Zone catches up with actor Jerick Hoffer - better known as RuPaul’s Drag Race winner and international drag superstar Jinkx Monsoon, who’s touring to the Midlands this month with ‘bawdy, rowdy musical comedy’ The Vaudevillians...
How did you get the idea for Jinkx Monsoon, Jerick - and how did you first get started with drag?
I just turned 30 this September and started drag at age15. Jinkx Monsoon is mostly based on my own mother, with heavy influence from the female comedians I admire the most, like Jennifer Saunders, Lucile Ball, Madeline Con - and more modern references like Sarah Silverman and Maria Danford. I really enjoy strong female characters, so decided to create one for myself to play.
You were already an actor and performer before joining Drag Race. What made you decide to do the show?
I went to college for theatre. It was a conservative-style university where you got a degree in theatre with a conservative-style education. When I started there, I thought I would give up drag to pursue a more serious and legitimate acting career. Part way through my college experience, I still had a lot to offer with the work that I’d done as a drag queen, so after I graduated, I started getting female roles in theatre - very drag-adjacent roles. I realised that it wasn’t something that I had to give up to be a legitimate actor; it was just a tool in my toolbelt that helped me as an actor. Drag and theatre kind of run hand-in-hand for me. When I realised that, I thought to myself that Drag Race would be a great way to enhance my notoriety and increase my visibility as a drag performer, and that would then play its part in enhancing my work as an actor and theatre artist, which it absolutely did. The two have kind of boosted each other throughout the five years since I went on Drag Race.
How have you found the experience of worldwide fame since winning?
I’m kind of shocked but in a good way - there are so many pockets of RuPaul’s Drag Race fans throughout the world! Every time I travel to a new city and realise we have a following there, it’s so awe-inspiring. Fifteen years ago when I started doing drag, I never thought that I’d be in the place that I’m in now. I get to travel internationally and put on shows in foreign cities. It’s kind of surreal that I have fans in Reykjavik, Amsterdam and Paris!
What’s been your biggest source of inspiration?
I try and keep an open mind in terms of where my inspiration comes from. I get a lot from television shows. I’m kind of picky when it comes to TV, but so many comedians have been creating new and wonderful things lately. I also love watching cult cartoons. Animation and drag run hand-in-hand; both are over-the-top in the same way. I think a drag queen is the only real-life artist who can mimic cartoons and get away with it. I also play a lot of video games, and that helps with inspiration.
Describe your show The Vaudevillians and the concept behind it...
The show’s something we’ve been doing for years, but this is the first chance we’ve had to bring it to the UK. It’s about two vaudeville stars who’re frozen alive in the 1920s due to a freak avalanche accident. Thanks to global climate change, we thaw out and try to pick up our tour where we left off. We put on the same show we did in the 1920s, only to find that our most popular music has been reappropriated by pop stars throughout the last century. It features ragtime, Vaudeville-style covers of pop songs but put in a historical context, as if they’d been written for the 1920s. So Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is a song we wrote about the Suffragette movement; Toxic by Britney Spears is a homage to our friend, Marie Curie. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek. We like to call it a fever dream.
You’re working with Richard Andriessen - aka Major Scales - on the show, but it’s not the only project you’ve worked on with him. What’s the appeal of working together?
We have a very similar sense of humour. We went to college together, so that’s how we met, then lived together for seven years. By being in close proximity to each other, we really melted together our minds and our sense of humour. When we’re on stage together, it’s like we share one mind. The show is scripted, but we leave time for improv and ad-libbing. Sometimes things happen on stage that have never happened before - a complete fluke or something due to a technical malfunction, or someone from the audience saying something. It’s at times like those that we both often think the same thing and voice the thought at the same time, making it look like it’s been scripted even though it hasn’t. It speaks volumes for how we work together and the common thread between us. We share a very similar comedic brain.
Tell us about the new album, The Ginger Snapped?
