By BeBe Sweetbriar
What’s that old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Okay, I’m definitely not calling her an old dog, but one of the most beloved drag artists Lady Bunny has performed her often vulgar “schtick” for many, many years and herself admits to milking the same act for over 15 years. Now, inspired by an unfortunate accident that left her sitting on her butt with nothing left to do for months but write material for her act, Bunny has launched a new show ( not just in title alone) with brand spanking new material in a show called Clowns Syndrome.
Currently enjoying an extended weekly run at New York City’s La Escuelita Cabaret Theater through June, Clowns Syndrome has received praise by Out.com columnist Michael Musto as “the funniest show in town.” Co-written by Facebook sensation Beryl Mendelbaum, Clowns Syndrome has oodles of new song parodies from crass to clever as Bunny re-works hits by artists like Prince, Adele, Katy Perry, Daft Punk, Bobbie Gentry, Frank Sinatra and more. Included is also tributes to Shirley Bassey, Frankie Knuckles and even a video roast of Joan Rivers. Musical parodies, costume changes and side-splitting humor are familiar descriptives of Lady Bunny shows, but how Clowns Syndrome differs in more than setting her parody comedy to new songs is Bunny tackles slightly more serious topics with a comic twist by offering her own warped takes on gentrification, reality TV, getting lost in the tech matrix, and the absurdity of the political correct word police.
Prior to her arrival in San Francisco to test the waters in the Bay City with her new show on May 24 – 25, I spoke with Lady Bunny about Clowns Syndrome, performing in a cabaret vs. a nightclub, why some old folks should be heeded, the loss of gay culture and her Wigstock hitting the Broadway stage.
BeBe: I was thinking the other day how young gays today have a whole different idea of what is eccentric now. I guess it takes a whole lot more to be considered out of the box than when you first started doing your act in clubs. You have to be pretty damn bizarre.
Lady Bunny: Yes, but at the same time when you think about Grace Jones wearing a 45 rpm record on her head, or any of those sculptural Miyaki’s, there is something behind her outrageousness. It is a reflection of her act. With Divine, who was certainly outrageous, it reflected her outrageous music and screen characters. Today I find the outrageousness, as with Lady Gaga, as rather empty. It’s like let’s put on a meat dress or something that’s going to make everyone scratch their head. The reason her album tanked is because people are tired of style over substance. Wear the meat dress and the outrageous stuff to get our attention, but when you don’t have a product to back it up, that’s when the outrageousness seems to me to be empty.
BeBe: Maybe she was trying to sell ArtPop in her meat dress to a bunch of vegetarians. That may have been the problem (we both laugh).
I saw you recently in San Francisco when you performed as apart of Sasha Soprano’s Drag Queens of Comedy at the Castro Theater, and I must say, for someone who is often criticized for doing the same schtick for years, you definitely grabbed favorable attention from the new gay generation. Many walked away with you being one of their favorites of the evening.
Lady Bunny: Oh, good! I think outside of the fact that my act is vulgar, the biggest criticism of my act is that I’ve been milking the same act for 15 years. And, my new show Clowns Syndrome addresses that because there is one snippet of one old parody medley of mine in this show. Everything else in this show is totally new.
BeBe: Oh my lawd!
Lady Bunny: I didn’t say good or that I knew it, but it’s new! This has been a way for me to develop new material and workshop it enough to where I get it good enough so I can milk it for the next 15 years.
BeBe: With Clowns Syndrome you have made a concentrated effort to make people aware of its completely new content and it being different from all that you’ve done before. In this new show you seem to be doing more storytelling than in the past.
Lady Bunny: It’s true. I’m finding my comic voice. Cabaret is different than a nightclub. Ina nightclub your on at 12 midnight and no one wants to hear an extended diatrod. You don’t usually want to stop the dancing for a long slow monologue without a beat. That’s why I like performing cabaret because I do have a little bit more to say than “make some noise!” Some of the things in Clowns Syndrome are the lament of the aging seamster, so I’m talking about gentrification, bitching about the word-police and this crazy accusation that RuPaul is transphobic because of a silly word game, and a bunch of other points that are serious, but I make punchlines in so it’s not a lecture.
BeBe: Well your previous act under many different show titles has been one that you have had to continuously move around with dancing and what-not throughout the show. Clowns Syndrome seems less physically taxing on you.
Lady Bunny: That’s (lots of movement) because I didn’t want them to see how bad my makeup was (both roar with laughter). You know how these RuPaul girls are contouring their nose into a fucking hieroglyphic. But, I may be an old one, but I am a showgirl nonetheless.
BeBe: how are you handling staying still and just chatting with us in this show?
Lady Bunny: I am handling it. I hope I’ll always be able to move, but I don’t mind grabbing a stool. But, to be honest, Clowns Syndrome is a result of me breaking my wrist last December. I had surgery, had to recover, and had loss of income due to cancellations of gigs. So, I said I was going to make the best of this and write a bunch of new stuff and throw it out there and see what sticks. There is a Shirley Bassey tribute in the show where some of the older folks in the audience might appreciate. It is comic so I hope with that it will appeal to everyone. I noticed in cabaret shows that a lot of the older set don’t know the latest Ke$ha song, so they don’t comprehend the parody of pop songs. But, there is a tribute to Frankie Knuckles in the show. It’s some hip hop to jazz to Sinatra. From Pharell’s Happy to Katy Perry’s Roar, this is a very, very, very mixed bag.
