West Hollywood Juice Emporium. Day.
“There's three of you, there's three of us, I smell a gangbang,” a petite brunette tells the artist variously known as Simon Rex and Dirt Nasty. She's sipping a Kombucha tea at the Earth Bar, a West Hollywood health haven. She's flanked by two 20-something Bratz dollz, dressed like totally identical in leggings and UGGs.
The dollz cultivate wellness silently while their gangbang-smelling friend tells Rex how she worships his Twitter.
“They look like the Kardashian sisters,” whispers permanently hungover rapper Andre Legacy, a 6-foot-4 Armenian mad monk gone Fairfax B-boy with black-and-blue bags beneath his eyes. Simon Rex/Dirt Nasty's monthlong tour supporting his latest rap album, Nasty as I Wanna Be, starts the following day and Legacy complains of cold symptoms. Rex insists that his friend shoot a tumbler of cayenne pepper. A white-gloved nurse — someone from Desperate Housewives, or more likely a doppelgänger — suggests what he really needs is coconut water.
She's about to inject both with a syringe stuffed with vitamin B, vitamin C and other high-octane fuel. The tattooed juicetender tells us all about his latest beat — a Dirt Nasty dubstep remix.
This is a Woody Allen routine come to life. Every sun-screwed stereotype of L.A. embodied in a Santa Monica Boulevard strip mall at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, where clusters of abnormally attractive people have nothing better to do than sip $8 juices while discussing the pros and cons of a good gangbang.
This is also the latent fear of every Tea Partier across America — that if our cultural entropy continues, we'll sire a nation of daughters whose chief aspiration is to become BFFs with Paris Hilton (or with her H&M equivalent). And should that happen, one day they will potentially find themselves in a Bob Guccione's Caligula–esque orgy with a pair of white rappers best known for the song “My Dick.”
This is where you scoff and sanctimoniously mutter something involving the word “douchebag” — at least if you agree with Aldous Huxley's adage that an intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex. Philip Roth might disagree. So would Rex, who has been linked to Jaime Pressly, ex-playmate Nicole Lenz, and one third of your Facebook feed. And, yes, Paris Hilton.
One of Rex's avowed goals for his Dirt Nasty project is to be “the rap Tenacious D,” a legit musician out for laughs (his YouTube bio reads: “I, Dirt Nasty, am a complete idiot … Enjoy my world”). But he's not an idiot — he's just willing to play the fool, splitting the difference between Deuce Bigalow and Californication's Hank Moody.
Still scoffing? Weigh the odds: The Bay Area–raised personality achieved mild notoriety as a mid-'90s MTV VJ, a profession whose shelf life rivals pets.com employees and The Bachelor contestants. Logically, his career should be deader than Dan Cortese's Agassi mullet. The prologue to his self-deprecating faux-reality show, Rex (2009), described him as a “struggling actor” whose “controversial masturbation video [more about that in a second] made him famous. He's had no controversy since, and boy, could his career use it.”
This is half-true. Rex is wrongly branded “famous for being famous.” He's actually famous for being almost famous. Fueled by the tabloids and TMZ, modern fame is like horseshoes and grenades: Proximity counts.
Rex (as “Eli”) might have taken Felicity's virginity and fratted about on the straight-to-DVD National Lampoon's Pledge This!, but to the wider world, his most notable turn was playing an ersatz Eminem in Scary Movie 3 — as in $220 million–grossing Scary Movie 3.
Yet within the narrow strip where Santa Monica and Hollywood boulevards run parallel, Simon Rex carries undeniable currency. In SBE nightclubs, he's nobility exercising seignorial rights. Forget Kevin Bacon: Play six degrees of Simon Rex. He learned beat-making from Academy Award–winning actor Adrien Brody. His Laurel Canyon nest rests between Anna Faris' and Will Ferrell's, meaning he has dinner parties with the former and banters with the latter when he sees him jogging through the neighborhood.
Why, in a city synonymous with failed dreams, did a 36-year-old former VJ/porn star/C-list actor not only survive but manage to transform himself into an indie white comedy rapper getting spins on Power 106 with a “Hava Nagila”–sampling song dedicated to being an awkward Jewish dancer?
