The Queer Edge was a pioneering late night television talk/variety show that ran 2005-06 on the now long-forgotten Q Television Network that featured an outrageously out (first on TV!) gay host—Jack E. Jett—and one of the best guest star rosters ever assembled.
We’re talking major genre-crushing stars here. Like comedian co-host Sandra Bernhard, actor Alan Cumming, TV icons Charo and Butch Patrick, and MTV-era superstars such as Judy Tenuta, Amanda Lepore and Jane Wiedlin.
All this talent collided with Jack Jett’s glitchy “Max Headroom on acid” personality in a glorious explosion of Millennial fireworks.
The supporting players were no less dazzling: trans newscaster Jackie Enx, street theater performer/producers Rob Williams and David DeAngelis, underground bands like Laco$te and Fireworks, and the ever-present, always-dancing Barbarellas.
Yes, this show was so cool it even had backup dancers.
If Jack E. Jett was the barker at this circus, then the circus master—the captain of chaos who kept all the elephants dancing and the acrobats flying precisely through the air—must be Steve Jones, producer extraordinaire.
I worked for Steve on The Queer Edge and I witnessed his talent and drive firsthand. Check out the photo at the top of this post—there’s Steve, in the eye of the storm, having a ball.
What I did not realize until after the network shuttered abruptly in 2006, was what an amazingly diverse and gifted guy Steve Jones is. Also know by his stage name “John Henry Jones,” Steve was a rock frontman of a popular band (Stepmothers) at the very birth of L.A. punk rock at the legendary Masque club in Hollywood. He even briefly fronted one of my favorite SST bands, Overkill L.A.
Soon he had an even bigger MTV band, The Unforgiven, that played Farm Aid with Lou Reed, Alex Harvey, Neil Young and Willie Nelson. How’s that for ’80 cred? And they are a great band with heavy duty, catchy, rockin’ songs.
Steve’s songwriting chops lead to hit singles (a #1 for the band Asia), hit record labels (we helped found Hollywood Records, home of Queen), a zoot suit riot of a management deal (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies) and, eventually, a career in video and TV production where he’s now recognized as a top creator and show runner.
Let’s not forget Steve’s side careers as a rock climber, horseman, and armored jouster…what?!
Now, in this exclusive interview, Steve Jone talks about helming The Queer Edge, working with late great host Jack E. Jett (who passed in 2015 at the age of 58), and his spectacular, multi-faceted career in Hollywood
It was an honor to chat with Steve:
Hello, Steve. I didn’t fully realize back when I worked for you on The Queer Edge what a rock and roller you are. Did you grow up in Los Angeles?
Yeah, I’m from Hollywood, California and the L.A. punk rock movement started when I was 16-years-old. And by the grace of God I was part of it. So I was there at the beginning, got signed to my first record deal—Bomp! Records, an early LA punk rock indie label—at seventeen. And I was in several bands, made a bunch of records, toured the world and retired at 29.
Were you producing at that time?
Well, I was an artist and a songwriter—I wrote a few hits for other acts once I retired from performing myself. I produced some records as well.
After I retired I started a label at Disney called Hollywood Records with four other folks, including my attorney, Peter Paterno, who was the president; a label I’m proud to say is still there. And while I was there, I was a talent scout and a producer.
Wasn’t Queen on Hollywood Records?
Yes, indeed. And at the time, we signed them we didn’t know Freddie was sick; they sandbagged us on that. And for a while we were the laughingstock of the business because we paid them well at the time—it was a whopping $10 million, I think. That was for not only their back catalogue, but for future records. And they had one in the can which we did release called Innuendo.
But, tragically, there were not going to be any more Queen records. So we were ridiculed in the music business trades. However, cut to one year later, we’d put “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Wayne’s World and had a number one hit 17 years [after the song was originally released]. Vanilla Ice had to write us a check for a million bucks for ripping off “Under Pressure.” And because Freddie died, there was this outpouring of interest worldwide in the Queen back catalog. So we went from being complete fucking idiots to geniuses within a year. Not that we could have predicted any of that. At first when we found out Freddie was not gonna make it we felt pretty stupid too.
How did you transition to TV producer?
