The Pornographer at 60

Roy Karch, whom many credit as the person who brought porn to video, thus changing the way it is filmed and how it is consumed, is 60 today.

Karch was born in Brookline, MA, the son of a gambler who dabbled in upholstery. At his wife’s behest, his father switched his priorities. The family moved to the Bronx and Karch has been a New Yorker ever since, despite moving to Los Angeles in the late 1970’s.

In New York Karch graduated college and became a gym teacher. A succession of groovy girlfriends led him to participate in the live sex shows popular at Times Square theatres. His career as a pornographer began around 1972 when he and a partner filmed several “loops” in the city.

Karch and Michael Luckman founded one of the first popular cable access shows in New York City. “The Underground Tonight Show” featured performances by Phil Ochs (“We had to drag him from the bar across the street,” Karch said), Betty Dodson, Richie Havens, Linda Lovelace, Gerry Damiano, and many other musicians, comedians, and entertainers living in or passing through the city.

“It was the only variety show that had an overtly sexual component to it,” he said. “We might have a folk act followed by women masturbating.”

The success of “The Underground Tonight Show” resulted in the first American adult trade show/awards combo. Eros ’75 attracted thousands of people (Karch’s parents took tickets at the door) and awarded what came to be known as The Tonguey, a tongue-shaped trophy awarded to people like Mick Jagger for “Most Erotic Performer”.

When Karch moved to Los Angeles he worked for John Cassavetes as a production assistant on his film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. He worked as the bell captain of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for four hours. He helped run a brothel. Then he got a paying job: he started selling adult films for places like Gourmet Video.

“By selling adult movies I got a very good idea of what people actually bought,” he said. “When I started directing, I didn’t get fancy.”

Karch began directing in 1979 and he has cast just about everyone known to the adult industry since that period. I asked him how the business has changed, expecting (because I hear it from other people of his age) that things are worse now.

“What do you mean? It’s legal! You can still watch your own movies three years after making them because they’re better-preserved on DVD. And people admit that they like porn. You can have a conversation about it in a restaurant and nobody pays attention.”

“Do you think people get into the business for different reasons now?”

“It seems like variations on a theme,” he said. “What makes someone want to display their sexuality in this way on film can be traced to any number of things, not all of them good. When I started out there were a lot of politically sexual people. They might not have been the most attractive, but they were very sexual. Today there are so many people in the business that you can find people who are both sexual and attractive in a ‘popular’ sense.”

(Karch mentioned Mika Tan and Stormy Daniels as people who embody this aesthetic.)

The past three months have seen the release of nine Roy Karch “riffs” from companies like Adam & Eve, Sex Z Pictures, and Hustler. Visiting a Roy Karch set is indeed like watching a riff from a creative but exacting bandleader like James Brown. For years, Karch could shoot a five-sex-scene feature movie in a day, for which he would also write the script and, in many cases, make the lunch. He still does this, but now he orders out.

“I have a basketball injury,” he said.

Recent Karch features he particularly likes are Rumor Had ‘Em and his Desperate Wives series, as well as the “high-end gonzos” in favor lately like Indigo Noir. He is shopping around a script based on the 1974 Richard Dreyfuss film Inserts but so far has been told it’s too dark. The salesman in him says he can lighten it up a little, because the director in him says that “all my shit has shit in it” meaning that all porn movies, like children, are born good.

I asked if Karch planned to retire any time soon.

“No,” he said.

“Then when is a good time for a pornographer to retire?” I asked.

“When he drops dead?” he suggested. “Why retire when working with hot women in a room full of your friends keeps you young?”

Previously: The Also-Rannys; More Geisha news; Black & Blue; Suddenly suplexing Seka

About Gram the Man 4399 Articles
Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist


  1. I keep returning to your site, dear Gram to ‘visit’ sweet Roy. He’s here, thanks to You. The groovy, hep cat Roy I miss & will forever love.Denise

  2. I don’t know if you know this or not but Roy is IN John Cassavetes’ The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie. He’s the driver at the beginning, letting people off in front of the nightclub and Roy says, “Okay”.

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