The adorable winner of Mr. Rockbear 2015 and Mr. Eagle NYC 2017 is truly a Leather Bear for the People, being the host of a popular weekly happy hour and the participant of several charity events, including an important upcoming one benefiting his close friend. Get on it with John-John Punki!
Thotyssey: Hi John-John, thanks for talking! So Halloween has come and gone, and you were busy that night with one of the season’s biggest events: The NYC Eagle’s Halloween costume contest! How was it?
John-John Punki: The Eagle always has a huge and fabulous costume contest and this year did not disappoint. We had a ton of contestants. Witti Repartee was the MC, and I assisted her in judging the contest. The main judges were the folks who came out to the contest.
What was the winning look?
The winning look came from these two amazing creative people. They were the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. They took home the $1,000 prize.
Awesome! Witti had her hands full with a hater who was questioning the results that night. I mean, rule number one of life is, “Don’t Question Witti.”
I absolutely agree with the rule “Don’t Question Witti.“ Witti is a tremendous supporter and active participant of the community who has done amazing things to support LGBTQ folk. I think that when money is involved, people can get a little extreme.
But that night was truly a fair contest, which we even pulled in other titleholders to help judge because it was too tough for Witti and I to hear all of the applause. I just want people to have fun, make friends, and enjoy the Halloween celebration and the space that the Eagle creates to make it happen.
Well no doubt the night was fun! And before that, you were in P-Town for Halloween weekend; how did that compare to NYC’s festivities?
It was actually my first time in P-Town. I went with friends who are very familiar with the town and have friends out there. P-Town Halloween weekend was amazing. Everyone was so friendly and the parties are awesome. I also had the chance to meet some cool women who work at a shop called Kiss And Makeup. I was able to pick up some beard wash and softener to keep my beard game on point.
Your beard is probably one of your signature assets in the “man pageant” world, right?
It’s not essential, but I’ve gotten compliments on it! I remember a few years ago. I did not even want a beard… and now look at me! I take a few photos here and there, and name it #BeardMagic. Nowadays you can’t find a bear or a leatherman without a beard. It’s sexy!
True, but yours is a fine specimen indeed! Okay, so where’s your hometown?
I was born and raised in New York. Grew up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and live in the East Village, Manhattan. My mom’s side of the family is Puerto Rican while my father’s side is Sicilian.
What would you say your interests were, growing up? Did you always want to be some kind of a performer?
My main interest always had to do with giving back and helping people in whatever way I could. In high school I was actively feeding the homeless at the church my family went to, then I became a peer educator and starting doing prevention work. That led into my LGBTQ organizing work. While making all that happen, I was keeping sane through music, and dancing to all different types of it.
When did you become involved in the bear scene?
In 2011 I became involved in the leather community, and joined my first leather club; ONYX Northeast. That’s how I got connected to the bear community.
I first started dancing for the Furball parties hosted by Joe Fiore when they were happening at the LGBT Center. During 2012, I got more involved with Rockbar, Rawhide (when it was still open) and the Eagle NYC.
And when did you start calling yourself “John-John Punki?”
When I first got into the leather community, people kept calling me John-John, so it just stood with me. I love letting people know “two Johns, not one.”
A long time ago, I use to DJ at Switch N’ Play’s Open Drag Night in Brooklyn. My DJ name–and gamer tag by the way– is EvillPunki (Evill = East Village and Punki = Punk). I’m an East Village Punki. I just added the “i”.
Cute! What’s the appeal of leather to you?
Leather is more than just the gear that people wear. Leather is about a community, it’s about trust and building relationships. When I put on my leather I feel confident, I feel sexy, I feel strong.
Speaking about the gear specifically, the smell of new leather is quite refreshing.
It’s a wonderful smell! What was the first “man pageant” you entered?
LOL at man pageant. We just call them contests. The first contest I entered was Mr. RockBear 2015. It was the first time Rockbar had a Mr. RockBear contest: George Hains is the producer. When I heard it was happening, I was pretty excited because there’s no other bear contests in NYC.
And you won, right?
Yes. I am Mr. RockBear NYC 2015, the first Mr. RockBear.
Congratulations! A lot of people who are more familiar with drag pageants don’t realize how much work goes into preparing for these leather contests. And expense! The good gear ain’t cheap, right?
