The Rocky Horror Show may be stuck in its own time warp when viewed through a modern lens, but there's no denying its place in the queer cultural cannon. On The Ryan Tubridy Show, Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien spoke about his feelings about this show, which was only meant to run for a few weeks but has ended up running for almost half a century.
O’Brien may not consider himself an academic success, but it was within the cauldron of all his diverse childhood and adolescent interests that the record-breaking show found its genesis. Ryan wondered what part of his brain was mostly responsible for The Rocky Horror Show, to which O’Brien replied:
"Only the adolescent pleasure part of my brain. I was low-brow in many ways. I loved populist themes, I loved the late-night movies, and it was an homage to all those things that I loved, but a very juvenile journey. It is quite extraordinary that here we are 50 years later with something that really was a juvenile [...] kind of fun. And the fact that it’s gone on for this long and meant something to so many people as well – it's touched many people in ways that was never intended – that's rather joyful because, [...] it is just a bit of fun."
A bit of fun? Yes. Massively ahead of the curve when it came to shaking up gender binaries and ideas of sexual expression? Most definitely:
"I think it was out there. It was wonderful to have [...] Tim Curry. I've often wondered would it have been as successful if we didn't have Tim at the helm? If we had someone else who wasn’t quite as charismatics he was in that role? It's hard to say. But to see him standing up there, completely shamelessly, saying 'Here I am, a sweet transvestite!’; it was empowering and a big relief to many people."
And how was the show received?
"Standing [...] behind the audience in those early days and seeing their reaction to him as he walked down that aisle was quite astonishing because you were aware that they were finding something attractive that they had no idea, until that precise moment, they would. It was quite astonishing."
And now he’s the man behind a cult hit. No pressure, like.
"It was lovely to be part of that. And actually, all of us, when you think about it, that was pretty astonishing too; not only were we allowed to be in the movie ourselves, but Jim Sharman was allowed to direct it as well. We were all allowed to turn it from the stage into a movie and we felt like kids being given the keys to the sweetshop. It was lovely."
An enjoyable experience for the cast, but the head honchos in the studio were left scratching their heads:
"When it opened, Fox had no idea who the audience was, so they didn't know where it's target audience might be, and they didn't know how to sell it because they didn't know who they were selling it to. And consequently, it went down the tubes for about 6 months and then it hit [the] late night, midnight screenings, especially in New York in Greenwich Village, and I believe in many of the university towns throughout America [...] and 50 years later it’s a movie that’s still showing."
And after 50 years, does Richard still shiver with anticip...ation at the thought of watching the movie again?
"I love watching the live show because that’s different and there's a different dynamic. Yes, I can still watch the movie. It has its moments. Its clunky and creaky but that’s parts of its charm as well."
And as the creator of a musical that’s known for playing with normative gender roles, O’Brien himself has stated, in previous interviews, that his gender identity is "on a spectrum":
"I like considering myself somewhere in-between and it takes all the pressure off me to be specifically male. [...] I would like to have been born a girl. There's no doubt about that, but I know that ain’t gonna happen. But I'm so grateful, truthfully, I was born male because it's such a misogynist dick-swinging world. And I've been able to go and walk down streets and go places I would never have been able to go if I'd been a girl."
Richard explained his decision to start taking oestrogen at 70:
"I don't know, [...] I thought I may as well. Lots of people around me were, and one of the great joys of seeing young people who are free now to say out loud, ‘I'm this way' or ‘I'm that way’; to find teenage boys being out there saying, ‘I'm gay, what's your problem?’ is wonderful."
Richard’s conversation with Ryan covered a lot of ground, ranging from class in the UK, Brexit, New Zealand’s approach to lock-down, and the scourge of misogyny, and you can listen to it in full here.
The Rocky Horror Show opens in Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on the 4th of October.