Queenstion Time #4: Jinkx Monsoon
Continuing our series of interviews with drag artists, Andrew Nicholls chats to the season five winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Jinkx Monsoon.
Jinkx Monsoon is a legendary queen in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
As the winner of season five over equally renowned queens such as Alaska Thunderfuck and Alyssa Edwards, Monsoon has seen her career snowball since the show aired, appearing in highly rated TV shows such as Blue Bloods, countless stage shows and even releasing a couple of albums.
Performing in drag since the age of 16, Jinxk – who was born Jerick Hoffer – became known on Drag Race for her strong, character-driven performances and, perhaps inevitably, as a sufferer of narcolepsy.
She is among a cavalcade of drag stars making their way to London for DragWorld UK – Europe’s largest drag convention. But she is also playing shows around the UK later in the year, including a performance at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre as part of the Homotopia Arts Festival.
Planet Slop: Much was made during season five of Drag Race about your narcolepsy – how difficult is it to work as a performer with such a condition?
Jinkx Monsoon: I think everyone has obstacles they have to deal with in order to accomplish their goals. Narcolepsy is something that creates obstacles for me in my day to day life, but embracing the challenge means figuring out ways to work around the obstacles. I plan ahead for the symptoms I deal with and try to compensate for that. I do this by taking care of my physical and mental health to decrease the severity of my symptoms.
PS: How do you think your drag has evolved since you won season five, compared to how it was before you entered the competition?
JM: Polish and commitment, definitely! Drag Race turned my passion into my career, and in that, it is a full time job. Not just full time, but I spend most of my time these days thinking about, designing, collaborating, and preparing for the next performance. I think Drag Race taught me how to take everything I do to the fullest extent, and curate my artistic eye to make it more effective.
PS: Do you have any favourite moments from the show that stood out as being particularly memorable?
JM: I think my experience with Dave, my veteran during the makeover challenge on my season, was not only memorable, but it was a game changer for me. It was so far into the competition, and I was running on fumes, and Dave gave me the final push I needed to make it to the end. He believed in me, and gave it his absolute all to help me succeed. I was grateful to have him at that point. Without him, I dunno where I would have found that inspiration on my own.
PS: You famously impersonated Little Edie for Snatch Game – who wasn’t a very well- known personality beforehand. How does it feel to be responsible for bringing somebody like that to more mainstream attention?
JM: I think keeping the spirit of impactful gay icons alive is a part of what being a drag queen is all about. I compare drag queens to the “books” in Fahrenheit 451. We memorise gay icons to share them with future generations. Thanks to Drag Queens, people like Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, and Little Edie are still appreciated for their artistic contribution to the world, and their impact on the queer community. Someday, today’s queens will be reminding future generations about Britney Spears, Bette Midler, Madonna etc.
PS: You then performed as Little Edie in the show Return To Grey Gardens. How was that experience?
JM: It was a dream come true! Ever since I discovered the Grey Gardens documentary, I wanted to portray Little Edie onstage in a fully realized production. Peaches Christ is a genius when it comes to deciphering what’s so fantastic about a film and putting it through the filter of a drag aesthetic. Her shows always allow me to showcase my talents with the support of a full cast and production team, which leads to a really enjoyable experience for both the performers and the audience.
PS: You used British queens in the show – was that a conscious decision to support British drag queens who as of yet don’t have a platform like Drag Race?
JM: Another favourite aspect of Peaches Christ shows is the fact that whenever we tour with her shows, we utilize local talent to fill out the cast. It allows us to lift the show from the cities it originates in, and evolve and adapt to the locale we take the show to, which makes it that much more impactful for that local community. That’s what drag and theatre are all about- fine tuning the performance to the audience viewing it, is what makes it so special.
PS: Were you nervous about how the show would translate to a UK audience? Sometimes your style of drag seems a little more British than American in that it is more character driven.
JM: Well, I always try to adapt my performance a little bit from country to country. I would agree that my comedic sensibilities are very British. Long story short, my mom went to London a few times when I was a kid and brought back bits of British television for me to watch. My inspiration for character creation comes from shows like Ab Fab, Harry Enfield, Keeping Up Appearances and Mr. Bean. I really enjoy dry, irreverent, and non-sequitur humour. British comedies inspire me to find whatever is most funny about a situation and exploit it for all its worth, even taking it to absurd levels.
PS: Moving on to slightly more serious topics; How much do you think Drag Race is helping wider understanding of gender spectrums and identity?
JM: I think the best thing Drag Race does is showing the artist behind the character, giving you a chance to connect with the true person behind the persona. Every season brings a new diverse group of girls who have lived different lives, but all share a passion for drag. You get to see that not all queens have the same gender identity, and do drag for different reasons. In this, it breaks down stereotypes and misconceptions that our non-queer audiences may have had.
PS: RuPaul has made some comments about trans queens in the competition recently. Do you have any thoughts on what he has said?
JM: I think Ru has been so steeped in the queer community for so long, that sometimes he speaks from his own history. I know that Ru has worked alongside trans queens all throughout his career and I don’t believe he harbors any ill will to the trans queens out there, and in that I believe his apology statement he made.
That said, I think the show will have to continue to embrace inclusivity and inclusion for it to continue to stay on top throughout the years. What I really think is that we need more queer programming on television made for us, by us, to represent the many different aspects of our community. Drag Race is the only show at its level telling true stories from the queer community. But no one show should have to speak on behalf of every member of our community.
Since Drag Race is the only of its kind, it gets a lot of pressure to cover every topic in our community. I think if there were more diverse queer programming, then more stories could be told from different perspectives. That’s why I’m so excited for the collaboration of Lady J and Ryan Murphy with the upcoming show Pose.
PS: Can you tell us about the Drag Becomes Her play with Ben DeLa Creme and Peaches Christ?
JM: It’s what happens when you take three talented queens, ALL obsessed with Death Becomes Her -easily the best movie ever made – give them an impeccable wardrobe and a captive audience; you witness magic onstage! That was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever performed in, because Death Becomes Her is such holy movie to every drag queen I’ve ever met, and Peaches and Dela both bring a passion to their performance which gave me lots of room to go full throttle in my Meryl Streep fantasy. I hope to bring it to the UK soon, and I would love to see how the local cast tackles this beast!
PS: Speaking of Ben, what did you think about the way she left All Stars 3?
JM: I think Dela went on All Stars to prove something to herself and to her fan base. Once she proved that, she was ready to leave. I honestly think, knowing Dela, she was happier to disqualify herself than take the dream away from one of the other girls. It was very in character for the conscious and gracious friend I’ve known Dela to be.
PS: Do you have any more upcoming projects?
JM: I am really excited that I have a very fun schedule leading up to the next year. Not only will I be touring the UK in June with a new one woman show, but I’ll be doing another tour produced by SOHO Theater with my music partner Major Scales. We’ll be bringing our show The Ginger Snapped through the UK in November.
I’ll also be on the Heels of Hell tour once more this year in October for Halloween. At the beginning of 2019, I’ll be starring in a new Peaches Christ feature film, based on our Return to Grey Gardens show, called Slay Gardens. It’s a campy drag murder mystery suspense film! I couldn’t be more excited.
Jinkx Monsoon will appear at DragWorld – Europe’s largest convention of drag – at the Olympia, London between Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th of August 2018. Tickets are available now.
She also plays Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre on 21st November as part of the Homotopia Arts Festival.