The Renegades Issue

Vol. 63, No. 8 — October 2016
Features

The 2016 Renegades

The men and women on these pages will change how you think about business, music, porn, comedy, gaming and more. They’ve risked it all—even their lives—to do what they love, showing us what can be accomplished if we break the rules. Meet the Renegades of 2016

Jason Dill

Stoya

Laura Jane Grace

Ali Wong

Paul Beatty

Noor Tagouri

Sean Murray

Features

Jason Dill

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In 2009, pro skateboarder Jason Dill had to call 911 on himself. He was throwing up blood all over his New York City apartment and suffering from a gastric hemorrhage. The Jameson, Vicodin and Percocet cocktails had finally taken their toll.

“I didn’t think I’d even survive,” says Dill, who now stars on the Netflix series Love. “When I’m on the set, I’m quiet as a mouse. I’m just so blown away and thankful I’m there. And the last thing I ever wanted was the responsibility of owning a company that people expect more from—­because owning a company is a pain in the ass.”

In 2013, after kicking the pills and spending more time on his board, Dill ditched his longtime sponsor, Alien Workshop—one of the most popular skateboarding companies ever—and walked away from a partial-ownership offer to co-found board brand Fucking Awesome, an extension of his self-funded apparel side project.

In doing so, Dill dumped a bucket of ice on the once-­countercultural world of skateboarding, which in the previous 17 years had devolved into a G-rated parody of itself to appease moms and malls, and woke it the fuck up. The exodus of Alien’s riders to Fucking Awesome was swift. It’s now one of the top-selling and most knocked-off companies in boards and streetwear, despite its provocative graphics, null social media presence and label that prevents mass retail saturation.

“I suppose FA is like having a kid,” he says. “It’s got personality; it’s walking around and talking. I can’t let it go to a community college, you know? I gotta raise it right.”

Features

Stoya

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It’s hard to capture an old friend in one anecdote, but I’ll try. The time is two a.m., and Stoya and I are smoking outside an East Village bar. A mink hangs from her shoulders. The streetlights catch her feline cheekbones like a kiss. Stoya tells me about the mid–19th century prima ballerina Emma Livry. In an era when dancers routinely caught fire from stage lights, Livry refused to destroy the ethereality of her art by soaking her tutu in flame retardant. When she died of burns, she had no regrets. Stoya notes that panic about safety often focuses on the bodies, and the choices, of young women. She wonders why no one thought to move the lights.

This moment hints at Stoya’s ferocious mix of glamour, toughness and nerdery. A classically trained ballerina until an injury in her mid-teens ruined her prospects, Stoya became a porn star—and I use the word star in the sense that applies to Garbo. She has written for The New York Times, starred in a Serbian sci-fi film (the upcoming Ederlezi Rising) and trained as an aerialist in Moscow. She has also moved into entrepreneurship, co-­founding the genre-­defying porn site TrenchcoatX. When one of the biggest porn studios in the country treated her with disrespect, she chose to work as a waitress rather than kowtow. No matter what she does, Stoya exudes a fierce, hard-won sense of freedom.

Features

Laura Jane Grace

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Laura Jane Grace has been minutely scrutinized since she started the band Against Me! as an ­anarchist-inspired solo project in 1997. Punk purists frothed as the ­Gainesville, Florida group’s sound evolved from lo-fi folk to full-on anthemic pop punk, leading to a ­major-label record deal in 2007. (These days, the band releases music on its own Total ­Treble imprint.) Fans and critics stopped and stared when Grace came out as transgender in 2012—an event with few precedents in the ­testosterone-drenched world of punk rock. This November, two months after the release of the seventh Against Me! album, Shape Shift With Me, Grace will cap off her odyssey so far with a memoir titled Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout.

Back in May, Grace made headlines for burning her birth certificate onstage in North Carolina to protest the state’s anti-trans bathroom law. But her music and writing signal a more intimate strain of activism: Listening to Against Me! songs such as “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” and “True Trans Soul Rebel,” it becomes clear that Grace has always lived where the personal and the political collide. Her painfully honest, deeply human way of articulating that friction is the definition of Grace. And she still believes in the scene that has sustained her, even as it has threatened to drown her in expectations. “The influence that punk rock has had on my life is astounding,” she says. “I just think music is infinitely important.”

