Pretty much the entire Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood erupted with an engulfing “Yaaaassss Tina!” on the night of April 10th, when Tina Burner was crowned Miss Industry 2016. One of the city’s most exciting, daring, insane and beloved figures in drag of the past seven years, 2016 is already shaping out to be the Year of Burner with Miss Industry, and another successful run of the acclaimed annual Ms. Barracuda pageant she produces, and four weekly shows, and several additional appearances, AND two stage shows at the Duplex, including an upcoming one-queen show based on her life. And as usual, Ms. Burner does not hold back in this exclusive interview with Thotyssey.
Thotyssey: Hi Tina! Congratulations on winning Miss Industry 2016. You’re a veteran pageant placer, is it still a thrill to win titles?
Tina Burner: Winning Ms. Industry was particularly special to me. Above all, it was a pageant for Trinity Place Shelter, and it has a very special place in my heart. I myself have been through a tough experience when I was younger, where I was forced to leave my home due to my sexual orientation. I was lucky enough to have a friend who took me in during my time of need, whereas most LGBTQ youth do not have that kind of support system.
On a lighter note, it’s always nice to beat Honey Davenport.
What was your first big pageant win, or placement?
That was Ms. Hell’s kitchen, the second year in it’s existence. Ms. Hell’s Kitchen is a benefit pageant for AIDS LIFE CYCLE. .I won for Talent and the Main Title.
Great start! You now have shows at least five days a week, and you still find time to enter so many pageants a year, and prepare these expensive, elaborate looks and performances for them. And now you have a one-woman show coming up. Do you have bottomless energy, or maybe access to time travel?
The bottomless energy comes from my boyfriend. Also, during the day I’m at a costume shop sewing with my friend Nicolas. To answer your question, I’m lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. If you know where a time machine is please let me know!!!!
You’ve sported so many creative looks over the years, sometimes made from unconventional materials. I’m speaking specifically of a dress made of meatballs you wore recently. Is your brain just constantly boiling with ideas for drag? Can you ever turn it off?
As I move on with my career now, I want to bring costume back into drag, since we don’t really see that anymore. I think of the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert specifically as inspiration, and bringing back the fun in drag and not always having to look fish. No, my brain never shuts off, she’s running a marathon for life!
Can you talk a little about the person or people who help you create your looks?
I first started to learn to sew when I met fashion designer Anthony Manfredonia about six years ago. He taught me from scratch, and helped me win my first few pageants. Then I started to work with Nicolas Putvinski, costume designer to the stars. I enhanced my knowledge and creativity. Now I’m working with Nicolas and the Izquierdo Studio. I can make all my flights of fancy that my mind comes up with, working in tandem with Nicolas.
So coming up is A Kristian Life, which opens at The Duplex on April 23rd, which I understand is autobiographical. Did you write this completely by yourself?
Yes, I lived it myself and wrote it myself. This is a chance for everyone to understand who I am and where I came from. I rarely get to talk about my personal life. This is an opportunity for people to get to know what’s underneath the paint stick and duct tape. I rarely sing live, and we’ll just have to see how that goes.
Are we going to be shocked by what we see?
People will be shocked to see the real me, and the raw emotional side of my life.
This is going to be a new experience for you, isn’t it? What percentage of the show are you Kristian, and what percent Tina?
It’s an even split, half Kristian and half Tina. Yes, this is a new experience in that you never see Kristian at all when I perform.
Sounds like it’s going to be pretty amazing. Let’s talk about the other shows now. You’ve been performing Saturday and Sunday Electrobrunch at Intermezzo in HK now for a long time. I remember when I first heard of that show, I thought, “Drag queens at brunch, like, with eggs and bacon? That’s bizarre.” Now every bitch is doing it. But you were a traiblazer! Why do you think drag brunch works so well?
Actually, the trailblazer was Princess Janae who started that Electrobrunch show with Intermezzo. I was appearing in the show regularly from the beginning, and took over the show after Princess Janae sadly passed away. I think it works because a lot of people who don’t get a chance to come out for the night shows and work a nine-to-five job can then come to brunch and booze it up with us then.
And Monday nights you perform at the Ritz. Mondays are tough for nightlife, but you get good crowds. Is there a different strategy for early weekday shows, as opposed to weekend shows, that nightlife performers should be following as far as type of performance, level of energy, etc?
Bianca Del Rio blazed the torch for late night shows, and I am happy to be carrying the torch now. In NYC nightlife, entertainment there is always happening at any night and time.
At the Ritz, you’re also hosting the viewing party for the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race at 9pm, right before your main show. Has anything really surprised you so far with this season, regarding Team NYC or anything else?