It's tempting to interpret this as a perverse Angeleno aberration. If so, how come Dirt Nasty spent the fall playing mostly sold-out clubs across the United States and Canada? His “1980” video received almost 4.5 million views and his freestyles regularly crack six figures on YouTube.
Want more evidence? Director Todd Phillips is a major Dirt Nasty fan and used “What Do You Say” in a little comedy called The Hangover. Comedy Central has commissioned a six-figure pilot for Nasty as I Wanna Be, featuring Nasty, Legacy and fellow “Dyslexic Speedreader” Beardo as struggling rappers thwarted in their musical and romantic ambitions by their successful rival, fellow “famous for being almost famous” fellow Andy Milonakis. Burnishing its comic cred is a script co-written by Happy Madison alumni Nick Swardson (Reno 911, You Don't Mess With the Zohan) and Nick Goossen (Grandma's Boy).
“The Dirt Nasty character is really cool, goofy and offensive at the same time, which is a tough thing to pull off,” says Goossen, who has directed most of Nasty's videos. “It's the same thing that Danny McBride does with Kenny Powers.”
Call it the Entourage effect. The HBO mainstay has sustained interest over seven years because it cellophane-wrapped the Schwab's Pharmacy dream for the 21st century. Like Turtle, Johnny Drama and E, viewers live vicariously through Vincent Chase, inducing 100,000 transplants to swallow the myth. Nor can you fault them.
Any would-be arriviste with a shred of realism doesn't actually believe that he's going to star in Aquaman. They see Simon Rex — who is handsome but no Brad Pitt, funny but no Sacha Baron Cohen, musically proficient but no Beastie Boy — and they think overdosing on antioxidants while surrounded by model chicks is no poor consolation prize.
To underscore the point, the Kombucha Kardashians depart the WeHo juice emporium and are replaced by a girl who looks like a Victoria's Secret model impersonating a librarian. Fronting demure in a tartan red skirt and tan leather boots, she greets Rex with a hug and huge, pleading eyes and, because juice is in this year, she orders a concoction. The blenders whirl, and Rex or Nasty or whoever whispers that he can't remember her name. “You look like an angel,” he offers.
But that's all it takes. “So do you,” she blows a kiss, and walks out the door into a 2004 Honda Accord, dissolving into casting call anonymity.
The Roxy, West Hollywood. Night.
Scalpers stalk the turf outside the sold-out house that Lou Adler built: $80 for two tickets. Inside, Dirt Nasty tells the largely teenage crowd about getting caught fucking a kangaroo, an incident that caused his zoo privileges to be revoked. This crowd is Jackass 3-D inclined toward absurdity and life-size cartoons.
“People understand that it's a joke. No one actually thinks I fuck falcons,” Rex insists. But the joke works because it's almost believable. After all, a pair of overheating blondes of indiscriminate Slavic extraction linger in the back — one hour before the show, they busted an illegal U-turn in their late-model Scion to intercept Rex exiting the Hustler store (he went in for coffee).
When he asked how he knew them, one replied: “We met 10 years ago in Miami when I was 16. You bought me a pineapple juice and tried to fuck me.” This is to be expected from an artist whose set list includes “My Dick,” “Suck My Dick” and “Baby Dick.”
Meanwhile, the VIP room is so packed it might just burst into a hailstorm of hair gel, Louis Vuitton–branded shades and Barney's-bought stilettos. The execs from Comedy Central are here. So are Milonakis, Ke$ha and professional party animals LMFAO, who make onstage cameos. So does infamous party photographer Mark “the Cobrasnake,” who pulls down his marijuana-leaf boxers to moon the crowd.
No one will ever mistake “Cougars” for “Cocktails,” but Rex has recorded with and received co-signs from both 2 Live Crew and Too Short. They share a common ethos: an examination of the many permutations of pimping, and DIY roots forged by selling records out of car trunks. Alleged cred-building story: Interscope once offered a deal, but Rex turned it down “to stay independent.”