Pictorial

Sky Ferreira

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In “Everything Is Embarrassing,” her most-streamed song on Spotify, Sky Ferreira croons, “Everything and nothing always haunts me.” That song first appeared on the 2012 EP Ghost, a collection of dreamy pop synth embraced by critics and fans, yet its ­lyrics have endured beyond that release and her debut album, 2013’s grungier Night Time, My Time, to become her oeuvre’s metaphorical spine. Routinely cited as one of today’s most provocative artists, Ferreira is capable of bending sounds from rainbow fluff to grizzled wails. Magnetic yet unpredictable, she hasn’t released a new collection of music in three years: It takes time to become more of yourself and less haunted by the past—a goal of the 24-year-old, whose new album, Masochism, could very well be named for her process of self-­discovery. That self-­discovery also includes a role in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks revival on Showtime, slated for next year, and, more recently, an epic Twitter takedown of a journalist who had trivialized her in a story called “Sky Ferreira’s Sex Appeal Is What Pop Music Needs Right Now.” “I’m not a think piece,” she barked back. “I’m not a fucking ­example. I do what I want when I feel it’s true to me.” This is why no one can take their eyes off Sky: When she speaks, sings or acts, we want more. And so we tapped ­Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Dern, who had previously met Ferreira as a producer committed to championing films about young women, to get it for us. As Dern observes, “She has so much to give.”

BRUCE DERN: I love that PLAYBOY is allowing you to give an interview that shows people what you want them to know rather than what they want to hear. One reason I fell in love with you is that I don’t meet many young women your age who are genuine, but every fucking note you sing is genuine. What’s the biggest challenge for an ­established singer who is trying to be an actress at the same time?
SKY FERREIRA: You’d think it would make it easier to book jobs, but when people have an idea of you and who you’re supposed to be, it gets in the way. I actually started acting first but then stopped and went to New York to focus on music. Music gave me the freedom to do what I wanted to do so I wouldn’t have to go on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon.

There’s this entire “shut up and be pretty” mentality. I’m so tired of apologizing. Don’t pacify me.

DERN: When did you move to New York?
FERREIRA: I was 16. I got signed, but the label tried to make me into someone I wasn’t. I felt like they were all lying to me, agents and managers and the record company. I write my own stuff, which is unusual. I go into situations trusting people until they do something wrong. It’s not little things. I’m a sensitive person, and sometimes it seems like I’m being irrational, but it’s for valid reasons. When something is so true to me and I know on the inside it’s wrong, I can’t hide it.

Interview

Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart is poised to become the biggest stand-up comedian ever. Not that he’s kicking back to celebrate: His movies have raked in more than a billion dollars globally, and yet he works like an unknown still angling for an NCIS callback.

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PLAYBOY: Your new stand-up concert film follows you on the biggest comedy tour of all time: 156 shows, 112 cities, 13 countries and five continents. That’s a lot of airport body– cavity searches.
HART: You get used to it. The good thing is, flying private takes a lot of the hustle and bustle off it, makes the ins and outs a little more convenient. But the whole goal behind the tour was not only to make history but to go beyond what people would expect a comedian to do. To be able to play so many venues in so many cities and countries, to sell out multiple shows and arenas, to do stadiums—it blows up the idea of “You’re just a guy telling jokes,” right? You show the global importance of laughter.

There’s this idea that actors of color don’t sell ­movies outside the U.S. Look at me and Cube.

PLAYBOY: How does your material change when you’re playing to a crowd in Singapore versus an audience in, say, Brooklyn or Cape Town?
HART: I change nothing nowhere. Nothing. That’s the beauty of it. To become a universal comedian and really stay true to the meaning of universal, you come up with comedy that appeals to everyone. We set so many records. We sold 100,000 seats in New York alone, with three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden and two more shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s completely crazy. And it’s not just crazy here. My international shows sold out in three days, all with the same material and the same level of laughter. California, Cape Town—the people are amazing, and they respond. Durban, Qatar, Dubai, Singapore. Same thing everywhere. Funny is funny.

