Interviews with a Comedian, a Film Programmer, a Sign Painter, a Drag Queen, a Gallery Owner, and an Actor
All photos by Kelly O
How did you come to be Danielle Radford, Comedian? I've always liked when people paid more attention to me than to everyone else. The family mythology is that I could sing before I could talk, but I think that's one of those things my mom made up to make me feel better about my butt. After high school, I studied theater at Cornish College of the Arts until the end of sophomore year, when my dean told me to stop doing that. Then I dicked around in various bullshit jobs until a few years back, when one of my roommates who'd been doing open mics told me I should give it a shot, so I did. No one threw anything at me, so I kept going.
When did you first realize you were funny? I come from funny. I was always surprised as a kid when people WEREN'T funny. I just thought it was one of those things people do, like pooping. I probably recognized it was my thing when I would keep getting acting notes like "That scene made me laugh, Danielle, but I don't think Lady Macbeth is a supposed to be humorous."
Who's your comedy icon? Bill Cosby. I tell a lot of stories onstage, and that dude is just the master at that. I could only hope to one day be so good at standup comedy that I can start doing sit-down comedy. And he's a fashion icon. What other great comedian has an article of clothing named after them? What would a CK sweater even look like? Just a black sweater, probably. A black sweater covered in red hair.
Judging from your Twitter account, you're an anxiety-ridden nerd with a Michael Gross fixation and an attention-grabbing rack who is compulsively hilarious. Is this close? That's the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said about me. I think you've just written my eulogy.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: marry/fuck/kill? Marry the son. Water into wine = open bar at the wedding. Fuck the Holy Ghost. (I want me and Ke$ha to be Eskimo sisters. She never said which ghost she fucked, so I've gotta get started fucking all of them.) Kill the father. Really no other acceptable answer. Anyone who says differently should be avoided at all costs.
Danielle Radford regularly performs comedy around town and on Twitter @danielleradford.
You're the new programmer at Central Cinema. What do you have lined up this fall? So many movies. I have Charade. We're doing Wet Hot American Summer. The King of Kong, which is one of my favorite documentaries. We'll be doing Justin Bieber: Never Say Never in Hecklevision, because he deserves it. He's a little asshole. We also have Dune, The Virgin Suicides, Pet Sematary, Ghostbusters, The Cabin in the Woods. We're doing themed happy hours starting in September: Music Video Mondays; TV Tuesdays; WTF Wednesdays, which is just going to be random, terrifying TV shows like Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp; Cartoon Thursdays; Sci-fi Fridays; Sketch Saturdays; and Silent Film Sundays. They start at 5:30 p.m., and the happy-hour specials are kind of awesome.
What else do you have planned? I'm working on Film Court. It's going to be somebody defending a movie and someone being the prosecutor. I'd be the judge, and everyone in the audience would be the jury.
What are some formative moviegoing experiences for you? When I was a kid, I saw Steel Magnolias in the theater, and during a crying scene, the film melted, and it was a really traumatic experience. I remember for some reason being really affected the first time I saw Dark Days. Amadeus, Manhattan, Wet Hot American Summer—those are movies that really stuck with me. As a kid, I loved The Peanut Butter Solution, which is a terrible movie with a, like, 16-year-old Celine Dion making the soundtrack. It's a really creepy movie, but everyone should watch it. Heathers was my number one movie. I would watch it over and over again, and I would invite friends over and make them repeat the lines with me. Harry and the Hendersons, because I went with my dad and he just bawled his face off when John Lithgow slapped Harry to make him go back into the woods. My dad just lost his shit, basically.
Such good times at the movies. Yeah! I know, I'm trying to remember my happy times, but I have all these traumas. The first 10 minutes of Up, I was just bawling my face off. Basically, any movie about old people, I just can't handle. Like Awakenings, Cocoon, *batteries not included., Amour, forget it. Basically, I'm not allowed to watch those movies at home.
You've painted some of the best hand-lettered signs and murals around town, but not many people know you by name. This has actually been a slow realization for me. I do something that I think is a great piece of work but then don't see any real feedback. I guess I'm more of a public service—while people might like it, they may not be consciously aware of it, and they won't know me. Honestly, I'm a little shy anyway.
You also painted the letters on the Möbius strip saw hanging in the Buster Simpson show at the Frye Art Museum (up through October 13). How did you do that? That piece seriously doesn't end, and it's confounding. It's huge and heavy and sharp, kind of a pendulum of danger. And I'm painting onto it a poetic piece that's not only repeated but feeds into the next line—the inside becomes the outside. As you start, you're doing it a normal way, lettering forward, and then you're doing it upside down, and then you're doing it backward, and then they're backward and upside down, twisting your body, getting in odd positions. It almost broke my brain.
Do you agree that most commercial signage is really ugly? I don't know why people are okay with the way things are becoming, but they seem to like it—the nonhuman feel of things. I would like to see people be a little less fearful of displaying character.
What do you do if you paint a typo? You know, that happens more often than I would like. You get into a zone and might end up spelling something wrong, or even putting in the wrong word. One of the great traits of any sign painter is being a marvelous problem solver.
What's the story of that tattoo? This is a horsehair paintbrush I used to paint a street clock that used to be downtown, belonging to a 100-plus-year-old jewelry shop called Carroll's. I found it at an estate sale and didn't think about it, but later I realized it was horsehair and very nice, and then I used it to paint this huge freestanding street clock, two stories tall, with Victorian stylings. It had fallen into disrepair, so I fixed it up and added a lot of touches. I was hoping I'd make it look like jewelry, which is what someone said when they looked at it. When Carroll's threw in the towel, it broke my heart.
