CelebMix had crossed paths with Jinkx Monsoon – the Drag Queen Superstar who managed to take a cult movie like Grey Gardens and somehow revitalise public interest in it – once before, when she briefly made an appearance during our interview with Courtney Act, and even from that we got a sense of just why everybody loved her. A time zone mishap on our part left us eagerly waiting (and desperate for a pee), but when the phone call finally came, she only reaffirmed our views that she is one of the greatest, funniest, most charming and most intelligent of the RuPauls Drag Race alumni. After first performing in drag at just 15 years old, she was already a refined, polished Queen before competing, and later winning, in Season 5 of RuPauls Drag Race; an even more impressive feat when you realise 5 of her fellow season 5 Queens showed enough Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent to be invited back by RuPaul for the second Series of All Stars. The title of Americas Next Drag Superstar was never bestowed on a more deserving Queen than Jinkx Monsoon; she embodies the old, Hollywood glamour of Lucille Ball, and is just as funny (and just as iconically red headed!).
On a rare day off, spent, she says, playing video games, Jinkx, who punctuated most of her sentences with an adorable, nervous giggle, took the time to talk to us about everything from RuPaul’s Drag Race to the Race for the White House, and whether or not she’d be following Courtney Act’s lead and taking herself off to a Trump Rally in Full Drag. “I’d do it.” She said. “I’d just have to take a bodyguard.”
We recently heard from Courtney Act that you two have been sharing a dressing room in Princetown, what was that like?
“Oh it’s been great! We’re getting near the end of our season that we’ve been doing. We’ve been doing a show here in Provincetown for about three months, and I’m doing a show were Jinkx is running for president against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s just like a satirical look at the current election, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
It’s been a few years since you won RuPaul’s Drag Race. How has your life changed since then?
“I’ve kind’ve turned something that was a passion and a science project for me into my career and my livelihood. I got to turn drag, which I’ve always had a passion for, into something that dominates my whole life in the best way now.”
Your stage show The Vaudevillians has been going on for quite a while now, but is still very popular. How did the show come about and what exactly goes on at a Vaudevillians show?
“My show partner [Major Scales] and I started working on it together in college, and it was just a weird idea we had ‘cause we were asked to do a cabaret show, and we thought we would do like a 1920s ragtime cover of pop songs, and so we had to come up with an idea to make that make sense and we said “oh, well what if there were two Vaudeville stars who were frozen alive in the 1920s?” and that’s exactly what the show is. We were just sitting around one night and came up with this really, really strange idea, and for months we would improvise it and do it at a dinner theatre show, where people would just come and have dinner, have cocktails and stuff, and we’d play music for about 2 hours and pretend to be these characters. Then, after Drag Race, I had the chance to turn it into a little bit more of a twisted, cabaret piece and perform it in New York, and it was received very, very well in New York, so we’ve been able to take it all over the world.”
You’re coming back to the UK at the Soho theatres later this year with Major Scales, but not as the Vaudevillians. Can you tell us a bit about this new show?
“When we come back in the Winter we’re doing a Christmas show, which is us as Jinkx and Major, kind of playing ourselves. Jinkx is a high profile Jewish Drag Queen, and the show is kind of like, what it’s like to be gay and either Jewish or don’t fit in with the whole Christian enthusiasm for the season. It’s kind of like what would that lonely, old, gay alcoholic say about Christmas.”
A big story on your season of Drag Race was Rolaskatox, the clique formed by fellow Queens (And current All Stars) Detox, Alaska and Roxxxy Andrews, with whom you had a very turbulent relationship. What do you think was the cause of that, and is there any bad blood between you all now, or has your relationship with Roxxxy, Alaska and Detox changed?
“We all got along the whole time, even though Roxxxy and I would get into fights and stuff. When they put cameras on you, even though you’re being yourself, there’s a heightened tension and a heightened competitive feeling, so Roxxxy and I would totally actually fight all the time, and then we’d be done filming that day and everything would settle down and we’d all go and get dinner together, and we’d be completely fine. All throughout the season, even when we’d be bickering and stuff, she’d also do nice things. We were all Drag Queens competing, but we were also all very supportive of the fact it was very cool that we always got on Drag Race, so lots of time we would help each other out or give each other advice, and they just don’t air that ‘cause that’s not useful to the dramatic story that they’re creating. We were all friends the whole time, and of course we get on great now, because we all knew it was just a TV competition, it wasn’t…it was real, but also kind of a heightened reality at the same time, and we’d let it go as soon as filming was over.”
