‘Like Slouch Socks and Fluorescent Reeboks’: Sipping Truth Tea with Bestselling Author Josh Sabarra

Image courtesy of Kate sZatmari

“We go back like slouch socks and fluorescent Reeboks” is how I preface anything that I know will make my best friend facepalm. It is my way of reminding her that we have been friends for too long for her to be surprised by anything that comes out of my mouth. But, it’s not the what that is so meaningful, but the knowing that I can call her to talk about some of the serious issues of our time, and some of the silliest. She’s the one I can call to have an hour long conversation about how I detest candy corn and firmly believe that it is the Halloween candy people give you when they don’t like you. Whatever the topic, it doesn’t matter, it is the familiarity, and being able to just converse, and let go. Sometimes you cry and sometimes you laugh, but it’s all good. That’s what my interview with bestselling author Josh Sabarra was like — a call between two old friends.

Image courtesy of Kate sZatmari

Josh isn’t your typical 40-ish person.  To begin with, he’s strikingly beautiful. I don’t mean exotic, but the kind of beautiful that you just can’t stand because it defies all the laws of everything in your world that could possibly make sense. No 40-ish person should look like that, and if it is possible, can he bottle that youth and put it on the market? But Josh is more than just beauty: he’s really a person of great substance, drive and ambition.

Josh is an industry veteran corporate communications and marketing executive, and television producer working for companies such as Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Miramax Films, and New Line Cinema. Most recently, Josh served as Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Publicity for A&E/Lifetime Networks. His successes include the launches Project Runway and the comedic drama Drop Dead Diva. Josh oversaw “top-rated movie projects including Coco Chanel (starring Shirley MacLaine), Living Proof (starring Harry Connick, Jr.), Prayers for Bobby (starring Sigourney Weaver) and Georgia O’Keeffe (starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons).”

As New Line’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications and Publicity, Josh lead campaigns for some of Hollywood’s most successful films including Elf, The Lord of the Rings, The Notebook, Wedding Crashers and one of my daughter’s favorites, Hairspray. Josh has also handled many special including Kill Bill, The Station Agent, Cold Mountain, the Harry Potter franchise, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Giant, Hercules, Mulan, Armageddon, Toy Story 2, and The Sixth Sense.

A graduate of the University of Miami, Josh was Consulting Producer and on-camera correspondent for Twentieth Television’s The New Ricki Lake Show, Executive Producer of the runaway hit, Nancy Grace’s The Eleventh Victim, has been a frequent on-air contributor to CNN Headline News, and is also a fellow HuffPost Contributor. He is developing a new made-for-tv film, and both scripted and unscripted series for cable. In addition to being President and CEO of his own public relations firm, Breaking News PR®, Josh is also author of Porn Again, his bestselling memoir, and his latest novel, Enemies Closer.

Josh and I talked like old friends about films, his books, why we both love Taraji P. Henson, Dior Lip Maximizer, growing up when we did and how that impacted who we are, and his meteoric rise in the entertainment business. This wasn’t just a BookTrib and Author interview, but an Aisha and Josh tea sipping session we invited you all to see.

Aisha: So, you worked on the 2007 film Hairspray. Let me tell you, when that film came out it was everything! My daughter loved the film, we had to buy the soundtrack, she’d play dress-up and pretend she was a council member, and then we saw it on Broadway. That had to be a great experience.

Josh: In this business there are so few films you do that you are just absolutely in love with. There’s only a handful you actually like. I challenge anyone to not like that one. The cast was just amazing, the music, it is such a fun film. You can’t help but love it!

Aisha: Hairspray was 10 years ago, but you got your start early, at 22. That had to be a different experience, doing this at such a young age.

Josh: It had its pluses and minuses. I was very, very driven early on to make sure I found a way into the business. I had no direct connections, and it’s a business that works very much on your connections and networking, but I was determined to come out of college to have a job in my field. I sent out letters blindly. This was back in the day before you emailed a resume. I went and bought the right resume paper, matching envelopes. I even got stamps that would let people know I loved film and movies. It was so deliberate and careful, I figured the right person who liked movies as much as I did would see it. If I could get three to four interviews, I figured I would fly to LA.  I ended up getting three and I went. By time I left, I had six. One person referred me to another person and that’s how it happened, really. When I got back, I had two job offers for when I graduated from Disney and MGM.

Ultimately, I took Disney because my sister was living in New York City at the time and it was a better, more comfortable start. After a couple of years, I felt it was time for me to move up, it was time for me to move to LA. I decided on LA because to do anything in film, that’s where you need to be.  Most offices in New York are satellite offices. I ended up transferring with Disney, then did the studio hop a little bit, because you can get stuck, people will forever see you in the position you were in when you first started. Even if you go from the mailroom to an executive position, they still remember you as a mailroom clerk. I found that in order to be taken seriously, I had to look for opportunities elsewhere. I went into Warner Bros. as a manager, and from there I did the same thing, moving to Miramax as Vice President of Marketing, and then to New Line where I became Senior Vice President.