It’s a bit of a departure from our last album, which was very much a cabaret fantasy album. This new one is a ’90s garage band throwback, with heavy influences from the area that we live in, in Seattle, which is heavily influenced by the hip grunge movement of the late ’90s and early 2000s. The music is inspired by hero artists like Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani and Portishead - it’s rock-inspired and ’90s grunge-inspired. It’s modern but with the heavy influence of albums we bought in the 1990s.
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
A big coup for us on this album is working with Amanda Palmer, a wonderful singer-songwriter who I absolutely worship. She’s singing a duet with me on the album, as well as Fred Stainer from the B-52’s and a cabaret artist known as Lady Riso. In the future, we’d like to incorporate more comedians into our work; people like Maria Banford and Devon Green, amongst many others, who I keep a note of.
Your successor, Bianca Del Rio, is working on her second full-length feature film. Is this something we can expect from you?
I was trying my best to be part of that film, but due to my work schedule with this tour, it wasn’t possible. It was very much a kick in the pants for me and my comedy partner, Nick Sahoyer. He and I used to do a web show together. We used Bianca doing her second full-length film as a kick in the pants, so it was time for us to really lean in and write a script for me that’s based on our characters. We’re talking with producers about an inevitable Moonsoon Season movie - that’s the name of our web show. Maybe in 2018 we’ll buckle down and work with some producers to make a Jinkx Monsoon film happen.
Gender neutrality is a big thing at the moment...
Jinkx is very much a female, but I myself, Jerick Hoffer, don’t adhere to one strict gender. That’s mainly because I’m a male-bodied person who identifies with the feminine side of the gender spectrum. I’ve grown up with so many friends who’ve redefined gender for themselves. Because of that, I’ve made a point in the last five years of tearing down the idea that there are two genders, that that’s all there is, and that anything in between is invalid. I believe gender is just a social contract that society created to make things simpler and more understandable - but it doesn’t have any bearing on reality. Each individual person has the ability to find themselves for themselves. If we were taught that truth at a younger age, people wouldn’t feel so worried when hearing about gender norms. I’m trying to tear down the idea that just because you’re born with certain genitalia, you have to act, present and behave in a certain way, simply because our society tells us that that’s the norm. In reality we can dye our hair any colour we want and wear contacts if we don’t want to wear glasses. Just like we’re able to dress ourselves every day in order to express ourselves, gender should just be another tool in our toolbelt - one which allows us to express ourselves in the way in which we see ourselves on the inside. I think people would be happier if they realised that just because you’re born with a certain set of genitalia, it doesn’t mean you have to behave the way society tells you to behave based on that.
Are you still a fan of Drag Race?
Absolutely. I keep up with it as an avid fan and still consider it my favourite television show.
What’s been your response to Season Nine of the show?
I loved it. Every season I feel they broaden the scope of the kind of drag being represented. I love that Drag Race is further embracing and welcoming different types of drag. They had their first trans-identified trans-bodied person. The trans community and the drag community have always run hand-in-hand, and that representation is being allowed on television in a way that it’s never been allowed before.
Would you approach the show differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?
No, I wouldn’t tamper with it. I think everything fell into place exactly the way it was supposed to. But if I went back on as the winner that I am, I would try to show how much I’ve evolved as an artist. I’d also show the kind of strength and confidence I’ve gained since my season. I’d bring back everything people recognise in me from my original time on the show but also try to add to it.
What’s been the hardest lesson you’ve learned in the world of drag?
We all need to take moments to realise when we’re wrong, and to adapt and evolve. I think a part of drag is being headstrong, confident and assured in yourself. Part of being an artist is being adaptive and leaving room for growth and evolution. We all need to take moments to realise we don’t know everything and still have a lot to learn.
How does Jinkx like to spend her time away from the spotlight?
Smoking weed and playing video games.
Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales’ The Vaudevillians shows at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on Sunday 5 November, Birmingham Hippodrome on Sunday 19 November, Leicester’s Y Theatre on Saturday 25 November and Nottingham’s Glee Club on Tuesday 5 December.
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