by Kevin Shaw
As a kid growing up in Birmingham, Ala. doing community theatre, you can never predict where your fellow performers/dreamers may end up one day. Perhaps one of the most farfetched ideas is that one of them would end up being a member of the most iconic disco band in history—The Village People, but that’s just what happened to my longtime friend Jim Newman five years ago when he was tapped to be the newest cowboy in the group!
Newman, who actually may be more recognized in the “gay world” as the “daddy” in the “Daddyhunt” Web Series, took some time to talk about how he ended up touring the world singing “YMCA” with the Kings of Disco.
Newman, center, as the cowboy in The Village People
How did you get picked to be in this iconic group as The Cowboy?
I had worked a long time ago with a guy who was one of the swings (understudy) for the group in case one of them got sick. This guy’s manager saw me on Broadway in a musical called Hands on a Hardbody in which I played a character from Texas.
He told the members of the group (who were looking for a new cowboy) that he knew a guy from Alabama (me) and they Googled me and saw where I had played a cowboy in lots of other venues— commercials, photo shoots, stage etc. and they saw all these images of me shirtless looking like a cowboy. So, Felipe Rose (who plays the Native American) said, “We gotta get this guy in here!”
They called me on my cell and, at first I said, “I’m not interested,” because I was in this theatre world and I was trying to get to the next level. I couldn’t believe The Village People were still around! Were they still alive?
That idea just didn’t appeal to me, so I said, “No, I’m not available.” Then, literally, three days later I went to the theatre and Hands on a Hardbody got its closing notice. I immediately picked up the phone and said, “Is that cowboy thing still open?!” I went and sang for them and they taught me a little bit of the choreography, and I got the job!
I thought this would be temporary until I could at least get a “real” job. In fact, I wanted an “out” in my contract so that I could quit if I found myself to be miserable. I did only, like, two performances and it was so freaking fun!
It was the opposite of what we do in theatre—I mean, everyone already loves you right when you walk onstage as The Cowboy! It’s about connecting with the audience since there’s no fourth wall, plus I have gotten to see the world and been treated so well!
It has been steady employment over the past several years which is unique to my world as an actor. The “hustle” of having to always look for work was gone. It has been a great job!
You’re the youngest of the group at 53. Most of the other members are now in the late 60’s. I guess this won’t last forever?
When I started in the group about five years ago, Felipe told me that they envisioned going about five more years and then they would all probably retire. Since then, I’ve been performing with Taylor Dayne, Belinda Carlisle, etc.—all these crazy people I listened to when I was still in high school!
I realize that I didn’t start with this group all those years ago, so I don’t see myself as being “really” famous, just part of something famous…I’m not delusional, but it’s been really fun and the best job I’ve ever had!