Musto on Jinkx Monsoon's Fame and Love!

7.29.2013

By Michael Musto

Plus: 'Queer As Folk' twink all grown up

Photo of Jinkx Monsoon by Wilson Models | Photo of Randy Harrison & Paul Anthony Stewart by Carol Rosegg

Not your cookie-cutter drag performer, Jinkx Monsoon doesn’t specialize in diva lipsynch impressions and rote bitchery. You may have sensed that already when Jinkx (a.k.a. Seattle-based Jerick Hoffer) donned an Edie Beale headwrap on RuPaul’s Drag Race and seemed to esoterically emerge out of the hollows of Grey Gardens. Bingo! The show had found its season five winner!

Right now, the rubber-faced, powerful-voiced Jinkx is reigning at NYC’s Laurie Beechman Theatre in The Vaudevillians, about a 1920s marital performing duo who have been frozen alive for 90 years and can now offer the original versions of songs you thought were created by Madonna, Britney, and Gaga

The bickering marrieds have been described as “a drug-addled whore and a bossy, closeted homosexual”—by Jinkx herself, in fact. But they entertainingly work out their issues as Jinkx’s Kitty Witless—accompanied by Richard Andriessen as hubby Dr. Dan Von Dandy--launches into audience participation routines, jokes about Joan Rivers and Alaska Thunderfuck, and a tune from A Doll’s House 2: Electric Boogaloo, which turns out to be a rip-roaring version of the disco classic “I Will Survive.” It’s inspired and zany fun—and so was my talk with Jinkx after I saw the show. 

Musto: Hi, Jinkx. Did your love life improve on winning Drag Race?

Jinkx Monsoon: No, I’d say the opposite. It’s extremely difficult. I’m never in the same city for more than a couple of days. I have to pay a lot of attention to the career and strike when the iron’s hot. Reality TV has kind of a half life when it comes to your relevance. You have to find your next niche and hopefully lay enough brickwork so when you’re last season’s chopped liver, you have something new.

Did you think you’d win?

I went into it wanting to do my best while being aware of my weaknesses. 

Which are…?

I’ve never considered myself a model or a stylist or a clothing designer. That competition definitely calls on all those things. 

But your Edie Beale thing was surely a major moment in your ascendance. Between that and your Vaudevillians turn, it seems you might be a little bit obsessed with the past. 

I always felt more connected, especially when it comes to music and pop culture. Today, it’s become about who’s the richest, bitchiest celebutante. The celebrities today don’t have to do anything. But when you look at Marilyn Monroe, even though she was a huge sex symbol, she was also a trained actress, singer, and dancer. Lucille Ball was a comedian, but also trained in classical acting and knew how to carry a melody if she had to.

Except in Mame.

When she had her smoker’s cough. [laughs] Anyway, I’m an old soul. I refer to myself as a gorgeous anachronism.

You’ve been in productions of Hedwig, Rent, Spring Awakening

And I played Velma Von Tussle in the 10th anniversary production of Hairspray in Seattle at the theater where the show originated, and I wore the original costumes that Velma wore. They pretty much fit.

They did? What does say about the original Velma?

She was built like a man! This was the first time a large theater has done the show where both moms were played by men in drag. I think that’s the way it should be done. In a weird way, it’s a commentary on the zaniness of the show, but also it says that women in Baltimore of a certain age turn into drag queens. Oh, and I sing like a woman, so I sang all the songs in the original keys. I always joke that I never hit puberty. The voice is like other parts of body. If you stretch them, they’ll grow.

You’re a regular Mariah Carey. Would you ever want to play a butch role, like Mariah’s in Precious. I mean, Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar?

The butch roles never really excite me as much. Not that I only want to play women, but I’m self aware of the kind of roles I’m made for. I’d love to play some eccentric male roles out there, like the MC in Cabaret or Prince Herbert in Spamalot. I played Jack in Into The Woods, but my heart lies with the witch. 

Meryl’s doing the movie.

Another role of hers I’m going to obsess over! My obsession with wanting to be a drag queen started at age seven when I first saw Death Becomes Her. I knew I wanted to see Meryl Streep in everything.

And that’s not easy because she’s in everything. Do the Vaudevillians owe a debt to Kiki and Herb, the legendary act about two bickering show biz marrieds who cover Britney?

I’m a huge Justin Bond fan first and foremost. I’ve never gotten to see Kiki and Herb’s show live, just on YouTube. But honestly, we didn’t know too much about their act when we developed our own. 

So no lawsuit here?

I’d hope we’d all get along. [laughs] I’d love to do a concert show of dueling couples with them!

I’d live for that. Freeze me alive until it happens.

 

STILL FOLK-ABLE AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Let’s temporarily defrost for some more recent nostalgia involving a whole other queer icon. As the sunny yet troubled Justin on the Showtime hit Queer as Folk, blonder-than-springtime Randy Harrison became known as the ultimate twink, which the actor now tells me was both a blessing and a curse. “It’s far enough in the past that it’s just become a blessing,” he explained, “but for a while it did limit me.”

A bigger problem with the show was that it was shot in Toronto, so Randy didn’t get to establish himself in terms of meeting casting directors and other key business people. “So after five years of working on that show,” he told me, “I had to start from scratch in New York.”

Jump ahead eight years and Randy’s all set up, having done nonstop theater and film work of all types. And he’s currently in Harbor, Chad Beguelin’s play at Primary Stages about a girl and her mother popping in on the Sag Harbor home of mom’s brother (Randy) and his new husband. Randy’s character is anxious to stay away from his white trash roots as embodied by sis, so the simple act of doorbell ringing proves to be a rude arousal for just about everyone onstage. 

“We all undergo an awakening,” explained Randy. “The play connects with me. Just reading the script I understood it. I think people will really relate to it.” Is it another one of those message plays? “No!” he exclaimed. “It’s actually wonderfully funny. It’s human and idiosyncratic. It’s about all the things we sacrifice to save face.” 

And he’s showing his face on other stages too. Randy is involved with the Qwan company, which does performance-art-style parodies of campy movies like Notes on a Scandal and Black Swan, and they sound extremely Jinkx Monsoon. “It’s the most fun thing to be part of,” Randy exulted. 

The kid is just so nice. (And the kid is now 35, by the way.) Do people ever walk all over him because he projects a “hurt-me” likeability? “I don’t think so,” Randy replied. “I don’t let that happen. I feel like it’s taken me longer than it should to have confidence in shaping my career and going aggressively after what I want to do, but even in my weakest moments, people haven’t been walking over me.” Yay! Twinkdom, be gone!

 

QUOTH THE RAVEN: “MORE! MORE!” 

Meanwhile, the Vaudevillians aren’t the only gender-blurring duo hitting the boards (if not the sauce) these days. Singers extraordinaire Joey Arias and Raven O have reunited for Friday night Wanted Live shows at Provincetown’s Art House, coming together for the first time in more than 10 years. Even Ptown’s infamous “dick dock” might be empty on those nights. 

Joey and Raven used to put on wickedly fun shows at the cozy Village restaurant Bar d’O before they went their own ways to Vegas, off-Broadway, and other thigh-opening adventures. Says Joey, “I believe we went on separate journeys to discover who we are as solo performers—to realize our personal gift—and now we join as great friends and family to wow ourselves and our audience.” Adds Raven, “Our show is a combination of our classic style of edgy, live New York cabaret, but with a lot more theatrical elements--like more lighting!” Hopefully the after party is at the dick dock. In any case, drug-addled whores, bossy homosexuals, and even reformed twinks are advised to get tickets.

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