Special Logistics: A (Second) Interview with Noel Casler
The former "Celebrity Apprentice" talent handler talks about everything from Nixon to Michael Jackson to Atlantic City mobsters to addiction & recovery, and dishes on Donald, Ivanka, and Junior.
|Greg Olear||Sep 15, 2020||65||4|
My May 1 interview with Noel Casler, the comedian and talent handler who worked on Celebrity Apprentice for six seasons, is far and away the most popular post on PREVAIL. Since then, I’ve been dying to ask him more questions. He was gracious enough to give me that opportunity.
Below is a second, and much longer, Q-and-A with the vocal Trump antagonist and mandatory Twitter follow:
GO: Last time, we talked mostly about the Trump family, and the weird shit you saw on Celebrity Apprentice. I’d like to start off today by taking a step back and providing more context. I want to hear about your background. From what I’ve gleaned from your tweets and various broadcast appearances, you’re from Manhattan, and you went to a prep school there. Can you give us a bit more about your early life? What your parents did, where you went to school? You know, the David Copperfield shit, as Holden Caulfield has it.
NC: Great to talk to you again Greg. I’m actually not from Manhattan. I went to high school up in Westchester County in the late 80s. I passed on prep school and went to a great public school that to me felt like something out of a John Hughes movie.
GO: Same! Great public high schools FTW!
NC: A lot of my friends went to private school, and I mention Bill Barr, who went to Horace Mann, and his father, who was at Dalton and then Hackley School, where they called him “Chester the Molester.” My parents were hippies for lack of a better term, and my early childhood was spent outside of Washington, DC, and summers with my father up in Woodstock. We would also go to Ireland, where my paternal grandfather moved his family after a fight with Kissinger over the bombing in Cambodia.
GO: Wait—you mean a fight in his own mind, or an actual fight with actual Kissinger, like in person?
NC: My grandfather, Harry S. Casler, was a lifetime foreign service officer and attached to Nixon for most of his career. My maternal grandfather was also in the NSA; both served in Naval Intelligence during World War II. The best family anecdote about my paternal grandfather, who could basically walk into the Oval Office as his government rating and clearance was akin to a Five-Star General: He would have Thanksgiving dinner with General Westmoreland, and my grandparents would visit the Nixons in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for cocktails and stuff. Anyway the best story was when Nixon was VP, my grandfather accompanied him to Venezuela right after the US had backed a coup. When they were leaving in the morning, he told Nixon that they should avoid driving through Caracas and take a more circuitous route to the airport, given the tensions. Nixon in his arrogance insisted that they drive through the city in the presidential limo—and that’s the famous tape of the car being surrounded by protesters pushing it side to side.
My grandfather was in the back with Dick, going, “You son of bitch! I’m never gonna see my kids again because of you.” Anyway, the final falling out was over the illegal bombing, and mind you, my grandfather was one of the intelligence officers in the bombers over Dresden telling them where to drop the ordnances to create the cyclone of fire. That’s how he began his career. The Vietnam War was too much, and Nixon only listened to Kissinger by the end and only cared about his political fortunes, as we well know. That never ends well.
GO: Oh, wow. That’s impressive. I had no idea. If I were attached to Nixon for all that time, I’d leave the country, too.
NC: So both of my parents were “Army Brats,” for lack of a better term, and spent their childhoods living overseas. They met as freshmen in a small liberal arts college in Maryland, and I was born when they were 19 and named after Jimi Hendrix’s bass player. It only got weirder from there, I won’t digress further. LOL.
GO: Better than Mitch Mitchell Casler, for sure. I assumed you were named for the other comic genius Noel C., Noel Coward, who said, “Television is not for looking at, it is for appearing on.” Which is a clumsy segue, but so be it. Your job in the industry is very specific. Can you tell us a little more about your work background, celebrities you’ve worked for, what the job entails, and so on?
NC: I was basically a talent handler in live television for 25 years. That’s a very specific thing that sounds simple but can get complicated quickly. I began my career in TV in 1993 on the Kennedy Center Honors; that show is run by the “A Team” of TV crew and production personnel. A lot of the same folks that brought you that amazing DNC Convention a few weeks ago were the people I worked with my entire career. Once you get in that very small niche, most people don’t leave. I worked on everything from the Grammy Awards and Tony Awards to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, VMAs, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Daytime Emmys, etc. I have worked with and escorted everyone from Michael Jackson to Mr. Rodgers to Madonna to Mavis Staples. A lot of Britney Spears and Boy Band stuff in the 90s for MTV. Jimmy Carter to Rudy Giuliani to Aretha Franklin. Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Elton John, Elvis Costello, I did the 9/11 Memorials, President Obama’s Inauguration, Good Will Games, the 12/12 Hurricane Sandy Benefits. More VH1 and live variety shows than I care to remember at this point, but the job is always essentially the same. You “escort” the talent and make sure they hit their live mark and are delivered to a DGA Stage Manager at the appropriate time during a live broadcast. This sounds simple, but there are a million moving parts, and your job is to sort of be a buffer between the artist’s management and the producers of the show.