I was a rock climber and I busted my legs in 1991 and so I was in a wheelchair for a year—rehab, all that shit. So I couldn’t really go out and see bands as much as I wanted to. I couldn’t hit six clubs in a night like I had been doing, and then traveling on the weekends, and seeing bands literally all over the country, and the world. So I got desk duty, and I started working on putting on music in films and then started writing treatments for our videos, and eventually transitioned into editing and finally directing videos. I discovered I had a tremendous amount of passion for the merging of film and music. I remember being as stoked about those skills as I have been as a youngster figuring out how to write and record songs.
Paterno’s, and my, Hollywood Records regime was wiped out after four years. So I just rolled into video production after that.
I was also managing a band that I’d signed at Hollywood Records, called Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, the deal for which got scuttled as soon as I got canned. And so I continued co-managing that band. And fortunately, we got a lot of validation because we had a platinum record the next year. So fuck you, ya know?
You also wrote a song for Asia during that time?
I wrote it in the Unforgiven way back when, I can send you the clip, there’s a clip online of us doing it at Disneyland. When I decided to quit playing, my manager said, ‘Look, I really think you’re a great songwriter. I’d like to become your publisher and work your songs.’ And that was the first placement we got. So we hit a home run right out of the gate. Changed my life.
How did you get hooked up with Jack E. Jett and Q Television Network?
I started showrunning in 2000. And I did a lot of work for MTV for the first five years. I don’t know exactly how my resume got to Jack. But he was looking for a producer. You know, Jack was always—he was always firing his producers—and so he was always looking for a new replacement. Or QTN were looking for a producer for him. I literally got a cold call because he liked my resume. You know, Jack was a big music fan, and he loved MTV. So I got a call from Jack and I was flying into Burbank from a shoot in Florida. And I literally got off the plane and I walked over [to QTN Studios] because it was like four blocks away from Burbank airport, and I started showrunning the show the next day, or day after.
I’m so curious to know what you thought when you first met this guy, you’re getting off the plane...
I had seen some of his work. I watched it—I saw some promise there. At the risk of sounding self-serving—doesn’t mean it’s any less true—but [The Queer Edge] was a far more amateurish show than it became. Immediately I knew what to fix about it, and what I could bring to it to make it better. And so I jumped in and did it.
Just really quickly so I understand how things went down: you saw the show being made when you went to QTN that day? Does that mean the show was already happening?
Oh yes, it was already being broadcast. There was another producer… and he had just been moved over off of Jack’s show, onto something else at QTN because firing producers is what Jack did a lot of. There was another producer, Paul Baker, who was struggling with Jack at the time. That’s when I came in. I think they hadn’t been there long in terms of being in Burbank, because Jack of course would just commute in and out from Texas to shoot the show during the week.
Putting up a live show five days a week is a hell of an undertaking and especially with, like, the four people they had working on it.
From a creative point of view. I thought it had promise and I think it’s been shown that I was correct in this assessment that it could be better, a lot better.
Did you immediately jump in there after you met with Jack or…?
Yeah, it was immediate. I mean, I came to the set the next day. Maybe the day after, I don’t remember, and I just watched one of the tapings, and the day after that I took it over.
It was so shoestring. I immediately started writing the monologues with Jack and started looking at every segment of the show and losing some stuff, restructuring others, looking for and creating producible elements, and format elements, and graphics, and deciding what fun packages we could run—stuff to get us out of the studio. Then I brought in some talent—performer-producers—to start writing and performing some of the sketches.
Are you talking about David DeAngelis and Rob Williams?
Yeah, those were my guys.
Excuse me—detour here—that’s like another facet of your life, right? Renaissance Faire and street theater—that’s where Dave and Rob came from, correct?
Yeah. So in between my retirement as a musician and starting Hollywood Records I became an armored jouster for a couple of years, which I loved—it was really fun. And then later, after the Hollywood Records days, I went back to it for a while, which is where I met Dave. He was a kid from Michigan.
I had a solo comedy street theater show as well as doing the jousting shows. And Dave and I turned that into a two-man show that we toured with. I brought him in as a producer/performer along with Rob, who was a mutual friend of ours in another comedy act, called The Flaming Idiots, and we did some of the same festival, so we had became friendly. I was a big fan of The Flaming Idiots. We brought Rob out from Texas and those two—Dave and Rob—really became the core players for the sketch comedy troupe we were forming.
With Rob, we’d have him go out and be a roving reporter. And then Dave would go out and produce some of the remote segments.
Those two made some really great TV, like where Rob was on the floor at Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas trying on bondage gear. Or when Rob was getting knives thrown at his face. Rob and Dave took turns playing Jesus in-studio—each interpretation was hilarious.
