Raised an Orthodox Jew in northern New Jersey, Joanna Angel was a shy wallflower with a rebellious streak. In ninth grade, she pierced her bellybutton and started attending punk shows and political protests. She dyed her hair pink. She got her first tattoo on her 18th birthday — a theater mask with the words “so it goes” underneath.
As a college student at Rutgers University, her aspirations for her future changed with the wind. She was interested in human rights and philanthropy. She interned at a few magazines (including Nerve) and considered becoming a journalist or poet. Sometimes she fantasized about traveling the world.
But in her last year of college, with graduation on the horizon, her roommate proposed a unique business venture for them both: a porn site.
Drawn to the idea of doing something creative, being her own boss, and bucking the system in the process, she casually agreed. They found a friend who knew some HTML, took some topless photos, interviewed friends’ bands, wrote a few erotic stories, and launched BurningAngel.com in April of 2002. Joanna Angel had no idea where it would go:
To me, it was just a funny project that me and my friend were working on. I was in the punk rock scene, I was politically active and I went to protests – I was in this subculture that was trying to get the world’s attention, whether it was by the clothing we wore or things we were saying; we were always trying to tell the world something. Nobody was ever listening until I put a few naked girls on a website and everybody turns around and has something to say about it. I really liked that. Everybody has some sort of feelings toward porn, whether they love it, hate it or they’re uncomfortable . . . But I saw that porn was powerful — and that really enticed me.
Although Angel had never envisioned a career in the porn industry, she couldn’t stop coming up with new ideas for the site. By the time she graduated with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Film Studies, Burning Angel had been chugging along for a year. One year after that, she started shooting — and starring — in videos for the site. She found it much more exhilarating than taking still photos.
Angel went into porn completely unaware of the industry landscape, but that helped her much more than it hurt her. She simply shot what she wanted to shoot with people she found attractive, in scenarios that appealed to her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. And so, Burning Angel became a reflection of her community and culture — where ladies with tattoos, piercings, and candy-colored hair were the norm. The site came onto the scene before the word “alt” was ever coined to describe a genre of porn. But once it was, it was applied liberally to Joanna Angel’s work.
As the owner of Burning Angel, Angel is involved in every aspect of the business, from writing scripts to casting, directing, editing, and producing. She chooses new performers based on both appearance and personality, looking for a certain edgy spark. As a huge music lover, she works with bands and labels to put their music in her movies, and sometimes dabbles in songwriting herself. (She even received an AVN award nomination for her original song “Rock and Roll in my Butthole.”)
Burning Angel is loved for its often horror-themed parodies, such as The XXXorcist, Evil Head, and the latest addition, The Walking Dead: A Hardcore Parody. But the completely original efforts such as Baristas also stand out for their excellent writing, creative plot lines, and of course, hot sex.
Always, Burning Angel scenes and movies are colorful, sexy, and campy. Angel has said of viewers, “if they don’t get aroused, but laugh — at least they laughed.” It’s also really important to her that her female performers have orgasms.
Now in her eleventh year as CEO of Burning Angel, Joanna Angel has directed over 70 movies and won a host of AVN Awards, including “Most Outrageous Sex Scene” for her zombie movie Re-Penetrator (in which she kills her sex partner by pulling his intestines out). BurningAngel.com now boasts over 300 performers and 900 scenes, along with live shows, album reviews, band interviews, and an extensive community in which members and performers alike can interact. Like punk rock, the site is a bit of a subculture of its own.
Joanna Angel’s fame has even spawned a line of sex toys and landed her a few “mainstream” gigs, such as roles in indie horror films — but she has no plans to depart from her porn empire. She is perpetually busy, but when she does get a little downtime, she likes to try new recipes, drink wine, watch Teen Mom, and play Super Mario.
Listen to Joanna Angel’s recent interview on Tristan Taormino’s Sex Out Loud radio show, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website, Burning Angel.