26 year-old gay porn star Levi Karter is the subject of the surprisingly touching and thought-provoking documentary from CockyBoys Leave It To Levi, which premieres in Hollywood this week. The film, directed by Jake Jaxson, focuses on the fallout when Levi’s mother Anne discovered her son was doing porn and her gradual acceptance of his life choices, it also examines how Karter being a drag queen, known as Sassy Frass, fits into today’s hyper-masculine world of gay porn. Making use of Karter’s own self-taped archive, Leave it to Levi is a frequently entertaining, intimate portrait of one of today’s most popular, charismatic porn performers and a celebration of the freedom to choose our own path in life. Read our ★★★★ Leave it to Levi review.
Ahead of the LA premiere at The Montalbán Theatre on Thursday January 9th, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann asks Levi Karter some deeply penetrating questions.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: How well do you think Leave it to Levi represents you? Does it gives people a good insight into who you are?
Levi Karter: “When I watch the film and see myself, it’s just me being me. There’s no acting or anything. It’s definitely my story, there’s nothing fabricated.”
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up and what your childhood was like.
“I was adopted from Paraguay as a baby and brought to America when I was 13 months old, so I don’t really remember any of that. My mom loves the Latin culture and that’s why she got a Latin baby! I grew up in Athens, Ohio. It’s a small college town and I guess at one point I had everything going for me and then I messed up in college. I went to two universities and I failed out of both of them in my first year, because I was drinking and partying too much and not studying. I wasn’t good at school or test taking, but through working hard on homework I’d always get like a B or a C. In Athens, we were all just trying to pretend that we were college kids and trying not to get in trouble. It was hard because my mom was a teacher. Basically I was very well-behaved, or at least I tried to be good. I would maybe smoke a cigarette here or there, and I’d still get caught! It was really hard to get away with anything with my mom. There was a time when I really wanted to do what everyone else was doing, to experience college and then have a steady job afterwards and a lifesstyle that was more towards all that. I know my mom would have loved that, but I think now we’re both very grateful for where I’ve landed.”
Tell us about your relationship with your mother Anne and how it’s evolved over the last few years.
“My mom did single parent adoption, so it’s always been my mom and me, and we’ve always been best friends. When we would make up after a fight we’d always have this goofy little question for each other: ‘are we still friends?’ When I was in high school I had a brief emo stage, but I think we all have our little rebellious phases when we’re not too nice to our moms. When I was eighteen I started stripping and go-go dancing in Columbus, which is the bigger city, the capital of Ohio. She found out about it that summer and was really upset. She also found out that I got a couple of new tattoos, more than just the one she already knew about it. She didn’t like it, but I was eighteen.”
“Then after I’d left college she found out that I was doing porn and that’s when she told me that she felt like a failure as a mother and she didn’t know how to walk down the street, or what to say to her friends or people at her church. When they asked what her son was up to she’d always say ‘a little bit of this and a little bit of that’. That’s when she flew to New York to speak to CockyBoys’ owner Jake Jaxson, which he talks about in the film. She walked in and she was very concerned and determined and said ‘nothing you say to me is going to convince me that what you’re doing is right’. That was five and half years ago and a lot’s changed since then. Two or three years ago, my mom came to “Friendsgiving” at the CockyBoys house in upstate New York. The first time she came she stayed at a hotel, because we film at the house, but then she got to see how Jake Jaxson and his partner RJ Sebastian keep me in a safe and respectful environment. And now she says ‘they’ve done so much for you’.”
So essentially she’s gone from seeing them as people who were leading you astray to people who have been a positive influence on you?
“Yes and I realise that my mom was born in the 1950s and I understand that she grew up in that timeframe, versus the 70s or 80s, so of course she has a completely different outlook on porn. She thought that porn studios were run by gangsters. So when she walked in she asked Jake ‘this isn’t run by gangsters is it?’ and ‘you’re not going to put him with underage workers are you?’ When she would come back and visit the house she’d start to realise that these were very nice people that I was working with. She also said she could tell how nice and sweet Jake and RJ were because of how they treat their dogs! RJ makes homemade dog food every week. I always joke, ‘they are nicer to the dogs than they are to the models!’ That’s not true! Or it’s off the record at least! The dogs do get fresh cooked food though and we usually go to Chipotle after shooting scenes. We all want Chipotle after six hours of filming!”
