On The Line with Josh Bernstein

When Josh Bernstein tells people that he’s “living the dream”, that’s because he truly is. He loves comics books, so he interned for Marvel Comics at sixteen years old. He loves pop culture, so he founded Royal Flush magazine. He loves rock music, so he co-founded the Revolver Golden Gods Awards, the Rock & Roll Roast series and the AP Music Awards. And there’s still more! He put together an all-star salute for Joan Jett at the Sunset Strip Music Festival. He helped curate the History of Heavy Metal exhibit at the Grammy Museum. He’s gotten the opportunity to meet many of his heroes. However, his journey is far from over. With all that said, I spoke with Josh about everything that he has going on these days, and it’s a lot! We discussed how the AP Music Awards started, his intense love for the WWE, the Rock & Roll Roast, the one person he made him feel completely starstruck, the Revolver Golden Gods and much more.

Alex Obert: How did the AP Music Awards come about?

Josh Bernstein: I had worked for Revolver Magazine for about ten years , where we launched their awards show, the Golden Gods. Right when we had wrapped up the fifth edition of that show, I had gotten a call from Kevin Lyman who said that Alternative Press is looking to do an awards show of their own and wanted to see if I would help them out. I met the team in Cleveland and we just really hit it off, so I said yes. I took it on as a freelance project and it really evolved in scope over that the year. The show just built and built and snowballed into what it ended up being this past summer. It was easily the biggest awards show I’ve ever been a part of, as far as fan attendance and the global viewer reach. I loved getting to do it at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Alex Obert: How did CM Punk become a part of it?

Josh Bernstein: Well I think it’s pretty obvious throughout my career that I am a huge wrestling dork and any opportunity I ever could have to involve wrestlers in any project I’m working on, I’ll take advantage of it. I met Phil in 2008 when we did the first Golden Gods Awards. I reached out to the WWE to involve some of the talent. This is a really funny story, I was at an AC/DC concert and I had really good seats through work, but the whole row behind me was empty. Halfway through the show, I was wondering who was not showing up to an AC/DC concert at the Garden? And all of a sudden, this security guard came down and was like, “Alright, the row is clear. Bring ’em in.” And it was Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, John Cena, John Laurinaitis, Bruce Pritchard, a couple other wrestlers and all these hot chicks. I was like, “What the hell’s going on here?” I turned around and Vince McMahon was right behind me and I was like, “Oh, Vince McMahon, I can’t believe I have a better seat than you. Come on, take my seat.” And he was like, “Come on kid, turn around. Come on, come on.” I told him I wanted him to take my seat. He told me he to turn around and enjoy the show. So I got the vibe that he was basically telling me to F off. I then turned my attention to Shane McMahon and we started talking. I told him how I had interviewed for the WWE earlier and I had passed on the job, since my current employer said if I stayed, I could do this awards show idea. He gave me his card and said to stay in touch. When the Golden Gods was launching and he put me in touch with WWE public relations. I knew Jericho was a music fan, but he was unavailable at the time. So I said, “Listen, there’s this guy, CM Punk. I have Killswitch Engage booked for my awards show and they do his entrance theme. Maybe he could come out and introduce the band onstage?” They agreed, so we got CM Punk to appear at the first Golden Gods Awards. He did a great job. I reminded him of the story that I thought him being straight edge was just a gimmick for television, like Big Boss Man being a cop and I offered him a bunch of drink tickets and he was like, “Are you kidding me?” I was like, “Oh, you’re really straight edge?” And he goes, “Yeah, I’m really fuckin’ straight edge.” (laughs) I told him I was so sorry. He forgave me. So we then were launching the AP Awards. I know Chris Jericho loves metal, but the punk stuff isn’t really his bag. I just reconnected with CM Punk and the WWE and invited him to partake. It was obviously tricky because at the time I started talking to him, he was still wrestling in WWE. And by the time the awards show came, he had gone AWOL. No one really knew what was going on. I had to basically keep his involvement secret until his contract ended. And that contract didn’t end until three or four days before the awards show, so we didn’t announce his involvement until the very end. When we did, it was his first real public appearance since he left WWE. I knew it was going to be a big deal. He had gone to some ballgames and he was on Talking Dead, but this was his first big appearance. He’s just such a cool guy. He’s a legit fan of the music and scene, so I knew he would not only be wonderful as host on the carpet, but a great presenter as well. It was cool working with him and the bands loved that he was there. I’d love to work with him again for sure.

