A living drag legend who appropriately shares a birthday with Cher, Marg-OH! Channing returns this week to the cabaret stage with a birthday version of her beloved revue UNCORKED. She’s performed at bars and pageants and was at one point even the star of hr own TV show, but the place to watch MargOH! shine these days is the cabaret stage. Thotyssey is honored to chat with this true nightlife star about her crazy-amazing career, drinking (and pretending to be drunk), gay weddings, and her 20+ marriage and partnership with fellow performer Man-EE Champagne. Cheers!
Marg-OH! Channing: Yes,I love performing for a cause, Tuck -n-Flo’s show was for the AIDS Walk. If I’m available for a charity event, I’ll do it! I love giving back to the community, Plus, I adore Candy Samples and Tucker, so if they ask, I’ll come and perform.
The bachelorette party was for my friends Aurora North & Arrie Davidson for their wedding. I was also their officiant, so performing for them was so special.. They are part of the burlesque and dance community here in New York. The burlesque community has always been open to welcoming drag, and I’m so thrilled to work with them. I sang with my gayiance MAN-ee Champagne, so it makes it all the better.
I love performing at Stonewall as well, it’s always special to think of the history, and that we are all a small part of it.
That’s great that you’re an officiant! Don’t you think all drag queens should be getting licensed to officiate weddings these days?
Yes, I don’t see why not! Who needs a priest, when you can have someone a bit more colorful? I had a great time, and everyone seemed to enjoy my service that was traditional with a touch of glamour and comedy.
I think I might marry someone just for that!
I’ll be waiting to hitch you!
Yes, I saw Lady Bunny’s new show on opening night. Randy Jones asked me to be his date, so how could I resist? I love Bunny, she is an icon. And I know where she is coming from. I’m, um, almost 50, and back in my day we didn’t seem to get hung up on words. The thing is, the more freedom or equal rights we get, the more scrutinized we’ll be, and that gets amplified in our community.
Do I believe the word “tranny” is offensive? No. But I’m not a transperson, so it’s an individual’s preference how they want to be addressed. I think we should be sensitive to all the communities belonging to the LGBTQ family, but do I think an artist should be told what he or she can say? Hell no!
Lady Bunny is a comedian. As was Joan Rivers, who outraged people, but she got people talking about racism and fat-phobia, as Bunny is shedding light on her generation’s view on political correctness. She is not the enemy…I don’t believe she is, and she’s called me a cunt!
Okay, let’s get to the root of you! First of all, happy almost birthday! When’s the actual day?
Thank you! My birthday is May 20th, the same as Cher. I guess that’s why I’ve always been a gypsy, tramp and thief. Or I should probably say tramp twice!
So, I understand that you lead two very different lives, with two very different places of origin!
My character MargOH! was born in Bangor, the daughter of poor fishmongers. MargOH! escaped at the age of twelve after winning the title of “Little Miss Lobster Claw,” and went on to star in Sexploitation films.
Me, BT Shea: I’m from a small town (Ansonia, Connecticut), and much like MargOH! I escaped from bullying and being the oddball to find my tribe. And I think we’re both still looking.
I love a queen with a meaty back story.
Yes, we all must have a story!
So when did singing and performing come into your (actual) life?
I started singing and performing cabaret in 2007, a few years after I moved to New York City. I had been performing Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli tribute shows for years, but wanted to push myself artistically. So the character of “The Boozy Chanteuse” MargOH! Channing was born and evolved over the years into this zany, insane but loveable character.
As a kid I always wanted to be a singer, but didn’t have the pipes. But I figured out a way to live my dream and make people laugh, so it’s been so much fun.
Was All About Eve, starring Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a favorite movie of yours?
Yes, I had a bad drag name when I started: Connie Constantino! But then one night I came home after clubbing and All About Eve was on, and I said to myself, “Margo is who I want to be, a drunk fabulous bitch!” So I added the OH! in MargOH! It really is one of my favorite films.
I often wondered why more drag queens didn’t include “Eve” dialogue in their mixes, but I re-watched it recently and there aren’t a lot of monologues. Just that great, clippy banter.
It was all about the tone of her voice, not so much what she said. Margo had all the big lines, as it should be. But there is truth in that film: there will always be another Eve waiting for you to crumble, so you gotta keep up your game. That is true for drag as well.
When you’re playing up Drunk Marg-OH onstage, do you have that down to a science? Or is there a little life imitating art there?
I adhere to the Elaine Stritch rule: One before the show, one during, and after, who’s counting?
Yes, you need to be sober to act drunk!
I understand you had your own TV show early on.
When I moved to New York, that was the first project I did. MAN-ee and I started the MNN Cable Access Show “The MargOH! Channing Show.” It ran on Saturday nights at 11PM from 2003-2006, and we did 30 original shows. We taped it in our apartment, and would invite over New York nightlife personalities and musicians. Or if we didn’t have a guest, we would do skits or holiday specials.
We were so low budget that we were editing VCR to VCR. It’s so funny; they are part of the Columbia University LGBT Archive now, and I heard people still watch it on their Columbia TV station sometimes.
I’ve been thinking about reviving it on Youtube as “Tipsy Talk” Honestly, I still have the thirty VHS Tapes that still need to be digitized…good grief!
