Have you come across somebody in your life that is so interesting that you never run out of things to talk about? James “Duke” Mason is an online YouTuber, political activist, politician (sort of), and he is also a comedian. His mother is the singer Belinda Carlisle, who sang for The Go-Go’s, and has been an ally for the LGBTQ+ Community her whole career. I’ve said many times that she is one of the five most beautiful women in the world, and they are both activists for the LGBTQ+ community.
There was a great deal of content I did not include in the interview summary below as there were too many comedic tangents we went on, laughing about bad French accents, whether or not Carol Baskin really did kill her husband (inquiring minds want to know), and so on.
Jeremy Hinks: So Duke, thanks for taking the time, it has been a crazy week, excited to talk to you. When Stephen approached me (Stephen Ford, his publicist) I thought this was out of his wheelhouse, and mine, he runs “Divasanddjs” and that is mostly Divas, DJs, and Drag Queens. You are none of those. But once I saw your online interviews I said I had to talk to you. This will be interesting because you are not a musician. So, I got a kick out of your interview with Leslie Jordan, I saw that you are actually a comedian. Not that you tell jokes, you just set up the question for the answer to be really funny. Even the Tiger King conversation. I wonder when the public is going to run out of comedic fodder from that one.
Duke Mason: That is one of the funny things, I have interviewed so many people from so many walks of life, and yet the one thing that connects everyone together is “THE TIGER KING”. That is what everyone on the planet, from Elton John and his husband to Melissa Rivers to my mom, it’s universal now. I just had to ask all of them the question have you seen the show.
JH: Well, my daughters are all walking around singing this song they got off somebody’s TICTOC, “Carol Baskin, killed her husband, whacked him”, just annoying. But from that interview, I knew that you and I could pretty much go anywhere in a conversation, politics, pop culture, music, whatever. So, Imma tell you two stories, then I will explain why I won’t talk about for the rest of the conversation.
DM: Ok then, go ahead.
JH: So, I have told this story a thousand times, and it was in itself surreal, but I would always say “Belinda”, now saying “Your Mom” is just as surreal as when it happened. In 1999, I was at a GoGos concert in Dallas Texas, and I had that very day given up to the fact that I was going bald, never going back, so I had decided to bic my head. So, at that gig, I was down in the front, and every lesbian in the state of Texas was there, all six of them. And for some reason, they all wanted to rub my head. So, I guess I would let them right? Well, Jane (Wiedlin, The Go-Go’s Guitarist) you know, all four foot two of her, she sees all these people rubbing my head and says “C’mere shiny give me some of that too”. So, I thought, well, OK, Jane Wiedlin wants to rub my head, and went over and let her.
DM: Oh my god, I can see where this is going.
JH: Yeah, well, she rubs my head, just everyone being silly I thought, but THEN, your mom, standing on stage, in her pajamas, with a martini in one hand, and a cigarette in the other …
DM: Yeah, that was the “Pajama Period”.
JH: She says over the mic “Oh yeah, come over here, I want some of that too”. So, I go over and your mom rubbed my head from the stage.
DM: YES, that is so my mom to do something like that on stage.
JH: It was just obnoxious and surreal. Then after the show, I went to my car, it was parked close to being around back. They came out, said to everyone “Thank you for coming to see us, good night everyone” and got in the van and left. Normally bands will say hello, and shake hands, but they just took off. I realized sometime later that your mom is actually a private person, and I understood it was unfair to expect her to be “all things to everyone”.
DM: Yeah, that’s my mom, she is very shy actually, especially now that she is sober but you are right that people might think she is rude or unfriendly. She is just an introvert and….
JH: Oh so she is enjoying this lockdown then.
DM: Totally, this is perfect for her cause she is shy, and not really good at social situations like that, the stage, and fans in her space are two different worlds for her. She said that they can have lots of friction off stage, but when they get on stage its a different world for them all, and they love performing. But she would be the first person to say she is awkward in interviews and being social with fans.
JH: Well, for that, I have enough respect for her privacy I am not going to ask much about her, just tell you a few of my experiences.
DM: Well, we are doing a sort of PSA for PFLAG together later today, its that kind of relationship, but I am happy to talk about anything with my mom, no worries.
JH: So, she rubbed my head, it was funny and goofy, and her rubbing my head was the most erotic thing that ever happened to me, and it was completely non-sexual. Anyway, I can’t remember the article source, but I just remember reading the article when you came out, I think you were about seventeen. And there she was, standing next to you, saying “I love my son, I am proud of him, I support him, I have no problem with him being gay, and I will stand by him.” There was this tone of “I love my son, and no one should hurt him for being gay”. Because of that, I saw your mother in a completely different light, as a different person. Sure, she has been the rock star, and one of the top five most beautiful women in the world, to suddenly being a mom. That was a completely different side of her, and as a mom, she was the kind of mom that every gay kid in the world should have.
DM: Wow, that is so sweet.
JH: Reading about you, and how she supported and loved you, made me respect her even more. So, I’m done talking about her out of that respect. Though I did just realize that you and I have something in common.