Yeah, definitely. And Rob did that nun character who would teach sex ed in blasphemously graphic ways.
This was a show that punched way above its weight class with guest bookings…
It did. That’s what punk rock teaches you to do. It teaches you to mean it and to not let anyone tell you what to do nor to make you believe they are more important than you. I’ve worked with some really heavy heavyweights over the years and I was never intimidated by them. My thing is I’ll call up Michael Eisner or Jamie Foxx, or whomever, I don’t care. All they can do is not take the call. That was always my vibe.
We had a publicist helping us. Jack had a lot of connections, I had a lot of connections. And, you know, every day—we didn’t really know who was gonna show up [laughs]. That was part of the reason for the sketch comedy and for some of the other things we did, because we always had to be ready to fill a hole, always, depending on who did or didn’t show up.
These celebrities and performers—were they being compensated in any way? It seems like they took a real chance being on the show that was so off the rails.
But the fact is it was low risk, because there were like what? Sixty people watching it? So just doing it for exposure for whatever they were selling—a book or CD or movie—whatever it was. The same old game.
Who were some of your favorite Queer Edge guests?
Sandra Bernhard, who as you know then eventually came on to co-host the show near the end. She was great. Alan Cumming was fantastic. That was a big one. Jack was great with him. I remember writing the opening joke, which was this whole spoof of celebrities coming out as gay.
A popular thing at that moment back then, but getting a bit trite.
Right, so the punch line was Jack urging Cumming to come out as Scottish. And Jack really did that well, and Cumming answered it well, and then they were off and running.
That was Jack at his best. Because Jack—may he rest in peace—could be a terrible fucking interviewer if he didn’t much care for the guests or was just pissed off about something else entirely. And I’m not saying anything here and now that I didn’t say to him—to Jack. Trust me.
Jack seemed to have a mode where maybe he hadn’t read his notes, and he would keep going back to the same things which was A) making fun of Barbara Bush—topical at that time I guess—or B) talking about how hot someone was.
Yeah, he had his go-tos. He was OCD and he was, you know, troubled. Jack was not a stranger to drugs. And you know, there were good days and bad days—there were good moments and bad moments. I used to say: “Jack is a great bunch of guys; you just never know which one you were gonna get.”
I feel that first season of The Queer Edge is really about three seasons in one. It has this over-the-top energy level. Where do you think that that came from?
There has to be a captain of the ship. I was the captain of that ship. I revamped it. I rewrote it. I recast that. I rethought it, restructured it. And it worked. And there were certainly horrible, awful, terrible moments—which are absolutely unavoidable in a live setting like that, where you’re making a live show five days a week with a budget of like $5. But I think for the most part, the quality went way up despite the landmines. I know viewership went up and there was a buzz around town starting about it, despite nobody being able to actually watch it in L.A. The reason was that it was entertaining and it was good. And I think it’s no secret to anybody who was there, or anybody who was watching it, that from the moment I left, the quality started to tank. Because there was not that captain there, there was not that creative force and leader of the ship of fools at the helm anymore.
And I think Jack would tell you that. In fact, Jack told me exactly that years later. I think he was having a moment of clarity. I think whatever, you know, program he was in at that point. I have no idea. But he reached out to me and said, essentially, you were right. “Firing you was the fucking stupidest thing I ever did,” Jack said to me, “And I hope we can see each other sometime so you can kick my ass.” Typical Jack! [Laughs].
That’s hilarious. I mean, I was there, but I’ve always been in the dark: why and how did you guys end up going your separate ways?
Q casting chief Andrew Strauser—who has gone on to have a huge Hollywood career—and I pitched Sandra Bernhard, and her manager, to have Sandra come on and co-host the show. And this was while we were in a hiatus period. And during that hiatus, when we were going to come back up and she was going to be on the show, that’s when Jack went into a paranoid spiral. And Jack and I had a big argument over the phone. And—and I was far from my best here, let me tell you, not my best moment in talent handing—but the crazy shit he was saying, and his way of being left me so hurt by his lack of appreciation for what my team had done with the show—including getting Sandra on to do this next season coming up. I was alternately really hurt by what he was doing and saying and also really angered by the fact that he was letting his paranoia get the best of him and nothing I did seemed to be able to bring him back from the brink of fucking up something really beautiful.
