Brett Goldstein and Bobby Gordon have a lot in common. They are both from Jewish families, both lightly bearded, both have the same brand of mobile phone – and both are doing Fringe shows about their fathers who are both called Howard. What's more, those fathers have skeletons in their closets. Meeting for the first time, the two men talk about Debbie Does My Dad and Brett Goldstein Grew Up In A Strip Club.
Bobby Gordon: My parents were into the free love movement. My dad thought it would be really fun to have sex with a girl in an elevator, but where would he find a girl who would do this? Porn auditions! So he sees a porn audition, having no interest in taking the job, but expecting a 14-floor building. It was a two-floor building. Two weeks later he got a call back and they said, "You've got the job." He was in the industry for about six years under the name of Richard Pacheco. But then AIDS hit and my mom said, "Don't you think it would be wise for one of us to stay alive to raise the children?" He retired on a dime. I was born in 1986 when he had just retired.
Brett Goldstein: My dad had been a bookshop owner. He got to 50 and had an enormous mid-life crisis, left my mum and bought a strip club in Marbella. It took a year to build that club and in that year, at no point did we think it was real. It was like a family joke because it was so not him. He was a geeky, nice, normal, mainstream kind of guy with his own bookshop. I went with him to audition. We were supposed to have a conference room in a budget hotel, but they'd double-booked and had to put us in bedroom. I was 19, young and naïve and suddenly we were sat on the edge of a hotel bed with really young girls coming in. It was a weird father-son bonding thing to do. I ended up going out to Spain with my dad and running the place for a year. It was a mental blip; he got out of it and is back together with my mother.
Gordon: What was your relationship with your mom while you were in Marbella?
Goldstein: Marbella is beautiful and it's full of evil. It's all ex-cons and gangsters. I was working all the time and it became this little world I was living in. I genuinely lost track of the real world. So with my mum, I don't think we talked much and I didn't want her to know quite what was going on because it would have frightened her.
Gordon: My parents worked really hard to be OK with an open relationship. Jealousy was seen as so square. My mom says that works if you don't care, but if you don't care then the result is you don't care about the relationship. The part that really resonated with me in your show is where you talk about how necessary emotions are to sexual interaction. That's what makes the lack of jealousy impossible.
Goldstein: Our aim was for it to be a classy topless club, but market demand meant it quickly changed to fully nude. My dad's idea of it was this clean place, which is not what anyone wanted. There are areas of the sex industry that can be exploitative, I admit it, but we weren't. When we opened the club, I was really protective of the girls. I told the security to watch and if a guy touched a girl when she was dancing, he would be out. This went on for a week and then one of the girls said, "It's fine." I realised they don't need looking after. They knew what they're doing and it was all within their own boundaries. If it did go too far, they'd just tell the man to stop.
Gordon: The way my dad has described it to me is that porn isn’t defendable. The underbelly of porn – the exploitation, the drugs – is very real. But he came in with a naïve, hippy notion that sex was beautiful and lovely and he was going to change what porn was. I knew him as this goofy, sincere, sweet man who didn't have a misogynist bone in his body and yet society and all my friends told me that a porn star was aggressive, macho and misogynist. He regards it as a crowning achievement to have been a good human being in a place where it was really difficult to be a good human being, in the same way I imagine it is difficult to be a sensitive guy in a strip club.
Goldstein: Working in a strip club really messed up my attitude to relationships. In a strip club, everyone's playing a game and there was quite a while where I found it difficult to trust people. There was one woman where in my head I thought, "What is she trying to get out of me?" It was only at the end of it when I realised, quite sadly, that she just liked me.
Gordon: I blushed a lot as a kid. I was embarrassed a lot. My mom and dad raised my sisters and I to have a really healthy view on sex and in our society that makes us incredibly bizarre. I don't meet many people who have the same views as me. Even though I feel healthy, I have problems finding people who feel the same way as I do, but I'm proud of that. As a kid, learning that sex is beautiful when it’s consensual thing spared me so much shame.
Goldstein: My mum said she'd never have sent me if she'd have known what it was like, but it was a hell of an adventure. I'm incredibly lucky. Whatever I say about the damage it caused, it doesn't matter because not many people have had this experience. I think I'm very lucky to have had that.
Brett Goldstein Grew Up In A Strip Club, Pleasance Dome, until 29 August (not 15); Debbie Does My Dad, Bedlam Theatre, until 27 August.
© Mark Fisher 2011
More coverage at theatreSCOTLAND.com
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND updates
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND discussion