Alex Obert: You mentioned that his contract had just ended, was there a feeling of walking on eggshells around him to avoid the topic of wrestling?

Josh Bernstein: As you can imagine, once word got out before the show, you would’ve thought I was his agent or manager. No one knew how to even get a hold of him. I got a movie offer for him. I got a commercial offer. I got labels wanting him to put out a record. It was insane. We’re trying to do an awards show here with 75 different participating bands and he easily got fifty percent of all press and interview requests. MMA folks were calling me. TNA called me. I found myself becoming very protective of him because he’s not a character, he really is that guy. I gave him my word that I would be professional and I would protect him and make the experience comfortable. I found myself fending off all these swarming flies, so to speak. Of course, every interviewer wants to ask him that one burning question. I didn’t want him to have to deal with that. I just isolated him until the show. But at that point, I couldn’t block all the wrestling questions. That night, he was being interviewed and he replied by saying, “I will never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever wrestle.” To be honest with you, I know this sounds crazy, but I never asked him what was happening. Even as the biggest mark in the world, I didn’t ask one wrestling question. I didn’t want to be “that guy.” He was getting married in the middle of the process too and I was like, “Oh, congratulations to you and your wife!” To me, I wanted to be professional and not like an idiot fanboy. When I interviewed for WWE years ago, I thought they might not hire me because I was a wrestling fan. So I just played dumb. They told me, “This guy Undertaker, he has a brother.” And I was like, “This Undertaker guy has a brother? Oh my god, that’s crazy!” But probably by the third interview, I snapped. I said, “I can’t do this anymore! Of course I know who Kane is!” They asked why I was lying to them. I told him that if they knew I was a fan, they wouldn’t take me seriously. I want to them to hire me because I’m the right guy for the job, not because I know what’s in the urn and about Paul Bearer and all that. I want to earn their respect separately based on merit before they find out I own wrestling figures.

Alex Obert: Another project you have taken on is the Rock & Roll Roast. Was that influenced by the Comedy Central Roasts?

Josh Bernstein: Absolutely. No one creates in a bubble. I grew up loving the Dean Martin Roasts and I remember buying the VHS tapes when I was a kid. They were hilarious. I’m a huge Don Rickles fan, he’s one of my idols. I just love the concept of a roast and the burn jokes. It was an idea I pitched when I worked at Guitar World for our 25th anniversary show. We wanted to do a concert with Zakk Wylde and a party. I suggested that we should do a roast and I got laughed off by my bosses. About six or seven years later after the Golden Gods had taken off, we wanted to do a second event. I suggested the Roast concept again. We were able to get Zakk Wylde. With Zakk, we got Sharon Osbourne to be the roast master because she was basically like his mother. With Zakk being a famous guitarist and a larger than life personality, we got to bring all of these other wonderful people into the mix. I brought in Stone Cold Steve Austin, Scott Ian, Duff McKagan. I worked with Ultimate Warrior. I knew Zakk was a big Ultimate Warrior fan, so we got Ultimate Warrior to make a video tribute. It was easily the most bizarre thing you’ll ever see in your life. It’s on the Internet somewhere. I knew Zakk would really get a kick out of it. The Stone Cold thing was incredible. What we wrote for him was funny but what he ad-libbed was ten times funnier. You deal with certain professionals like that who are just out of control good. We had Randy Jackson from American Idol. It was cool getting to work with celebrities and other people from different walks of life beyond heavy metal. I got to work with Jim Norton and Jim Florentine and Brian Posehn, all these hilarious comedians. Jericho came out there and did a funny bit. It was just really fun. I’ve been doing music events for so long, it was nice to do a music event that didn’t have any music. I love the idea of that. I was actually approached to work on the roast for The Iron Sheik here in New York, I didn’t have the time to do it, but I wrote a couple jokes. The great thing about the roasts is that whoever we honored each year, we would let them pick a charity of their choice and we would donate their fee and percentage of the money raised to their charity. Zakk raised money for the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, I thought I was a great way to give back.

Alex Obert: In the worlds of wrestling and music, who would you love to see get roasted?

