the first face you’re seeing today on this glorious Wednesday?
PopHorror: You are! I’m drinking my coffee, it’s a good morning. I was excited to see that you have a series two of Joe Black Meets: A Podcast. How does it feel to be doing this all over again?
Joe Black: I think I left it long enough that I forgot how much work was involved in making it happen. And now, pretty much every interview is done. Obviously, we’ve got a while, like two months of releases, but all of the hard bits are done, all the scheduling, all the research, all of that. Now it’s the fun bit of people actually being able to hear it and see who the guests are.
PopHorror: I listened to the BenDeLaCreme interview a few nights ago, and, fun story, I’ve actually interviewed her a couple of times. I loved how the conversation seemed so seamless between you two.
Joe Black: I think that’s the benefit of, I’m kind of only talking to people that I am a fan of mostly. Bare minimum is that I need to be a fan of what they’re doing. I don’t want to do any interviews where I’m not genuinely invested myself because I think people can tell. I need to be excited to get other people excited, and DeLa, I’ve known for a long time. So that always makes it easier when it’s someone that you’ve been friends with for a little while.
PopHorror: And I love how you cover funny stuff, like about your cats, and then also more serious stuff, like how some RuPaul’s Drag Race fans can be, which a lot of people might not realize. If we can rewind, what made you decide to do a podcast in the first place?
Joe Black: I like delving into people’s minds. I find them endlessly fascinating, and I think if you give people the room and the space to talk about things, I felt that because I like interview formats a lot because I think you can really pick up some interesting stories or ideas or inspiration. And sometimes, I’d listen to an interview and hope that someone would ask a certain thing, or I’d be curious to know something that wasn’t covered, or maybe I had more questions based on answers they gave.
So the easy answer is that I find people fascinating and I’d like to know more, but the more in-depth one is that I wanted to ask the kinds of questions that I wanted answers. And I think also, I’m in a position, especially with someone like DeLa, where we can have conversations that DeLa might not be able to have with someone else, or me with someone else. There’s also generally a connection with the guest somehow of how we kind of intersect. So yeah, it was mostly to be nosey because I find people fascinating, but also to give them the kind of grilling that I wanted to give.
PopHorror: Out of all the conversations that you’ve had, was there any guest that really said something that surprised you, where you were like, “Oh my God, I had no idea about that.”
Joe Black: The one that really sticks in my head is the Lemony Snicket one with Daniel Handler. I asked something along the lines of, that I feel like their work, particularly with A Series of Unfortunate Events, really spoke to LGBTQI+ people, queer people, sort of neurodivergent people, and I asked why that was. And they said something along the lines of, “To the outside world, I look like the man in the nice jacket, but actually I am all of these people. These are my community. This is what I grew up with and this is who I am, so I’m only speaking to people like myself.” That really blew me away.
PopHorror: What goes into creating these episodes? Do you do them from home?
Joe Black: Mostly they’re done from home via the medium of internet, video calling software. Some of them have been in-person. The Camille O’Sullivan (Barber 2023) one was recorded, as the air conditioning gives away, in a little cinema camper van in the middle of a Fringe festival site. The Dominic Skinner one was done in the MAC head offices, which was really fun to go there because no one else was there. I was just walking around the headquarters of MAC in London with Dom.
We did Mason Alexander Park’s (The Sandman 2022) one in their partner’s rental apartment in London while they were over in the U.K. The ones in-person, they’ve got a different energy because you spend a bit more time with someone before or after. In the case of Dom, I was met outside the MAC offices and taken in with fancy key cards and things. Then afterwards, we sat and had lunch and coffee for like, two hours, which was really nice. And then Camille, we walked around Brighton for a few hours and had a little coffee and a chat, and I was scared of that one because we spent so much time together beforehand with shopping. We went vintage shopping, and I sat in the changing room and Camille kept opening her curtain and going, “Do you like this one?” We spent so much time together beforehand, I was like, “No, no, don’t ask too many questions now.” And sometimes, spending time afterwards, you learn someone about someone that you wish you’d asked.
