If there is anyone that has mastered the “career pivot” it’s Philadelphia’s Butch Cordora. After making a splash as a cable access television host (his show In Bed With Butch ran for a decade) he parlayed that fame into both a unique and socially experimental calendar and a subsequent film. Turning a love for the game of poker into a career was unexpected, but was truly starting to take him to nationwide heights-then the pandemic hit. Once again, Cordora was required to change it up, hence The Gay Guyde To Poker was born. Cordora’s book captures not just the hints and tricks of the game, but also shows readers the perspective of being the only gay guy at a primarily straight table. I sat down with Cordora to chat about his career trajectory and what it’s sometimes like being the only gay man at a table with straight man; and winning!
Michael Cook: Let’s start at the beginning; how did you land in Philadelphia and become an active member of the LGBT community there?
Butch Cordora: I was always an artistic guy, initially interested in acting of any kind. I moved to Philadelphia (from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) when I was in my twenties for more opportunities. After lots of auditions, the farthest I ever got was an extra in every Bruce Willis movie that breezed through Philadelphia in the 90’s (Sixth Sense, 12 Monkeys, Unbreakable, etc.) and a lot of naked theater. Pretty much every Ronnie Larson play that went into production, I was cast in. (10 Naked Men, Jerker, Making Porn, Party, etc) At the end of the day, I was really not that good of an actor (laughs); I always knew I was talented and always believed in myself though. I knew I had a voice and something to say and a lot of my friends were saying that I should try to be “me” vs. acting. After some thought, I decided to pitch a talk show to all the closed circuit college public TV channels in Philly; Drexel bit!
MC: In Bed With Butch crafted you into the ‘Robin Bird of Philadelphia’, where you became a cult favorite. How did that show start and what was the experience like? Could it possibly be time for a reboot?
BC: On In Bed w/Butch I literally interviewed guests in a real bed, on a TV set, and asked that they wear pajamas (although, not necessary). I started the show in 1999 and it ran ten seasons when I ended it in ’09. The “mission statement” was to interview openly gay people in the Philadelphia area, who were doing great things in and for the community. Guests ranged from social and political commentary notables like Barbara Gittings, Gloria Casarez, Shareef Street (to name a few) all the way to drag queens and porn stars including Les Harrison, Sandy Beach and Lisa Lisa.
Around three seasons in; the show was such a hit, that the now-defunct WYBE which was a Public Television station, picked me up and aired me Saturday at midnight. This meant my viewership went from Philly “proper” to all of South Jersey, most of Delaware, up to Allentown, PA and over to Reading, PA. I also received Nielsen ratings, had a small budget, was able to get sponsorships and book guests from New York City! The show really took off from there and my guests got bigger and better and it was really a lot of fun for a while.
MC: When did you decide to bring the show to a close?
BC: At some point, I thought I would have been able to parlay the show nationally. I worked my ass off (for very little or no money) and didn’t get very much in return. Quite frankly, those ten years were the brokest I’ve ever been, ironically. Although I loved the show and what I had created from scratch; my passion for this was waning and I was itchy to do another artistic project. I felt that the ten years I was on the air were an important ten years. I called that era the Queer As Folk decade. What I mean by that is, it was so important to be visible (i.e. Will & Grace, The L-Word, Queer As Folk, etc.) By 2009 though, not so much. Every show had a gay character, usually as an afterthought, and In Bed w/Butch wasn’t nearly as important as it was in 1999; so I ended it.
MC: Your calendar and subsequent documentary Straight And Butch was groundbreaking; tell me about what brought that idea on and what the experience was like?
BC: My new artistic endeavor took the form of a controversial calendar and documentary called Straight and Butch. This was a two and a half year photography project which consisted of me, combing the tri-state area in the hopes of finding twelve, fit, beautiful, sexy, 100% heterosexual men to pose completely naked for a photo shoot. The catch? They were going to be posing w/another naked man who happened to be gay! (which was me) Thus the title Straight and Butch.
