Photo by Maddelynn Hatter
Marti Gould Cummings is one of the most prevalent drag performers in New York, with a Monday night talk show at Therapy, a Sunday night Broadway bash at Vodka Soda/Bottoms Up, and many other giddy gigs about town. For years, the Maryland-born Marti has bantered and high kicked and lipsynched and belted to the point of extremely high visibility. Except that he’s never been on RuPaul’s Drag Race! Despite auditioning even more than I did for The $100,000 Pyramid! Marti’s frustration over the whole situation has been overshadowed by his philosophical approach to it, as well as his unending drive to try again next time. Here’s our chat about his race to the Race.
Hi, Marti. How many times have you tried out for Drag Race?
I tried out for season two, and I looked horrible. Then the last three seasons. Maybe four or five times total.
You send a reel, right?
Yes, you make a video. They send you guidelines. You get to show all these different moods. I would never have cast me based on any of my videos. I look horrible. [laughs]
In all of them?
Yes. But if you look at my first audition compared to the current one, there’s such an evolution. At the time, I was very androgynous, and over the years, I started doing more of a drag aesthetic. It’s fun to see how I’ve changed.
But you still look horrible?
I’m just kidding. I like the way I look. Twenty-two-year-old drag Marti and 28-year-old drag Marti are very different. I started out doing androgynous drag. I didn’t know much about drag. I had done a show off-Broadway called Twist, and that was the character I played. But working more, I said “I can play around more.” Bob the Drag Queen sat me down once and covered my eyebrows. We were doing a show in Philly together, and we came back to my apartment. Bob said, “I’m gonna do your makeup.” I said, “No, that’s OK.” Bob said, “No, trust me.” She covered up my eyebrows, then said, “Now wipe it off and you try it.” I’ve covered my eyebrows ever since. I thought, “Well, it’s been several years and everybody knows me as this type of queen,” but Bob was like, “No, you can do anything you want.” It changed how I view myself as a drag queen.
Have your videos gotten better along you’re your look?
Yeah, because I cared so much. I was very guarded in expressing myself, even though I’m an outspoken person. I thought I had to be a certain way in the video. Now I’m, “Whatever. I’m either gonna be on or not be on. I’m grateful, regardless. This is who I am.” I’m finally very happy and confident with my drag for the first time.
But you still didn’t get on, lol.
I still didn’t get on! It’s like, “Goddamit!” [laughs] It’s fine. The thing is, I’d make really great TV. I was born to be on a reality show. I’m basically a Kardashian. But if I’m not supposed to be on this year, it means something else will appear. But goddamn it, I bought a wig! I’m a drag queen now!
You can write it off. Do you get a rejection note?
If I got a rejection letter, I’d frame it. Actually, season two, they sent two little postcards with Ru’s logo, saying “Thanks for trying.” I thought it was from Ru herself. I thought, “Oh my God, this is so cool!” But it was a generic letter.
And now, how do you figure out that you didn’t get on?
You see your friends disappear from social media. “Oh, there she goes.” [laughs]
Off to shoot Drag Race.
It’s the ultimate drag goal. I would truly love to be on it. RuPaul is an icon—she changed the whole game for drag. This time, I thought, “I want to do it and I have a good shot, but I don’t want to go crazy over it,” so I booked a lot of out-of-town dates. I traveled all over the country to build my name and occupy my time and distract myself. As an artist, you can easily obsess over something, but I want to focus on the positive, not the negative. The negative is I‘m not on the show, but the positive is I have a year to work on myself as an artist and my makeup and my comedy, so I can try out again next year and showcase myself then.
And it’s not just you. There are other factors, like the way they try to pick a cast that makes sense together.
It’s 12 to 14 contestants, and they have to make a storyline. They have to blend together. I’m still gonna watch the show and support it.
And submit reels?
I will try till the end of time.
Even if it’s off the air?
It will be off the air and I‘ll be messaging [producers] World of Wonder—“Is anybody there?” I’ll be sending tapes from my wheelchair in a nursing home, with a colostomy bag. I seriously think it’s the best show on television. They should make Emmy categories for the shenanigans on that show.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you did in one of your videos?
On my very first audition tape, I had the film set up so I was looking into a mirror and the shot was my face in the mirror, and I’m singing “On My Own” from Les Miserables, as if I’m auditioning for the Poughkeepsie Community Players. It’s very much like something out of Waiting for Guffman, but at the time I was so serious about it.