Aisha: Was it difficult being so young? Did people who may have been older resent that?

Josh: You don’t just move up to move up, you have to be delivering. There are drawbacks when you move up so fast because at a certain point, there’s not much further to go. It was great in the sense that it felt good and was very validating for someone who never felt appreciated in life, but the entertainment business is not a very good place to look for validation. There are a lot of things that happen very arbitrarily.

Image courtesy of Amazon

Aisha: You actually wrote about your experiences in Hollywood and about a few other things in your memoir. I have a friend who says “if you’re going to tell it, tell it all or don’t tell it at all.” You tell it all, straight, no chaser.

Josh: You know, there are a lot of people who have written books about their experiences that sold really well, and for those books, the candor is what made it unique. There’s no point in writing one of these fluffy books. For me it was time to be honest about myself.  Nobody likes a truth teller. They don’t want anyone saying the emperor has no clothes on. People respect 100% truth, and I pulled no punches.

I think people see through fluff stuff. There’s so much designed to make us look at things in a romanticized way. There aren’t that many people willing to talk about their experiences, especially in Hollywood; they get worried about upsetting people, or if they will ever work again. I’ve been through all that and I am too old for it. I was totally comfortable with what I wrote and where the chips would fall.

Aisha: This new book is not a memoir, but fiction where the lead character is in the business, like you. How much was drawn from your personal experiences, and how much is just fiction?

Image courtesy of Kate sZatmari

Josh: A good portion of it was [drawn from personal experiences], the nuanced material about how she was treated at work, because there’s no glory in PR. When a film does well, there’s always so much talk about the script, how it was directed, the actor’s performances.  No one ever talks about how well it was promoted. It’s what I was able to give to Marcee, who is a much different, a much better person than me in that she’s not immediately reactive. If I am angry, I will let you know it. She has a very deliberate way of standing up for herself, but there are pieces of me in her.

Aisha: You don’t often read books where the main character is someone of size, or if they are, their only validation or problems are solved when they lose weight or, if women, gets a man.

Josh: That’s right. Usually the problems are resolved when they slimmed down. I struggled with weight my whole life. I’ve done everything: diets, liposuction, everything. It was important to me to show a woman, that while she had some self-esteem issues, is a real person.  To me, she is a real [normal] person and that desire to lose weight is there, but in the narrative of this book, she wants to get healthy.  She figures it could also have a positive side effect in her romantic life, but she comes to the realization that “I am never going to be other than I am and I need to be happy.” Marcee is a real and relatable person, she has struggles, but ultimately realizes she has value regardless of her size.

Aisha: It’s such a vivid story that I can really see as a film. Are you going to turn it into a film?

Image courtesy of Kate sZatmari

Josh:  I would love to. I didn’t write it with that in mind, though. I just wanted to write the best book possible of its kind. It gives people a glimpse into a world they think they know about —  but don’t really. Having a character that’s on TV who’s a perfect size is what we’ve come to. I think there are some amazing roles in here for characters that I call “famous adjacent,” or “Hollywood adjacent” — people like Sela Ward who doesn’t do as many roles as I wish she would, would be amazing in here. There are some meaty parts for actresses who are more than just funny or comedic, and don’t work enough. They’re an underserved age-range of actresses.

Aisha: And we are underrepresented. There’s real life at 40. Marcee is still finding her place in life, love, business, and she’s our age. I shudder to think how people are going to react when Beyonce turns 40. Look at Taraji P. Henson, she’s older and she’s tearing it up on Empire.

Josh: Don’t you just LOVE Taraji?

Aisha: Oh my gosh, yes! Have you been watching Empire?

Josh: I was, but it lost me a bit in season two.  Should I revisit it?

Aisha: I got lost in season two a bit as well, but last season was everything. So, go back.

Josh: I think I will. You know, part of the message in this book is that it’s never too late to come out, and be who you are. I came out at 30. I was a virgin until then.

Aisha: Really? That’s interesting.

Josh: Yes, so I was experiencing things at that age and making mistakes that most people do at a younger age. There were all these pieces missing that I had to learn about later on in life. It was sometimes like being a 30-year old teenager.

Aisha: Well, that’s interesting because I remember at 25 telling my best friend that getting married and having three kids by 25 was a dream of the ’70s.  That’s what our parents did, but we are a different generation.

Josh: There’s this belief that things stop later in life, but things don’t always happen when we want them to. We have this belief that certain milestones in our lives like marriage, having kids, should happen at a certain age, and when they don’t we feel like we failed in a way.

Aisha: When that’s not the case at all, because we are accomplishing other things, younger than our parents did.

Josh: And if you look at it now, when I hear people say they are married at 22, 23, I’m just like “you are so young.” But we are doing things later because we want to give our kids a certain lifestyle, and we want to have the resources that our parents didn’t have to do that. My parents are 73, that is much older than my friends’ parents. At that time, that was late. Thirty was late back then.