The goal was to make a statement (a social experiment if you will) about where we are in the world today in regards to tolerance, acceptance, sensitivity, sexuality, masculinity and the human condition; including, but not limited to objectivity; and of course, to show off some hot eye candy! Look but don’t touch; straight but not narrow.. that sort of thing.
MC: The project was so innovative that you even crafted a movie around it right?
BC: Thank God I had the wherewithal to document the entire two and a half years with a camera crew and after almost a year of editing; in 2010, Straight and Butch the movie came out! Both the calendar and the documentary did well, playing at film festivals that year and ultimately got signed by a distributor (Breaking Glass Pictures) where it continues to sell pretty well, even today!
MC: Your new book The Gay Guyde To Poker weaves in your love for playing cards with your sexuality. Tell me how the two intersect and how you fell in love with the game?
BC: Even during my other projects, I was playing poker. I would say around 2005, a friend took me to a dive bar in Center City Philadelphia and I never looked back. I wouldn’t miss a Tuesday night at the Rendezvous if my life depended on it! I have no idea where this love of poker came from, except that I know my dad and a few uncles played a lot so maybe it’s genetic? The more I played poker, the more I found myself drawn to the people running it. Although I loved the game, I was thinking; Hmmm, I wonder if I could do this? And if so; I wonder if I could do this in a gay bar? How this would fly in the gay community? Do LGBTQ people play cards or is this a rough-n-tumble straight dive bar activity?
Turns out, they do! After running games in 2010 and 2011 at places like Sisters, Key West, and The Westbury, my big break came is 2014 when Boxers opened their Philly location. It took off very quickly and with the success of that, they hired me in New York City to run games at their three other locations. (Hells Kitchen, Upper East Side and Washington Heights) In addition to that, I ran a Saturday afternoon game for Alan Cumming at Club Cumming and started to be well positioned as the only LGBTQ poker league in the USA. (the company’s called Bluffin’ w/Butch) Before the pandemic, I was working on getting a game in DC and I had interest in a once-a-month game in Los Angeles! I also began to branch out to billiards and darts as well as poker. After extensive googling, I really believe I’m the first and only “gay gamer” in the country right now.
MC: How did the pandemic become the ultimate gamble for you in terms of your career? Tell me about The Gay Guyde To Poker…
BC: With the onslaught of the pandemic, my world came crashing down in regards to my games, the business and building this awesome company. After being in a fog for the first month or so, I remembered I always wanted to write a book about poker from a gay man’s perspective and when was I ever going to have this much time ever again? So I decided to dive in!
There are many, many books on poker, but no one speaks to their personal experience in regards to the game. I thought that would be my angle in writing this book, especially since I’m a minority and the subject I’m writing about is a historically heterosexual pastime. Turns out, the book organically became about 1/2 beginners guide and 1/2 stories and antecdotes about myself, sitting in a South Philly or AC casino, and the cautionary tale of being the only gay man at a poker table and being viewed as the weaker opponent simply because of my sexual preference. Then finally, the practice of how I turned the tables to use my “gayness” as a weapon (or an advantage). It’s a quick, fun read, perfect for summer reading and I’m very proud of The Gay Guyde To Poker.
MC: What hints can you leave the readers with for truly playing smart in a game that is primarily, a “straight man’s game”?
BC: The one trick I tell players, beginners or otherwise, is to have patience! It’s a long, long game and experts say that patience is half of being a good poker player. It ebbs and flows, in your direction and then not. Good cards, bad cards, sometimes you’ll sit for twenty minutes without playing a hand, but be patient!
Finally, my achilles heel seems to always have been that although I have pretty cool ideas, a whole lot of artists projects, a relatively good amount of sucess, etc. I struggle to translate my art nationally. People say I’m Philly-centric; hopefully this book will change that!
All Art Courtesy of Butch Cordora (Facebook)
Follow Butch Cordora on (Facebook)
Purchase a copy of ‘The Gay Guyde To Poker’ on Amazon