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‘I feel like I have a second home here’: An Interview with Drag Superstar Jinkx Monsoon

Since snatching the crown in season five of cult reality sensation RuPaul's Drag Race, Jinkx Monsoon has become a drag superstar. She brings her new show to London this October.

If you are still unfamiliar with RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR), then do yourself a favour and get yourself a Netflix subscription in order to binge watch the US reality sensation. In fact, do one better and skip straight to season five, where you will be introduced to ‘Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Jewish drag queen’ (and series winner) Jinkx Monsoon. Bursting onto the cult reality show back in 2013, Monsoon (real name Jerick Hoffer) became an instant fan favourite thanks to their sharp wit, electrifying vocals and irresistible charm – not to mention a hilarious turn as Little Edie in the show’s Snatch Game. Lucky for us, they return to the Leicester Square Theatre this October with a new improvised show 'Jinkx Sings Everything!'. London Calling had a chat with the drag superstar about what we can expect from the show, life post-Drag Race and the Fielding brothers.

London Calling: Hi Jinkx! Thanks for speaking to us today. Whereabouts are you right now?

Jinkx Monsoon: I’m in Manchester right now, doing a show called Hocum Pokem with Peaches Christ. I’ll be here basically until New Years as I have a ton of upcoming shows.

LC: So you’re basically a fully committed Brit now then?

JM: Yeah! Honorary Brit, I guess.

LC: A lot of people will recognise you from Season Five of RPDR, but for the uninitiated, can you tell us a little about how you got into drag and how Jinkx Monsoon came to life?

JM: I’ve been a drag queen for half my life now. I started at age 15 and just turned 30 in September. I got into drag because I have a lot of things to say; I have a lot of mouth and a lot of opinions! I discovered drag as a way to express myself in an uninhibited, uncensored fashion, and I’m really happy I chose that as my medium. I’m also a trained actor and singer, so I’m very much a drag queen because of my love of performance and live entertainment and I always strive to find ways to narrate drag with live theatrical experiences.

LC: What was the motivation to enter RuPaul’s Drag Race? And how was the immediate reception following your win?

JM: I wanted to do Drag Race partly because it’s my favourite show on television, and as a drag performer it’s like the Olympics of Drag. When I watched season four, I just thought to myself ‘I could handle this’, that I could get involved and really have a really good time. Even though it was a stressful and totally nerve-wracking experience, it was the best stressful and nerve wracking experience I’ve ever had!

The reception after winning has been so full of love and support from a very broad community. When you start out in dingy little dive bars, you never imagine that your career will go to the lengths that Drag Race has taken it. I never thought I’d find myself performing globally!

LC: The show has really crossed over from cult viewing to mainstream success in the past couple of years. There have been adverts on the side of London buses and the show really seems to be finally getting the attention it deserves. How has it been, seeing drag as an artform cross over into popular culture?

JM: I’ve always said that it’s a double edged sword when something becomes more mainstream because you lose some of the underground freedom that you get when you’re just performing for one specific group. The more well-known you become, the more malleable and adaptive you have to be because when you perform for a broader audience, you’re going to have a larger variety of tastes and sensibilities to account for.

That said, the benefits that have come with Drag Race being so successful completely outweigh anything else because we’re seeing an artform that was underappreciated for so long become, like, the taste du jour. It’s allowing us to tear down the constructs of gender that we experience in our society and redefine gender expression, not just for the queer community and drag queens, but anyone who enjoys drag and is inspired by drag as an artform. People are now defining gender for themselves in a way that they never have before.

LC: You are bringing your new show – Jinkx Sings EverythingI – to the Leicester Square Theatre later this month. What can we expect from the show?

JM: What I love about this show is, I have a history with improvised theatre. I used to perform with an improv troupe where we would create a whole one act play with suggestions from the audience. I’ve always really enjoyed those spontaneous moments you get when you do improv in front on an audience so have always tried to incorporate it into my shows. I met this improvisational pianist with this encyclopaedic knowledge of all things show tunes and musicals related – I can just say the name of a song to him and he instantly can play it flawlessly! This gave me the idea that it’s time for Jinkx to do an all-improvised cabaret show. So that’s what Jinkx Sings Everything! is. There’s no plan for the evening - I spend the whole night talking with the audience, sharing my experiences and just having a conversation and through that conversation, we get suggestions of songs to perform. Not just from musicals, but classic rock, pop music…we take suggestions from anywhere and perform it live on the stage.

