Out this month on DVD and on demand, “Leave It to Levi” is an affectionate and affecting portrait of Luke Kemmerle, aka porn star Levi Karter. He spent six years of his life making films such as “The Stillest Hour” and “All Saints” for CockyBoys before finding another avenue for performing — working as Sassy Frass, a drag queen.
The documentary opens with Luke unhappy and lonely, having gone through a breakup. It also depicts his complicated relationship with his mother, who found out about her son’s adult film career through a friend. As he reveals his penchant for doing drag, Luke reconnects with his mother, Anne, but he also has maternal figures in CockyBoys manager RJ Sebastian and his drag mother Misty.
In a recent phone interview with Gay City News, Kemmerle spoke about his new documentary, performing, relationships, doing drag, and his “moms.”
GARY M. KRAMER: I’m curious, why did you make this film and reveal — or expose — yourself this way?
LUKE KEMMERLE: I’ve lived a transparent life — porn and drag — that started with CockyBoys six years ago. This is my personality. It’s how I’ve always been. I want to connect and humanize myself. I’m doing it for a purpose. This documentary has a message — about mother/ son relationships. I’ve always been a performer, be it dance and cheerleading in high school and college to being a go-go boy/ stripper or a drag queen. I love being on a stage. And I love making people happy and making them smile. I’ve been able to move my stage from dancer and cheerleader to go-go and drag. I really am an exhibitionist.
KRAMER: Do you feel you have changed as a performer because you have two lives?
KEMMERLE: The film was six years in the making. You see me entering and becoming accomplished in the porn world. I’m doing the same thing in the drag world. I’m starting in year one with drag. Drag does give me the same rush. When I entered porn, I wanted to be the best, and Jake [Jaxson, the director] made me write down goals and achieve them. And I realized I love the performing aspect. I was looking for another thing to do. Porn, for me, doesn’t pay for everything. When I started performing as a drag queen, I felt a same kind of happiness and spark as when I started porn and cheerleading and stripping. Drag is a profession that requires twice as much hustle as porn, but if you want to do what you want to do there are always obstacles.
KRAMER: You address being lonely, having a breakup, and hurting. What are your thoughts and experiences with relationships and what do you want from a relationship now?
KEMMERLE: The breakup in the film was the last relationship I was in. I’ve been single since I’ve been in the industry. That boyfriend was also in the industry at the time. I had a boyfriend from high school until I was 19, and there were two- to three-month relationships, and one that was 18 months. But I took myself out of the dating game for five years.
KRAMER: What prompted you to first do drag?
KEMMERLE: I first started because my best friend [Misty] is a drag queen in New York and I am always hanging out with her. In the gay bars I’m Levi, but when you’re a porn star in a gay bar people ask questions — and I don’t need follow-up questions in a public environment. I was trying to avoid that. Two years ago, Liam Riley helped me get on stage. I wanted to perform. Misty said she didn’t know I wanted to take drag more seriously. Now she helps me with makeup critiques — but it’s always after the show, when it’s too late!
KRAMER: Have you had any negative feedback from fans who learn about Sassy?
KEMMERLE: I haven’t had any negative feedback. When we first announced the film and posted about it, there were some comments, but more like, “I can’t watch Levi’s porn again!” And someone recently said, “I can’t watch Levi and not think of Sassy.”
KRAMER: What observations do you have about moms—your real mom, your porn family, where RJ is the mom, and your drag world, where Misty is your mom?
KEMMERLE: I love that the thread through the film is “moms.” The real mom, the mom at work, and the mom in friendship or chosen family. They all mean different things, but they all have nurturing qualities in common. My mom is my mom, and RJ plays mom and he manages me and does the business side — getting the groceries, picking us up, and making sure we’re fed and safe, and have enough money, and that everyone is okay. And Misty does the same thing, but she does it as a friend and she’s the least nurturing. I call her Mom because that’s what you do in drag etiquette. She has my back and I have hers.
KRAMER: You state in the film, “I’m not trying to piss anyone off by being myself.” Who is Luke Kemmerle, Levi Karter, and Sassy Frass?
KEMMERLE: I do separate them. I feel like Luke, Levi, and Sassy all together make up one person who I guess would be named Luke. But Luke is who I am, Levi is a more of a daredevil, take-chances kind of person, and Sassy is very outspoken. She will do and say things I wish I had the confidence to. Putting on a wig and makeup lets me say things that I normally would not say. I created a whole backstory for Sassy. But Luke has laundry and bills, Levi has to find a scene partner and go to the gym, and Sassy takes up all their time and money.
LEAVE IT TO LEVI | Directed by Jake Jaxson | TLA Releasing | Jan. 28 | tlareleasing.com