Let’s talk about the whole process of filming drag race – is it as intense as it seems? What’s the process like behind the scenes?
“You are just completely cut off from all the rest of the world; you don’t have your cell phone and you don’t have your computer or anything, so if you make it to the top three you’re in like, about a month and a half of you just being secluded and kept away from everything. It’s very intense, because it feels very isolating, and drag itself is something you do with friends, something you collaborate on with friends; that’s why you have drag families and drag moms and drag sisters and stuff like that, because it’s very much a collaboration, coming up with these big ideas with all your friends and stuff that you’re going to take into your drag character, so to try and do it all completely alone is a really crazy feeling, especially when you’re doing the most high intensity drag thing you’ve ever done. RuPaul’s Drag Race is like the Olympics of Drag; it’s so ridiculous how much you do in a single day.”
On Drag Race you mentioned your little crush on Ivy Winters; after the show, even now a few years after you won, you spend a lot of time on the road on tour with your fellow Queens; do any on the road romances ever develop amongst the Queens?
“Nooo…no. Ivy had a boyfriend like, the second filming was done she met someone, so of course nothing happened between her and I. But, actually, one of the contestants from Season 6, Magnolia Crawford, her and I had hooked up a long, long time ago before either of us were on Drag Race. That’s the only other person from Drag Race that I’ve ever been with.”
You’re great friends with Season 6 Runner up and All Star Adore Delano…you even have matching tattoos!
“Yeah we got matching tattoos at the end of the Battle of the Seasons tour we were just on! The apples are a nod to the fact that when we would find weed on the tour but wouldn’t have anyway to smoke it, we would make a little pipe out of apples from the craft services of the theatre.”
Like Adore, you were sometimes criticised for a style of drag that wasn’t as typical or as or pageant focused as the other girls – you’re very vintage, old school, golden age of Hollywood Glamour, and she’d very Grunge. In Episode 1 of All Stars she was subject to a lot of criticism regarding her less polished Drag Style look, including a heart wrenching moment when she declared through tears “I don’t belong here.”, and culminating with her deciding to quit the show in Episode 2. The Drag community is often a place people go because they don’t feel like they belong anywhere else – what was it like for you to see such a good friend go through that?
“I think All Stars is kind of a mind fuck. If you look how long it took in regards to All Stars 2…We saw All Stars 1 and it was a weird experiment ‘cause they had everybody team up and stuff, and there was a lot of girls who had already had fairly established careers and then going back on the TV show. But All Stars 2, it’s not just these girls who have established careers going back on, but these are some of the most recognisable, most followed and most talked about all going from being like the top dog. Like after their season of Drag Race all of these girls had a lot of success, so they’re going from travelling the world…it’s like they got to become the most fully realised version of themselves after Drag Race gave them that notoriety and that boost, and so to go back into a competition where they’re fighting for notoriety and you’re fighting for money and all that stuff…you go back from being on top of your game to back into a competition where they’re going to make you feel like you’re nothing, it can be really mind-trippy for people, I think. I know that probably Adore thought she was going to have more fun when she went on, and forgot it was going to be a real competition and they’re really going to dig into you and stuff. When Adore’s performing with me on tour, all she cares about is getting on stage and singing and giving a good show, and having fun on stage with her fans and her Drag Race sisters, and I think she forgot how hard it is to push yourself back into the gauntlet of competition.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with her since she filmed All Stars, and I know she’s doing great and still working hard on her music, and working on another album. She has this great fan base and a great following to fall back on; she’s going to be completely fine. She’s a rockstar.”
All Stars 2 was filmed last year, and since then you had to spend time on the road with Michelle Visage, one of the show’s judges whose comments caused the upset, and Adore, both of whom you seem pretty close to; did they manage to settle their differences, or was there always an awkward atmosphere whenever you were around them both?
“They were completely fine. We all had a great time on tour, and it was fun. They can’t really talk about All Stars because they’ve all signed contracts, so only Michelle and Adore can talk about it really, but they did get along the whole time. Michelle is playing a character of the judge when she’s on Drag Race, so even though she means whatever she says and says whatever she’s thinking on the show, we all know that’s a part of what she has to do as a judge. Then, when we’re all hanging out as performers again backstage. What happens on the show stays on the show, and we all just have to work together like family after the show no matter what.”
You work a lot with others Queens – What Queens do you particularly love working with, and are there any you’d love to work with in the future?