GO: Nothing about escorting Michael Jackson or Madonna or Britney Spears anywhere sounds simple. Although I’d wager that Fred Rogers and Bruce Springsteen were a relative cake-walk.
NC: There is a lot of diplomacy and decorum involved, and if things go poorly you are the one both sides will blame. That’s part of the gig too. Madonna is definitely not for amateurs, and I have ALL the Britney Stories, LOL. Bruce is the high water mark in my industry. MJ wasn’t really my thing, and I quit the last job I had with him, a “Jackson Reunion” at MSG. I had been his escort at the VMAs a few days before and it was too much for me, so I bowed out of the reunion and went to a cabin I had up in Woodstock at the time. In a way I owe Michael, because had I taken the gig, which was on September 10, 2001, I would have been downtown on 9/11. A side note: apparently MJ, Marlon Brando, and Liza Minnelli, who were all part of the special at MSG, rented a car and drove cross-country in the days after the attack. Can you imagine stopping for gas in Kansas somewhere and seeing that crew pull up in a rental car?
GO: It’s like a poisoned version of one of those posters of Bogart and James Dean and Marilyn Monroe they hang up in diners. I wonder which one of them drove? But back to talent handling. Sounds like being an umpire in baseball: you only notice if they screw up.
NC: Exactly. That being said, the same people, like myself, get hired over and over by talent executives, as they know that those experiences and particular skill set have to be lived and cannot be taught. My specialty was what would be known as “special logistics talent,” as I was one of the most experienced in that industry.
GO: Now there is a euphemism. It runs in the family, Noel! Richard Nixon was “special logistics” for sure!
NC: I also toured with rock bands as a road manager, an off-shoot of the relationships I developed by working with bands in live TV. But that’s a whole different story. It was basically my fault that CSN—the last band I toured with, in 2015—broke up.
GO: A guy named after Jimi’s bassist should tour with rock bands. The first rule of talent handling is, you don’t talk about the talent. One of the understood requirements of handling talent is that you keep your mouth shut about their foibles. Why did you decide to speak out about the Trumps?
NC: I have never broken that rule until I spoke out on Trump, by the way, and I have seen some crazy stuff. Trump is the most dangerous person on the planet right now. I spoke out because the guy that I saw and that everyone who worked with him saw going back to the Miss Universe Pageants was the biggest narcissist and drug addict I have ever encountered—and I have met a few.
GO: He is the only addict ever to have drugs shoot out of his nose during a press conference while serving as President of the United States, so there’s that.
NC: Trump is on a different level. It’s as if he exists to break things. He walks into any room, and all he sees is what he can take from any given moment for himself—whether that is sexually humiliating his daughter or groping women he had just met moments before. He is a dangerous psychopath, full stop, and I believe he would destroy this country to protect his ego and his fragile and damaged sense of self. Pile decades of stimulant abuse on top of that, and you have a toxic brio that would make Hannibal Lecter blush.
GO: Lecter at least was a gentleman, and a man of culture.
NC: I’m not joking: under the surface Trump is much darker than most people realize.
GO: That has begun to trickle out, these glimpses of his ugly, sadistic nastiness. The way he went on and on about maiming refugees coming to the country. You can see it when one of the women pisses him off during a press conference. Trump is an abuser, and we are a nation of battered spouses. I’m glad you spoke out.
NC: I spoke out because the fate of our country lies in the balance. We’ve already gone far beyond things that at one time would be unthinkable for the United States, and I am far from a Pollyanna about our history. Kids in cages? Letting industry write environmental policies, firing whistleblowers and scientists? It’s insane, the amount of damage that has been done in a few short years, and it will already take decades to dig out.
GO: The damage is incalculable.
NC: Some things may never recover. Saguaro Cactuses at the border are being cut down to make way for a border wall that started as nothing more than a mnemonic device cooked up by a coked-out Roger Stone and Sam Nunberg to help Trump remember to be more racist at early MAGA rallies. Most of those cactuses have been in this country a few hundred years longer than anyone with the last name Trump. Not that how long you have been here is any determination of belonging, but it’s especially ironic that he is cutting them down to stop immigration, the very thing that makes our country special. Also, that border wall is just an excuse to get kickbacks from his contractors.