I’m just surprised how many people are surprised how talented Thorgy Thor is, and they should know that by now. She has been a New York City staple and she will forever remain that way. As far as Bob is concerned, I consider her one of the most talented comedic geniuses this city has ever seen.
What are your own Drag Race ambitions these days? I imagine that when you have so many successful gigs, the idea of walking out on all of them to pursue what MIGHT be 15 minutes of fame must seem risky.
If I was ever to be part of a television program that brings drag to mainstream, I would be so happy.
Wednesday you’re with Busted at Barracuda! I think a lot of people associate Barracuda as your home base, because of this show and especially Star Search. Is it your favorite venue to work in?
Barracuda has given me a home for numerous years. It is the one bar that has given every drag queen who has risen to the top a chance and a place to begin.
A lot of people think of you as being like this force of chaos and destruction when you’re on stage–like you’re going to tear up the room–but Busted is like that times 1000! How do you two keep from not tearing down the place, or is it all really a lot more controlled than we realize?
Basically Wednesday night is like the Babysitters Club with a vodka martini. I hope you come to check it out.
You did the The Off Couple with Busted in late March at the Duplex, a drag parody of The Odd Couple that Danny Logan directed. I see that’s coming to Fire Island this summer?
It was an amazing experience, and the chance to let it reach as many people as we can would be so great.
Danny joined you onstage for an AIDS-themed number at this past Odyssey awards. It was silly and fun, but did it go over the way you wanted it to?
One hundred percent. I think if you are not able to talk about LBGTQ issues and put them in the forefront, then as a performer you are not doing your job.
Back to Barracuda: you host Star Search on Thursday! That’s a very long-running weekly drag competition that you’ve been hosting since 2012. So much history with that competition. Does anyone who wants to be anyone in this business have to do it at least once, you think?
If you want to be somebody, you really should.
Ms. Barracuda was so successful this year, and that’s your baby. So much talent and creativity in the contestants’ looks and performances. What was your favorite moment of the competition this year?
Each year I push these girls to step out of their comfort zones. The most amazing moment was to see the crowd to react at all the hard work each of these girls put in.
By the way, I love your Tina Burner theme song and video. When did you make that?
I made that this past year with a very talented videographer, Dan DeStefano, and my good Judy Chris Dilley who provided the most amazing vocals.
You recently reprised one of your first drag shows, Turning Tables, at XES during that venue’s last week of business. Was that a very bittersweet experience?
XES is where I became Tina Burner. It was amazing to come back to revisit my past. It was like a drag queen Christmas Carol.
And I see you’re performing at Tony George’s birthday at Elmo on Friday, April 22, with Peppermint and Cazwell. How do you know Tony?
He is someone I met from back in the day at Sacred Center. He is an amazing guy with a fantastic personality.
You have stuff going on at Fire Island this summer, as always! First, I see you’re opening for Bianca Del Rio, who you mentioned earlier, on June 3rd and 5th. Are you two still close?
Look….That bitch is what we call famous, whenever I can catch her attention on text or FaceTime it’s always a kiki.
And then you’re hosting Mr. Fire Island Bear on June 11th! Can you handle that much manliness?
I grew up on a horse farm in the Adirondacks, I think I’ll be just fine.
And what about your regular Fire Island gigs this season?
I’m hosting a brand new show called Gurlesque on Friday nights before the underwear party at Cherry’s. It’s an all drag queen revue. As well as my resident show Ship Wreck Sundays at Cherry’s at 5pm. I’m taking over Tuesday nights with a new interactive show called Oh Deer! at Cherry’s.
Final question: How has drag changed since you started, and where do you hope it will go?
Drag is an ever evolving career, and wherever it takes me I’m happy to be on this ride. Who knows what stop this train is going to head to.
Tina Burner will perform at Elmo for Tony George’s birthday on Friday, April 22nd at 10:30pm. Her solo stage show “A Kristian Life” debuts at The Duplex on April 23rd, and concludes on April 30th.
Throughout the week: Tina hosts ElectroBrunch at Intermezzo in Hell’s Kitchen on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Mondays at the Ritz at 9pm, Wednesdays with Busted at Barracuda at 11pm, and Thursday again at Barracuda for Star Search at midnight.
This summer on Fire Island, Tina hosts weekly shows at Cherry’s on the Bay on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday nights. She will open for Bianca Del Rio at Cherry’s on June 3rd & 5th, and she will host Mr. Fire Island Bear 2016 there on June 11th. Once again at Cherry’s on June 21st & 24th, Tina will appear in “The Off Couple.”
Tina Burner can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and on her website.