DM: Yeah, what’s that?
JH: So when you were a baby, she probably rubbed your bald head right?
DM: Yes I’m sure she did.
JH: Well, there you go, she has rubbed both of our bald heads…
DM: YES WE DO HAVE THAT IN COMMON (Laughing).
JH: Anyway, she is a great lady, that’s all I think I need to say.
DM: Yeah, she is a great woman, that is quite a way to put it, she really is the kind of mom you would hope for every gay kid to have. I have been really lucky, I don’t know why but I’ve seen that the performers with the big gay audiences whether Cher and others often have gay kids. I don’t know why that is, but I feel blessed that not only is she so supportive, but she has had a huge gay fan base and a lot of gay friends. That is why we are doing work and support for PFLAG, even now virtual events. I would hope that all gay kids could have that experience.
JH: I want your experience to emulate what a kid can become if supported by their parents, I mean, you didn’t win (the city council election for West Hollywood), but you have been pretty successful, look what a kid can do, look what can happen. I mean, I’m sure you’ll run again, maybe win too, but kids can do magnificent things if their parents support them.
DM: Ha, yes I didn’t win but will run again, I don’t know where, or when, but politics is what gets me out of bed in the morning, it drives me completely. And not just politics, it’s really to make an impact, whether it’s non-profit, local community or charity work. I hope to do that with my YouTube series, whether through culture or political figures, entertainers, academics, activists, to educate and inform people and to hopefully give people some entertainment at the same time.
JH: Well, it’s eye-opening entertainment for sure. So, you ran for city council in West Hollywood, now, work with me, I thought a gay guy running in West Hollywood, how did that happen? That’s like an Irish guy in Boston or a Greek in Chicago, where did that come from?
DM: Yeah, that wasn’t surprising, but it’s funny when I was interviewing Colorado Governor [Jared Polis], who was the first openly gay governor in history. We both laughed when he said, “Yeah if you were STRAIGHT and running in WeHo, that would have been something unusual.” It’s true if you are running in some “normal” city I guess you would say, where the gay vote is maybe at times only 10 percent, but then West Hollywood, it is over half the city is LGBTQ. But what also puts you at a disadvantage, if you are gay, and running against gay candidates, you really don’t stand out, what did stand out was that 2 of the 11 were straight.
JH: One day you will win, let’s make that happen. So, what made you decide to do online broadcasting?
DM: I was thinking during this period with so many of sitting here at home, I didn’t want to just watch the news all day. I had been doing a lot of writing about political stuff, and pop culture. And people kept telling me that I should do more video work. Videos are more interesting and stimulating, and you can see the person’s face and expressions. And I had always wanted to do TV work anyway, doing commentary stuff. So after sitting at home all day in quarantine I thought, it was time to actually do it, and start testing this idea. So I started with my mom, I mean, naturally, she should be the first guest, and I did my first live interview on Instagram and uploaded it to YouTube, and I got a good response. So I have this great Rolodex that I can pull from, and I’ve spent the last several weeks building up that list of people I can connect with who I find interesting, and who I think have something important or “different” to say. I have done everyone from comedians, to governors of different states, to Elton Johns’s husband who runs their AIDS foundation. I purposely try to make it as diverse and eclectic as possible. One person may have heard of Leslie Jordan, but never would have heard of Jared Polis, the first gay governor in history, just because it might never have crossed their realm of thought. So my goal is to try to educate people and inform them. It will lead to possibilities in many different directions. For now it’s a good project.
JH: So you’re trying to be the less annoying gay Howard Stern without a porn star on every show, ’cause, man, that’s the one constant with any other guest is porn stars.
DM: Well, yeah, but not as funny as Howard Stern, but I think more like the gay male liberal Meghan McCain on “The View” out there expressing my views about things. So, in the last several weeks it has had a great response, so who knows where it will go. But I have been writing articles and papers for the last decade, so I have plenty of ideas already written down to pull from.
JH: So, you are pushing forward, to expand your medium of art, trying to keep your gay identity intact, and…
DM: I’m trying not to be “EXCLUSIVE” LGBTQ, I mean I want a good spectrum in there, that’s why I interviewed my mom, I interviewed Melissa Rivers, I hope to be interviewing just lots of interesting people, I want to show people from different walks of life. Not just to reach the LGBTQ, but to reach out to everyone, and bring them together, just for a more diverse community *(and make them laugh… a lot).
JH: So, you’re covering more than just LGBTQ subjects, but music, art, politics, …. auto racing maybe?
DM: Actually, it just occurred to me that I have only mentioned the word “GAY” maybe in one of the interviews. I haven’t really covered the topic yet, I have ’til now, just covered some universal topics.
JH: Well, pop culture is a good place to start, because it bleeds into everything else. I will go photograph a concert or Comic-Con, and you see so much of that coming together. I saw a row of actors once, it had Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf, and then Lou Ferrigno all next to each other singing autographs, then they have Chuck Norris in there, who politically is so far off from those guys, but there he is, another side of pop culture. Anyway, I learned about you when you first came out. When did you know, and when did you come out. Obviously, you had some really supportive parents.