Have Japhy Witte make you a sign! email@example.com
How did you come to be Seattle drag star Ben DeLaCreme? What I do now is eerily close to the stuff I did as an outcast kid in rural Connecticut—daydreaming and doodling, writing stories and making costumes, forcing the occasional visiting cousin to be in a play and then forcing my parents to watch it. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to study painting, but I was much more drawn to performance art. I also began studying drag queenery at Chicago-area gay bars. I loved the process and mode of thinking of the fine-art world, but my sense of camp and comedy wasn't nurtured in that setting. The drag world provided more interesting costume options, but didn't really encourage critical thinking. I left school after three years in search of something that satisfied both needs. So far it looks like this.
You're in the burlesque world. Do you have much history with drag-bar queenery? I am a HUGE fan of the old guard of drag. I have loved queens like Varla Jean Merman, Miss Coco Peru, and Lypsinka since I was a teen. My love affair with burlesque is based on the way those worlds overlap. I like "lowbrow" art—stuff that feels accessible to everyone without formal language or rules. I like that both embrace the duality of traditional glamour and sexual transgression, and that both have histories as modes of entertainment as well as political activism.
You understand that a man in a dress isn't inherently funny, but must be funny to be funny. Who are your comedy role models? As a feminist and an advocate of trans rights, a man in a dress CAN'T be a joke. Wearing beautiful things and telling jokes are two ways I get to make the world closer to what I want it to be. To me, drag is the perfect vehicle for comedy not because "HA-HA MEN AREN'T WOMEN," but because of the camp tradition. In camp, a character can simultaneously be the joke and be in on it—the character and creator coexist in a way that is rare in other forms. Some of my favorite comics are Amy Sedaris, Paul Reubens, Maria Bamford, Kristen Wiig, all the above-mentioned queens, and Seattle's crown jewel Dina Martina.
True or false: You'll be on the next season of a show that rhymes with "PluPlaul's Plag Place." Sorry, out of time.
You run M.I.A Gallery, specializing in African contemporary art. How did you enter the world of African art? I got started with an interest in Russian art. I was surrounded first by Russian artists, not African. So I was introduced to Russian ideas. You know: Russia is beautiful, Russia is this, Russia is that. I would go to shows with the artists, and they would say: This such-and-such a person is here. I need to talk to them. I need to make things happen. It was all a dance. And I knew I wanted to be here, between the artist and the person they wanted to talk to. But when I think about it now, I know the Russian artists never considered African art as serious. But it was watching these Russians trying to sell things that got me thinking. So when I moved to Seattle, I never thought it was going to be me doing just one type of art. I wanted to do many different things. But, yes, I show African art—but not for the obvious reasons.
Where are from originally? The question "Where are you from?" has always been strange to me. You know, the first thing I am is Parisian. Then maybe French noir. I was born in New Caledonia, an island in the Pacific Ocean. But my parents are Somali. I'm French, I'm African, I once studied in London at Middlesex University, I'm living in America. And as for France, it is a very mixed country. Despite the racism, the craziness, it is very mixed. It is a place where people have picked up on a lot of different things. They don't say "coffee" in France anymore; they say "kahwah," which is Arabic. So if the Africans and Arabs were to leave the country, it would be the French who go crazy, who would have a crisis of identity.
Tell us about your gallery. When I first saw this place, I loved it. I loved it because it used to be a hair salon—a place where people would walk in, have their hair done, and become more beautiful. And that's why my first show with Malick Sidibé [the Malian photographer] was so important. At Sidibé's Bamako [the capital of Mali] photography studio, people walked in, had their picture taken, and they became more beautiful than in real life.
M.I.A Gallery's latest show, Frank Marshall's Renegades, portraits of metalheads in Botswana, runs through Oct 2 (m-i-a-gallery.com).
When did you and John Kazanjian start New City Theater? In 1982. We were cooking along until Reagan and the right wing started bringing down the National Endowment for the Arts. We had more support nationally than locally. When we were in the space that now belongs to Hugo House, the budget was more than 100 grand—which seems like a lot to us now—and we were going to open it during the day as a coffee shop to finance the art-making. We asked for local funding, 20 grand, to help us finish. They said no. We had to sell the building.
You're known for performing long, nuanced monologues in living rooms and other intimate settings: Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor, Tony Kushner's Homebody. It's like being a marathon runner, or a soloist instead of a member of a quartet. I really enjoy the immediate engagement with the audience. It's taken me decades to loosen the reins and play onstage, but now I'm also enjoying being less consistent. As taxing as it is to not have the safety net of other people, it's all yours—all in your hands to form the whole ride. My biggest battle is with the other voices that get into your head. Your mouth is going, but the little devil on your shoulder is saying: "You probably don't know what's coming next. You're probably going to fuck up." Meditation and yoga are important to me for training, to recognize the voices and say, "Oh, there you are again." With meditation, you learn you can't really have a blank mind, but you learn to let things pass. But for Homebody, I had them arrange the lights so I couldn't see people's faces.
Biggest onstage disasters? Luckily, not many! The technical requirements of solo pieces are fairly simple. But we did this David Greenspan play called 2 Samuel 11. I'm playing Bathsheba, it's a long monologue, and she's a chain-smoker. This was before the antismoking thing was so strong. As I was smoking, somebody in the audience stood up and began hissing. I lit my second cigarette, and there was another hiss. And it was a fight or flight thing—do I address this? Without thinking, I broke character and said: "Do you plan to keep doing this? Because the script calls for it." I think he left. I kept smoking.
This November at New City Theater (newcitytheater.org), Mary Ewald will recite T. S. Eliot poetry, followed by a dance film featuring choreographer Pina Bausch or Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, depending on the evening.