“I’ve worked a lot with Alaska, and Alaska and I have talked about creating a duo show, like a Jinkx and Alaska duo show to do in Provincetown and New York and stuff. Our show idea that we have is we’re going to do every drag act ever known to man all in one show, because one of our favorite things about drags is the stuff that when you go to drag shows there’s certain things you can count on like the whip cracking and someone having a ponytail that they’re swinging about, and all the backstage drama and stuff like that. So we want to make a show where we can give you all of that stuff, all in one show from the two of us. Like, a ten-minute medley of every song you’ve ever danced to in a nightclub being mixed into one.
Anytime I get to work with Ben Dela Crème on a big project, we’ve worked with Peaches Christ a few times ‘cause we did Hocus Pocus and Drop Dead Gorgeous, and we always collaborate really, really well together. We’re really good friends from Seattle but don’t get to spend a lot of time together ‘cause we’re both doing our own schedules and our own tours throughout the year. I like that any time I get booked with other Queens that I like hanging out with that’s the most fun, cause then I’m not only working but then I have people I really love to be backstage with like Alaska and Sharon and Ben and Ivy and Adore.”
And what about any of the latest Drag Race Alumni; the Season 8 Girls?
“I just got to meet the new Season 8 girls, and I’d like to continue hanging out with Kim Chi and working with her, she’s really, really sweet and a lot of fun to talk to backstage.”
You did a great interview with the BFI about some of your influences and inspirations as a Drag Queen, mentioning films such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Death Becomes Her having been an influence on your drag, But we want to know, if Jinkx Monsoon was starting out in drag today, what more modern, current films and TV shows would you be taking influence and inspiration from?
“The places I’m finding inspiration right now are a lot of silly things, like I watch a lot of cartoons like Futurama and Bob’s Burgers, and I really draw a lot of inspiration from dark comedy and especially cartoons animating really dark things. There’s this show called Rick and Morty that’s a Sci-Fi show about a Grandpa and his Grandson travelling through space and time and stuff, going on adventures, but it’s just really, really dark and kind of violent and gory, and I just love it. Like, even though you wouldn’t think I could find Drag Inspiration from that, I can totally draw Drag Inspiration from any weird source, like the weird video games I play or the cartoons I watch. Even if I don’t copy a look or something, that kind of comedy and brand of humour really inspires me when I get on stage or I’m thinking of my own material and stuff, and what I can bring to the shows I do that are very different from other Drag Queens.”
Speaking of movies – the documentary movie you star in Drag Becomes Him, only premiered recently here in the UK – can you tell us a bit about what we can expect from that?
“I joke about it being a random collection of Home videos of me, but what it really is is my friend Alex Berry who is the director and creator of this film, he did a Webseries with me for Youtube a long time ago, it started a year and a half before I did Drag Race, then it picked up after I got on Drag Race and he continued to follow me and record little instances of my life after Drag Race to compare to what it was like before Drag Race, and it was a short documentary series and it got a lot of attention on Youtube, so we decided to use that material and collect new material to create a full-length documentary. I think it was like, over the span of 3 years he filmed me, a year and a half before Drag Race all the way up to my crowning, and then he continued to film me up until Bianca [Del Rio’s] crowning. It’s three years worth of documentation of working as a drag queen and as Jinkx Monsoon, and it follows the whole progression from being an obscure local Queen to being a world wide known Queen, and then to crowning my successor. It’s a lot of content but it’s pretty cool, and I’m able to watch it without thinking “oh don’t say that, don’t say that!” which is always the most nerve-wracking thing about watching a reality based documentation of yourself.”
On Drag Race, no matter whether the contestants or in Full Drag or No Drag, they are all referred to exclusively by their stage name. Like with Courtney Act when we interviewed her, Jerick Hoffer naturally makes the distinction between himself and Jinkx Monsoon. So, what is Jinkx Monsoon? Is she a character, and expansion of Hoffer, or just another side of him?
“I like to think that Jinkx is an extension of myself, but she’s definitely her own monster. I’d probably be arrested if I ever behaved the way that Jinkx behaves. I try to stay a very optimistic and very positive person, and I like to look at the world in the most educated and informed way that I possibly can, and I feel like I’m very sympathetic toward a lot of people, and I have a big heart and an open mind, you know? So I have to put all of the rage that I feel when I’m watching the news, seeing how stupid so many people are, and I have to take all of that rage for the hypocrisy that I see in my world, and all this bullshit that I feel on a daily basis, I put all of that in to Jinkx, and then I get to process all of that anger and rage through Jinkx. The thing about Drag Race is what they really depicted was me as the artist a lot more than they depicted Jinkx as the character. You get to know me a lot better than you get to know Jinkx, because we don’t spend a lot of time in character as our characters. There’s a huge distinction between my personality and Jinkx’s personality, and I feel like they focused so much on my personal story that you didn’t get to see a lot of the Jinkx character except for when I was doing challenges like the Perfume commercial and acting challenges. But in my shows that I create myself, Jinkx is a terrible, terrible person, this horrible foul thing that’s very rude that makes fun of the audience and makes fun of anything she feels like, and I like having a place to put all of that, so that the hate doesn’t weigh me down in my own day to day life.”
