On Point With: Ari Kiki

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Ari Kiki has reinvented what it means to be a hot mess comedy drag queen… and we love her for it!  She talks to Thotyssey about what Jiggly Caliente watched her do at the bus stop during Ari’s debut, the birth of her signature look, being a drag mamma, last night’s Drag Race, and everything else.


Thotyssey: So gurl, you have two weekly shows, two monthly shows, and you’re making guest appearances everywhere. How do you do all this and function at your 9 to 5 office day job?

Ari Kiki:  I wish i could say it was drugs–I’ve seen the wonders it’s done for many of my drag cohorts–but its really just trying to paying off my $27,000 credit card debt from numerous bad choices.

You and me both!  So, where are you from, and are your folks fans of Ari?

I’m a born and raised New Yorker: a unicorn, as they say. I was raised in midtown, and have lived in Washington Heights/Inwood for the past six years..

I’m Puerto Rican & Cuban. My dad and I have never had the gay talk, but I’m aware that he has an idea I’m gay. He’s in his 70′s, so his thinking isn’t as modern. My mom is in her 50’s; they both live together in Puerto Rico now. She knows about Ari. She gags at some of the things I do. But overall she’s very supportive. Her only request is that I paint prettier, but I’ll never give you a fully polished look, at least not permanently [Laughs].

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Let’s talk about the evolution of Ari Kiki! When did you first start venturing out in drag?

Well, I actually first did drag about ten years ago. I had a persona named “Marbal” I swore i was fish, as we all do our first time out. I went out a few times, and did a few appearances at a drag competition at XES that used to be hosted by Jade Electra. Then i started dating a guy who wasn’t about that life, and I put Marbal away.

Then fast forward five years later, and i started to take training at a wonderful organization called the New York Anti-Violence Project, to become a hotline rep, and learned about gender. And slowly but surely, Ari Kiki started to emerge.

Her first appearance at a bar was at Bartini for Drag Wars, hosted by the incredible Shequida Hall. And I got wasted before the show started and had Jiggly (this was pre-Drag Race for her) follow me outside as I peed at the bus stop in drag, as the bathrooms were busy and i couldn’t hold it much longer.

Bigger gag: I ended up being in the top three that night (thanks to my friends cheering) up against Busted and Detox (who happened to be visiting from Cali, also, pre-Drag Race). I wanna say Detox won, but I honestly don’t remember [Laughs].

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The first but not the last time Ms. Kiki took her business to the streets! And did you have the trademark crooked lips right away, or did they evolve over time?

Evolve. Originally my drag sister Viki Villainess would always paint my face when I went out as Ari Kiki. You can tell the difference if you look at the OLD pics. It was a mix of fish and genderfuck. Then one night, we both had to go out in face for a fundraiser at the old Boots & Saddle hosted by Lady Blue, and my number was “You Belong to Me” by Carly Simon. And I wanted to play it up as a drunk scorned lover, and it was around the same time Heath Ledger did his Joker, and thus the trademark lips were born.

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What a mix of inspirations! I know that one of your other idols is Divine. Do you have a favorite movie of hers?

Female Trouble is my all time fave, but Lust in the Dust is another fave, and NOT a John Waters film.

That’s a lost classic! Do you think, generally speaking, that too many queens rely on fish and beauty to get by?

To each their own, I’m no one to judge. My go-to motto and quote in life and in drag is from Charlie Chaplin, and I have it tatted on my arm:  “A day without laughter, is a day wasted.“ My biggest goal whenever I’m in drag is to make people laugh and forget their troubles for a few hours. I used to not understand “messy/unfish” queens, but clearly things changed. It’s all about owning what you do. I love a fishy queen, and i love me a messy queen. Looks are fab, but I generally appreciate when there is more to it than just makeup. But again, to each their own.

Well said! Pretty much everyone in nightlife loves you, because you are a very nice person. Do you think you have any haters at all?

Everyone has haters, and I’m not as nice as everyone perceives [laughs]. I’m mainly a nice queen. I’m a firm believer of karma. And I generally try to give off what I want in return. In regards to haters, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m still getting paid and tipped, so somebody appreciates what i do, and I’m not for everyone [laughs].

On that note, you’re also a force of great evil because you have all the tea on everyone in the city. Can you please have a few cocktails and come back to me with some shady story about some bitch? You can use fake names!