True! Very true. Mr. RockBear was less of a leather contest; just a bear contest. So I did not have to gear up as much as it pertains to leather. But now I competed for Mr. Eagle NYC 2017, and I won. That is a leather contest, and a big one might I add.
The leather and drag community have so much in common in that they both have to put in a ton of work to prepare for a contest or a pageant, and much respect goes out to both communities. I usually get my gear from Leatherman NYC or FM Leather (located in Woodside, Queens).
Leather is quite expensive. But many times individuals or groups will do a fundraiser where they are getting gear from people in the community and selling it. Those events are awesome because you can get good quality leather that’s affordable, and your money is going to good causes. My good friend Danny (Mr. DC Eagle 2016) is holding one of those events in DC in November during the DC Eagle contest weekend.
And of course the NYC Eagle is still the big go-to destination for anyone into leather, bears, daddies, kink or just a break from the occasionally plastic scene of The Urban Gay. And I see Jockstrap Wednesdays are coming back! Are you gonna be there those nights?
If you know me, then you know I love jockstraps! I’m very glad and excited to hear that the Jockstrap Wednesdays are returning this week. I will be at as many jockstrap nights as I can time permitting.
I’ve heard that some straight athletes are looking for alternatives to jockstraps because the gays have made them “too Gay,” and God forbid! But, how could jockstraps have ever not been gay, right?
Hmm, that’s interesting and really silly. You can’t label clothing with a sexual orientation and gender identity. But homophobes will always say anything that’s absurd. But hey, ya know, if jockstraps are gay then I’m with it!
Lol. Well, with all your success in these contests you’ve become a defacto promoter/party producer as well! The big new hit event you help run now is the Beers & Bears happy hour, which is a Thursday bear party above the one place you’d never expect to find a bear party: the Ritz in Hell’s Kitchen. There are no other bear-centric events in HK that I can think of. Did you know the night would be as hugely successful as it is?
I didn’t know it would be as successful as it has been, but the team I am working with to put it on is a pretty great one. Shane Tate, Danny Marandola, and San Pedro are pretty great guys. The space is above the Ritz and is called The Bear Den.
I never thought I would see a Bear event in Hell’s Kitchen, that’s for sure. But the bears have been coming out, and they love it.
There will also soon be a Bear party in Chelsea, as I am working with the Eagle to bring a Bear night there, so look out for that!
Yay, cool. Okay, back to Rockbar for a moment. This year’s Mr. Rockbear was Moises Herrera, who also works at the bar and drags as Viva Vidalia. And everyone who knows him knows how completely kind and sweet and selfless he is. But he’s had a bad go recently, after having been mugged and robbed. It takes people on a nightlife budget a long time to recover from that, and some never do. So Rockbar is having a benefit for him on Thursday, which you’ll be there for What can we expect?
Yes, Moises is a dear friend of mine and one of the kindest human beings I’ve met. When we heard about what happened to him, we were all shocked and reached out immediately. Moises works hella hard, whether he is working at the bar, performing as Viva, or at a bear function being a judge.
Different community members wanted to get an event going to help raise the money he lost and more. You can expect some of New York’s amazing drag and burlesque performers to do their thing. Florence D’Lee is hosting the event and there will be raffles and tons of fun! The event is Thursday, November 3rd 7-9pm at Rockbar.
Yay! And good for you all and I wish Moises the best. I saw you dancing for Viva in the Miss Lady Liberty semifinals, nice work!
Thank you. That was an amazing competition. All of the Queens rocked it.
Yes! Anything else coming up you wanna talk about?
Well I am just excited for what this upcoming year will bring as Mr. Eagle NYC 2017, and with other projects I have going on. I’m also the type of person that loves to hear peoples ideas so if anyone wants to reach me they can: email@example.com or Instagram.
Okay, last question: what is a sexy man to you?
A sexy man is someone who is confident in his body. No matter the weight, size, color of his skin, identity. Just embrace yourself and share the love!
John-John Punki hosts the Beers & Bears happy hour at The Bear Den above the Ritz on Thursdays (6pm-midnight). He will appear at the fundraiser Rock Out for Mr. Rockbear to benefit Moises Herrera on Thursday, November 3rd (7-9pm), and can be found frequently at the Eagle, as he is Mr. Eagle 2017. John-John can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.