But, you know, the natural flow of conversation, I don’t also like to edit very much. There’s a couple of instances in series two where I’ve had to cut some stuff out, just because maybe we got a bit carried away or some technical issues. But generally, everything is left as one flow.
PopHorror: And I love the little intro that you include, the little jingle.
Joe Black: The theme tune! It was sort of just before the first episode was released and I was like, “Right, I’m ready to go,” and then I was putting it all together and I was like, “Oh, I don’t have a theme tune.” So I just got up this little MIDI keyboard and just improvised something and went, “Ah, that’ll do.” And then when the series two started, I got a lot of messages of people going, “I really missed that theme tune,” and it was just the product of sitting there for like five minutes. It’s very, very, very off the cuff.
PopHorror: It’s perfect! It’s very spooky but catchy at the same time.
Joe Black: I wanted it to have a kind of creepy sort of haunted game show quality.
PopHorror: Love it! Have you found that maybe you’ve gotten new fans because someone who likes Dominic Skinner or Lemony Snicket, etc. wanted to hear what they say on the podcast, and then they’re like, “Well, you know, I really like Joe Black now?”
Joe Black: The one that I noticed it more than others was with Jane Douglas and Ellen Rose from Outside Xtra because the gaming world, and sort of the pop culture geek world, has such a rabid fan base. I’ve just started doing Twitch as someone that enjoys games … I was like, “Ah, this is a way of communicating with people and creating nice little communities while also doing this fun thing.” And also, times be tough for people. Give them something free that people can watch and feel engaged in. I feel it’s a little service. But that one particularly, I got lots of people following me based off of them because they’ve got such a real diehard, nice fan base that are very involved in what they do.
In terms of actual listeners, that one remains one of the most popular I’ve done. In my head, I thought, because it’s so far from what I do for work, it might be a strange kind of crossover. I didn’t consider that people that like them will tune in as well. I’m only seeing it as from my point of view, and I also don’t expect any of the guests to share it. I’m not sending a contract in blood to be like, “Oh, must share this thing.” So that was a lovely surprise, that people discovered them from me and people discovered me from them. That was the best one in terms of crossover, I found.
PopHorror: Did you expect your guests to be so willing to be part of the podcast?
Joe Black: It’s always a thrill because I kind of go, “Aha! I’ve got so and so.” The Dawn French (Coraline 2009) and Lemony Snicket ones, those were the most surreal for me purely because of being such a fan of who they are. It’s kind of a whole other world, a whole other league. The Lemony Snicket one was a product of me feeling power mad after having Dawn. Dawn said “yes” and we had recorded it, and I was like, “I had Dawn French, I can have anybody!” I just on a whim was like, “I’m not gonna get an answer,” sent a message to the Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket team and got a reply in a couple of hours saying Daniel would love to do it. And then it turns out that he knew me, which that sort of really took me back a little bit when he was sort of familiar, which is quite a surreal moment.
There is a real lovely thrill and I’m always so overjoyed. It’s only an hour, or an hour and 15, with people, but that’s an hour and 15 they could give to somebody else or be doing something else. So I’m always delighted when they choose to spend that small section of a day with me.
PopHorror: Are you able to share a hint or a preview of what people can expect for the rest of this series?
Joe Black: We’ve got some pop stars, we’ve got some historians, we’ve got some people from the world of heavy metal, we’ve got some people who are doctors of things (not medical doctors). Some makeup artists. Very cool, interesting performance art types. And there’s a few that are yet to be recorded that I hope go ahead, some acting royalty, hopefully.
PopHorror: I’m excited to see who everyone is! Now just to pivot a little bit, in addition to your podcast, I see you’re always announcing shows. You have a cabaret coming up in July. I’d love to hear how you got into entertainment and became the Joe Black that we see today.
Joe Black: There’s that kind of ongoing joke that, people who do cabaret are failed musical theater people, which for me, I never wanted to be a musical theater person. It was never an intention and quite unusually, my whole goal was to do cabaret shows. I always loved the format of it and the landscape and the platform it gives for art, and how so much can be encompassed in one show.
