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Miss Understood is one of the most visible drag queens in Manhattan. She has honed her outrageous look over the years (well, not too many years!), from working the catwalk at The Pyramid to the stage at Lucky Cheng's. Her hilarious sense of humor comes through like a lighthouse in the fog, and she shared a few or her wittier bon mots here with Eros Zine as we dished fabulous drag, mile-high wigs and Carrot Top.
Eros Zine: How long have you been in New York City?
Miss Understood: I got here in '87 as a young (6-year-old) FIT student. It was there I shared my hopes and dreams for the future with a fellow student, who would eventually be known as Hedda Lettuce. I was determined to become a hat check girl at a swanky hotel bar. Hedda's goal was to become the most popular waitress at the Woolworth's lunch counter. Unfortunately, hats never came back into vogue and Woolworth's went bankrupt, so we were forced into working as drag queens.
EZ: How long have you been doing your shtick?
MU: When I got to New York at the end of the 80's, I was totally inspired by the East Village scene at the time. There was such an anything-goes feeling about the drag that was happening, especially at the Pyramid. Performers like Olympia, Sister Dimension and Hapi Phace were all drag queens who didn't take drag too literally. They saw themselves as artists rather than female impersonators. Olympia would be go-go dancing while decked out in day-glo hair and makeup under a black light, Sister would be running around with a third eye and a rubber nose, and Hapi would be performing totally nude except for a see-through nightie.
EZ: Tell me about the first time you went to Wigstock.
MU: Wigstock was always such a great happening. Although the crowd that attends has toned down over the years, the show's production value has actually gone up. Bunny has become quite the coordinator over the years.
EZ: You are definitely the brightest of all the queens! Tell me about the genesis of your look.
MU: One of my early looks was to shave my head, paint it blue and glue broken mirrors to the top of it. Warning: Never glue broken mirrors to your bra. You'd be surprised at how often your arm rubs against your chest in an evening!
Over time my makeup improved and my look focused into something somewhat more consistent. While I'm rarely bald or blue these days, I still like my drag bold and graphic. My philosophy is that no matter what sort of drag style you choose, you must be concerned with the way you look head to toe. Whether you use corsets, padding or some other trick, you need to think about how your body appears. Silhouette is very important!
EZ: You're not just a drag queen, you're a comedian! Was this an innate talent, or did that evolve as you performed and emceed?
MU: It took time to develop a sense of timing. New drag queens are usually stage hogs.
EZ: You also wrangle other outrageous performers. What's that like?
MU: I am the CEO and spokesmodel of Screaming Queens Entertainment. We provide drag performers, impersonators, theme characters and offbeat acts for private parties and corporate events. I find it more exciting than working in clubs, because I get the opportunity to do drag in the most unlikely places.
We've worked a wedding on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, posed on a flatbed truck in Times Square and go-go danced under the whale at the Museum of Natural History. I personally got to perform for George Stephanopolous at his bachelor party. I entered wearing a neon green beaded fringe dress, a long curly pink wig and an emerald green feather boa. I did a number, sat on his lap and gave him a kiss. All I kept thinking was "Hey, he could be president someday." I felt like Marilyn Monroe!
EZ: Who does your wigs?
MU: While I do some of them myself, I leave most of them to the experts, Perfidia and Miss Shannon. They both were the star wig stylists for many years at Perfidia's wig world at Patricia Field. These days Perfidia is working on Broadway. She's been spending her time whipping up do's for shows such as La Cage Aux Folles, Taboo, Aida and Les Miserables. Shannon freelances for film and TV. They are both from a very rare school whose main rule is "More is More!"
EZ: How about your costumes?
MU: About half are designed by Garo Sparo, a Downtown innovator known for his meticulous attention to detail. His years of experience as a fetish designer led right into a career producing couture that would please the socialite as well as the dominatrix. His current collection involves corsets, bustles and industrial wire.
The other half of my wardrobe comes straight from Bangkok. I've fallen in love with Thailand. The people are wonderful, the food is amazing, the beaches are stunning and, most of all, they love flashy showgirl costumes! I come back each year with amazing beaded frocks that I sketch out and have made in an amazing little shop. No, it is not run by Kathie Lee Gifford!
EZ: You've worked at Lucky Cheng's forevah! How do you handle all those bachelorette parties?
MU: The weekend bachelorette crowd can be a bit rowdy and obnoxious, but with the right amount of patience and understanding... Oh, I'm lying. I just drink a lot and plow my way through it!
EZ: You obviously have a great sense of humor and plenty of patience. Is there anything that still irritates the hell out of you?
MU: I can be very sweet until someone tugs on my costume or wig. An up-do is like a soufflé; it's very fragile. You can't go yanking on it without it falling apart. Sequins will fall off it if it's grabbed too hard. If you want to touch me you need to get my clothes off first.
EZ: I've spoken with Lady Bunny, Linda Simpson, Joey Arias...you've all been peers for a while and you've all achieved an impressive level of both fame and success, in somewhat different arenas. How would you compare your styles?
MU: I am pretty, and they are ugly.
EZ: Drag queens have gone from a downtown, sort of underground thing to a more Hollywood-friendly, mainstream world, with all those movies and Ru Paul, etc. Has that been a good thing or a bad thing?
MU: I don't really think that's true. The idea of drag may have gone mainstream but good drag really hasn't. Ru did have a good moment and I hope she has many more. Still, most movies have been about straight guys in dowdy or rotten drag (Sorority Boys, Mrs. Doubtfire, White Chicks). There really have not been many film or TV manifestations of the colorful, irreverent brand of drag that adventurous New Yorkers are familiar with.
I think that we'll probably see something interesting in the next few years. There are so many new channels hungry for content. I also think the U.S. is due for a famous transsexual. They have them in so many countries around the world including Korea, Israel, Australia, Brazil and Turkey. We're pretty behind in that department.
EZ: Any good gossip?
MU: I've heard that Carrot Top is a tranny chaser. He's starting to look like a tranny himself. Maybe he-I mean she-will be America's first famous transsexual! Will she change her name to Taco Bottom?
EZ: Okay, if you have anything you'd like to expound about or promote, here's your chance!
MU: Come check out our website at www.screamingqueens.com and see our most popular requests.
Human Dessert Tables: Giant Marie Antoinette costumes with dresses that double as tables. They walk though the room serving desserts or hors d'oeuvres.
Joan Rivers on the Red Carpet: "Who are you wearing?" Great for weddings, openings, holiday parties, even Bar Mitzvahs!
Human Disco Balls: Flesh colored mirrored catsuits which are dazzling under party lights!