And your mum has been supporting the film hasn’t she and now runs the Leave It to Levi account on twitter?
“Yes, we gave her the account and she really took off with it! It’s @LeaveIt2Levi.”
Do the other adult performers you work with tend to have their families’ acceptance or knowledge about what they do?
“Now even more than before. After meeting my mom, Jake Jaxson has a new rule about families knowing, because he doesn’t ever want to encounter a situation like the one with my mom again. So if you’re going to work with CockyBoys and you have a relationship with your family then they have to know what you’re doing. When I first started doing porn there where a lot of guys who told me that their moms knew. My mom was the one who walked in and said ‘this isn’t right!’ So I think she was less of a party mom than some of the others.”
I love the scene where you and fellow CockyBoy performer Liam Riley are in the dark basement and get scared and start screaming, such a funny part of the movie.
“I love that moment too. And Liam’s an example actually because his mom and dad know about him doing porn and they’re so chill and very nice. Liam and I have so many little videos of our adventures because we lived together in Brooklyn for a year.”
The first part of Leave it to Levi uses your own video footage. When did you first start filming yourself?
“I used to film myself in high school and college. I was that gay guy who was like ‘let’s do a photoshoot outside my house, with an umbrella even though it’s not raining!’ I got into videos because I liked recording when we were drinking and hanging out and partying and then watching them the next day. I would just turn the camera on and start recording everything. I showed Jake Jaxson all my videos and that’s when he got the idea to use them for a film.”
Are you interested in the behind the camera side of the shoots you’re involved in?
“Yeah I am and I have been a production assistant on some CockyBoys shoots and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. There was I time when I thought I’d like to have my own studio, but the longer I’m in the industry the more I realise that I love the performing aspect rather than the all the paperwork, and the business side of things, handling the DVDs and everything. There are a lot of components to it and I’d rather master one thing at a time.”
How did you first get involved in professional porn?
“When I was nineteen a lot of my friends in Ohio were working for Helix and I was trying to get with any studio at the time. Jake Jaxson found me via twitter and contacted me. I had some photos and jerk off videos on there.”
How has OnlyFans changed things do you think? Why do you want to be with a studio and not go the amateur self-distribution route yourself ?
“I think there are a lot of performers who don’t understand why they have a failed Only Fans profile. So many aspects go into it. On the surface you think it can’t be that hard to just create some videos and then you’re either a hit or you’re not. But once you start an OnlyFans profile you’re basically opening up your own little studio. Someone is buying your content so you can’t just sporadically post, someone is paying monthly so they need something consistent, you need to update it regularly and if you’re someone who only does posts with other partners then you have to always be looking for another partner and that can be stressful. Now it’s so oversaturated there can be a lot of pressure to stand out and there are people sticking whatever they can find up their butts now, just trying to make a wow factor. It’s potentially a little dangerous, thinking about it.”
“Amateur porn is super in right now, but it’s been in the spotlight for so long that I think people will go back to watching more studio porn soon, or there’ll be something else that happens. I think the amateur thing is about to pass.”
How would you describe CockyBoys in terms of the aesthetics and how it differs from other studio gay porn out there?
“Well, I’m biased of course, but I love RJ’s videography, he knows how to make everything look beautiful. RJ and Jake both have background knowledge from mainstream film production so they definitely know how to make a beautiful scene. But what I love about CockyBoys is, as we like to say, we’re ‘porn with a purpose’. When Jake creates a scene there’s always a message behind it, like not feeling guilty about getting pleasure from sex. There are series like Just Being Me, which has interviews with all the performers in it talking about their sex lives and what makes them comfortable and helps them to be more free and accepting. I love it when Jake opens up discussions like that. When I watch it myself I always get caught up in the interviews and don’t fast-forward it! I really want to hear what they have to say and then I’m really invested in that scene. I am guilty of fast-forwarding the blowjobs though, because I don’t know how to jack off and make it feel like a blow job. Then there’s the A Thing of Beauty series about celebrating gay love. Then we do have little fantasy sequences like in Just One Night, which is based on three or four couples. In that one it’s Levi Karter playing someone with a boyfriend, because I don’t have one, so it’s kind of fun to play your role but we also play ourselves too.”
Do you feel like you get into character as Levi Karter when you’re doing porn scenes?
