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Jon Ronson is revealing his stories from the world of porn in a show at Cambridge Corn Exchange




Author and documentary maker Jon Ronson has spent the last three years immersed in the porn industry.

His new stage show, Tales from the Last Days of August and The Butterfly Effect, charts his time in this world. It’s based on the two hit podcasts he made and reveals some of the extraordinary human stories of the people he met on set of porn films in California.

“In general porn people are just adorable. Most of them, especially when we were making The Butterfly Effect, it was like we were with theatre kids,” he says.

Jon Ronson (9201703)
Jon Ronson (9201703)

Sadly, for those working in the porn industry, these are difficult times, according to Jon. For his first podcast, The Butterfly Effect, he researched the impact that free internet sites such as Porn Hub had had on the industry. It soon became clear to him that his new internet era had laid waste to the traditional porn community in the San Fernando Valley and that many performers were now having to find different ways to make a living. And delving into that scene led to some of the strangest stories of all.

Jon says: “One way that people are diversifying is they are creating these sort of bespoke porn films. Imagine all your life you have wanted to see a porn film that was so niche and bizarre that nobody other than you would possibly find it erotic, and now you can commission professional porn producers to make that film just for you.

“So I got kind of obsessed with that and I’ve got some PG rated clips - like I'm not going to make anybody blush - from bespoke porn films that nobody has ever seen and they are so funny and weirdly charming and mysterious and life affirming - they are delightful.”

The clips included everything from gremlins hitting people to a woman being doused in litres of ketchup and someone burning a stamp collection, leaving the producers of the films wondering how people developed these niche fetishes. Jon will reveal some of the clips at his Cambridge show, but promises that none of the videos will be explicit.

“There’s not going to be anything graphic, I would never do that,” says Jon.

“I'm not going to make anyone blush, of course not!" he says, outraged that anyone could believe that of him. "I’m not not a risque person. It's just stories about people - moving, funny, sad or tragic stories about people. It's just that some of those stories for the last few years happened to have taken place in the porn industry and they are fascinating and mysterious.”

“That's been my favourite bit of all this,” he says. “Finding out this extraordinary and surprisingly moving world. It’s an emotional world around bespoke porn.”

Jon Ronson's tour (9201705)
Jon Ronson's tour (9201705)

Jon reveals that after a very short time, being on porn sets was far from erotic and instead he was soon chatting to performers and producers as scenes took place behind him.

“Being on set is just like regular movies - it gets very boring, very quickly. When I went to Puerto Rico to watch the movie of my book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, being filmed, someone said the most exciting day of your life is your first day on a Hollywood movie set and the most boring day of your life is your second day on a Hollywood movie set. And its true for porn- it’s not an erotic experience. You get desensitised very quickly.”

After a string of bestselling non-fiction books, includingSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, The Psychopath Test, Them: Adventures With Extremists, Lost At Sea and The Men Who Stare At Goats, the former broadsheet journalist moved into making podcasts. The second one, The Last Days of August, also focused on the porn industry, but this time it was about the suicide of rising star in the adult film world, August Ames.

Her husband, adult film director Kevin Moore, claimed she was cyberbullied to death after she had tweeted that she didn’t want to work with male performers who had made gay porn.

As Jon had just written a book about the effects of public shaming on social media, he decided to find out more about what happened. But events quickly took an unexpected turn when some people questioned Kevin’s relationship with his wife and whether she had actually killed herself. It led Jon to worry about his responsibility to everyone involved.

“To be completely honest, it gave me a bit of a breakdown,” says Jon.

“It just got a little bit too much. I became very aware of the ethical responsibilities that I had and it sort of gave me a bit of a collapse, which only lasted two weeks. So I was very fortunate that it was only a temporary thing but I'm thinking how to write about that part of my show.

“Literally, I got something called adjustment disorder, which was a combination of panic attacks and depression. I have always had anxiety but this was different to that. It lasted two weeks and I’m fine now.”

Jon Ronson (9201700)
Jon Ronson (9201700)

As Jon spoke to August’s friends and family he became aware that her relationship with Kevin had been strained and that at one point he feared listeners would believe they were hearing a true crime story. So, in episode two, Jon made a decision to reveal that the podcast was not about a murder investigation, even if that reduced the sense of suspense.

“It was also a lot to do with my own sense of responsibility,” says Jon.

“I have got to get this right and be true and be fair to everybody - it was about ethics and fairness. I was thinking, ‘How can I be fair to August and still be fair to Kevin?’ and those were the thoughts that were spinning around in my head.

“A lot of people out there would love to manipulate the audience with that and keep people listening and I couldn’t. I never thought Kevin murdered her but I did go through periods of thinking, 'I don't know what to think'. That was really difficult for me too because I couldn't put the show out unless we got to the bottom of it. There was a long period where we had a lot of questions and no answers.

“I was so nervous about getting it ethically right. I think I did, thank God. I think my life would be much worse now if I felt that I’d got it wrong.”

Jon Ronson (9201698)
Jon Ronson (9201698)

Jon is careful to say that many of the stories he heard while meeting people in the porn industry were positive, even though August’s story was so tragic.

He explained he was told by one performer: “You will find whatever story you want to tell, so if you want to find a story about an exploited, sex trafficked woman you will find that story. If you want an empowered, fine, happy woman in porn for whom nothing goes wrong you will find that story too. He said your only limits are your biases.”

“The Butterfly Effect is a very positive show and The Last Days of August is very melancholic and dark. I see them all as human stories and they are all valid.”

Jon Ronson: Tales From Last Days Of August & The Butterfly Effect is at Cambridge Corn Exchange on Monday, May 6 from 8pm. Box office: cambridgelive.co.uk. Tickets £28.



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