No, I’m actually like six cocktails in now. Just caught Lady Bunny’s Trans-Jester at Stonewall. So good. {laughs], Yes, I usually do have a good amount of T to drink, but nothing goes to print, it’s all hearsay, but it’s usually all true, or there’s some truth to it. But as Kim Wayans used to say on In Living Color, “I ain’t one to gossip, so you didn’t hear that from me.”

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So, How long ave you been cocktail waiting at Stonewall now? And how did you get that job? 

Well I’ve been at Stonewall almost three years now, this fall. It all started because Mahog Anny had gotten booked for an Invasion. She booked me, Viki and our long-lost sista, Jesela, as guests. As soon as we knew the three of us were booked together, we knew we kinda were gonna steal the show. Whenever [Mahog Any] wasn’t on the mic, i somehow managed to get up on stage,

I also made my presence known at the bar by #NippleRape-Ing guys, and my overall energy caught the eye of bar manager, Mike Salinari. He approached me after the show and asked me if I knew how to serve cocktails. I said no, but I was willing to learn, and thus I joined the Stonewall family.

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I’m very thankful for having had this opportunity, and it’s really catapulted my drag career. I honestly don’t think I would be where i am now, had Mike not hired me. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing so many queens host Invasion, and have been a guest at so many Invasions. It’s really been a blessing and joy.

You took over Riot! there from Frostie Flakes, a monthly fundraiser (next is May 14th), where you and your guest performers do really long drag suicides. Are you one of those queens who hate doing suicides when you don’t know the lyrics, or can you always find a way to make things work?

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I personally hate suicide for the simple fact that I look a certain way, and for folks seeing me perform for the first time, it’s not the best of impressions. But I totally get how it’s fun for the audience, and it’s a quick way to tackle a bunch of numbers i wasn’t trying to perform. As long as the tips keep flowing and everyone is having fun, fuck it, hit it DJ!

And of course, Tuesday nights at 8pm you’re at Boots & Saddle for your weekly show, sandwiched between Pattaya Hart and Brenda Dharling. This has been an unusually popular Tuesday night lineup, what’s the secret to making this work?

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We all get along. Tuesdays are my absolute favorite gig. [Boots owner] Robert knew what he was doing when he wedged me between Pattaya and Brenda. [laughs].

I’ve known Brenda for as long as Ari Kiki has been around. We used to compete in the same drag competitions around town. She is absolutely one of the sweetest and most entertaining queens I know, and I adore her.  Pattaya I met roughly two-three years ago at a party called Penthaus. I thought, “Pretty Asian queen.” I had no clue at the time that she was a trained dancer. Our friendship has really blossomed since I started at Boots. We currently share an hour on stage on Tuesdays. She brings the dance, and I bring the humor. She tries to be funny, but it sorta gets lost in translation. I usually piggyback on all her cracks and make the audience crack up. We’ve definitely been rubbing off on each other. I’m hoping to polish up my dancing shoes with her help, and i sense she’s trying to get better with the jokes.

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Also, we all live uptown, so there have been numerous drunken cab rides together with the three of us. Poor cab drivers had no idea what they signed up for [laughs].

And I heard all three of you are the same age! That’s cute! At Boots, and other venues, you tend to roll all over the stage and the floor while performing. Aren’t you afraid of rolling over a nail or something? Or a patch of herpes?

Nothing alcohol, tiger balm and some pain killers can’t fix/cure!

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You and Pattaya now also do a last-Friday-of-the-month show at Bamboo52 (next one’s April 29th) called WasaBitches, which I have falsely reported was actually a weekly show at least twice (sorry!)  I know you like to eat while you perform, are you a sushi girl?

Who told you i like to eat? [Laughs] So far we’ve only done the show once, and i chose not to eat during the show. But afterwards, whole different story. I love me a Philadelphia roll and a side of sake.

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Back to Stonewall. You and your drag daughter Lola Michele-Kiki host a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party and show on Mondays. Two questions about the show: 1) Is there any chance that Bob won’t win, and 2) was Thorgy robbed?

Thanks for the plug [laughs]. To answer your first question, besides the necessary bias as a NY queen, of course I think Bob is gonna win. At this point in the show, the other queens left are really no competition against her. She’s smart, crafty and funny. She’s a full-package queen.

Regarding your second question, as Thorgy mentioned in her exit interview on Untucked, there’s a lot we don’t see, and editing always has a hand in how the cards fall. When it comes down to it, it’s a reality show, and the producers have a story to present to the audience. I know Thorgy is an incredible performer, has an eclectic style, and is an overall joy of a person. I wish she had made it to the top three, because that would have made the decision as to who wins much more complicated and nerve-wrecking to watch.