And they do cast theater queens sometimes.
I am the ultimate theater queen. I’m the Oprah of Broadway. But there’s no way I should be singing Les Miz. It’s on YouTube. No, I actually think I deleted it so they could not revisit it when I audition again.
And next time you will surely make it. You’ll be the Hillary Clinton of drag! You won’t be les miz for long! Let’s catch up in six months.
MARY, MARY, WHY YA BUGGIN?
One of the original drag kings, Mary Martin excelled as Peter Pan, as well as in South Pacific and The Sound of Music, becoming one of Broadway’s true legends. A new David Kaufman–penned book about Martin called Some Enchanted Evenings notes that as a girl, Martin read and was influenced by the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. All grown up, she married Richard Halliday, a self loathing homosexual who’d worked in films and theater. Also pointed out is the fact that Mary spent an entire night dining and talking in bed with Halliday, costume designer Adrian, and Mary’s very close gal pal Janet Gaynor. The Hallidays split for their South American home in July 1969, right after Stonewall, and Kaufman suggests that maybe they should have stayed put, since things were getting more hospitable. Are you getting his drift here? Huh?
Moving on to even more concrete literary news: A gay in Hell’s Kitchen? That’s not all that unusual, but how about a gay detective in Hell’s Kitchen? That’s the premise of Stage Fright: The Jimmy McSwain Files, the third in a series of novels by Adam Carpenter. In the book, a Broadway playwright is getting death threats, and the plot has something to do with his ex, who’s the costume designer, and…Oh, enough. The only mystery here is why I didn’t write this first!
It doesn’t take a private eye to know that gays have brunch in HK—specifically the Broadway Boozy Brunch at Don’t Tell Mama, which I went to the debut of yesterday. I was amazed that the singing waitservers not only put on a fabulous show of theater standards, but they served while they sang, occasionally mixing their minutiae into the lyrics (“Seafood paella, everyone!”). Drag star Jessie Hatter welcomed us to “the only socially acceptable way to get smashed before 5 PM.” Then Jessie sobered up the crowd with a potent and wonderful version of Celie’s “I’m Here” from The Color Purple. Accompanied by pianist Patrick DeGennaro, three ladies—Michelle Dowdy (who went straight from high school to Broadway, in Hairspray), Thea Lammers, and Lauren Turner—delivered socko tunes from Funny Girl and Chicago, and they never stopped for fakey banter or cries of “Are you having a good time?” Best of all was a “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” complete with a trumpet, electricity, and finesse. And the bartender—Paul Pilcz—sang too, taking a mic for an Avenue Q number in between serving mimosas, as puppet hands came through the curtains. These folks are truly tireless. They made me reverse my ban on brunch—and I don’t even drink.
And that’s not the end of gays and liquids. They take to the very high seas every Sunday evening, thanks to the Sea Tea, done by the legendary Michael Fesco (who created the Black Party), along with Dougie Meyer (who’s doing very well managing Town Danceboutique in D.C.) Last night’s cruise was a smooth, lovely affair celebrating Hombres Lounge (a Queens club full of drag queens and gogo boys) and Boots & Saddle (a long-running drag haven in NYC’s West Village). Up on the deck, the drag show was wild, especially Princes Bitch, who did a raunchy mashup of Sweet Pussy Pauline and Mo’Nique. Between the view, the breeze, the buffet, and all the dick talk, I felt like I was home.
Photo of Nick Jonas by Doug Inglish. Photo of Lady Gaga by Ellen Von Unwerth.
But let me get back on dry land, put away my Dramamine, and end with a juicy morsel of gossip. I recently wrote a column here about celebrities, asking “Are Nick Jonas and Lady Gaga really our pals?” (while explaining that Gaga, of course, is a member of the community, not just an ally). When I posted the piece on Facebook, it got a lot of comments, opinions veering both ways. And one of them was from Justin Tranter, the famed singer/songwriter who’s been writing for some very big artists and just did an Orlando-related benefit song. His reply: “Nick means very well. For the rest…no comment.” Yikes. In addition to writing for Jonas, Justin used to open for Gaga for years with his band Semi Precious Weapons and he obviously got to spend time with her. Does he know something we don’t? My mission is to find out—after I find out who Marti Gould Cummings needs to blow, lol.