GO: That particular grift is lifted right from George Bluth on Arrested Development. Which is both funny and fucking insane.
NC: Trump does nothing without money in it for him. That’s his primary concern in all policy decisions, and that goes back to his NYC Mob days.
GO: You mean his Russian mob days, after David Bogatin bought into Trump Tower in the mid-80s and through to the present, or the Italian mob days, while he was growing up as the obnoxious son of a Genovese front man?
NC: I guess I mean both. There’s so much there to talk about we should dive deeper in a longer format sometime, but I will say this: Think about the fact that when Trump went into Atlantic City and built those tacky casinos (one of which, Taj Mahal, the executives mysteriously died in a rental chopper, even though Trump owned his own fleet of helicopters; he just happened to miss the flight the day it crashed, killing his executives, who were talking to feds in an money-laundering investigation. It went down in the pine barrens a few minutes after take off with a hairline crack in its rotor.) So he built those casinos and stiffed the contractors, the tradesmen who put in the carpets, the brass rails, etc. Some of those guys never recovered financially and committed suicide because of it. He would sue them and pay pennies on the dollar if at all. Think about how untouchable you have to be to commit fraud and stiff contractors in South Jersey and live to tell about it. Any one of those guys could have met a guy who “painted houses” in a diner and given him an envelope full of cash to seek revenge. It never happened, because no one would take the job. Trump was above the law, even by Cosa Nostra standards. He still is above the law, but now it’s Putin protecting him instead of “Fat” Tony Salerno.
GO: I’ve heard from other sources that in real life, pre-Trump being president, Ivanka was a nice person—not at all like the breathy cylon of Fox News fantasy she’s become. True?
NC: 100% true of her being a different person. “Nice” isn’t a word I would ever attach to her, though. Polite and polished, certainly. Vanky doesn’t even have the same voice. Her real voice is an octave lower; you can hear it in her early “modeling years” interviews and on an appearance on Conan’s old NBC Show. That breathy sibilant ‘S’ cooing voice was developed to give her father “pants feelings.” I know; I was her handler for the last few seasons of Celebrity Apprentice.
GO: Shudder. I just realized that I’m so used to the “Donald wants to bang Ivanka” narrative that I don’t even really process it any more when I hear it, so I want to take a moment to acknowledge how creepy and disturbing it is to have that sort of pervert in the White House.
NC: It’s beyond creepy, and there are literally dozens of pics to back up the creepiness. When I talk about her giving her father a lap dance on Miss Teen USA, it’s not a joke. Look at the pic everyone has seen of her on his lap at Mar-a-Lago. Look at the eyes of the other couples sitting next to them. They are creeped the ‘f’ out—as one should be. Also, that pic is from 1996, I think, and Vanky was 15 or so. The excuse was made that she was just rocking out to the band. Do you know who the band was that night? The Beach Boys! How many 15 year old girls in 1996 though Mike Love was such a dreamboat that just couldn’t help but dance on Daddy’s lap?
GO: “We’re gonna have fun fun fun till her Daddy takes Ivanka away…”
I’ve heard nice things about pre-presidency Ivanka, but no one seems to have anything nice to say about Junior. He seems like a spoiled, petty troll—the bad guy from the John Hughes movie your high school reminds you of. The kind of guy who checks the labels on your tie and shirt to make sure you’re not wearing knock-off brands. The kind of guy who can’t hold his liquor. What was he like, before all of this?
NC: Don Jr.—or Scrump, as I nicknamed him on CA: a combo of scrotum & Trump.
NC: I know it’s rude, but if you met him you would see it’s a fitting sobriquet. He’s the kind of guy who would make the Dalai Lama want to punch him in the face. Openly racist, infinitely entitled and arrogant and as much if not more of an addict than his father. He is clearly in the throes of a serious relapse. He was the type who would say “Do you know who my father is?’ after pissing himself in his dorm room. I met Martin Shkreli once, at NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, another event I did for about 13 years—NBA All-Star, they are the gold standard in sports, FYI.
GO: Oh, I’m aware. I’m a huge NBA fan.
NC: Shkreli and I stayed in the same hotel, and he is the only other human who gave me the same immediate visceral gut punch of a reaction just by looking at his face. They might have been separated at birth, LOL.
GO: And Shkreli is in prison, which is where Junior will wind up! There’s such balance in nature.
You have spoken openly about being in recovery. How long? I don’t want to pry, but I’m interested in any details that you’d care to share.