BeBe: In Clowns Syndrome you talk about getting lost in the internet matrix. What does that actually mean?
Lady Bunny: Well everyone is (getting lost). People don’t call each other anymore. People don;t get together to go out and eat. They (instead) take pictures of their food and put it on Facebook. The internet is a great way to share pictures with family and friends around the world, but we need people in each others face communicating. I read people’s posts on Facebook about their mothers dying, and I’m thinking honey, do you not have anybody to be with, to cry with? But at this point, you’ve got to let people know that someone’s died because that would explain why you may not be on Facebook as much for a second. No wonder these kids like Adam Lanza who shot up Sandy Hook (Elementary School) are disenfranchised. What if you’re not a good communicator? What if you can’t spell? Then you’re gonna be shunned on the internet. It’s a very cheap world where we break people’s value down to how many twitter followers and comments and likes and YouTube hits they have. This is terrible for a growing person who has little self worth. Maybe it’s just because they’re not that chatty. While I do love Facebook,and I’m not suggesting that anyone give it up, people are not seeing each other. Isolation is not healthy. In a recession we can all afford internet connectivity, but the fact is we used to go out in a new outfit from wig to shoes and hit five different clubs. And now, the club s online. I just don’t think people are getting the personal attention we need. I joke in the show about older people talking to younger people like “you kids need to get off my lawn” or “back in my day…..”, and some of the older people need to be ignored. But, many need to be heeded because they have been around. They see a development that is unhealthy.
BeBe: It’s just like with these young gay boys complaining how they can’t develop a long-term relationship with their boyfriend. They have a new boyfriend every 60 seconds running through them like wildfire in a lot of cases. And, I say to them what do you expect? You met him on the internet. You met him through Grindr pictures. You know nothing about this person beyond his good physical stats he posted online. Then you meet in person and you can’t communicate. They don’t know what to say to one another when they come from behind the computer screen, or look up from the text keyboard on their phone. We don’t know how to meet someone face to face to communicate and socialize.
Lady Bunny: Online hook-ups have killed the nightclub industry. It’s frustrating to me not only because I work the clubs, but clubs budget are down. Which is partly why I’m doing this cabaret thing. New York City now has one big gay club that is open tw0 or three nights a week, yet there are three Disney shows. There is no way you can say New York City is a clubbing destination. It is a Disney destination. I am glad young gays can go out and be accepted more…well let’s be honest, in big cities…..but in the 60s, 70s, and 80s the only place you’d see a large group of gay people was in a nightclub or AA. It upsets me that online hookups have replaced clubbing because, eventhough I’m a slut and I’m not going to bitch about a new way to find dick, we didn’t just go out to find dick. We went out for performance. We went out to get turned onto incredible music. We went out to see fashion, to see comedy, and to get out of our cellphones for a minute and remember the art of conversation. It was a gay culture! Now, we are assimilating into straight culture, and I’m sorry, but I’ll take gay rights but I don’t want the straight culture. Our gay culture was always better.
BeBe: I’ve always said equality and homogenization are two different things. We can have equality without losing our identity.
Lady Bunny: We have enough homogenization, sanitization, and corporatization. We’ve got to fight to keep New York City and San Francisco funky! We’ve lost so much already, we’ve got to preserve what we have left. Our gay neighborhoods are gone or going, so we have to go out and preserve what we have left of them.
BeBe: Is that a plug for people to go out and preserve Lady Bunny by going to see her in a city near you?
Lady Bunny: Now, I know young people do not want to come out to hear an old lady tell them what they need to do, but when they have a protective case on their cell phone, but are having unprotected sex, you need to hear somebody!
BeBe: I know San Francisco is one of your favorite places for you to perform. Many drag performers have told me that they like performing in front of a San Francisco crowd because the audiences are people who actually came to see a drag performance, and aren’t just people who happened to be in a club for drink or what-have-you when the show started. Do you find that to be true and a unique quality of San Francisco audiences?
Lady Bunny: Though I don’t want to denigrate any other city, but I would definitely say San Francisco and New York City audiences are on par with being the coolest and my favorites. In terms of the strength and amount of the gay culture, I think New York and San Francisco really have it going on. A lot of my humor is offensive and not politically correct. That’s the theme of Clowns Syndrome, which is why I call it that. The name is a play on Downs Syndrome which is the correct term now to use for retarded. If you don’t enjoy rough, dark, twisted humor, you’ll probably hate the show. This is the kind of show I’d have to water down for other cities (laughs).
BeBe: Finally, is it true that your legendary show Wigstock is on its way to the Broadway stage?
Lady Bunny: Mmmm Hmmm.
BeBe: Is that all I’m going to get about it?
Lady Bunny: Mmmm Hmmm! At this point, it is a rough proposal. Some of the (Broadway show) investors are lured by all the drag that’s on Broadway now with Kinky Boots, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Harvey Fiersteins new play Casa Valentino.
Lady Bunny brings her completely new show Clowns Syndrome to San Francisco at Rebel 1760 Market Street for 4-shows in 2 nights May 24 & May 25. For ticket and other information go towww.ladybunny.eventbrite.com
Clowns Syndrome continues its extended run through June every Tuesday at La Escuelita Cabaret Theater in New York City. For more info/tickets www.brownpapertickets.com
To find out where to find Lady Bunny during her extensive tour schedule throughout the summer 2014 go to www.ladybunny.net