Last night’s episode was crazy… I can’t believe Bob had to lip sync!

I figured Derrick Berry was bound to go home tonight. I just wasn’t sure who would send her home. I figured they knew better than to pair her against Kimchi. I knew Bob and Kimchi would be in the top three.

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I know you’ve been reluctant in the past to take on a drag daughter. Why’d you make an exception for Lola? 

Well, Brita Filter was the first to start saying I was her drag mom. I share custody with Lauren Ordair over her. But Brita has made a name for herself.

Lola used to go by a different name when i first met her, and she was hanging around Reyscandalo and Q De LaRogue (who we say is currently her drag father [laughs]). She approached me about being her drag mom, and I was very persistent in saying no, but she kept insisting and insisting, and finally wore me down [laughs].

She’s actually grown so much in the year or so that I took her under my wig, I mean wing. I see her guest-spotting and co-hosting a lot, and I definitely see her landing her own weekly show soon. [Editor’s note: she just did!] She hosted an Invasion at Stonewall a few weeks ago, and it was so good! I’m very proud of her and her accomplishments.

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You’re hosting your own Stonewall Invasion on May 1st! What can we expect from that night?

Well, the go-to answer is “new numbers, shows and shenanigans.” [Laughs]. But I’m very excited. I have Viki Villainess doing the show, and she’s my best friend, and I feel she’s very underrated in the scene. She makes everything she wears from hair to outfit, and she loves to turn a look. I have Mary Muscles also joining me–she used to go by Cherry Sanchez many moons ago–and took a long hiatus from drag. But now she’s back with a passion that I love to see. Pattaya Hart will be getting drunk alongside me. [Laughs] As you can see, I love working with her.

I also asked Judy Darling and Sutton Lee Seymour to do the show. Judy has been a witch on the rise. I had the pleasure of seeing her compete and win the Miss Abracadabra pageant last year, as I hosted. She’s super funny, and always mesmerizing to watch. I think she puts a spell on her audiences. Sutton just got back from Mexico, where she was doing her one-woman show for the entire winter. How many NYC queens can say they were whisked away to another country to host their own show for a season?

As for me, I got some new wigs and new pieces, and maybe, just maybe, I may do a mix or two! [Laughs] I’m not known for doing mixes, so if you happen to get one from me, you’re welcome!

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I’ll be there!. And I see you’re performing at your friend Ike Avelli’s Duplex birthday show on May 6th! How do you know Mike?

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I met Ike at the beginning of my drag career as Ari through Viki Villainess. They were friends, and he was doing a Christmas show at Muffins in the Window and wanted some drag queens to help with the opening of his act. It ended up with me, Viki and Mary (then Cherry) each taking on a holiday-inspired look. Viki was a Christmas tree, Mary was Mrs. Claus, and I was a holiday ho. We became friends, and me and Viki work with him on a regular basis for different gigs.

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I hear that you make a cameo appearance in the Strike a Pose documentary about Madonna’s Truth or Dare backup dancers. That puts you, like, one degree away from Madonna! Have you seen it yet? 

I haven’t seen it yet, Every time it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival I happened to have a gig, So, fail for me. But I’ve had numerous friends and patrons at bars come up to me and tell me they saw me in the film.

It was from when I did MadonnaWorship for the first time two years ago. I performed “Hung Up”, last year, I did “Living for Love” and this past year I performed a remix of “GhostTown.”. My family at Stonewall has really beefed up my Madonna love.

Okay, last question: If you could switch bodies for one day with any other drag queen for 24 hours, who would it be and why? 

I think I would say Brenda Dharling, so I could learn how to move like her. I would love to do a split, cartwheel, spin, split in the air, and go home to a wall full of crowns!

But we’re glad you’re you, Ari! Thank you!


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Ari Kiki performs at Boots & Saddle every Tuesday night from 8 to 10pm. She and Pattaya Hart co-host WasaBitches this Friday (April 29th) and every last Friday of the month at Bamboo52. Ari is a cocktail waitress every Sunday night at Stonewall (until May, where she will only waitress twice a month), and hosts Riot! there every second Saturday of the month (next one’s May 14th), On May 1st, she will host her own Stonewall Invasion. Ari will perform for Ike Avelli’s birthday bash at the Duplex on May 6th. 

Ari Kiki can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and you can purchase her merchandise at DragQueenMerch.

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