Josh Bernstein: Oh man, so many good ones. Hulk Hogan has so much good material. The key to being able to get roasted is having these five tools: be a famous name, have a sense of humor about yourself, have a lot of famous friends, have a lot of shit to mock, and have a broad national appeal. Comedy Central has guys like William Shatner, Flavor Flav and David Hasselhoff who are perfect because they are famous and have so much material to work off of. In order to get a TV deal, you can’t be roasting Koko B. Ware. Flair would be incredible. The Rock would be great. The late great Macho Man too. Anyone with a larger than life personality. With Roddy Piper, I’d be scared that he might freak out and punch me. When we did the Dee Snider roast, we had Mick Foley involved, but he got sick at the last minute and had to bail sadly. It’s unfortunate because we wrote so many good jokes about Mick. There was one Jim Florentine joke I loved that we never got to use, “You’re fat and missing an ear, you look like Vincent van Let Himself Gogh.” The musicians that I would love to have roasted would always say no. Guys like Axl Rose, Lars Ulrich and Bret Michaels. There would be so much great material. The problem with the rockstars, which we found very quickly, is that these guys aren’t used to being made fun of. The last thing a rockstar wants to hear is that they’re old or fat or washed up. Rockstars do not wanna hear mean things about themselves. We really lucked out with Zakk Wylde and Dee Snider, they’re very comfortable with who they are and their places in the world. They’ve had very successful careers and they don’t feel threatened that they’ve gotten older. For some people, it’s tough for them to look at themselves and laugh. Not everyone can do that. I really admire those that can.

Alex Obert: What did you take out of the experience of doing all of those Golden Gods commercials?

Josh Bernstein: The cool thing about the awards show is that I was never asked to do anything specifically. It was never a situation where I was told what I needed to do. Revolver Magazine was about to go out of business in 2008 or 2009, we created the awards show as a way to try and save the business. I’m pretty sure my bosses at that time would’ve been happy if it was at an Elks Lodge somewhere. The skits that we did such as the one with Brian Posehn and the ones with Chris Jericho, those were maybe excuses for me to get my feet into the world of comedy writing and producing. We would just come up with these skits and ideas and write them and then film these ridiculous things. It doesn’t surprise anyone who’s watched Chris Jericho for years that he’s utterly hilarious. He’s trained at The Groundlings Theatre and he’s so creative. It was such a joy for everybody because he’s a diehard metal fan. The fact that we could say, “Do you wanna film a skit with guys like Rob Halford, Lemmy, Alice Cooper or Sebastian Bach?” It was always so much fun and we would look at each other like, “I can’t believe we’re in the room with these fucking guys.” And we’re getting them to say the dumbest shit. It’s really, really funny. Making those videos were some of the greatest times of my life. That was so much fun.

Alex Obert: It would be interesting if you did videos like those for the AP Awards. I just wonder how the company would view it since you did videos for Revolver.

Josh Bernstein: At Revolver, I had bosses who just cared about how much money the shows cost and how much they made. Revolver was part of a giant corporation owned by another corporation owned by Montgomery Burns or something, I don’t even know who it was owned by. It’s like an investment firm or something. I don’t really know who the real bosses were, but it was all about the bottom line there. So with that said, I was able to basically do whatever I wanted and what I thought was funny and best for the brand, as long as I made them money. With AP, my CEO is this guy Mike, and he is a real person. Not a suit. He started AP magazine in his bedroom when he was nineteen because he had mono and was bored. And I started a magazine in my bedroom when I was nineteen because I had mono and was bored. I did that for fourteen years. We have a huge amount of mutual respect for each other. He’s got this brand independently owned for thirty years. I’ve learned that there’s just as much integrity in the punk space than in the metal space and I saw it in action. He’s been much more careful about me adding in comedy elements and stuff like that on the show and treating it like a joke. It’s a serious awards show with a lot of funny parts. It’s not a joke. I did do some funny video commercials with The Misfits and Mark Hoppus. With that said, I wrote a comedy sketch for Ice-T this year that I thought was one of the better parts of the awards show. Ice-T and Body Count come on the stage and they’re announced as the security team for the awards show. And they give the audience rules on how to behave, as well as rules for the other bands. When I wrote this, I showed it to my wife and she was like, “This is fuckin’ racist. You can’t have him say this.” And I told her, “No it’s cool, I saw Body Count in concert and he curses the entire time. I swear. It’s totally cool. Motherfucker is his last name!!” If he was saying all this stuff on stage, it would set the tone for the awards show. This is fun, Ice-T’s here. He was basically like, “If you don’t accept the award and get off stage, someone’s gonna get shot.” And people were like, “Oh shit… I guess I shouldn’t give a long speech then. Otherwise, Ice-T’s gonna kill me.” And the people who won awards were like, “I better get off stage so I don’t piss off Ice-T!” And it naturally became a reoccurring skit. It’s like what Jericho talked about in his latest book where he wanted everyone to call him a douche on stage at the Golden Gods. By the end of the show, he pretty much went heel. He was supposed to be our face and he went heel. I asked him if he really wanted to do this and he was like, “Yeah, let’s go heel!” My co-workers weren’t sure what was going on because the crowd was chanting douche at him. I had to explain that that’s what he wanted. At this show, we made Ice-T the cool heel. He was basically an antihero like Stone Cold Steve Austin or Dean Ambrose, it really worked out great. I think if more people took lessons from pro wrestling, it would be a better world. (laughs)