NC: Fifteen years. I work an active program, and it hasn’t been a straight line, and if anyone out there struggles, feel free to reach out to me. I have been there. I don’t talk about it too much in terms of specifics, as it’s one of the tenets of recovery. I wouldn’t want my political view getting in the way of someone seeking help but am happy to share what has worked for me and can tell you there is definitely hope and will happily share my experience with you. I will say when I call out Trump and his kids and certain members of his cabinet, I am not doing it to pass any sort of moral judgment on active addiction. It’s a disease in my opinion, a mental obsession combined with a physical allergy. Active addiction is based in self-centered fear and resentment, and that’s the last thing you want in a leader. They wouldn’t let an airplane pilot anywhere near the cockpit if he showed up for work looking the way Trump does at most press conferences. You think that flop sweat is natural? All that orange pancake make-up is to cover his blotchy skin. The guy is basically a walking gin blossom.
GO: You went to the Hillary people, and to People magazine, but the media has largely ignored you as a source on the Trumps. Why do you think that is?
NC: Actually the HRC campaign reached out to me. I was doing the New Yorker Festival at the time, with Bruce Springsteen and Louis C.K. at Town Hall, the day they contacted me. I remember it like it was yesterday; it also feels like a hundred years ago. We had a mutual colleague from President Obama’s Inaugurations. I spoke with them on background and told them everything I knew, and they put me on to People, who contacted me and said, “We’re gonna do a cover story on Trump’s history of sexual assault.” This was around the same time Mark Burnett had threatened to sue anyone who spoke out from the Apprentice days. I put a lot of my colleagues in touch with New York Times reporters and asked them to speak out.
GO: Most of them didn’t.
NC: The general consensus was that Trump wasn’t going to win anyway, so why damage your career. I kinda believed that as well, and I think the HRC camp felt the same. A lot of my colleagues were with HRC Election Night at the Javits Center—it was going to be a big party and live show. I remember getting texts from backstage with like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry slumped in a chair crying—everyone was in shock. I wish I had done more, previous to that night. That’s when I walked away from live TV and became a stand-up comedian, to get my info out to a broader public forum. Just to kind of let people know who they were actually dealing with. I had realized The Apprentice really gave much of America a truly false sense of how Trump was a person.
GO: What was your very first encounter with Donald John Trump?
NC: VMAs in the 90s I think, might have been before I had pageant experience or after—but I remember him getting out of a limo on 51st St. by the carriage doors of Radio City Music Hall where the red carpet was set up. I think Vanky was his date. I remember him getting out and waving at the crowd, and I turned to an NYPD officer who had been hired for red carpet security. He said, “You never met Trump before? That guy is the biggest poon hound in NYC. I was on his detail—that dude goes out to clubs every night and parties and hits on models.”
GO: You live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan—next door, you said, to Larry Kudlow. That dude does not look well.
NC: Yes, Carnegie Hill. Larry looks troubled indeed. I hope he finds the help he needs. That’s the last guy you want making economic policy right now. Trust me. I wouldn’t trust him with the proceeds of a bake sale, let alone our nation's economy. His doormen hated him, too, which always tells you a lot about a person, especially in NYC.
GO: Did you ever encounter Epstein?
NC: Yes, I saw Jeffrey and Ghislaine at many NYC events. His mansion on E.71 Street is not far from the Russian Consulate, which is no coincidence. He also lived next door to Howard Lutnick, which is again quite convenient, and Jeffrey’s brother brokered the sale to Howard—your readers may know him as the head of Cantor Fitzgerald. Ghislaine would hang out with Donald and Melania, and they were frequent guests at the old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions that used to be held in the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom. Now it’s a big HBO show, but back in the day it was like a small fundraiser, and moneyed NYC types would purchase tables. I did a lot of events like “Angel Ball” that Ghislaine would also attend. Part of the con of these folks is that spending money at charity events buys them a veneer of respectability and helps hide their nefarious lifestyles.
GO: Hiding in plain sight.
NC: I did the Victoria’s Secret Runway Shows as well, and Leslie Wexner would be around. I think Jeffrey had already taken his plea deal by then and was hiding out in Palm Beach “serving his time.” He sure didn’t think he was getting busted when he came back on the scene a couple summers ago though….I find that very interesting.
GO: Lately you’ve been going hard at Kellyanne Conway. Is it just what you read in the press, or do you have inside info on her?
NC: Just what I see of her appearances and see in the press. People were sure quick to give her a pass when she announced that she was leaving the White House. In my book, if you help a man lock up babies in cages, you’re guilty for life. Speaking of books, I look forward to reading Anonymous. Wink, wink. Good talking with you again Greg.
GO: Thanks for coming back!
Photo: Noel at the “Celebrity Apprentice” finale.