“It was a terrible contract,” says Kevin Wolff, Dirt Nasty's manager and the boss of Shoot to Kill Records. “It wouldn't have taken care of him for very long, and his record may never have been released. Right now, we can book Simon one gig in Florida and pay his mortgage for a month.
“It's a great time to be independent. You can own your own masters, release and promote your music online and be as self-sufficient as possible. But you need good product.”
Which again raises the question of how, in an indie-rap basin both diluted and flooded, a guy with little media coverage has more Twitter followers than the combined total of blog favorites Yelawolf and Odd Future. Obviously his Hollywood notoriety matters, but only so much. He takes the craft seriously (a copy of boom-bap classic Diamond D's Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop is in his Audi station wagon), but so do most underground rappers.
Rex can't really divine a pattern in his Forrest Gump–like adventures in escapism. As he retells his personal legend, they started with a chance encounter at a rave when he was 18, where a girl randomly sidled up to him, ran her hands through his hair and told him he was moving with her to Los Angeles.
“I was telemarketing and working at a potato sack factory,” Rex says. “She was the hottest chick I'd ever seen, so I dropped everything. She told me that she was a model — turned out that it was for Penthouse and Hustler.”
He was discovered at one of his ex's more legitimate casting calls. Within months, the former factory worker was modeling for Dolce & Gabbana in Milan and partying at Gianni Versace's house in Florence. “I was living Zoolander, firsthand.” After moving to New York, he befriended Marcus Schenkenberg, and when Pamela Anderson's ex-beau was unavailable to tape an MTV segment on male modeling, Rex replaced him. The network liked his banter so much that they offered him a job.
He became one of the network's most recognizable faces and a Page Six fixture. When a pair of solo masturbation videos surfaced, it became a major scandal. “Times had been lean a few years earlier, so I had to take my dick in my own hands to pay the rent,” Rex laughs. “My MTV bosses were cool, though. They said that so long as the sex tape didn't involve animals, my job was safe.” The falcon fucking would come later, after Rex transitioned from being a talking head for a Viacom subsidiary to traveling in the orbit of raunch-rappers Mickey Avalon and Legacy.
In the world of raunch-rap, his mass-market masturbatory indiscretions were the equivalent of 50 Cent getting shot nine times. Once Nasty, Legacy and, especially, Avalon blew up in the Vine Boulevard vortex, their bona fides were unimpeachable. Managed by Wolff, the crew reigned as Sun Kings of the Sunset Strip until Avalon abdicated the throne in 2008, leaving the tight-knit collective and laying low while rumors of drug use abounded. The parting was neither amicable nor filled with animosity. “Mickey's a talented guy, and I wish it had ended better, but few friendships last a lifetime,” Rex laments.
“It was like a divorce,” Wolff says. “Mickey wanted to be as big as Katy Perry or Fall Out Boy, and I thought we were on track to be the next Marilyn Manson or Iggy Pop. There were a lot of people in his head, and stress and personal issues. We tried not to let the tension affect our relationship as partners and friends, but it crumbled internally.”
The departure of Shoot to Kill's biggest act ostensibly spelled doom, but the sold-out Roxy and online metrics offer a different story. Nasty has even acquired backing from unlikely quarters, including gutter-rap royalty like the Alchemist, who produced Nasty As I Wanna Be.
“People are too serious — especially in rap,” Alchemist says. “I hate people like that. Imagine a really serious interview on MTV with some serious artist talking about his career and a bunch of snooze-worthy bullshit, and in the middle of his sentence an obnoxiously loud fart erupts. That fart is Dirt Nasty.”
“If hip-hop had more hilarious dudes like Simon, it would be in a better place,” says legendary New York underground hip-hop DJ Stretch Armstrong, who hosted Nasty's recent White Album. “But he's more than just a joke — he's improved immensely as a rapper. He follows the battle rap scene closely and loves hip-hop.”
Outside the Roxy, the audience disperses, save for one trio of underclothed and overpainted teenagers. Although they don't really want to answer, the girls eventually explain why they like Dirt Nasty.
“It's just like fun.”
“Why is it fun?”
“Why do you think it's funny?”
“It doesn't matter. It just is.”
And, among the garish lights of the 21st-century Sunset Strip, they also dissolve into casting call anonymity.