“I do, I feel like I kind of have to. For one thing, I’m not very talkative in bed. I know that comes from a confidence thing where I mumble a lot, so if I say something during sex almost all the time the top will be like ‘what?’”
Well, some positions aren’t the best for conversations are they!
“I know, it’s like ‘stop talking into the pillow!’ When I’m filming though, we need audio and dialogue which helps the viewer get into the scene. I always have to give myself a pep talk because I can feel like I sound like I’m reciting a line badly or just reading the script. So when they tell me to say ‘oh, that feels so good’ I’ll get it out, but I always have to be telling myself ‘you don’t sound stupid, and if you do someone else won’t think that.’ Our style of filming feels very authentic, then what happens is they’ll say ‘we liked that moment, can you do that for like five minutes instead of one minute, so we can get more angles.’ And I’m very happy about that because we get to have more fun. I love my job.”
What’s the atmosphere like when you’re around other performers, does it tend to be quite competitive?
“It’s never competitive with CockyBoys. It’s really fun to see us all when we get together because we’re like a misfit of models. We have so many different kinds of men, we have a twink, then we have Austin Wolf and so we have a little bit of everything in between and it’s fun to see who’s the loud one or who’s kind of the quiet and shy but super cute one. Everyone has their own thing. I think that’s what helps us not be competitive with one another. I’m never going to be that cute shy one, but I’m also probably not going to be that super buff guy! Even if I get really buff I’m not going to be that guy. So we all kind of stay in our own lanes and also we respect everyone. There’s a good energy and mutual respect is something that’s talked about a lot.”
How long do you see yourself working in porn? Do you see yourself becoming a daddy at some pint and still being in it?
“I want to! My goal in five or ten years is to do a body transformation, no steroids though. If I get back into more of a gym routine I’d aim to look like François Sagat. He’s my height and he’s so handsome, every muscle pops and I would love to have that body when I’m his age.”
How has porn affected the way you view sex generally, has it lessened your enjoyment of it in your personal life and does it make relationships complicated?
“No, I definitely still have fun with sex, it hasn’t lessened my enjoyment of it at all. I’m not really in a romantic or settle down kind of vibe right now and I don’t think I will be that kind of person until I’m out of porn. I love having sex in a friendship, buddy kind of way, just chill. If there’s a lot of kissing or romantic stuff when I’m just meeting someone it kind of takes me out of it and I don’t know if that’s because porn has made me more ‘oh no, we don’t need all the romantic part of this’, or if that’s just me personally.
When did you first get interested in drag?
“Well, I’ve always loved it. I started working with drag queens back when I was stripping in Ohio. Then when I moved to New York I was hanging out with my best friend Misty Meaner who does drag full-time. I’d always wanted to see what I would look like and three or four years ago Misty painted me for the first time and I’ve never looked back. So I’ve technically been doing drag since then, but I’ve only been performing for about two years.”
“Initially I was able to create a mask as Sassy. It’s not like I’m getting bombarded by paparazzi or autograph hounds or anything, but living in New York the first convo is always, ‘how are you? What do you do?’ I love what I do, I’m proud of what I do, but it’s always the same questions about it, which I’m fine, but I don’t want that to be the small talk every time I meet someone new. I’m very happy when people do recognise me though. I love the attention, but I think at the time when I first started going out as Sassy I wasn’t looking for it and so it was good to be less recognisable until my best friend was like ‘guess who that is?!” And I’d be like ‘goddammit Misty!’ She still does that, but now it’s just funny.”
And what about Sassy, how did you come up with the persona and her name?
“Well, the name came from when I met Misty for the first time on Fire Island. We were both looking for marijuana and then her friend also had this drug called Sass and we did it that weekend and it was crazy and then we never saw Sass ever again. So when I was picking my name I just thought it would be funny to name myself Sassy Frass. You know how you can Google drag queen names and a lot of the same ones like Misty will come up, but I’m still looking for another Sassy Frass. So if you’re reading this let me know! There’s a Sassy Devine and she’s in Florida I think and she’s beautiful. I did develop a character for my Sassy. She’s a Jersey girl who loves to go to Chipotle at the mall and buy a margarita and sneak it out of Chipotle to go into Forever 21 to buy her next outfit, which is of course a crop top and short shorts!”
And she’s a cheerleader.
“Yes, she loves cheerleading and she has pom-poms. When I was a cheerleader at high school I was never allowed to touch the pom-poms.”
