You might be familiar with Tony Randel thanks to his appearance on season one of OutTV’s For The Love of DILFs, the reality dating show where daddies and himbos look for love under the watchful eye of Stormy Daniels; but there’s so much more.
In addition to being a reality TV star, Tony Randel is also a former Mr. Fire Island Bear (2022) and the creator and host of Big Men’s Social Club. Tired of hanging out in bear spaces that did not cater to people of color, Tony created the Big Men’s Social Club as an alternative for larger men of color to mix and mingle in a more comfortable environment. Now in its third year, this popular hangout and dance party takes place every second Saturday of the month at New York City’s Rebar.
We sit down for a discussion with Tony to see what led up to the creation of the Big Men’s Social Club, his experiences within the bear community and how For The Love of DILFs provides great representation.
John Hernandez: Hi Tony! Thanks for joining me. Tell me, when did you personally discover the bear community?
Tony Randel: Thanks for having me. I discovered the bear scene back in 1998, at the Rock Bar, but back then it was called the Dugout. Somebody just told me, “Yo, this is where the big guys hang out with the hairy guys.” My friends back then, they weren’t into that at all, but I decided I was definitely going down there to see what was going on. I remember getting down there and thinking, “Ohh, this is more my speed, people not so into their body weight.”
Back when I came out in the 90s, they made you feel like you had to be a certain size. I lost a lot of weight when I first came into the game, and I was working out like a crazy person and not eating and being very unhealthy. I was just drinking protein shakes all the time and working out six days a week. But then I realized, when I would be gaining a little bit of weight, people acted different towards me. People really changed the way they acted towards you because of the way you looked. It was literally all about your size. It was weird, like my face ain’t changed, I didn’t understand it. I really felt it was this whole bias against bigger men. That’s why I gravitated towards the bear community. I could be more myself and feel more comfortable.
John: What has your experience been in the bear scene as a man of color?
Tony: I feel it’s so much harder for bears of color. For somebody like me, who’s done all the stuff that I’ve done, not to toot my own horn, but I know if I was Latino or white, I would be way more held up, have more opportunities, have way more things going on than what I have. I feel it’s a hard thing to be a part of a community that really doesn’t love you back. I feel like black people are on the bottom of this subculture, then Latinos and then white. And even when people desire you, you’re the most beautiful thing in the world to them until you want a relationship. Then they’re like, “Ohh, wait, hold up.” It’s jacked up.
John: That’s terrible. I appreciate you sharing your truth with us. We need to keep having these discussions to hopefully facilitate change out there. Can you tell us about when you launched the Big Men’s Social Club and why?
Tony: It was supposed to be in 2020, but the pandemic happened so it got postponed for a whole year. The first party was in 2021 at the Rock Bar. I started it because I felt like everybody in the bear community had their own thing going on. Every bar had a Latin night or some sort of bear night which was predominantly white. There was really nothing for bears of color who didn’t want to hear techno music all night long. We want to hear R&B, we wanna hear hip hop. So that’s where the idea came from.
I’m that type of person. I was in these spaces and I’m like, “Oh my God, this music is killing me, but I’m here because of the guys that are here and because I’m more comfortable around these types of guys.” Luckily an opportunity presented itself. Around that time, I was doing an underwear modeling thing. I modeled for them and at the end of the day they interviewed me. They asked me about the whole bear scene, and I basically told them what I’m telling you, about the separation within it and stuff. And soon after one of them reached out to me from this photo shoot saying, “Listen, if I got you a venue, do you think you could throw that type of party for people of color?” And I was like, “yeah!”.
I decided to use the words ‘big’ and ‘men’ for the party. I don’t really use the word bear because not everybody considers themselves a bear. It’s just us big men, boys, whatever, and everybody’s welcome. It’s not only for men of color. To me it’s centered around the music. If you like that type of music and you’re a big guy and you like big guys, that’s what we’re trying to give.
John: It’s a great idea! I’m not a fan of techno or heavy house music either (laughs). But didn’t the party exist Uptown first?
Tony: Yeah. Well, it started at the Rock Bar, but we only held the first party there. Then it moved to Harlem, at Lambda Lounge for almost two years, and now it’s at Rebar.
John: And how did that come about?
Tony: I hosted a party at Rebar, a Bear Milk party. And I was just talking to the manager, telling them about Big Men’s Social Club and how I was already in talks to do the party at another bar in lower Manhattan but how there was also a lot of back and forth. And the manager at Rebar was just like “Listen, bring the party here, and we’ll work it out.” So, me and my friend that I do the parties with, we came and we had a meeting with them and we made the move. The plan was originally to do parties both in Harlem and at Rebar but it didn’t work out.
John: And how long has it been at Rebar now?
Tony: It’s been about six months. It’s a monthly party that happens every second Saturday of the month from 5 to 10, so you can come out, get your little drink on and then go about your night if you want to.
John: I like that it’s daytime. I know a lot of guys in my age bracket like daytime things. (laughs)
Tony: Trust me! I’m 54. I like going out and getting back home. (laughs)
John: Besides Big Men’s Social Club you have other ties to the bear community, you were Mr. Fire Island Bear 2022. How did that experience broaden your horizons?
Tony: It was mixed. Some people were really excited for me, and some people were like F-him. (laughs) The main thing it brought was me being on the TV show For the Love of DILFs. They loved the fact that I was involved with Fire Island and after I won the title, I started making a lot of reels. When they first introduced reels on Instagram, they were paying people to make them, so I was making videos every single day. One of the producers saw one of my videos, went to my page, liked what they saw, and reached out to me. They loved that I was Mr. Fire Island Bear and that I was a bit older. They asked me to audition for the show and I got it.
John: What was your experience like at DILF Mansion?
Tony: It was amazing. I’m super proud of that show, I always promote it. It’s not one of those hokey shows. I watch a lot of reality shows myself, so, I’d know if it was trash. I wouldn’t like it if it was not good, and it would not be the first thing you see on my page if that was the case. Plus season 2 just started. It covers every demographic – black, white, Latino, small, big – everything is on that show. And we all know when we don’t get the representation, we go crazy, so when the representation is there, we need to support it.
John: What advice would you give to the new cast?
Tony: Be yourself. Don’t make a character. Don’t come in here trying to have an agenda because people see through that. Even the producers don’t like that. They don’t like when you’re trying to be a character or you have one persona when the camera is on and another persona when the cameras are off. I talked to a friend of mine that’s been in the industry for a long time before I went in the house. He told me, don’t go in there and try to start fights if that’s not you, just be who you are. You have a good personality already, so just be yourself. And that’s what I did. I get a lot of positive feedback with people sending love to me in my inboxes. (laughs) So, I think it worked.
John: You can’t hope for better than that! Well, Tony thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and thank you for creating space for bigger men of color. We love to see it.