DM: (Laughing) Actually I knew really early, even though I didn’t know what it was, or meant, I understood when I was about 8 years old. But I was thirteen when I finally understood what it meant. I had watched a movie about the HIV crisis, an independent film called “The Trip”, and within those two hours, my entire life changed. I had this understanding of how I fit into a larger community and a larger movement, it gave me a sense of purpose, and excitement with what I was now able to see and do with my life. I was already interested in politics, and now this lined up with my passion for politics, and my hopes already to make a difference. So now I have a real interest in getting involved and making the world a better place. I came out when I was fourteen and I was almost immediately involved in politics and activism for the LGBTQ community. Though as I have gotten older, it has broadened a bit. I’m not just talking about gay issues, I cover affordable housing, I have covered candidates that I support. I worked on Obama’s and Hillary’s campaigns.
JH: I think that it is so fantastic that you had so much support with what you have been able to do. For me, it was hard enough being different as the Mormon punk kid, earrings, trenchcoat, Joy Division t-shirt, you know, clearly not the cookie-cutter, and I was straight and got bullied. I saw how hard it was for my gay friends who came out at that time, and I think we have come such a long way. We can keep pushing this forward, covering so many types of people and walks of life, to have these conversations to make the world smaller, to really make that difference. And a lot of laughs, like, well you and Leslie Jordan, that convo, you two should take that stuff on the road.
DM: Yeah I interviewed him a few weeks ago, he had just started blowing up on Instagram. But he had been around as a comedian for 30 years, and in-between then and now, he has gone to millions of followers.
JH: Well, watching him talk about “people keep saying it’s going viral, and I say ‘No I don’t have the virus'”. Because the generation gap there, the clash was what made it so funny.
DM: Well, I do like the laughs, but I am not all about the comedy, I also interviewed Cleve Jones, he was one of Harvey Milk’s protegés, one of the leading AIDS activists in the eighties, and a pretty accomplished guy, but still, a pretty somber conversation there. Having him talk about the history of the epidemic. That’s my idea, I don’t want to be the guy who does just the fluff, but not just the in-depth hardcore stuff. It’s a reflection of me and my moods, some days I want to just laugh, other days I want to get to the core of the issue and talk it through with someone who might have ideas to help make a change, or to be reflective, or to learn something about history.
JH: Were you the geeky kid in high school, reading Machiavelli, or Noam Chomsky? I read those guys in 10th grade, and people thought it was just too weird for words commenting on Anarchism working better in the western states than the east coast. Were you that kind of kid?
DM: I was a total weird kid, no question, I’ve gotten a lot cooler as the years have gone on. I was sociable, but I wanted to talk about subjects my peers had no knowledge of. But I’m this gay American kid in an international school in Europe, doing a presentation about Harvey Milk.
JH: Oh yeah, the “Loudmouth Yank” I was that when I was in France too, I hear ya.
DM: Yeah, I was weird, but couldn’t be dissuaded from saying what I wanted.
JH: Well, I got into my politics because of the bands I listened to, so, the SEX PISTOLS, The Damned, U2, Midnight Oil, New Order, Motorhead. That is what my bands sang about, so that was what drove my politics.
DM: Oh, I LOVE NEW ORDER!!!!! Those guys are fantastic, there is the club in West Hollywood I go to, every Wednesday night called “The Bayou”.. well, went to before all this. They play Depeche Mode, New Order, Erasure, and some of the gayer, Kylie, and Whitney. I love the dance remixes, True Faith, Bizarre Love Triangle, Blue Monday. I remember the first time I heard Blue Monday, I realized it was the first song with a “Drop” what we call it now. I love electronic eighties music, my favorite genre.
JH: I actually wrote an article with the opening line from New Orders “Temptation” “Faults from above, here the people down below. People in this world we have no place for”. It was how I view the LGBTQ community, that people are here for a reason, we may not immediately see how they may fit into our lives, but they have something to offer us that we REALLY NEED.
DM: Absolutely that is a neat concept, I totally believe that.
JH: So have to wind this down, I ask everyone this, now it’s your turn to answer. What would you say to the young kid who is in the closet, who is afraid to come out, who is hurting, and in that vulnerable state?
DM: I know it is going to sound cliché, but it’s true, things do get better. If you had told me ten years ago, that in 2020 I would be working with President Obama, and working with such great people in causes, I really would not have believed you. I say that as someone who came from privilege, but even then I did not know what my life was going to be like. We didn’t know in 2006 that gay marriage would be legal. I know how uncertain it can feel, but there is a great future ahead, have faith and hope that it will get better because I’ve been there.
JH: Well thank you for sharing all of this Duke.
Check out James “Duke” Mason’s online interviews, “Duke’s Downloads” as he really has some great perspectives.
Duke mason is represented by divasanddjs.com