Jackie Beat: Why so thorny?
Remember when drag queens were unpredictable, dangerous and drunk on more than just power? It’s nice to see RuPaul and her gang getting national exposure... but even the bitchiest interactions on "Drag Race" seem a bit tame compared to the shenanigans unleashed during the long and distinguished career of Jackie Beat.
The Don Rickles of Dresses and Tresses was insulting her audiences (often to their delight, occasionally to their horror) long before drag dragged itself from gin-soaked gay bars and into mainstream culture. So it’s refreshing to see that one of the art form’s veterans is not just still performing in theaters and clubs-she’s also working behind the scenes as a writer for other performers and shows.
"Big & Bitter" drag darling Jackie Beat has been on the scene since 1989. She’s opened for Roseanne Barr, written for TV (The Sci Fi Channel’s "Tripping The Rift") and appeared in countless TV shows ("Sex and the City"), movies ("Flawless," "Adam & Steve") and Off-Broadway ("Valley of the Dolls"). Named Best Drag Queen by New York Press and Best Live Performance by HX Magazine, Beat is also lead singer for the electro-rock band, Dirty Sanchez. She currently writes for "Fashion Police" on E!
Her latest solo stage endeavor, "Jackie Beat: Me So Thorny," finds the legend back in classic form - with an evening of song parodies that take aim at the work of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Madonna others. Edge recently spoke with Beat, through the modern miracle of email.
THORNY means what?
EDGE: What does the THORNY refer to, in the title of your show...your temperament, or some other such thing?
Jackie Beat: You want the truth? We were using a publicity photo that features me holding a rose, so we made a list of possible titles and, for some strange reason, we kept focusing on the thorns instead of the flower! I wanted to call the show "Jackie Beat: Bloomin’ Idiot!"
EDGE: Talk about your cheerfully combative relationship with the audience. Does the venue or type of crowd impact your approach? What are some of the best/worst anecdotes, in terms of willing interaction or offense taken?
Jackie Beat: Well, I think I am a bit nicer now than I used to be. Occasionally I will even hear from someone after the show that complains, "You’re too nice now!" But I just slap those people across the face real hard. Listen, I just do not tolerate people talking or texting during the show. Last week I called this girl out for texting and she said, "For your information I’m texting my friend about how fabulous you are!" I explained that was like telling a kid, "I’m only molesting you because you’re adorable!"
EDGE: To what extent does improvised material become embedded in the show after it first happens? If this is the case, cite some examples.
Jackie Beat: When something unscripted pops up and gets a huge laugh I try to remember it, but sadly, so much of that stuff simply gets lost in the great beyond. But I do have a stack of mental 3 x 5 cards filed in my brain that I can quickly access when I need a sassy comeback. I’m usually in "the zone"-which is a specific area between relaxed and focused-where I can just blurt out whatever comes to mind. Usually it’s funny, but if it’s not then I will make a face and comment on how NOT funny it was and then it’s even funnier!
EDGE: Your parody work often takes a knowing jab at the original material and artist, but the subject matter your version addresses can be completely unrelated. Talk about a few of the songs in ME SO THORNY, in terms of what inspired the matching a specific song/artist to the specific subject matter of the parody version.
Jackie Beat: People often suggest ideas which, after thousands of song parodies, really helps. But I only want a title, no lyrics! I listen to the radio a lot and I will just hear horrible things in place of the original lyrics. Also, I like my song parodies to have a twist or to really tell a story. They have to go somewhere. Like my song "Beaver" ends with me regretting having a sex change and returning my new vagina. It ain’t rocket science, as they say. You really have to tap into the stupid 12-year-old inside you that thinks poop jokes are really funny.
Joan Rivers - will say absolutely ANYTHING
EDGE: Talk a bit about some of the shows/celebs you’ve written for (the difference between writing something that will be performed in your own voice, and something that will be interpreted by others).
Jackie Beat: Needless to say, writing for Joan Rivers-who will say absolutely ANYTHING-is very different than writing for America’s favorite non-threatening Gay Next Door, Ross Mathews. The funny thing is that I am right down the middle. Joan will make my jokes even more outrageous and Ross will clean them up. But I have learned what works for each of them and now I think I can really write in their respective voices. But funny is funny and the only difference is that Joan will say "cunt" and Ross will say "mysterious lady parts."
EDGE: What upcoming projects/shows are you working on? Given unlimited time and resources, what’s your dream project?
Jackie Beat: I continue to write for Joan on "Fashion Police"-which, frankly, already is a dream project. My band, Dirty Sanchez, is going to make music videos for a few new songs. I perform in West Hollywood every Monday at The Abbey and I continue to travel to other cities and perform on Atlantis cruises. My dream project would probably be to make a movie of the play I wrote, "Whatever Happened To Busty Jane?" It combines the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford movie "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" with 1980s porn. It’s pretty epic!
"Jackie Beat: Me So Thorny" plays May 25-27 at The Laurie Beechman Theater (inside West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street -- at Ninth Avenue). Performances run Friday, May 25 - Sunday, May 27 at 7:30 with an additional performance Saturday, May 26 at 10pm. Tickets are $22 plus a $15 food/drink minimum. To purchase tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit www.SpinCycleNYC.com. A full bar and waiter service is available throughout the performance.
Watch Jackie Beat’s video of "Fever":