Aisha: Our generation is different. Even in how we relate. I’m Hip-Hop, we are the first generation raised on Hip-Hop, but my daughter listens to it, my nephew makes it, so we are connected that way, even though I don’t care for what they listen to now. But that is also another field where men can get older, but female artists are stuck in that trap like a Sela Ward. I mean, Jay-Z is about to be 50, no one calls him old.

Josh: Who is your favorite female Hip-Hop artist?

Aisha: Well, I’m old school, so of course Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte. I like Missy. The old Lil’ Kim. I don’t hate Nicki Minaj, I think it is unfair that people act like there can only be one female Hip-Hop artist at a time. Remy Ma deserved that BET Award. “Shether” was a good song, she deserved it. I prefer mixtape Nicki, her rhymes then were so raw on those.

Josh: I love Nicki Minaj. She’s an original and genuinely talented, but some of these artists are not. But we’re the same age, we remember that time when artists were really talented.

Aisha: Well, we grew up with artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna— to an extent— and Prince.

Josh: I love Prince!

Aisha: Me, too, have you seen the articles we did on him? There’s some good books on him out there. The picture books, especially.

Josh: I saw him twice. He was that rare once-in-a-lifetime talent. Madonna was what she was at the time. She made waves because no one was doing it back then, but there was little more behind it. It’s been over 30 years and she’s still doing the same thing.

Aisha: Yeah, you want to see the evolution, the growth.

Josh: And it is hard now because everyone is doing it, nothing has shock value anymore and she still seems to go for that. You know who else does that sometimes and doesn’t need to? Lady Gaga.

Aisha: Yeah, I can see that.

Josh: But she’s so immensely talented as a musician and writer that she doesn’t need to do stuff like wear a meat dress. She has too much talent for that.

Aisha: But this is the age we are in now where people get famous for being famous, like the “Cash Me Outside Girl” getting rewarded with a major record deal by Atlantic or something all because she was on Dr. Phil for being a menace.

Josh: Yes, we are rewarding bad behavior. Everyone is trying to stay relevant.

Aisha: Indeed. So, will there be another book? Are you working on something?

Josh: I sure am. I’m at work now on another book that will be in the same genre as Enemies Closer, but it’s a throwback to Judith Krantz, late ’70s stuff like Iris Rainer Dart’s ‘Boys In the Mailroom.’ Again it’s not fully developed, but it will stick with the Hollywood theme.

Aisha: Can’t wait!

Josh: Let me give you my email so we can stay in touch [gives email address].

Aisha: [reacting to email address] Anytime I see MAC, I think about M.A.C. cosmetics.

Josh: Oh, me, too!

Aisha: They had a Lip Glass I loved called Pink Meringue, but it is discontinued.

Josh: See, I hate getting invested in the limited edition of things like that, and then it gets discontinued.

Aisha: I have to admit, I will spend money on their brushes. You have to have the right brushes, foundation, primers…

Josh: Yes, I tell people that all the time.  Have you tried Dior’s Lip Maximizer? I have full lips so I don’t need a maximizer, but it just keeps your lips moisturized and lasts for hours.

Aisha: I will have to try that.

I did try it and like Josh said, it is EVERYTHING! Josh emailed me to tell me how much he loved Steve Parke’s Picturing Prince. I asked him if he saw Empire because a vengeful “Claire Huxtable” was the most, and so totally worth it. We both agreed that you can’t help but to love Taraji (yes, we are on a first name basis), Josh shared a picture he took with her on the set of Good Morning America and we concluded by saying Prince was one of the sexiest men alive, even in butt-out, yellow lace pants.

So while we may not go back “like slouch socks and fluorescent Reeboks,” we don’t need to because my new friend Josh would probably agree that it was a terrible fashion trend, anyway, and some things from the past really should just stay there.

 

 

Josh Sabarra is doing a book tour to promote Enemies Closer. Here are upcoming dates and locations:

October 11 — Barnes & Noble, Huntington Beach, CA

October 21 — Barnes & Noble, Valencia, CA

November 2 — Tesoro at Fred Segal, West Hollywood, CA

November 11 — Barnes & Noble, Studio City, CA

 

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Aisha K. Staggers

Aisha K. Staggers has been writing since middle school. She had her first major publication in her local newspaper’s entertainment section while a sophomore in high school, a publication in another state paper followed. Aisha has been contributing to various paper, magazines and textbooks for over 15 years. In addition to her time as an instructor of social sciences in higher education, Aisha has served as a director of education and policy research centers, and on the staff of legislative commissions. Aisha previously served on the Executive Board of the CT Young Democrats Women’s Caucus and has remained active in politics and public policy. She is an alumni of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT and Fisk University in Nashville, TN where she earned Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, respectively, and completed the South Carolina Education Policy Fellowship Program in 2008. Currently, Aisha is Senior Editor for BookTrib, a division of the literary public relations firm, Meryl Moss Media. In addition to her own work, Aisha will be writing the liner notes for an upcoming Prince tribute album and contributing a chapter to a 2018 scholarly work on Prince and the Minneapolis Sound.