2014 Genius Award Nominee in Performance
CREATED THE DRAG CHARACTER JINKX MONSOON:
On the sly, at the age of 15, in his grandma's wig.
DESCRIBES JINKX AS:
"Like if you put Meryl Streep, Madeline Kahn, Carol Burnett, Sarah Silverman, Lucille Ball, and my mom in a blender."
IS CLASSICALLY TRAINED IN THEATER BUT LOVES:
"The funny parts in movies where the glamorous woman falls down the stairs."
Jinkx Monsoon is a witchy, boozy, bottle-blond knockout, a powerhouse singer, a captivating actor, an improvisational genius, and a complete fabrication. Watching her is like watching hundreds of years of theater history come together. It's like sorcery. The genius within her genius is a classically trained art star named Jerick Hoffer, who says that after a college clowning class, which studied classical commedia dell'arte, "My drag work improved tenfold." He performs with ease as either gender, he sometimes slides around between both, and he doesn't see much difference between Shakespeare and Sondheim: "Singing a song and reciting a soliloquy—it's kind of the same thing."
On a recent Saturday, I met Hoffer at his apartment on First Hill and watched him transform from boy to Jinkx. It takes two hours of makeup, oval chunks of padding for hips, five layers of pantyhose, and someone else to glue on the eyelashes (otherwise "I stab myself in the eye with my fake nails"). Once the wig was on, Jerick vanished. He studied ballet for years, in high school he busked as a windup doll on the streets of Portland, he's done standup, he's done improv, and he put himself through Cornish College of the Arts by working as the school's janitor. He would get up at 5:30 a.m. and, for four hours, have several empty buildings to himself. "I would put on my headphones and literally sing at the top of my lungs. It's how I memorized all the material that I use today."
Art school also taught him to take feedback. "I always tried to treat everything on RuPaul's Drag Race"—a reality TV show Hoffer won last year—"like I was getting critiques in my acting class." As we walked from his apartment to the Paramount Theatre, where Jinkx was performing two numbers for an STG benefit, he explained, "Jerick plays Jinkx, and then Jinkx plays those other characters"—including a character in last year's off-Broadway hit The Vaudevillians, Hoffer's collaboration with pianist Richard Andriessen, aka Major Scales. They play old-timey entertainers who've been trapped in ice that only recently thawed, thanks to global warming; they originally wrote all the pop hits of today but never got credit for it. ("Drop It Like It's Hot" was about the invention of the electric iron.)
Hoffer is an inexhaustible perfectionist, but it's hidden under a cloak of effortlessness. At the Paramount, Jinkx played to a sea of STG donors who looked like they'd been hired to sit as still as possible. Jinkx did not respond by taking it easy. While singing "All That Jazz," she ran into the crowd and toyed with them. She pulled a maraschino cherry out of someone's drink, chewed it, and changed her mind: "You can have the rest of this." Then she leapt back onstage and landed in the splits. The recorded accompaniment inexplicably cut out halfway through her next number, and Jinkx filled the silence by cracking: "Hand me the bread. I will just eat it competitively for you." The pleasure of a Jinkx performance is watching a creature not of this world respond to our world in real time. Not content to end on a technical glitch, she improvised a closing number—she had the crowd clap to a beat while she belted out a gorgeous a cappella rendition of "Mercedes Benz" by Janis Joplin. Brilliant.