WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In the Andaz hotel's elegant rooftop ballroom, distinguished members of the adult entertainment industry gathered last night for an intimate private dinner event. It was there, surrounded by West Hollywood’s glittering nightscape, that the first-ever performer appreciation dinner was held. Industry luminaries and artists came together in humble thanksgiving, not to dispense awards and nominations in a flurry of bombast, but to exchange heartfelt words and inspirational passions. (photo gallery)
"Thanks for being here tonight, I just wanted to say a few words," XBIZ founder and President Alec Helmy began in his opening remarks. The clinking of wine glasses settled into silence. “It was 1996 and the Internet was this whole new thing, and it was around this time that I decided to start a business, to sell the one thing that I knew would sell well online.” The audience laughed, exchanging knowing looks.
"Call it good timing, luck or what have you, but with the support of my family and staff, we were able to build our business into what it is today," Helmy added. "And the reason I’m telling you this, is because I would not be standing here if it weren’t for the adult performer community. Nor would everyone else who works behind the camera in our business. Because without talent, there is no product and without product, there is no business or industry. Which is why we created this event, so that we can come together in an elegant setting to show our appreciation to the performer community, for making adult entertainment possible.
“On behalf of my family and staff, I thank you for enabling us to make a living doing what we love to do ... thank you for all the passion you put into your work, despite what our critics have to say,” concluded Helmy, drawing earnest applause.
The next speaker was Balazs Sipocz, CEO of Docler’s USA division, parent company of RISE's presenting sponsor LiveJasmin. “First of all, I would like to thank Alec and all XBIZ for organizing this event,” he said. “It makes us very happy and we feel honored to be part of this night, which puts more light on the people who are doing the hard work. We would just like to say thank you for doing this and together, we can all become stronger.”
The evening then turned to quiet conversations, cocktails and a three-course dinner.
At a nearby table, James Deen leaned back and shared his perspective.
“I feel like without the stars, there wouldn’t be any money for the companies to survive, and I feel like they know that, so they do a lot to appreciate us,” he said. “Like pay us money to license the sexual content that we make with our sex organs. But it’s definitely nice to have an appreciation dinner.”
ATKingdom owner Kim Nielsen said, “We’re obviously indebted to the performers, they’re literally the lifeblood of everything we do.”
During an inspirational speech midway through the evening, Penthouse President Kelly Holland drew thunderous applause, as she highlighted the heroic artistry of adult performers. “When you’re a painter, it’s your paintings that are judged,” she began. “When you’re a writer, it’s your books that are judged. When you’re an actor, it’s you who are judged. Now, I was an actress who kept her clothes on. You guys have ultimate vulnerability, because you have to bring it, have to bring reality in an unreal position, and you do it with no clothes on. That’s incredible. Think of all you do, every day.
“Never allow the world to dismiss you as a ‘porn star,’” she explained. “You’re artists, you’re true artists, because you touch people in a very deep level. You come into their homes at two in the morning and you may be all they have when they turn on their television. You may be all they have when they turn on their cellphone. Maybe you’re the thing that tries to cement their boring relationship. So you are close to them, you are close to them on a primal level. It’s important to remember how important you are. We all know you’re important. I know you’re important. I want you to know how important and amazing you all are.”
Legendary performer Nina Hartley said, “I’m here to say my husband, Ernest Greene, is the most underappreciated person in adult entertainment today. He’s the one that made BDSM safe for all the other companies … the first one that put bondage in a feature … without anybody losing their hat.” She also gave a speech encouraging adult performers to never do anything for money that they would not do freely for their own pleasure.
“Adam and Eve have been wonderful, supportive for many years,” said Greene. “As a feature director, they gave me a lot of freedoms to do a lot of things, that whole no bondage with penetration thing, we peeled that off.” He then spent several minutes showering his wife with adulation.
Free Speech Coalition CEO Diane Duke later lauded performers for helping her champion free speech. “The thing that’s been great, for me … is when we go to the legislature, to CAL/OSHA, my favorite thing is to bring performers with me, because there’s Mike Weinstein in AHF portraying performers as mindless drug-infested disease-infested victims,” she said. “And then you have the performers that we have, speaking smarter than anyone else in the room, and it’s so wonderful, because they can talk about the situation, that they love what they do and really they get to knock those misconceptions out.
“You know, we advocate for performers, but our favorite thing to do is to set up a situation where they can advocate for themselves,” Duke added. “And the thing that is exciting now is APAC, I think it’s been great to have a coordinated group that we can go to and say ‘hey, this is what we have going on, what do you guys think,’ so we’re able to coordinate our efforts.”
Performers and industry veterans alike named the most influential peers and employers who have shaped their careers, speaking fondly of memorable experiences.
“Well, the people that I appreciate in the business are probably dead now,” Exile Distribution President Howard Levine offered with a wolfish grin and wry charm. “Like Reuben Sturman, who started this business for everybody, who I had the opportunity to work for, for a long time. I still do appreciate my old boss Steven Hirsch [Vivid founder], who I think built something that was extremely unique, so I mean I’ve been doing this for 25 plus years.”
Tasha Reign expressed, “When I worked for Penthouse, I loved Kelly Holland. She always made me feel appreciated, because it’s nice to work on a set where it’s very professional. I also love my coworkers, like I feel honored to be around them. Like Nina Elle, the guys I get to perform with, James Deen, Xander Corvus … they’re so great, they make their coworkers feel sexy and it makes for a really good scene.”
ATMLA owner Mark Schechter offered, “I get them work, I try to take care of them as best as I can. I make sure they’re safe, try to give them as many perks as I can and get them out to social events, things like that.” When asked who has shown him appreciation in the industry, he said, “I’d have to say XBIZ, they’ve always been good to me.”
Cherry Pimps CEO Jack Avalanche said, “I think it’s important to appreciate the talent. I think they’re the lifeblood of this business.”
Aaliyah Love enthused, “I owe everything to porn, porn is the best decision I’ve ever made.”
As the evening drew to a close, a palpable sense of deeper bonding had threaded its way through the fellowship, forged by the historic intimacy of RISE. Performers and industry giants alike left with expressions of quiet reverence. They merged with the luminous shadows of West Hollywood, beyond the luxurious façade of the Andaz, and carried gratitude within their heart.