As far as Drag Race alumni go, you’re one of the more political, and you’re not afraid to share your opinion about social issues on Twitter – you have been openly critical of Trump, Transgender bathroom law, and narrow outlooks on gender and sexuality. As a victim, and a voice, for a community so often lacking mainstream representation, do you feel somewhat obligated to use your fame and influence to try and make a change in the world?
“Yeah. I’ve always been very opinionated and I’ve always spoken out, at least on certain issues; I’ve always been very involved in Queer rights and I’ve been a Queer advocate since the day I came out, and I’ve loved working with outreach programs to try to provide resources and help to Queer youth and people coming to terms with their identity or sexuality or their gender identity, and so I’ve always done that stuff, but now that Drag Race gave me a much larger platform I try to be very wise about what I’m talking about because…I can totally run my mouth off, but I have a lot of really young followers and I try to be very selective about what I talk about and how I talk about it, so that I’m putting out an educated opinion on certain issues rather than just spouting off my own thoughts as if they’re facts.”
As any of her followers have noticed, though, it’s become a little harder for Jinkx Monsoon to bite her tongue over the last couple of months…
“That’s what I try to do, at least, but then I see things about this current election that are just so ridiculous, and all these assholes coming out the woodwork to support Trump when they’re not even fully aware of what they’re supporting, and what really frustrated me is that Trump doesn’t necessarily have all the same views as his followers, but he uses the rhetoric of hate and sensationalism to rile them up, and even though he’s not the kind of backwards redneck that are his supporters, the fact that he’s instigating so much of these terrible qualities to come out in Americans and Voters this year, you can’t ignore there. It’s frustrating to have to sit and watch this election continue to be a fcking circus when you’re a Queer person who’s always been disenfranchised, and the way this election goes could determine the way the voice of America is going to progress, and there’s so many people who still want to contest the rights of Queer people and other minorities, and they’re using Trump as this chance to get back in power, and if we don’t do something about it it’ll happen, and all of us minorities and outliers of society are going to be fcking crucified and it’s very scary, so that’s why I started talking about it a lot more.”
What are some of the biggest issues you think the LGBT+ communities are facing in the world today, and what can we all, as individuals, do to combat it?
“I think that we, as a society, don’t talk about the legitimacy of mental illness, and the prevalence of mental illness in American culture. It is so stigmatized to have any kind of mental illness or any kind of psychological disorder that a lot of people don’t talk about it or a lot of people don’t even want to seek help ‘cause they’d rather deny it or try to hide it, and it leads to a lot of teenage depression and teenage suicide attempts. For queer kids, they already feel like an outcast ‘cause they’re Queer, they already feel like there’s people out there who hate them just for the way that they’re born, and then you put mental illness on top of that and it leads to a lot of Queer teens having suicide attempts, running away from hope or having suicide attempts. I grew up in a very progressive and liberal place and I was able to come out a very early age and express myself at a very early age, but that’s not true for so many parts of America, or so many parts of the World, so if you’re already feeling alone in the world, if you have any kind of mental illness that you’re not feeling like you’re able to talk to people about, then Queer teens can feel like they’re having a really, really hard adolescence. There’s so many people out there that only exasperate your feelings of self-worth or your self-esteem issues, that I think there should be more discussion and more support for Queer teens to have resources to counselling and therapy and trauma counselling.”
To end the interview on a lighter, happier note, we turn the topic of conversation onto something a bit more positive; Jinkx Monsoon’s Lip Sync For Your Life to Malambo No.1 against Detox, when the two of you fought tooth and nail to make it to the Top 3, was one of the most iconic moments in Drag Race Herstory. You already proved to us you know how to lip sync, but if you were to go on Lip Sync Battle, what two songs would you chose to lip sync too?
“I can kill most any Broadway diva meltdown numbers. I’d say one of them would have to be Roses Turn from Gypsy; I would say the Bernadette Peters version, but any version of that song I could crush. I’m also really good at Lip syncing to Die Antwoord, the south African Rap/HipHop group, so I’d say maybe like I Think You’re Freaky or Baby’s On Fire by Die Antwoord.”
I like to be eclectic”