Jack was trying to lose weight really, really bad—I think he was doing speed as part of that—and it angered me that he had let himself go so off the rails with the drugs and/or the paranoia. I’m only assuming what I’m saying about the drugs, but I know drugs from being around musicians and performers, and Jack was up front about some of his drug use.
So anyway I was not at my best on that phone call. I went off on that guy in ways that I would never do today, no matter what the talent was doing. I was a less mature person. And wisdom comes from pain, you know, so there was a lot of wisdom that came from that level of pain.
Jack fired me on the call, and he must have immediately called the powers that be at QTN and said, you know, ‘Steve’s fired.’ So they called me and said, you are not fired. You have created an income source for us and we love your work. And, you know, we’ll figure it out.
But I’m no fool. And I’d already been through a lot. I was a professional at seventeen! My father was an actor [beloved character actor Claude Earl Jones, who starred in Bride of Re-Animator, Battlestar Galactica, and Little House on the Prairie among many others], and I grew up in the entertainment industry so I knew that my days were numbered, regardless of what the QTN powers said, because I wasn’t gonna be able to work with Jack anymore, you know? I just wasn’t. And that was as much my fault as his. They were talking about making me the head of late night programming and they’d put another showrunner on, but they’d keep me writing the show, secretly I guess, and all this… bullshit.
I started looking for a job immediately. And I think I lasted another few weeks. I don’t really remember. But basically Jack and I weren’t speaking during that time. He had this little mafia of minions around him to keep me at arm’s length which, by that time, I was completely fine with.
There was a lot of psychic abuse and I was burnt out. It was abuse and, you know, then Jack would go after people that I had hired, like Sue Drew. And Andy Strauser, I believe, left around that time. Jack went after anybody that I was attached to, with the exception of Dave and Rob because they were on camera, making the show great, or at least portions of the show, and so he poached them.
So I got my walking papers. I think I may have already accepted another job by then, so I was kind of like, even if they fire me I was gonna quit.
Afterward, you went on to specialize in getting shows up and running. Is that correct to say? You’ve developed a career as a season one showrunner which I think is fascinating.
I’m a show creator. I was a hit songwriter before I started writing scripts in film and television. So I’m a writer first and foremost, and I think that’s my strength: making shit up.
After Queer Edge, when I would talk to people about creating shows for them, you know, I would have a little bit of a speech that would talk about if you can put up a live comedy variety show, five days a week, with a staff of virtually nobody, and on a $5 budget. And I mean, literally, we had $5,000 per show—that was our budget. Insanity! I would say, if I could create that shit and write good stuff and make good TV under those circumstances, I can fucking do anything; there’s nothing you can throw at me that’s gonna throw me. And that’s true. After Queer Edge I’ve had difficult situations with difficult people many times, but you know that trial by fire—the advanced degree I got working with Jack and making that show happen—has served me very well. And not only professionally, I would say personally too. I had to learn to exhibit a level of patience. I had learned how to be politically savvy in insane situations in ways that I’d never had been able to before. Those things pay off in all kinds of personal relationships too.
Patience is a really powerful thing, man. Personal politics are so important and, and that show was just a crucible steeped in insanity. It either made you a fucking warrior or it killed you.
Here we are, fifteen years later, and I’m wondering, what is the lasting significance of The Queer Edge with Jack E. Jett? Is there any from your perspective? Is there a reason that the show and Jack should be remembered?
Well, it’s going to be remembered by the few dozen people that worked there at QTN and by some very small number of people we entertained with it. There’s that. It was the first gay talk show on a spectrum that was gay to gay friendly, on a gay network with a gay host and at least 50/50 gay guests. And I think that’s still a revolutionary thing.
And, you know, it was also very interesting in terms of the staffing and showrunning. If real estate is location, location, location, then showrunning—I have learned the hard way—is staffing, staffing, staffing.
It’s the team you put together under you, it’s the chemistry you create and nurture and police… And, for me, I always say a showrunner’s job is done when you get to sit back and go, “Looks great, guys!’’ A good showrunner does not want to be fucking micromanaging and frame-fucking people. Hire the right people and let ‘em do their job, fill their sails with wind and cheerlead for them and they either make it work, or if not, find someone else, but micromanaging creative people and artists doesn’t work, and it’s exhausting.
You want to put the right people in place, create the right team and let them let them rock and make you look like a genius. That’s when it works. And on Queer Edge, it definitely did.