Alex Obert: I’m guessing Black Veil Brides took those lessons for the 2013 Golden Gods Awards!

Josh Bernstein: Those kids are great and they get such a bum rap from metal fans. Music fans either love them or wanna fuckin’ murder them. I think that’s great. People don’t feel that way about Tom Petty. They don’t say, “I wanna fuckin’ kill Tom Petty!” It’s more like, “Yeah, that’s Tom Petty. There he is. Free Fallin’ and shit, I get it.” Black Veil Brides get such intense love and anger, there’s something to be said for that. They were drinking that night and they got on stage to rightfully win that fan award. But they were on stage and they lost it. Jericho and I were right behind where they’re standing, there was a little host pit there, and we’re dying laughing. Chris was like, “Oh shit! Heel turn! Heel turn!” Afterwards, we all went upstairs to the bar and Andy Biersack was like, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! Why did I do that?” I was like, “Dude, don’t apologize. Though I don’t know if you should have called the audience fat fucks.” I’ve worked with him so many times since and he still feels so bad about that night. When we had the AP Awards, I was like, “Listen, you’re gonna be appreciated here.” (laughs) Those poor guys are never gonna win over that older metal audience. Metal is its own worst enemy because of the self-imposed metal police that dictates who’s metal and who’s not. Anyone who makes music and gets on stage has my respect. But man, that was like a wrestling promo on stage. He was grabbing his crotch and giving the middle finger. Jericho and I were crying laughing, we were enjoying it so much backstage. I think most producers of a normal show would be like, “Oh my god! Cut to commercial! This is a disaster!” This was a rock and roll awards show, there should be much more of this. Why is everybody being so buttoned up?

Alex Obert: Speaking of Chris Jericho, what do you think of the new Fozzy album?

Josh Bernstein: I think it’s their best album to date. I was in a band about ten years ago. I hate this classification, but we started out as a “joke band,” much like Fozzy did. They were doing the whole Fozzy Osbourne concept with the costumes and wigs. They did something very, very hard; which was converting a joke band into a real band. I don’t really know any other band that has had any success in doing that. It’s a really hard transition and they are coming out the other side successfully.

Alex Obert: What about Steel Panther?

Josh Bernstein: They write their own music, but most people would say they’re a joke band. Are they better musicians than anyone they’re making fun of? A billion percent. But no one will consider them a real band in that classic sense, which is a crime. And I don’t mean that as an insult to the guys, they’re entertainers and I think they would admit this themselves. They’re entertaining and they’re a live show, you go and you know you’re going to be entertained. And the songs are very funny. But that’s what I’ve always had an issue with, can you be funny and still be seen as an artist? Weird Al Yankovic is one of my idols and no one will say he’s an artist. They’d just say he’s making jokes. But why can’t jokes be an art? With Fozzy, I really admire that Chris never really relied on the fact that he’s a wrestling star. He’s always understood that. In the rock world, he started at the bottom. Much like coming up in Mexico or Japan in wrestling, he knows that there’s dues you have to pay. Wrestle in the high school gyms and sleeping on floors. On the music side of things, he has done that for ten years. He goes out there and does all the meet and greets and gets dinners with all the fans. I’m sure some of them are there to see Y2J and see a wrestler singing, but it’s not a joke to them. Their music and songwriting has gotten better and better. They’ve always been great because Rich and those guys, they’re great players. Rich was in Stuck Mojo, metal guys have respect for a band like that because they were the predecessors of a lot of the popular bands today. I think their records have only gotten better and better. They’ve gotten on better bills and better tours. He’s taking it further than most of his peers ever have. Proud of those guys.

Alex Obert: Regarding the future of the APMAs, who would you like to invite to be at the show?

