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Extreme Porn, Xtreme Wrestling and Solitary Confinement: The Life and Times of Rob Black

I spoke to Black – a man who was criticised for his depictions of simulated rape, before ultimately being jailed for them – about what he's up to these days.

Rob Black today

​This article originally appeared at VICE UK

The other day I spent a hungover morning staring at Louis Theroux's face. The first show of his I watched was the porn episode from the 1997 Weird Weekend series, when he was still doing the naive-yet-affable goofball act. The second was his follow-up, the now straight Theroux re-visiting a crumbling porn industry 15 years later, finding tales of disease, drug addiction and suicide. One recurring character stood out: Rob Black.

In the first film, Black – real name Rob Zicari – is a cocky young director leaning back in an office chair, cackling a menacing laugh and boasting that he makes the most extreme films in the business. Theroux starts to watch one of his shoots but leaves soon after the action begins, mostly due to the fact that it really is very extreme and disturbing and not the kind of thing you want to hang around and watch in person.

When Louis returns in 2012 he finds Black making action film parody porn and jabbering manically in a warehouse about how his movies are the real deal, while everyone else is just making "jerk-off stuff".

He's sporting a long leather jacket and a goatee, looking like the kind of megalomaniac coke dealer John McClane might have had to take down sometime in 1995 – or at least someone who keeps a large cache of heavy weapons close at all times (just to make it clear, Rob is neither a drug dealer nor the owner of lots of heavy weapons). We also learn that, in the interim between shows, he's been imprisoned for obscenity charges. Which, in this day and age, is a tough fucking job.

Rob on set of one of his action film parody porns

I recently tracked Black down, two years after Theroux's last visit, to find that he's now out of the porn business altogether. His new venture is a daytime talk show, " The Rob Black Show", in which – for three hours a day – he does what most American talk show hosts do: rant about the daily news. "Take Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, put them together and amp them up by ten. That's what 'The Rob Black Show' is," he tells me.

Black grew up in Rochester, New York, the son of a father who owned several adult film shops. "I was essentially born into porn," he says. His dad also had mob connections and owned The Gallery, a local restaurant that doubled up as a gangster hangout. "There were definitely some kids whose parents told them not to play with me or be friends with me," Black says of his family's "dangerous" reputation.

Black initially resisted getting into porn, envisioning college and a career in the FBI. He later changed his mind when he found out how much a cop earns. Inspired by the independent cinema boom of the 1990s, Black sought to merge the stylistic and narrative devices employed in Hollywood into the bare bones fucking of the porn world. At 19, he made his first film: Tender Loins. His emphasis was on the extreme.

"The concept was doing something that nobody was doing," he says. "It wasn't just the sex acts, it was the plot lines; we did movies about drug dealers and pimps, about murderers and thugs and rapists. My notion was always: 'Why can't porn be like Hollywood?' It's fake, it's a movie."

By the age of 23, Black was working for a company called Elegant Angels, winning multiple awards. "From that period on everybody copied me," he boasts. "I paved the way for what porn you see today – it's all from Rob Black. Borrowed, stolen – you name it – it's from me."

While Black's ego today remains admittedly "monstrous", it had become gargantuan in the late-90s and early-2000s. It was a side effect of this – his decision to appear on TV for extra publicity – that ultimately became his ungluing. The extra notoriety brought more attention to his films, and it was his films (often directed by his wife Lizzy Borden) involving rape simulation that would ultimately lead to his spell in jail. These days, he's keen to downplay that aspect of his back catalogue.

"We never did a lot of simulated rape scenes," he muses. "I did one rape scene for Louis Theroux, and the other was for PBS, who asked if they could come and film something, so I came up with the concept for the film Forced Entry, which was a take on the 'Night Stalker' Richard Ramirez crimes. The perpetrator in that film gets killed by a bunch of vigilantes in the end."​

Has he ever felt guilty about glorifying these kind of horrific scenarios? No, he says, "they've always been part of a bigger picture – part of a staged movie for a reporter or that type of setting".

Like Theroux, the PBS crew left during the filming of that scene. The problem – or one problem of many, depending on where you stand on the vile premise of rape simulation porn in general – was that Borden played with the "simulation" element. On camera, she says that the actress doesn't know what's about to happen to her, adding that she'll be beaten and physically hurt – essentially suggesting that what's about to take place on camera is real.

This is something that Black, now separated from Borden, strongly contests. "The actress in that movie, Veronica Caine, was a contract girl for Extreme Associates [Black's company]," he says. "The notion that she didn't know what was going to happen beforehand was a blatant lie. Certain things were done in that [documentary] special that were over the top, to get reactions."

Black claims that PBS staged their disgusted walk out, making sure their second camera unit was nearby to capture the exit. "The entire thing was staged," he alleges. "We had a wrestling company at the time, and our job was to make things look real that were fake, and we made a lot of money doing it."

