Pretty Rik E was born pretty innocuously. Erika Lewis had a friend about five years ago who was just getting started in drag and “kind of pushed me to give it a try.”
Lewis says Rik E’s personality came before his name.
“The original idea was to represent a mid-2000s R&B/hip-hop artist who was struggling to reclaim their fame,” Lewis says. “One of the groups I loved back in the aughts was a group called ‘Pretty Ricky,’ so I took out the A in my name, rearranged some letters and tacked on the pretty and Pretty Rik E was born.”
Rik E turned out to be outgoing, funny and charming, the 39-year-old Columbia, Md., native says. “Everything I wished I could have been when I was younger.”
Rik E emerged in the D.C. Kings back in 2013. Lewis and wife Ashleigh (aka Lexie Starre) co-founded Pretty Boi Drag almost three years ago. It’s a regional drag king troupe for queer people of color. Rik E was voted Best Drag King in this year’s Washington Blade Best of Gay D.C. readers poll awards.
“Performing in drag helped me gain a confidence I never knew I had,” Lewis says. “I was able to focus that confidence on meeting my wife, starting Pretty Boi Drag and going out on that stage time and time again.”
Lewis, who uses he/him pronouns, works by day as a web developer and lives in Cleveland Park. Pretty Boi Drag, which he says is “much more than a hobby,” and full-time work leave little extra time but he enjoys binge watching favorite TV shows in his free time such as “The Walking Dead” and “Gotham.”
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out since I was 18. Unfortunately, it was not by choice. My mother found old love letters I had written to my high school girlfriend. My mother finding out was and still is the hardest for me coming out.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Right now, that person is Lena Waithe. Her visibility as a masculine-of-center, black woman has been inspirational.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
If we’re not producing a show or working, I am most likely home watching TV. However, before we got old and sleepy, we used to go to Phase 1 all the time. It was actually where we met.
Describe your dream wedding.
My dream wedding happened in 2015 when I married my wife. It was a small wedding with only about 70 of our closest friends. We had a lip synching competition at the wedding (including trophies!) and a ginger cake with whiskey-infused frosting as our wedding cake.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
I feel very strongly about inclusion and diversity in the technology industry. I have started speaking at conferences about how companies can benefit from actively hiring more people of color and women to their technology teams.
What historical outcome would you change?
I feel like it might be cliché at this point, but I would most definitely change the outcome of the 2016 election.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Beyoncé performing “Formation” at the Super Bowl was such an incredible and impactful moment. Not just because it was an amazing performance (because it was) but for someone of her status and recognizability to be that unapologetically black in front of America was awe inspiring.
On what do you insist?
Drag kings are just as talented and amazing as drag queens and worthy of the same level of respect.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Last FB post: “What does the zombie horde look like in the Minnesota winter? HYPERLINK “https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/twd?source=feed_text” \t “_blank” #twd”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“How Did I Get Here? And Other Musings From A Person With No Sense Of Direction”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Be very wary of anyone with a needle.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I consider myself an atheist but a small part of me is holding out hope that after we die, we get an opportunity to do this thing all over again.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
There are black, brown and trans folx who don’t feel like their voices are being heard. Listen to those voices!
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Definitely for my wife, with no hesitation. And possibly for a White Castle slider.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That gayness equates to white men.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Saving Face.” This was one of the first LGBTQ movies I saw and I loved everything about it.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Politeness in general is overrated. Not saying we shouldn’t be nice to one another, but politeness is often what keeps us from saying exactly how we feel in a moment. I would prefer to be honest even if it’s not the polite thing to do.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
A Grammy! Because I wish I could sing.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I wish I had known the possibilities of me. I doubted myself for so long and if I could, I would whisper to 18 year old me, “You’re awesome. Go for it.”
Because it’s a big city with a small-town vibe.