Pittsburgh is lucky to have Billie Nardozzi.
He’s been publishing short, memorable poems in the Post-Gazette (at his own expense), writing and performing fight songs for the local sports teams and making regular appearances on 93.7fm The Fan for more than a decade. The songs and the poems are simple, but undeniably charming (he’s written heartfelt odes to Kinko’s and the Hyundai dealership in Dormont). In a time when negativity, sarcasm and de facto derision seem to permeate every interaction both on and off the internet, it’s refreshing to see somebody so candid and unabashedly sincere.
When he changed his byline from “Billy” to “Billie” and began favoring women’s clothing last year, the switch was announced in a series of poems and two billboards certifying his status as “Pittsburgh’s premier poet.” In a fittingly unguarded move, he included his home phone number on the billboards. While there have been a few cruel messages, he says the response has been overwhelmingly kind.
His attitude is contagious.
On Friday, Pittsburghers have a chance to witness the full breadth of Nardozzi’s talents with a one-person variety show at Glitter Box Theater. The night will include poem readings, music, pantomime, storytelling and a Q&A session. City Paper caught up with Nardozzi to discuss the show, the billboards, the clothes and his favorite poem.
What was your first time on stage?
Oh jeez. I was 7 years old, I had dressed up as a Beatle. It was in St. Cyril Methodius [church] and I sang “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Oh, I don’t know, I guess Paul?
So just a bowl cut?
Yeah. That would have to be my very first time standing in front of an audience.
Did you like it immediately?
It started the ball rolling. I got a nice response. It was always in me, the music.
What would you want the audience to take away from your upcoming variety show at Glitter Box?
[I want them] to say, “We saw a performance and it was a joyful thing. We walked away smiling.”
Would you want to do more shows like this?
Absolutely! All my life. It’s my complete happiness.
What are some misconceptions you think people have about poetry?
Most of those great poets, I don't think you can understand the way they write, that’s it. You don't understand, neither do I. Mine [are] very simple, not hard to understand. I think they’ll be surprised [at the show] if they don't know my poetry, how simple and down to earth it is.
Are there ones you like to go back to and re-read?
I always bring the same three or four to every reading. Of course, the one about — God rest his soul — my father. And the early one, “If I Met Jesus.” It wasn’t meant to be funny but they laugh at it. You know, I take him to McDonald's. “Couldn’t you take him to somewhere more expensive? Jeez!” [Laughs]
Do you still get nervous at readings?
I think anybody human with all those people there [would]. I’ve been in front of an audience since I was 7. … There’s always that chance that somebody might not like you, and that’s inside you, “I hope they like me.” That’s the kind of feeling I get, anyway. But I love doing it. I love making people happy, that’s why I do it!
You were quoted recently saying, “I let them [the audience] say who they think I am.” Why is that important to you?
Basically, I let them say who they think I am, [as a poet]. If I'm good. In the way that I dress. “What is he?” [Laughs] But whatever they say I am, I go with it. The audience, they’ll make you or break you. They’re the ones that make it happen. If somebody thinks you're someone and it makes them happy and they get a kick out of it, leave it alone. Let ‘em! Go ahead. On the other hand too, maybe derogatory things ... I get phone calls, not many are bad, but you gotta take it with a grain of salt. But if you’re in the spotlight, if you can’t take that, you have to get out of the game.
What’s it like passing by your billboards? Do you try to gauge if people are responding to them?
I’ve gone by once, maybe twice. [Post-Gazette reporter] Brian O'Neill, when he interviewed me, [we drove] past it and it was the first time I’d seen myself. It was kinda crazy. I looked at it and said, “I wonder what people really think. Who is this goof? What is he doing?” That was my reaction when I first saw it. But on the other hand, it was very nice. It’s like, “Jeez! Up in the lights, not bad.”
What’s a question you get most often?
Usually everybody asks me about the way I dress. … They always ask me that. “Why do you dress like that? What is your reason?” My answer is that I love it. I feel comfortable. It’s me. It makes me happy. I’m very happy. It’s just me. I found me. [Laughs] You get crazy looks at stores, but I don't care. I’m happy with the way I look and that’s it. The metamorphosis occurred and I'm sticking with it.