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Hugh Meade gets down and dirty for Shovelin’ Porn

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Hugh Meade poses for a photo at the Root, Wednesday, July 27, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Hugh Meade poses for a photo at the Root, Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

Like all good storytellers, Hugh Meade knows his A-list material.

Spending any amount of time with Meade can test one’s capacity to retain interesting information. He has scientific stories about Saturn’s rings, captivating tidbits from Tunisia in North Africa, fascinating facts on Freud — all somehow woven seamlessly and joyfully into a continuous narrative that makes an hourlong discussion feel like a five-minute chat.

However, when it comes to tall tales from his own life, he knows just where to start and grabs listeners by the lapels.

“There are few experiences that will make you question your place in the world like chasing a man down the streets of Atlanta with his pants full of stolen dildos,” he recently told Oklahoma Gazette.

It’s just another stranger-than-fiction anecdote from his one-man spoken-word show, Shovelin’ Porn, scheduled 8 p.m. Thursday at The Root, 3012 N. Walker Ave. in Paseo Arts District. The show is a collection of stories about his time working as a night manager at an adult video and novelty store in his native South Carolina. Meade said the performance grew out of people’s understandable curiosity whenever his previous work experience would come up.

‘Larger meaning’

“As a storyteller by nature, I get how there are lots of great stories about lots of different jobs I’ve had, and there are life lessons to be taken from all of them,” Meade said. “But the stories people really want to hear seemed to come from my time working at the porn store. It grew out of that and became something that I wanted to shape and polish into a performance.”

The stories are funny, filthy and fascinating. However, Meade said his goal is to weave some truth and perspective into the otherwise bawdy two-hour routine.

“Most of it is really funny, obviously,” he said. “It’s just a bizarre place to spend time, and you get all kinds of people coming into a porn store at night. Although a lot of the material is prurient, I hope that the show has some larger meaning for people.”

Booth scrubber

Meade talked about a Mexican immigrant employee who was charged with cleaning up the store’s “private viewing booths,” a task ranked somewhere between parachute tester and coke mule on most Americans’ lists of dream jobs.

“You can imagine what that’s like, if you even want to imagine it,” Meade said. “I can’t think of too many things worse than that, especially if it’s your day-to-day job.

“Since I was the only guy who worked there that spoke Spanish, I kind of got to know him after awhile, and he started showing me his letters from home. He showed me the house he was building, showed me pictures of his family that he sent money to every month. He also made three dollars more an hour than everybody else, which, come on, he deserved.”

Full-priced regrets

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Meade said working around the porn industry also put him in front of some moral questions he hadn’t previously considered.

“There was a woman who bought her own video so nobody could see it,” Meade said. “She made some videos when she was 18, and when it was released, she went around to every single store that carried it and paid full-price for every copy. She was that adamant that she had made a mistake.

“I can’t help but think of that as a moral question. If you’re 18 and you sign a contract for anything, it may be something you regret. But the way I looked at an 18-year-old girl when I was 26 and the way I look at one now at 46? There’s a huge difference there. The law says that at 18, you become an adult. But should it be legal to pay an 18-year-old girl to get on camera and fuck a man?”

Poignant entendre

Despite some of the heavier themes he said he’d like to explore, most of Shovelin’ Porn is a light-hearted affair, and all of it is vintage Meade — a series of fascinating stories, loosely constructed but somehow polished, skipping back and forth between funny and poignant.

He’s turning the spoken-word performance into a book and said every show is helping him tighten the narrative before he puts it on the page.

“I view the world with a different lens than I did back then, so I do hope that there’s some different elements in the performance that appeal to people. But for the most part, it’s just because people really like these stories,” Meade said. “We made some things that you would just not expect people to put inside themselves.” '

Print headline: Double exposure, Local artist Hugh Meade turns life experience into performance art with his Shovelin’ Porn show.

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