April 2, 2006
The Bravo reality-TV series "Blow Out," featuring the adventures of celebrity hairstylist and human bobble-head Jonathan Antin, is now clipping along in its third season.
What a time to be alive.
If you haven't seen the show, let me get you up to speed. Jonathan is the surreally well-groomed 38-year-old owner of two posh hair salons, one in West Hollywood, the other in Beverly Hills. When the cameras find him in the first season, he's trying to get the Beverly Hills store up and running while dealing with his high-strung and emotional staff, the most high-strung and emotional of whom is Jonathan himself. Bratty and narcissistic, constantly late, constantly overwhelmed, the man seems to live in a vortex of self-dramatizing crisis. He brings man-crying to a new level.
Season two's narrative evolves around the successful launch of Jonathan hair-care products. He throws full-on bitch-fests over minor setbacks, nearly comes to blows with his packaging designer, and along the way he cuts glamazon hair, goes on QVC, gets engaged, vents to his shrink, and cries. A lot. Perhaps the most notorious boohoo comes after he learns the cosmetics chain Sephora is picking up his product line. It's like Jackie Coogan in "The Kid." All in all, good trashy TV.
"Blow Out" is produced by the same people who brought you "The Restaurant," the reality show about chef Rocco DiSpirito's doomed venture in Manhattan. And like "The Restaurant," "Blow Out" holds out the temptation to, well, visit the set, to audit the reality behind a popular reality-TV show. If you have the time and the money—$500 for a man's haircut—you can actually go to Jonathan's, sit in his chair and get your hair styled by this fascinating lunatic.
And, lucky for me, I needed a haircut.
True to form, Jonathan was an hour late for our appointment at the West Hollywood salon, which gave me time to consider my mission. Or reconsider. After all, I wouldn't let Rocco DiSpirito make me a ham sandwich. What if Jonathan was actually, you know, lousy at cutting hair?
I have many fine theories about this show, which is obviously a satire of Hollywood vanity, excess and eccentricity, all helpfully summed up by Jonathan himself. I strongly suspect he's in on the joke, which would number him among a new breed of reality-TV performers. Call them meta-egotists—performers like Bobby Brown and Anna Nicole Smith and Paris and Nicole and the Donald—whose talent, as it were, is to be the worst versions of themselves for the benefit of the cameras. There are moments when Jonathan couldn't seem more self-satisfied if he had feasted on his own leg.
When at last Jonathan arrives, he seems like a decent enough fellow. Somewhere south of 5 feet, 10 inches, he is compact and muscular, a plucked and man-scaped cross between Jeff Gordon and a young Robert Conrad. I ask him why it always seems as if he's in full-tilt diva-meltdown mode. "I save up stuff for the show," he admits. "Nine months out of the year, what you see is this, me cutting hair. What do you think? I'm pretty normal, right?" I'm reserving judgment.
After a shampoo by Clarissa (fans of the show will know) Jonathan tells me what he has planned. "I'm thinking a look like Steve McQueen, a young Paul Newman, and a little Brad Pitt in 'Seven,'" he says. Yeah, I say, that sounds good.
As Jonathan cuts away—first with electric clippers then with his $2,500 shears—he tells me his story. He was a high-school dropout and hard-partying Hollywood kid who wanted to be an actor (his brother is the actor/director/producer Steve Antin, and his sister, Robin Antin, is the impresario of the cabaret show Pussycat Dolls). Inspired by the Warren Beatty movie "Shampoo," Jonathan—who is plainly not gay and is actually kind of a horn dog—went to beauty school, where he discovered that he absolutely, positively loved to cut hair. "This is what I am about," he says. "I'm about great hair. See that line I just cut in your hair? I know there is nobody in the world can cut that better than me. That's perfect."
Plainly, Jonathan digs being Jonathan, but he seems far more self-aware, and smarter, than he does on the show. "Well, look, I grew up in this town," he says. "I understand entertainment. I do." He asks me if I have seen the billboard of him on Sunset Boulevard. "It's bigger than Denzel's!"
I do get a little dish. On Jonathan's arm is a tattoo that says, "Thy will not mine be done," an invocation of powerlessness that suggests he has a 12-step program in his history. Also, Jonathan smokes (but never, apparently, on camera). He's a six-handicap golfer. And lastly, he shaves his hairline with a razor, which is partly why his thick black hair has that unnaturally manicured, almost polymerized look, like G.I. Joe on shore leave. "You wouldn't think cutting back the hairline would make men look younger, but that sculpting takes years off," he says.
One hour and 35 minutes later, Jonathan plasters some of his eponymous product in my hair. He hands me the mirror. I'm stunned. It's the most amazing haircut in history. It's gorgeous. My hair lies down like sable fur. It is, in fact, perfect. I begin referring to my hair in the third person, as in, "Would you like to touch Dan's hair?"
Whatever else Jonathan is—Type-A man-child, media chimera, master marketer, court jester in pop's empty kingdom—he is a virtuoso in the salon. My hair has never looked so bangin'.