Rob in his wrestling days

Black had formed an independent wrestling company called Xtreme Pro Wrestling (XPW) in response to the growing market. "It was a perfect fit for porn. Extreme Championship Wrestling started to dabble with using porn stars, so it was natural to ask: 'How do we capitalise on this?' We had a weekly television show, we had a pay-per-view, we ran monthly shows and we even had an altercation live with ECW on one of their shows when we invaded their main event – it made national headlines."

Black was  ​even a wrestler himself (he's the one who looks like a KoЯn dropout). "If I never got indicted I would have definitely kept the wrestling thing going," he says. "We would have been huge." During this period, Black also ran for mayor of LA as a publicity stunt, picking up a grand total of 789 votes.

I've found so many aspects of Black's history repulsive. But it was happening upon  ​old video footage of him on America's Most Wanted being accused of attacking a fellow rival wrestler (who supposedly had an affair with Black's wife) and attempting to cut off his penis (and successfully cutting off his thumb) with gardening shears that made me feel like I might be speaking to someone who's genuinely deranged. Black, however, plays it all down to "publicity".

"Wrestling is never what you believe," he says. "We had people who bought into the story and got publicity out of it. You have to understand that my goal was to be the most hated man in the world. I was the ultimate heel. I needed to be more hated than [WWE boss] Vince McMahon."

Black's obsession with notoriety seemingly knows no bounds, so it's not inconceivable that he's telling the truth about staging elaborate and illegal things to get attention. He is, by his own admission, a "drama junkie". However, his direct challenges to the authorities in the wake of the PBS special proved to be a step too far.

"I welcome the LAPD to come on down," he said at the time. "I just can't see [them] wasting millions of dollars – taxpayer money – to come for a videotape. That's ridiculous."

He also directly challenged the Attorney General, John Ashcroft. Black wasn't just holding up a giant red rag to a steaming, government-sized bull, he was practically whacking it over the head with a dildo at the same time. Then the bull began to charge.

"I ultimately have to fault myself for taking the bait and participating [in the PBS film], but truthfully, at that time, I really thought this administration had a lot more important things to worry about – mainly terrorism and 9/11 and getting re-elected," he tells me. "In my wildest dreams, I didn't think they were setting up to go after porn."

Black at the La Tuna Federal Correctional Institute in Texas, 2010

Black and Borden were soon indicted, with 47 uniformed federal officers raiding their premises in April of 2003, serving a search and seizure warrant for five films: Extreme Teen #24, Cocktail #2, Ass Clowns #3, 1001 Ways to Eat My Jizz and the PBS-featured Forced Entry, as well as for all paperwork and transaction details relating to their distribution. Even after the seizure, though, Black continued his affront against the authorities, deciding to market the seized films as The Federal Five. "It really got heavy because the government was going after me with such vengeance," says Black. "It was shocking."

Black and Borden initially beat the case in a landmark US court ruling. The judge decided that the federal anti-obscenity statutes were unconstitutional as they violated a person's fundamental right to possess and view whatever the hell they wanted in the privacy of their own home. However, victory was short-lived and an appeal was launched to overturn the ruling.

Money ran out for lawyers and they struck a deal – in July of 2009, Black and Borden were each sentenced to a year and a day. An error on Black's paperwork had him listed as a sex offender, which made him ineligible to remain in the part of the prison he'd been checked into. While a transfer was arranged he was placed in solitary confinement for a month.

"It was true torture," he says. "You're in lockdown 24 hours a day. I never want to do that again. The big prison was fine. You have to watch the rules or you get stabbed, but if you stay out of trouble you can make friends. It's basically like being in the military."

When Black got out in 2010 he returned to the industry, making parody porn. "There was really nothing left of the business," he says. "The internet and piracy had destroyed the industry beyond repair."

So, instead, he started his radio show, which  he sees as "an alternative to Rush Limbaugh". He says he's "very liberal" when it comes to his views on social and economic issues, and believes in a "trickle-up economy". 

He continues: "I believe in a woman's right to choose, and in gun control. But I look at all these things and put humour in them, because I do feel, as a liberal and a democrat, that people in my party can be too culturally sensitive. If that makes me come off as being racist, that's people's own hang-ups."

I suggest that I've found material of Black's to be both culturally insensitive and racist. He calls me an "English hipster douche bag".

Still, whatever you think of Black, it's not going stop him from doing what he does. "I'm going to create this character, 'Rob Black', who's going to be this demonic-like figure – this boisterous, obnoxious person," he once said. That character is something he says he's still working on now: "The aim is to be that in a political, comedic and mainstream setting. That's what's next for Rob Black."

​@DanielDylanWray