‘Things You Shouldn’t Say’
Edlavitch D.C.-JCC’s Theater J
1529 16th St., N.W.
Drag and politics isn’t a combination often seen, but drag troupe the Kinsey Sicks thinks it’s the prescription America needs to start healing.
The Kinsey Sicks, consisting of founder Benjamin Schatz (Rachel), Jeffrey Manabat (Trixie), Nathan Marken (Winnie) and Spencer Brown (Trampolina), are bringing their new show, “Things You Shouldn’t Say,” for a limited 14-show engagement at Edlavitch D.C.-JCC’s Theater J.
Schatz, the only current original member, formed the drag troupe in 1993. Manabat joined in 2004, Brown in 2008 and Marken, the newest addition, was added in 2014.
The four members are located throughout North America. While speaking with the Washington Blade, Manabet phoned in from Los Angeles, Marken from San Francisco and Schatz from Mexico. Brown is based out of Kansas City.
In preparation for shows, Manabat admits because of location differences, when they are together in person, they make sure that their time is well spent in rehearsals. They also “do their homework” with online research. Usually they work on writing new material for six months to a year but Manabat promises “Things You Shouldn’t Say” won’t feel like stale material.
The self-proclaimed Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet describe their schtick as “Bill Maher or Samantha B meets RuPaul.” Just like Maher, the group has to stay updated in “real time” with current events as news is constantly breaking.
Manabat says that D.C. audiences will be “pleased” with just how up to date their routine will be.
While plenty of comedians are using the Trump administration as comedic fodder, the risks of overstepping boundaries is high. Kathy Griffin, known for her biting comedy routines and a good friend of the late Joan Rivers, found herself in the crossfire of scandal earlier this year for posing with a fake, severed head of Trump. Griffin participated in the photo shoot for some laughs but the situation became serious for her career as she was fired from CNN, lost endorsement deals and had multiple stand-up shows canceled.
The Kinsey Sicks are aware that their show isn’t light-hearted comedy either. Filled with touchy subjects like the Trump administration, racism, xenophobia and gun control, the show’s content reads with buzzwords that could set off alarm bells.
While the Kinsey Sicks aren’t afraid to tackle hard-hitting issues, Schatz says they’re aware that sensitivity is important.
“People sometimes look at us and think, ‘Oh my god, there’s nowhere this group won’t go.’ But that’s actually not true. We give a lot of thought,” Schatz says. “There are things that we make jokes about amongst each other that we think are hilarious that we simply wouldn’t say on stage.”
The jokes that do make it on stage might make people laugh but the core message is what the group is really thinking.
“Comedy is just another form of communication. If you’re a comic, you own the content of your words. Even though this makes us laugh it’s just something that we want to be saying. It’s just a way to say it,” Schatz says.
As the political climate has shifted, so has the world of drag. Once upon a time “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was a cult hit series that aired on Logo, a channel not widely watched outside of its niche LGBT audience. Now, RuPaul has earned an Emmy award for hosting the show and season nine debuted on the more mainstream VH1. “Saturday Night Live” even included a sketch about the drag competition.
Manabat notes that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has changed society’s view on drag for the better. He says he would even include “Lip Sync Battle,” a lip sync competition series where celebrities dress in costume to perform, under the drag umbrella.
“Drag queens lip syncing has now become straight people lip syncing on the battle,” Manabat says. “There’s something definitely in the culture that has changed because of the emergence of this show. I think that what they do is very good. They create riveting, interesting entertainment. They’re putting a human face to what used to be, to some people, a terrifying art form. They wouldn’t even call it art. But now, especially among millennials and younger, its just one of many incredible forms of entertainment.”
The group can’t deny that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has helped drag gain credibility. The Kinsey Sicks even made an appearance on season eight, but they are adamant that their form of drag is a different variety.
Schatz says the Kinsey Sicks’ routine is a combination of “glorious a cappella, really smart political comedy, hideous drag and movie theater” which sets them apart from Ru’s crew.
“There are people who think that the only appropriate response to a drag queen is ‘Yas, girl,’” Schatz says. “That’s not who we are. There’s a certain form of drag that’s getting a lot of attention, which is great. And some of the queens on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ are amazing. But that’s lip syncing. Drag is an extraordinarily diverse genre. If you were to track Divine to ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ it would be a sort of bumpy and interesting path. I would say we are as much descended from the Divine root of the drag family as we are from the ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ roots.”
The topic is so integral to the group that Marken promises that the Kinsey Sicks will give their rundown on how society views drag, and the group’s origin story, during the show.
But of the utmost importance to the Kinsey Sicks is to make people laugh in a time that can feel scary.
“People need to laugh. It’s a release. We help people laugh constructively. We’ll call things out that are congruent with what people are wanting or what people say. There’s nothing in our show that we make up. It’s all based on fact to the point of absurdity,” Marken says.
For Schatz, it’s all about changing people’s outlook on what has become a bleak situation.
The Kinsey Sicks’ formation during what Schatz calls “the darkest days of the AIDS crisis” has allowed the quartet to always try to give power back to those who feel powerless.
“Being able to laugh gives you some feeling of being human, of having strength, of having some control over absurdity, of not being dominated, of not being victimized,” Schatz says.