For a quarter-century and counting, ex-high school teacher Ron Jeremy -- Surreal Life star, proud recipient of a master's degree in special education and Guinness World Record holder for most adult-film appearances -- has lent his wit and wiener to scores of cinematic gems, including What's Butt Got to Do With It?, Wild Wild Chest, Men in Back, Guys Who Suck Their Own Cocks and 1992's French Open, in which Jeremy plays a sleazy sports journalist who tries to prove that all female tennis players are lesbians.
But the porn man's recent star turn in a 30-second television commercial for a St. Louis adult sex-accessory retailer may be the most controversial entry in Jeremy's oeuvre to date.
A pal of Very Intimate Playthings (VIP) proprietor Howard Richman, the 51-year-old Jeremy recently shot ad footage to be used in four spots parodying local late-night pitchmen and women, among them Becky "Queen of Carpets" Rothman, goddess-in-chief of the Becky's Carpet and Tile Superstore empire. With the Rothman spoof -- which features a fully clothed Jeremy in drag, floating above the Gateway Arch -- edited and ready for market, FOX-2 (KTVI-TV) agreed to air the spot during late-night programming in early July.
The ad begins with Richman and Jeremy seated at a conference table, where Richman fires the porn star à la Donald Trump in The Apprentice. Flash to Jeremy in a white dress hovering above downtown St. Louis as he trumpets the many vices of VIP. At the end of the clip, Jeremy, who stands five-foot-six and earned the nickname "The Hedgehog" for his resemblance to that cuddly creature, says self-deprecatingly, "I make an ugly woman, don't I?"
The commercial's run on KTVI lasted precisely a week before Rothman, one of the station's biggest late-night advertisers, called KTVI brass to complain and demand a copy. She didn't need to wait for the mailman: The FOX affiliate pulled the ad the moment Rothman got off the horn, a move Richman claims is motivated purely by profit.
"I spoke to a guy named Kurt Krueger, who says Becky spends more money and that they have the right to prevent me from advertising," says Richman, referring to a KTVI ad exec. "So the commercial's in the shitter.
"Becky's throwing her weight around, so to speak," he adds, disregarding the formerly plus-size floor-covering merchant's recent weight loss.
Krueger declined to comment for the record but did confirm that KTVI management decided to pull the ads only after Rothman called to complain.
Rothman says she has no beef with being parodied. It's the nature of the parody that compelled her to call.
"It just depends on what it's about," says Rothman, who says she received upward of twenty calls from customers who found the VIP spot less than tasteful. "It's something that wasn't really family-oriented." On the other hand, says Rothman, "When people go out on Halloween dressed as Becky Queen of Carpets, I love it."
A puzzled Jeremy doesn't see what all the fuss is about.
"Imitation is the finest form of flattery," the Hedgehog posits. "If I were her, I would publicly act indignant but privately say to Howard, 'Keep going, man -- this is great.' It's silly. We were just trying to satirize her. I know the law. I want to stress that what she's doing is un-American. She's getting way too carried away about it."
Jeff Graham, a partner at downtown ad agency Core, agrees.
"I thought it was hilarious," Graham says of the VIP spoof. "It's just ironic that a channel that runs stuff like Paradise Hotel would pull a spot for a porno place. The regular network fare runs right up to that line most weeknights -- and that's right after the dinner hour. I don't think it hurts [Rothman] at all. Frankly, it's flattering that they picked her spots. They could have dressed Ron Jeremy up in a chicken suit and had him say, 'Cheap, cheap, fun, fun'" -- a reference to the Dirt Cheap liquor chain's ubiquitous ad campaign -- "but they picked her. That's testament that those spots have become pretty iconic."
Either way, says Graham, the three-outlet porn retailer has staked out a win-win position.
"If it airs, they win because of the parody," the ad man says. "If she complains and it gets pulled, they win also, because controversy sells -- and they're a controversial business anyway. Honestly, I don't think she should have gotten pissed off about the parody either way."
Figuring he'd have little legal leg to stand on if he were to press KTVI to keep his ads on the air, Richman is instead attempting to lure those curious about the banned bit to his Web site, vipxxx.com, where the Becky's spoof can be viewed in its entirety. The VIP honcho won't divulge the targets of his other three upcoming Jeremy parodies, revealing only that area car salesmen who purchase airtime during The Fifth Wheel should watch their backs.