The Phoenix.com Interviews Jennie Ketcham Formerly Penny Flame

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from www.thephoenix.com – Formerly known as Penny Flame, California native Jennie Ketcham spent her young adult years grinding as one of porn’s preeminent girls next door.

Despite sporadic complications with cocaine and a degenerate self-image, by age 25 the five-time Adult Video News Award winner had a beach-side condo and a big-body Benz, and was even mentoring young starlets. The mirage of her glamorous but toxic lifestyle vanished soon after she arrived on the set of Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew.

Though Ketcham’s sole intention was to fan her Flame, the show’s mandatory therapy inspired her to sober up and quit the industry. I asked the first-time author (of the memoir I Am Jennie, from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster) about rehabilitation, and about how writing one book compares to starring in hundreds of films and a VH1 reality show.

LAST TIME I SAW YOU WAS YEARS AGO AT HARVARD, WHERE YOU WERE SCHOOLING A GAGGLE OF UNDERGRADS ON THE INS AND OUTS OF THE ADULT MOVIE BUSINESS. WHAT ARE YOU UP TO RIGHT NOW?

At the moment, my friend’s son was just christened, so I drove up there to the Bay Area to support the family. That’s an average Sunday for me these days. Talk about a fucking change.

HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOU LEFT THE PORN INDUSTRY, AND WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO SINCE?

It’s been almost three and a half years since I left, and for most of that time I’ve been working as a hostess at a pan-Asian restaurant. It’s incredibly glamorous. Really though, it’s a totally humbling job, and I’m still just getting reacquainted with minimum wage and learning how to live on that. When I sold the book, I talked to my boss and took six months off to really dive into it. Oh — and I’m also going to school full-time at Cal-State Northridge to study psychology, but I’m on summer break right from that right now.

DO PEOPLE ACCEPT YOUR PAST IN THESE NEW SPACES?

It was all very awkward and uncomfortable to learn how to talk with people in the real world about things that don’t revolve around sex. I didn’t feel the need to tell everyone about my past, though, since it wasn’t like they would know me anyway. It’s not like I’m some majorly famous person — even if they did know me, they weren’t going to say it. So it turned out to be a challenging experience for me to keep my mouth shut and let people form their own opinions about who I am.

IS BECOMING A WRITER A VIABLE WAY OUT OF PORN?

Yes and no. I don’t know that this would work for everybody, since I’ve been so blessed with this whole thing. While it’s been incredible for me, it’s not your run-of-the-mill exit strategy. Quitting everything, cutting almost everyone out of your life, and going to therapy all the time is probably not the easiest way out.

WHEN DID YOU START TO FEEL COMFORTABLE IN YOUR SKIN?

Maybe tomorrow. I feel more comfortable in clothes now, though, which is a big step for me.

YOUR RE-AWAKENING HAPPENED TO COINCIDE WITH TIGER WOODS GETTING CAUGHT WITH HIS PANTS DOWN, WHICH IN A SENSE HELPED CATAPULT YOU INTO THE SPOTLIGHT AS AN EXPERT ON SEX ADDICTION. NOW THAT YOU’VE HAD SOME TIME TO LOOK BACK, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SEX ADDICTION AS IT’S SEEN BY THE MAJORITY OF AMERICANS?

It’s very similar to alcoholism, because it’s hard to think that sex could have addictive qualities — because then it means that you have to look at your own behavior and assess if you have a problem. It’s a shame that the publicity sex addiction has gotten has been mostly related to Tiger Woods, who hasn’t even come out as a sex addict. I guess any publicity is good, though, because it lets people know that they’re not the only ones out there struggling from this kind of compulsive behavior.

YOU HAPPEN TO BE A GIFTED WRITER. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’LL GET YOUR DUE, OR THAT BECAUSE OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU HAD A GHOST WRITER?

I did have someone who I worked very closely with — a writer and editor named Sarah Tomlinson. I thought of her as my sherpa — she’s a brilliant writer who would give me notes, and a kind and generous woman who just held me when I needed to be held. As for what people think — they can say whatever they want about me. I know what I put into this book, and I know what it did for me.

SO IS YOUR GOAL TO BE A FULL-TIME SCRIBBLER NOW?

It would be amazing to put food on the table with books, but whether or not I’m paid to do this, I plan to keep writing. Of course I would love to be able to live entirely on words — it would be amazing. The only thing is that I’m really afraid to put all of my eggs in one basket again — especially considering how the last basket turned out.

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