When I first started performing to make extra bits of money, I used to do street performance. I used to sing songs on an accordion outside shops, 17 years old playing an accordion with a white painted face, smeared lipstick and blacked-out teeth and a bowler hat. It was quite the site for Portsmouth, where I grew up. But the thing that made me want to do stage shows was The Dresden Dolls. I was a very alternative teenager (surprise), and they kind of melded that theatricality and sort of cabaret sensibility with the kind of punk alternative gothy-ness. For me, it was a real indicator that those two worlds can co-exist.
Nowadays, you look at any kind of cabaret types, they were either a goth or still a goth, but at the time, teenage me thought, if you were doing that kind of thing, it was very classic and proper and you had to be this very clever person. You couldn’t be this chain smoker, drink inside or down the park, rough little punk kid. They molded it for me and it was from there really that I was on mixed bill nights of bands. So I’d be doing a cabaret set before a metal band, which sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t. Metal bands tended to work because I was sort of so ridiculous that people would just go along with it. Rockabilly bands would always go terribly, I’ve had bottles thrown at me. I’ve been doing this for 16 years now, so we’re talking 13, 14, 15 years ago that bottles are being thrown. And then I started doing burlesque shows as a musical interlude act.
And then, more often the hosts of the show would drop out or something would go wrong, and as the only person that used a microphone on the lineup, they were like, “Oh, can you host?” And I just started doing that, so it helped build talking on top of the song. Now, it’s a nice blend. A full show will be a nice blend of storytelling and songs and anecdotes. I really love David Sedaris (BoJack Horseman 2018) for unusual anecdotal stories, and I realized before really getting into Sedaris that I was kind of doing a similar thing, where I was twisting things that had happened to make them more absurd. Listening to him, I pale in comparison to David Sedaris, but it’s so inspiring to taking the mundane and making it fantastical.
PopHorror: In addition to your live shows, I love how on YouTube you’re still doing different covers.
Joe Black: Not very often, I should do it more.
PopHorror: I particularly like the “This Is Halloween” cover, as a Halloween and Nightmare Before Christmas fan myself.
Joe Black: That one was really fun, I want to do it live at some point. But doing all of the voices was so fun because I’m not a classically good singer, but I’m a character, I can do character voices. Rasps and growls are kind of go-to for a standard song, but something like “This Is Halloween” is so fun because I’m just sort of able to go all over the place, from going, “I am the clown with the tear-away face, here in a flash and gone without a trace,” just sort of jumping.
PopHorror: Now Joe, given that this is PopHorror.com, I have to ask…are you into horror movies?
Joe Black: I do love horror. In fact, we recently saw Evil Dead Rise and loved it, and then went back and rewatched the other Evil Dead films. We watched Evil Dead II last night. I love how horror just can be hilarious and horrifying. It’s one of the only genres I think that can really be self-aware without ruining it. I think as soon as a rom-com or something becomes self-aware, it almost just feels like a parody. But I feel like horror can be self-aware without becoming parody But then it’s also very parody-able, things like Scary Movie and that kind of thing.
It’s just a fascinating genre, and what I love about horror is, it seems to attract such wonderful people that are really passionate about this thing, and at once can really love something so silly and ridiculous, like Evil Dead II, something so ludicrous as that, but also something that is a genuine fright fest, and have as much love for both. There’s something about horror fandoms that’s so intense and loving. I mean, you write for PopHorror. Is that correct and not just an odd observation for me?
PopHorror: It definitely is. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a horror convention, but the people are so nice there.
Joe Black: I’ve been to Comic Con. Everyone was really nice. We didn’t dress up, and then people kept coming up to us and just guessing who we were dressed up as. I was like, “No, no, these are just our clothes!” I remember this young man came up and just kept saying, “American Horror Story.” We go, “No, no, no, it’s just my day clothes.” Comic Cons are really fun though, and also I like going to them and then after the fact, realizing I met somebody that’s from something really big. Not in the meet-and-greet format, but we walked past — this is pre-Chilling Adventures of Sabrina — Michelle Gomez (The Flight Attendant 2020). I’m not really a Doctor Who person, so I fell in love with her as Lilith in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. She walked past us and was like, “You two look fantastic.” We met Hodor (Kristian Nairn, Games of Thrones 2011), just walked past us.