LC: Sounds intimidating! So it could be an absolute train wreck or the best show on earth?!

JM: Well it is a train wreck and the best show ever! Every time, there are train wreck moments but that’s kind of the fun of it. You get to see me and my pianist work it out together on stage. First and foremost though, I want to put on an entertaining show so I’m conscious to take suggestions that I actually think I can handle. Even though it’s all by request and it’s all improvised, I do steer the ship and whilst you can request whatever you want, Mama’s still in control.

Even though it can be a little bit messy, a little bit chaotic, it’s ultimately a lot of fun and very entertaining!

LC: You’re actually a bit of a regular in London. Where are your favourite spots to go when you’re here?

JM: At some point whilst I’m there, one of my Drag Race sisters will be guest judging Porn Idol. I always like going to that and not just for the explicit nudity. It’s just amazing to me! When I think of what I’ve guest judged and how full the club gets - wall-to-wall, shoulder to shoulder. It’s amazing that the queer community in London is so strong, and so celebratory. I really love the culture in the UK – it makes me feel like I have a second home here.

To be honest, every time I’m in London I’m working so I don’t have a lot of places that I go to in my downtime. I’m normally busy performing at the Soho Theatre! One of my favourite things to do after a good show is to head down to the Groucho Club with a few friends. I don’t have a membership there, but I’m lucky enough to know a couple of people who always get me in! Laura Carmichael from Downton Abbey always makes a point to come and see my shows and then she’ll take me out. I’ve also gone there with Noel Fielding and his brother Michael from The Mighty Boosh. The Fielding brothers are such sweethearts to me. They always treat me great. Actually, one time I was here, their parents were having an anniversary party at Groucho and I got to go and infiltrate their parent’s anniversary celebrations…

LC: I’ve done a bit of digging and apparently your name is inspired by Ab Fab’s Eddie…. Would you say you’re a bit of an Anglophile? What other parts of British culture have inspired you?

JM: Absolutely. My mom went on a UK tour a couple of times when I was a kid and each time would bring back British TV series to watch. She bought back Ab Fab, Harry Enfield and Chums…I’m the only American my age who has seen Harry Enfield’s Television Programme! I really love it. So I was always watching Ab Fab and Keeping up Appearances, even though a lot of the jokes went over my head as a kid. I just loved the slapstick comedy and the accents. As I got older and continued to watch the episodes over and over, more and more the jokes started to make sense to me. I’ve always loved the British sense of humour – it’s in my comedy and performance style, and when I became a drag queen, it was a no brainer that my last name was going to be Monsoon.

LC: You’ve had two albums (The Inevitable Album, ReAnimated), a film (Drag Becomes Him) and a never-ending schedule of live shows. What else is on the horizon for Jinkx Monsoon?

JM: We’re actually about to release - the presales will open later this month – a new album called The Ginger Snapped. My first album was very much a cabaret fantasy album, but this one’s very influenced by grunge. I live in Seattle so I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the 90’s grunge movement – we’re calling it a kind of garage band throwback sound with this new album. What’s also special about it is that it’s been partially funded by Crowdsourcing, so we raised $20,000 from our fan base to put towards the project. We’ve been really careful and meticulous with this one, but now it’s fully mastered and ready to go and we’ll be announcing the release date very soon. It’s been very much a passion project for me and a bit of a departure from the music we’ve put out before, but still very much in line with our aesthetic. It’s me and my music partner Major Scales. It stays true to who we are as artists whilst still bringing in some of my passions as Jerick Hoffer, the person who created Jinkx Monsoon. It’s melding these two worlds, as both Jerrick the artist and Jinkx the creation.

‘Jinkx Sings Everything!’ comes to The Leicester Square Theatre from Tuesday 24 – Saturday 28 October 2017. See here for tickets and more information.

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