A Woman on Top

Possibly the world’s first Jewish punk porn star with a BA from Rutgers, Oradell native Joanna Angel calls the shots on both sides of the camera and minds the bottom line.

You might not associate the porn industry with clean living, but Joanna Angel does. The co-owner, producer-director, chief blogger, and tireless star performer of BurningAngel.com and JoannaAngel.com recognizes that longevity in the former requires dedication to the latter.

“I don’t do drugs,” says the barely 5-foot, 100-pound brunette. “For the most part, I go to bed pretty early, eat healthy food, and exercise, because my job is my life.” As an entrepreneur and porn star—a sexecutive, if you will—Angel realizes that she has to set a good example.

“What kind of girls are going to want to be on the website if I’m some sort of haggard, sun-wrinkled, unhealthy old thing?” she asks. “You can’t be grumpy and tired and hung over. A lot of people are part of this company because they like my personality and what I stand for. To keep that going, I can’t stay out all night.”
What she stands for? Don’t laugh. Or rather, do laugh. Angel uses humor to differentiate her quite explicit websites from the robo-copulations and myopic anatomical close-ups of most Internet porn. “I try to make the set-ups pretty stupid, so a lot of times people on the set laugh,” she says. “The purpose of making porn is so somebody can look at it and get aroused…. I don’t want to make Hollywood movies or experimental art pieces. I want to make good porn. Now, my stuff is also comic. If they don’t get aroused, but laugh—at least they laughed.”

Joanna (real name) Angel (stage name) grew up in an orthodox Jewish family, graduated from Riverdell High School in Oradell, and earned a BA in English from Rutgers in 2003. BurningAngel.com is not the first female-founded website to combine an alt-rock sensibility with sex (suicidegirls.com was started in Portland, Oregon, in 2001). But Angel has taken the combination of punk and porn farther, and has earned more attention for doing so.

“A lot of porn is geared to men in their forties; most of our fans are between 18 and 35,” says Angel, who is about two years past her declared “25ish.” BurningAngel.com reportedly has in excess of 5,000 subscribers who pay $12 a month (about half the fee of most porn sites). Angel says the site gets “about a million hits a day,” and “there’s definitely a greater percentage of people subscribing from New Jersey than from Alabama.”

BurningAngel.com sprinkles punk and indie record reviews and band interviews among its sexual content. The records are rated from one (unprintable) to five (“You’re the best I ever had”).
Angel herself is just one of 150 different “girls” (her word) whose X-rated video escapades and blogs are available to subscribers, who can communicate with them via the site. There are lots of blondes, bottle or otherwise, but also women with day-glo hair, tattoos, piercings, and un-Hollywood body types. Some of the girls’ monikers are real (Joanna, Margaret) but most are punkishly attitudinous (Asphyxia, Ember, Vendetta).

To Angel, the subscribers are “fans and part of a community.” Last June, she and three of her costars made what they called a “field trip” to World Video Adult Toy & Video Megastore in Little Ferry. In a more-or-less PG-13ish video they posted on YouTube, the girls signed posters and DVDs and posed for pictures with their generally beefy, T-shirt-wearing, twenty-something male fans. The mood was more giggly than jiggly.

“Most of the girls are not really porn stars,” Angel says. “They have other interests and other lives. They’re doing it for fun, though obviously they get compensated.” (Performers are tested for STDs every 28 days; without a clean bill of health, they are not allowed to work.)

Angel’s parents never imagined her college education would lead her into the triple-X realm. “They didn’t really like it at first,” she admits. “Some members of my family don’t talk to me anymore. But my parents have been very supportive in the sense that they don’t like my job but they love their daughter. God forbid anything bad ever happened to me, they’d be there for me, and not with ‘I told you so.’”
Angel moderates her in-your-face style for family. “When my parents come over, I hide things so I don’t embarrass them.” She didn’t always accommodate them so willingly. As a teen, “When I started getting piercings and tattoos, I had to cover my legs and arms at family gatherings. Now they say, ‘Can you please not talk about porn at family gatherings?’”

Angel has two younger sisters—one a copy editor, the other an opera major. “It’s almost like a contest when my Mom runs into other moms—like, ‘And what does your daughter do?’ Both my sisters are doing pretty well, so she can talk about them.”

In high school, Angel was more ugly duckling than black sheep. “I didn’t lose my virginity until I was eighteen years old,” she writes on JoannaAngel.com. “I sat by myself at lunch throughout most of high school and got picked on by all the jocks and stuff.”

She says she had never even watched porn before April 20, 2002. That was the day she and her Rutgers roommate, Mitch Fontaine, launched BurningAngel.com, the name being “like a good girl/bad girl thing.” The site went live that day with about 100 still pictures he took of her topless, plus some erotic stories she and her friends cooked up. That evening they hosted a party. “All anyone wanted to talk about was the porn site,” she says. “Some people were angry, some were excited, but it was definitely the biggest reaction I ever got from people. Whether it was a good or bad thing I wasn’t sure. But I saw that porn was powerful—and that really enticed me.”

At first, Angel stayed behind the camera, “but it seemed hypocritical to ask girls to do something I wouldn’t do, so I felt, Well, I’ll just do it. I liked the sex. It was awesome. But I also liked coming up with the idea, finding the location, directing, editing, making the whole fantasy come to life.”

After she graduated from Rutgers, Angel moved to Brooklyn and worked as a stripper before quitting to run BurningAngel.com full-time. It’s not one big orgy. “My job consists of ten-hour days sitting at my computer answering e-mails or going to meetings and setting things up,” she says. “I love my job, but it’s not very sexy.”

Angel’s boyfriend, who is from L.A., is a couple years her junior. He works with her as cameraman, editor, occasional performer. “Of course he gets jealous. And I get jealous when he [has sex with] other girls. But we get over it. It’s a normal relationship.”

One thing they have in common is their religion. In her youth Angel often visited Israel in the summer, and she still converses in Hebrew with her mother. Though she is yenta non grata in her parents’ synagogue, she still observes Passover and fasts on Yom Kippur, and says she always will.


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