PopHorror: Do you have a favorite scary movie?
Joe Black: I’m particularly fond of Hellraiser because that was one of the ones as a teenager, it had a lore around it. When you’re 13, 14, bit of a goth and go, “Oh, it’s all really gory and there’s sex and darkness and it’s also goth and leather and fetish.” And then as an adult, you look back at it and go, “This is homoerotically charged!” Blessed be Clive Barker. I love The Shining. Stephen King’s (It Chapter Two 2019) got so much work, I couldn’t even scratch the surface of all the stuff he’s done.
We’ve recently delved back into the Universal Monsters, which in hindsight, is not very scary. It very much leans into the camp factor, but I’m sure in 1934, some of this was terrifying. We recently watched The Wolf Man, and there’s a bit that me and my boyfriend, Aaron, keep doing. This is the kind of thing about horror being sort of absurd and maybe self-aware and very campy. There’s this woman sat on the sofa and he’s like, “OK, I’ll be back in a minute,” and then he just turns the light off on her and leaves the room, just leaves this woman sat in the dark. So now when we leave rooms, I’ll go, “I’ll be back soon,” and turn the light off and walk out of the room.
PopHorror: I have to ask, because you mentioned it in the DeLa interview…The Last of Us (our review). You’ve seen it? What did you think?
Joe Black: Oh, God, I loved it. I’m yet to play the games, but that was maybe quite nice for me, that I had nothing to hold it against. It was kind of a fresh experience for me. I just knew that people loved it. I found it was touching … We watched The Mandalorian as well, but it’s made us sort of fall in love with Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones 2014) and his companion, Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones 2016). They were absolutely brilliant. I’m so excited for season two and again, I don’t think I want to play the games because I want that fresh experience.
The podcast that they did alongside, it was a companion piece. I don’t tend to do those kind of catch-up things generally, but that one felt very special because it was the creators of the show and the game. One of my favorite things about it was, they spoke about how and why changes were made within it. One thing with fandoms is, people can really cling on to certain aspects and go, “But why did they change that?” What was so nice about this is, they explained why things were changed, because it was geographical reasons or logistic reasons or time within the time frame of how they would get from A to B and how you tell that story, and I thought that was fascinating.
PopHorror: OK, Joe, we’re nearing the end of our time. I love the question that you asked BenDeLaCreme at the end…what do you want next? What are your dreams? I want to ask you the same thing.
Joe Black: I actually haven’t thought about an answer for myself, but then again, I don’t give them a chance to think of an answer before I ask them. I think ultimately, I want to keep curating things that I’m passionate about and inspire me and can hopefully inspire other people … The dream goal would be, if I’m being unrealistic, to own a cabaret club, really. But I’m not very good with paperwork, to be honest with you. So I don’t know about opening a venue. But I deeply love the art form of cabaret and, very much like a chat on a podcast, it’s a platform and a scope to hear and see things that can be inspiring, or to inspire the person doing it. The cabaret show can be joyous. It can be sad. It can be political. It can be irreverent. It can be so many things. So I guess the dream is to keep on keeping on. I think that’s a good answer.
PopHorror: You mentioned earlier how the whole point of the podcast is for you to find out stuff about other people that hasn’t been asked. Is there a question that myself and other interviewers haven’t asked that you’ve always wanted to be asked?
Joe Black: I think my favorite kind of questions, I like when they sort of go, “So why do you do what you do?,” because I think that really gets to the heart of something. I’m sure I’ve been asked it before, but maybe they’ve not asked that directly, just gone, “Why do you do this?”
PopHorror: Did you have any final words, or anything that you wanted our readers to know?
Joe Black: Stream my single “Final Curtain,” it’s been out for ages! But I’ll take any opportunity to plug it.
Thanks for chatting (and introducing us to your cats), Joe Black! New episodes of Joe Black Meets: A Podcast are released every Thursday.
Joe Black photos by Scott Chalmers.