Josh Bernstein: We’re in the planning stages of next year’s show, it’s going to take place July 22nd in Cleveland. It’s tough because you have to consider having those who will put butts in seats on the show. But if I had my own personal picks, it would be all my punk rock idols. It’d be Sex Pistols and Fear and X and Black Flag. I’d love to reunite Operation Ivy. Rancid. Green Day. All of those bands on that stage would be wonderful. The great thing about AP is that having been around for thirty years, they were really the first magazine to give so many of my favorite bands their first national covers. And that’s everyone from Nirvana to Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails and Manson and Jane’s Addiction up to the Slipknots and Limp Bitzkits of the world to the Fall Out Boys and My Chems. The sky’s the limit. I’d like to get Iggy Pop there too. For me, I lean towards the first wave of punk and the protopunk stuff such as The Stooges, Dolls, MC5, Dead Kennedys and all that good stuff. But with that, it’s tough because a lot of these bands are defunct or unfortunately have key deceased members. With the awards shows, to put it with the same metal police, there’s the punk police. Is there anything less punk than an awards show? Probably not. So it’s tough to get some of these people I idolized to go there and play.

Alex Obert: With all the names that you have interacted with, have you ever felt starstruck?

Josh Bernstein: We were doing the Most Metal Athlete Award for the Golden Gods and of course, I’d always nominate a wrestler. Last year we did it, we nominated Triple H. and he completely destroyed in the voting, totally won. I became friendly with his former assistant. He couldn’t make the event, but he made a video where he thanked Lemmy and a bunch of other people. I told his assistant that I had the trophy for Triple H and I could come to a Smackdown taping to drop it off. He told me to come backstage because Triple H wanted to meet. And I was like, “Oh my god, how cool is this?” I go backstage with my friend who is the head writer and get brought over to talk to Triple H. We met him and he was super cool. He was like, “You’re the guy from Revolver? Hang on one sec. Where’s the camera crew? Let’s get some photos with these guys.” So the WWE.com camera crew comes over and take great shots of us together, I’m trying to stand on my tippy toes so I look a little taller next to the guy. Paul Heyman walked in the room and I freaked out. I don’t know why out of all people, but I’m a Paul Heyman Guy. I’m backstage all the time at concerts and I’ve been in some cool scenes, but this did it. It was Paul Heyman, I was completely starstruck. I wanted to get a photo where I look like I’m a Paul Heyman Guy. (laughs) I got so nervous though, I couldn’t approach. We were literally holding court with Triple H, Stephanie, Chris Jericho and Mick Foley, yet I couldn’t go over and say hi to Paul Heyman. I was too nervous. It was really rare. He’s the greatest manager and the greatest talker of all time. When he was backstage, I just turned into fangirl! (laughs)

Alex Obert: What would you say is your favorite match of all time?

Josh Bernstein: I was lucky enough to have seen Shawn and Razor at Wrestlemania X live, I was there. And that was really great. But I still think Savage/Steamboat is still the best match, that’s a beautiful match. There was the match with Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio from WCW that was out of control, that one’s so good. I’ll say the most sacrilegious thing you can’t say anymore, I remember seeing some Kurt Angle/Chris Benoit matches that I thought were out of control too. And there’s that Benoit/Jericho match against Stone Cold and Triple H. What a match! Oh my god, what a crime they can’t show it. That ones up there. But with Savage/Steamboat, it doesn’t really get much better than that. You have everything else included from Miss Elizabeth to George “The Animal” Steele, it’s a perfect match and a well told story.

Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to fill readers in on?

Josh Bernstein: I recently got to go to the University of Dayton in Ohio and I gave the keynote speech on the business of heavy metal, it was really rewarding. This was at a three-day heavy metal symposium with all these great teachers came out and spoke about different areas of heavy metal. I closed with a speech about the business side. That was really fun. I don’t know if the video footage will go up or what the plans are with that. There’s a couple other things in the mix ahead. The main thing would be the AP Awards coming up this summer. I’m gonna be working on that, it’s the main project I’m most excited about. It’s going from a one day event to a three day event, much like Wrestlemania has a Hall of Fame show and the Fan Axxess. I’m deliberately borrowing from their concept to make this a destination you can go to for a couple days if you’re a fan. Expect it to be much bigger and better!

Alex Obert: It sounds like a can’t miss event! I would love to thank you so much for your time and I really appreciate it.

Josh Bernstein: My pleasure, man.

Official Website for Josh Bernstein
Rock And Roll Roast Series
Alternative Press Music Awards

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