Shit’s not funny unless it’s true to life, and nothing was funnier than my mom and dad’s ­relationship.

20Q

Rachel Bloom

A wild conversation with the creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the smartest, sexiest show on prime time

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I’m doing the thing I’ve always wanted to do. To use a porn term, I’m being filled in all my holes.

Q1

More than six studios turned you and your co-creator down before the CW picked up your show, and now it’s returning for its second season as a critical and viral hit. Do you get recognized more now than before?

BLOOM: Either I don’t look the same on TV or people are just polite. When I do meet someone who recognizes me, it means they watch the show, which, from an executive-producer standpoint—that’s what I care about. I’m like, Oh good, you’re watching the show! What demographic are you?

Q2

You wrote nearly 50 original songs last season, on topics ranging from anal waxing to how weird a stranger’s balls smell—and all of it on network TV, not streaming or cable. How do you get away with that?

BLOOM: You can get away with saying all kinds of dark shit if you turn it into a bouncy musical number. When you’re doing comedy, music is your straight man. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” is all about the brutal things women do to look hot and get in touch with their feminine side. My character, Rebecca, sings, “I’m gonna make this night one you’ll never forget” as she’s waxing hair off her ass. The chorus chimes in with “Ass blood,” and you see blood on camera. There’s no subtext with songs. You just let it rip.

Pictorial

Miss October Allie Silva

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“I like to think my sunny disposition is the first thing people notice about me,” says Miss October Allie Silva, “but it’s probably in the running for second. The first, of course, is my hair—it’s its own entity.” The genetics responsible for those curly locks come from Allie’s Norwegian and African American heritage, which has become the subject of a few too many awkward icebreakers. “ ‘What are you?’ is the question I’m asked most often. I’ll act confused, as if I’m being asked if I’m an alien. I like to respond, ‘I’m a human. What about you?’ I prefer ‘What’s your ethnicity?’ ” To that, Allie will speak proudly about growing up in a mixed-race household in bucolic Connecticut with parents who revered education and encouraged her to finish college before pursuing modeling. “I had a balanced upbringing with parents who have a love and respect for each other that many people never find. I’m incredibly fortunate to witness such love, and it’s a perfect example of how absurd hatred and racism are, especially in these crazy and heartbreaking times,” she says. “I believe good is out there.”

Pictorial

Lily Bridger

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“I love to wonder what makes people tick. Alongside my love of language, it’s something that fuels my excitement when reading and writing,” says Lily Bridger, who skyrocketed to worldwide recognition last year after she was scouted on a London street for an international ­Adidas campaign. Her recent travels pair well with her passion for literature, including Shakespeare’s Hamlet and John Fowles’s The Magus, which, she says, “has encouraged me to investigate early Greek philosophy and to consider some of the fundamental questions posed by thinkers.”

Artist in Residence

Chloé Kovska

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I’ve had a crush on Chloé Kovska’s work since I first spotted it on Instagram a few years ago. That delightful riot of bubble butts, red devils and Playboy Rabbit Heads nestled deep into my brain, where my inner child waits impatiently for me to go senile. Kovska has the ability to reduce forms to the essential, paying tribute to the American tattoo tradition and Golden Age comics and cartoons while adding her own primal twist. It’s as though Tex Avery, Sailor Jerry and Robert Crumb got together and hosted an orgy at the Playboy Mansion. In her words, “I paint desires, urges, dreams, inspirations and memories with lovers, dressed up in cartoons.”

I learned that Kovska grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where her father taught her to paint. She has shown her artwork in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami, but she mostly keeps to herself, preferring that the details of her life remain obscure. She likes to use canvas or cardboard and acrylic paint, which dries more quickly than oil and keeps colors bright—all the better to bring her kinky, trippy pop-cartoon visions to life.

I contacted her to get a piece to hang above my desk and another to be tattooed on my arm. I have tried not to fall in love with her, but it’s hard: Aside from her gifts as an artist, Kovska is as sweet and beautiful as you would imagine. Ultimately, I prefer to sit in the audience, like Avery’s Big Bad Wolf, my eyes bursting out of my head at Chloé Kovska’s pink panthers, gorgeous goddesses and red-hot riding hoods.