BY STUART ROLT
“I like to draw inspiration from a lot of different sources,” recording artist, actor and global drag superstar, Jinkx Monsoon, tells me with a gentle southern drawl. “My list of female inspirations is very long. The big ones are Madeline Kahn, Betty Davis, Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball. So old school influences, but I like to combine what I learnt from people like Deven Green, Maria Bamford, Sarah Silverman and Margaret Cho.” There appears to be something of a redhead theme going on here, aside from their individual gifts for comedy and song. Monsoon is in good company evidentially, drawing inspiration the old and new to create something glamourous, singular, and impossible to ignore. Perhaps Mathu Andersen, the make-up artist for RuPaul’s Drag Race, summed it up best by describing them as “a gorgeous anachronism.”
Soaring to success on season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Monsoon has been cementing their position as one of the scene’s brightest performers. There’s the fiercely wonderful Funny Or Die web shows, starring roles on Capitol Hill and two album releases on top of an already impressive acting career. Now a show Monsoon has performed with musical partner and friend, Major Scales for over seven years is heading around the world. The Vaudevillians offers two 1920s stars who have perfectly preserved in ice for decades. Now global warming has resuscitated them, only to find the pair’s music has since been stolen by some of today’s biggest stars. The only option is to travel the world with the original versions and set the story straight. “We’re here to give you a little historical contact behind some of your favourite pop songs,” Monsoon giggles. “For example, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was actually written by The Vaudevillians as a reflection on the suffragette movement. A lot of people don’t know that.” Following a repeatedly extended four-month run in New York and six weeks in the pair’s hometown of Seattle, the show is embarking on a huge tour. A flawless mixture of comedy, music and theatre, it calls in at Hove’s The Old Market on Thurs 30 Nov – Fri 1 Dec.
Being a global icon seems a long way from borrowing your mother’s clothes to make yourself look fabulous. For one thing, there’s pressure to meet certain political expectations. Something demonstrated by a recent trip to Tel Aviv Pride Film Festival. The Israeli government has been accused of ‘pink washing’, highlighting how progressive and liberal certain communities are to divert attention from a fractious relationship with Palestine. “There was people wanting me to boycott in protest in all of this. My boycotting the festival wouldn’t have been punishing the government, it would have been punishing the local queer people who need a Pride celebration when they live in a tumultuous situation like that. I was really happy to see there was a lot of love and respect to all kinds of diversity, if only in Tel Aviv.”
Events back home are no less difficult to comprehend. America’s respect for its LGBT+ population is rapidly eroding. They openly admit their own experience is a small slice of the situation. “Being a queer celebrity, most of my time is spent in very progressive parts of America. From I can tell, no one is happy. you can’t go two days without hearing about something from this administration which is obviously an attack on our community.” There’s a sense that recent progress is fading away. It’s only lately their country has started to seem more fair and equal for its citizens, whether they’re female, people of colour, queer or trans. “Everyone feels like the country just took a big step backwards, even though many of citizens don’t want that. It’s so difficult to live under a government which doesn’t represent you in any way.” You can hear the frustration in their voice. Queer people have fought for long and hard, and a new form of elite extremism is emerging. Legislation which protects diversity is being repealed, under the guise of being for the ‘good of America’. It’s clearly hard to live in a country where if you’re not a rich white male, you’re increasingly considered an after-thought when it comes to the US legal system.
But what about Drag Race? There’s a gentle, discernible, sigh when it’s brought up, but there’s no escaping the effect the show has had or their gratitude for the opportunity. Although a slow burner, they won with a rarely seen amount of dignity (and a huge helping of timeless glamour). “The night they announced me as the winner, I felt fortunate a show like ‘Drag Race’ exists. Before, there was not any clear-cut way for a drag performer to find global success like this.” Now Monsoon gets to benefit from being part of a generation able to expose their passion for the artform to a massive audience. They see their role as entertaining, making people think about new things and having fun. In any guise, Monsoon is an irreverent and ironic performer with plenty to say. “Even though I’m making jokes about fellatio, coke use and being a drunken whore, there’s some kind of deeper message. Whether you know it, you’re being introduced to new ideas and leaving the theatre with a little more enlightenment.”
‘The Vaudevillians’, with Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales, comes to Brighton’s The Old Market on Thurs 30 Nov – Fri 1 Dec.