So, you perform mostly cabaret showcases, but did you ever go the bar queen/lip synch route?
I actually started out strictly lip-synching to Judy Garland, then Liza in Providence, Rhode Island, where I did Judy and Liza tribute shows. I always say, Judy gave me the confidence to sing in my own voice. I learned everything about performance from lip synching Judy songs.
I still lip synch when people ask me to perform Liza or Judy. The other night, I lip synched Liza for the Tuck -n-Flo show, so I’ll always be a bar queen at heart.
And believe me, I have the utmost respect for the girls that are out there every night, hosting and making people laugh. We are all doing the same work, but just in different venue’s. I judged the Miss Get Out Pageant at the Monster, and I was amazed by the talent. And when the host Logan Hardcore did a front flip into a split and then a back flip, I was on my feet. Amazing!
Logan is everything!
Yes, she is really funny and very talented.
So, tell me about MAN-ee Champagne. How would you describe him, and when did you meet him?
MAN-ee Champagne is my sparkling partner-in-crime. He is MargOH!’s foil that she met doing go-go at the Gaiety Theater in Times Square, and now he brings the burlesque into my shows by singing and taking it off.
In real life, he is an actor and singer. He is also my husband. We’ve been together 22 years now, and we met in Providence when we were puppies.
That’s a love story for the ages! I watched a video where he pulls a fistful of marshmallow peeps at of his panties and stuffs them in his mouth! He has a very different stage presence than Marg-OH!
Yes, I’m a lucky lady! He has a feminine side, and can get crazy, but I love when we duet the most to “I Got You, Babe” or my original song “I’m Not a Drunk, I Just Love to Drink.” He has an amazing voice, and also sings some Demi Lovato at our show UNCORKED. He is fun!
So, what’s the history of UNCORKED? It’s had a few previous incarnations, right?
Yes, this is the final show in a trilogy: “MargOH! Channing is Tipsy,” MargOH! Sings the Booze” now “Marg-OH! Channing is UNCORKED.” They all center around Marg-OH!’s trials and tribulations and ups and downs, or her career. She’s made a lot of choices, and most of them bad, and in UNCORKED she is letting everyone have it. All in good fun, but with a smidgen of hate. All wrapped around original songs, and as MargOH! calls them, sloshy standards.
And we learn more about Marg-OH! between the songs?
Yes, the songs are all chosen to add to the stories. Like, Marg-OH! talks about returning to New York after 15 years of living in Bangkok, getting by doing bit parts in Thai Godzilla remakes and running a 25 seat cabaret, bordello and escort service, but she is dismayed by how much the city has changed, and then sings my latest original song called “New York is Closing” about the gentrification of the city.
Gentrification is really this city’s new plague, isn’t it?
Gentrification takes away the neighborhood feel. It really guts it, and makes everything seem pedestrian. When you lose the fabric of the hoods, like bodegas. and diners where you’d see waiters and cooks on a daily basis, and then all of a sudden a bank is in that space…it’s depressing.
It sure is, so let’s change the subject! UNCORKED returns to to the Pangea restaurant/theater on May 19th. Will the show be any different this time around?
Yes of course, whenever I do a show there is something different. I always update and test out new jokes and choose new songs.
Also, since it is my birthday, I’ve turned this show into a drinking game. you’ll have to come and find out, so you can stumble out [laughs].
Sounds like a can’t miss event! Any other plans for the summer, or later in the year?
After this show, I’ll be meeting with producers about supporting my play “For The Love of Judy” that I premiered last summer at the Dixon Place LGBTQ HOT Festival. I’m re-working the script to get it ready for upcoming Fringe Festivals in 2017. It’s my coming of age story, and I play Judy Garland while an actor plays my male self. We had such fun performing it last year, and it’s really where my heart is, so I have to get back to it.
I’m also going to be putting together a Christmas show at Pangea. I think I’m going to call it “MargOH!’s Christmas Balls are Hung,” or something like that. But the egg nog will be spiked, that’s for sure! That will be in December.
I’m also taking a vacation, honey..I need some sun! It’s mojito season, thank goodness!
Sounds like a busy year for you, and a fun one!
Yes! You have to keep busy and keep the body moving or things get stiff.
Finally: As a veteran drag queen and performer, what do today’s baby queens need to know and respect about their drag HERstory that they might not today?
I love all forms of drag, and love how the younger kids have taken all sorts risks with their drag (beards, cosplay, fetish), and that is exciting. I’d consider myself old school drag, so having an “On-point” or “Fish” look is not that important to me. I stick with Max Factor and Coty Powder, honey.
My biggest piece of advice to any drag queen is to know who you are, and what you are trying to say through your drag. We all have a learning curve, but if you are going to lip synch Beyonce, then study Beyonce, and know who she is to you. Or if you want to be a comedian, then study comics that you like, and put your own twist on it. Then hit the stage.
I usually listen to a song 100 times to know what the song is saying, and how the artist is breathing, and try and become one with the song. Hit the stage ready in whatever you are presenting, and the audience will love you and come along for the ride. The audience are the most important people in the room, so make them feel special and all will be good!
Sound advice for any performer, Marg-OH! Thanks so much!