Were there any other boys cheerleading or were you the only one?
“I was the only boy cheerleader in high school, but in college there were other male cheerleaders. I thought I was the first ever male cheerleader at my high school, but then someone said that actually there was a male cheerleader there 26 years earlier.”
Did the other kids give you a hard time about doing it in high school? Was there any homophobia related to it?
“No, they were very accepting. My school was surrounded by more conservative high schools, but I was in the liberal one, Athens High School. When we’d go to the other high schools, people would be like ‘I don’t know about him, this guy is really excited!’ But I could tumble and they’d see me do flips and they’d think that was kind of cool. They didn’t want to see my toe touches, but when I did a backflip they thought it was awesome.”
So you won them over with your acrobatic skills!
“Yes, and now I finally have pom-poms! I always bring two sets with me to the bar when I perform, because I know how happy they have made me. I don’t do wig reveals, but I do pom-pom reveals. So I have two that are attached to my hands and then I throw two. In between my sets I give them to people. It never fails, their faces light up when they have two pom-poms in their hands. I don’t know what they do to people, but pom-poms make them so happy!”
Are there are similarities between playing Sassy and Levi Karter?
“In my head I’m a very shy person, so I have to give Sassy the same pep talks that I give Levi when we’re performing: ‘people love you, they came to see you’ or ‘make them love you and if they don’t it’s not the end of the world, you’re having fun’.”
I think it’s I’m really interesting when Leave It To Levi explores the image of masculinity that’s expected from male porn performers and how nowadays it seems like drag is not part of that, whereas they used to be much more connected in the 1970s. What kind of reaction have you had from fans and other people in the industry to you doing drag as well as porn?
“Overwhelmingly I’ve had positive feedback and support. I’ve only had two negative comments, but there will always be a couple of people. Someone said I can’t watch Levi Karter now without thinking about Sassy. That’s why I keep my social media accounts separate. I also have my own hang ups around masculinity and femininity that I’m still working through. I have this weird thing about guys wearing nail polish on their toes and I want to get over that.”
Where can people follow you if they want to know more about Sassy or to come along to one of your New York nights?
“The best way to keep up with Sassy is on my instagram @SassyFrassMeaner and I’ve just started a Facebook page and a twitter @SassyMeaner. We have our weekly Thursday karaoke party from 10pm until 2am at The Graham bar in Brooklyn and then on Fridays, me and Misty have just started a regular dance party night together called Mommie Dearest, which starts at 10pm and goes on until late, with shows around midnight and 2am.”
Who are the drag icons you look up to for inspiration or just admire?
“My drag mom of course, Misty Meaner. Other than her, Sherry Vine and Pablo Vittar, she’s a Brazilian singer who’s also a drag queen, she’s gorgeous and that’s why I have red hair as Sassy, it’s because of her. Sherry Vine helped Levi out when he first moved to the city, she put me in one of her music videos and she also put me in one of her shows when I first started doing drag and she’s like the mother I never had, not that Misty is a bad mother!”
Shall we call Sherry Vine your drag aunt then?
“Yes, aunt Sherry! And I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now without Misty, she’s really helped me so much.”
Any New Year’s resolutions?
“I’ve never made any before, but I made some this year. I stated with a few and now it’s more of a to do list. I really want to eat lobster for the first time, so I’m going to get that lobster on my 27th birthday. Everyone says don’t go to Red Lobster, but I think that’s where I’m going to have to go.”
In terms of LGBTQ+ movies is there one you love?
“I’m trash and I love Another Gay Movie and Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild. I think they’re so goofy. I remember my boyfriend at the time showed them to me when I was sixteen and I was like ‘oh my God, there is a world of gays out there’. Those movies helped me realise that there were more gays in the world, because at that time I was still in small town in Ohio where we had five gays and that was it. Those are the kind of movies I love, that crass humour, it’s a little offensive but just funny enough and that’s the kind of humour and energy I like to stay in.
Leave it to Levi premieres in Los Angeles this Thursday January 9th at The Montalbán 1615 Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90028. It’s now streaming on Dekko and available to rent or buy at Amazon. The DVD is released January 28th 2020 via TLA. For more details head to the TLA Releasing Leave it to Leave page. You can follow Levi Karter on instagram @thatslevicb and on twitter @LeviKarterCB.