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How Porn Can Be Funny, or What I Learned at Dan Savage’s Porn Festival

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"There's only one rule: don't be an asshole."

As I waited outside the Village East Cinema, I realized it was kind of ridiculous that I was wearing a blazer. I was about to watch porn in a crowded theater with strangers — surely there was no dress code, but I didn't know the protocol. I had tickets to Dan Savage's Hump Tour, an event that bills itself as the "sexiest, funnest, most creative dirty movie fest in the world." Started in the Pacific Northwest in 2005, the Hump Tour asks entrants to become a porn star for just the weekend by submitting their very own five-minute long smut to the festival. All styles of porn are welcome, there's cash prizes, and best of all, it's curated by everyone's favorite sex journalist and radio personality, Dan Savage. 

I bought a small bag of popcorn (again, I wasn't sure of porn fest protocol) and settled into a front row next to a bespectacled middle-aged man wearing an Oxford shirt. I noticed he shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat as I put my bag down. He, too, was not used to watching porn in public, and quite possibly, hadn't hoped to sit next to a young woman while doing so. I scanned the crowd: attractive young couples, a plethora of balding middle-aged men, a woman who didn't seem to be wearing much besides tights, and of course me, a bespectacled woman in an inappropriate blazer. There was nothing homogenous or telling about the crowd, and that's because we weren't all fans of the same band. These were all people who most likely religiously listened to the Savage Lovecast or had heard about the festival word-of-mouth. There's no one "look" to people who enjoy watching other people fucking, and that's partially because almost everyone does.

Video is NSFW.

Dan Savage strode up to the middle of the theater and leaned against the railing, taking out index cards that the audience had written questions on before the screening — it was a live version of his radio show. If there's anything I can say about Dan Savage after seeing him in person, it's that he's exceptionally well muscled and always expertly "on." His advice was typical fare: if you have an STI and are having a one night stand, you probably should disclose. No, you shouldn't out your lesbian ex-wife to your kids. During his sagacious Q & A, it was revealed that in the middle of the unassuming, well-mannered crowd was a complete asshole.

"Just get to the porn!" the heckler, who looked like an aging wizard in a raincoat, shouted in the middle of Dan's talk.

"Woah. We'll get to it. Do you guys want me to skip this and get right to the movies?" Dan asked calmly.

"No!" the crowd answered in unison. We'd all been hanging on his every word.

"Sorry man, you're the only asshole," Dan called back to him, still politely.

"You are about to see porn that will make you laugh, scream, uncomfortable, get turned on, or question things," Dan warned all of us. "The one rule is: just don't be an asshole. Like that guy," he joked, looking up at the heckler. One of the women on Dan's team had gone up to the aging wizard and spoken to him to calm him down and he suddenly stormed out of the theater angrily. "Have a great life!" Dan said cheerfully after him. With that, the lone asshole (and probable masturbator) was extricated from our porn festival.

As the films began, I became suddenly really nervous. I didn't want to watch porn with all these people necessarily. I didn't want to see extreme kink or facials with my side of popcorn. Plus, what would it be like to watch dirty movies without the whole getting off part anywhere in the equation? 

It was sort of like an amateur porn wine tasting.

But for the next two hours or so, I was wildly entertained. I found myself laughing hysterically at some films — one featured an orgy that started as a game of Dungeons and Dragons, one was a mockumentary about an overweight bearded fluffer who saved the porn industry one blow job at a time. I laughed not because I was uncomfortable, but because they were genuinely thoughtful and funny. I looked around at others and we actually made eye contact and began laughing together.

The other part about the Hump Festival was that for audience-submitted work, it had insanely good production value. One memorable film entitled "The Beat," featured an extremely attractive gay man enjoying a hi-def masturbation session with a butt plug. At the end, he turns out to be a Mormon missionary. Another amazing film, "Tuff Titties," told the story of two transgender men who were fixing up a car. Inside their toolboxes were strap-ons. These weren't films I would have ever tried to Google for in my own hunt for self-pleasure, but there I was, enjoying how hot the gay and trans porn was.

I only had to shut my eyes during one film, "Lauren Likes Candy," in which a submissive woman who is a "pain slut" is beaten against a chain-link fence by her dominatrix using clothes pins and a knife. The session was consensual, but I couldn't help it: burst blood vessels weren't for me.

The Hump Festival was sort of like an amateur porn wine tasting. It was full of new flavors I both would and would not like, but part of the event was the exposure, the atmosphere, the bonding that comes with trying something new and possibly awkward with others. I was never actually turned on, but I was invested, intrigued, and as Dan had predicted, I began to question things.

"What if all porn was this funny?" I thought to myself. The Hump Festival had delivered up both goofy and sexy films (and more often, goofy and sexy films) in a way that had completely engrossed me. Perhaps most fascinating was "Fun with Fire," in which a daredevil woman puts flash paper on her clit and across her breasts and lights herself on fire, cracking up the entire time. If more porn had this wink to the audience, had interesting filming techniques, and had limited focus on things like "money shots" and stunt sex, I might be more likely to tune in more often. Orgasm never was at the forefront of the films, but pleasure and story were. These were films full of inside jokes, cultural references, personality, and kink — pretty much everything I've come to know in normal, everyday regular sex. And that's why it was good porn.

As I exited the theater relieved, satisfied, and wanting more, I asked a few people sitting around me what they had thought of the festival. "It was the only porn I've seen that made me laugh and made me feel comfortable," says one young woman in her 20s.

What if all porn was this funny?

I stopped another person in the audience and asked them what had surprised them about the day. "Honestly, the excellent music choices and the amount of thought that went into some of the cinematography. There were a few legitimate filmmakers in the bunch who used visual witticisms, and some of the films felt like fillmmaking exercises that just happened to involve people having sex." They point to a stop-motion film and the clever video featuring two trans-men as their favorites of the evening.

"My favorite aspect of the festival wasn't the multiplicity of categories that you could find on porn outlets like Redtube, but the spectrum of genres of film that were touched on in witty and subversive ways," says another attendee. "There was animation, John Wright-esque cinematography, college-cut sketch comedy, home-videos. A lot."

His companion adds, "There were also a few that didn't read to me like porn at all, like that woman in a white unitard peeing her pants while jumping on a trampoline. This felt like a university film class experimental short." A straight woman, she had really enjoyed the gay male films, which she saw as a fun surprise. "Double the peen, and no ladies to be exploited! Win win."

By the looks on everybody's faces, we all had this sense of wonder and levity after sitting through the 20 flesh flicks. We had all sat in a theater watching porn — the way our grandparents' used to — and had survived, hell, even liked it. Humor turns us on in real life, why shouldn't it turn us on in porn? One woman and I bonded over just how goddamn funny Hump was. "The sense of humor surprised me, though it shouldn't have — sex is funny!" she notes. "People are funny!"

Image via Instagram.