One of New York’s most beloved and respected drag queens, Peppermint’s been a champion of the city’s nightlife since the big club days of the early 90′s. With a discography of tunes that people actually listen to, tons of annual gigs that take her all over the world, and a Pep is a force to be reckoned with. Good thing she’s also a sweetheart! Thotyssey’s got the goods on Queen P.
Thotyssey: It’s the living legend, Peppermint! Thanks for talking to us!
Peppermint: Of course babe, it’s my absolute pleasure. I am excited we are finally able to chat.
I came across the banner for your recent Baruch fundraiser, and you’re billed as Peppermint Gummybear. I heard the story about how you named yourself after your favorite candy, but you dumped Gummybear years ago… is it making a comeback?
Yes, I had a great time at Baruch performing for their fundraiser. It’s a great college, and the LGBT Student Union there is fantastic. They were so excited about the show, apparently they didn’t realize I got a divorce of sorts [laughs]!
Your recollections are right. I stopped using that name years ago, but I forgot to send my divorce decree over to the kids at Baruch [laughs]. And absolutely not, Gummybear is not making a comeback, if I have anything to say about it! And I believe I do.
So, you’re from Pennsylvania, but you were raised in Wilmington, Delaware. Do you go back to Wilmington often? I wonder what their gay scene is like.
I go back regularly, but I haven’t had as many opportunities to perform in Pennsylvania or Delaware as I’d like. And although it may not be as big as New York, I’m sure the gay scene is poppin’, at least in places like Philadelphia.
Were you always singing, dancing and performing since you were a kid?
Honey! I was always loud as a kid. When I got written up for too much talking, I considered it an honor. As though I was getting recognized for doing something that I do well!
Who were your Divas, growing up?
The Usual Suspects: Janet Jackson, Madonna, Lynda Carter. I had some unusual ones also. Jane Badler, who played Diana on the cult mini-series V. And of course, my grandmother was the Supreme Diva of them all.
Jane Badler created a LOT of homosexuals in the 80′s! You attended college here in NY, the American Musical & Dramatic Academy. Was that a very competitive school? Did you learn a lot about performance there?
I did learn a lot from that school. Unfortunately I have forgotten most of it! I’d say the biggest thing I learned is, do not take out student loans!
Actually, I started developing my drag persona while I was learning about performance in school. I would say, the woman known as Peppermint is a lot better off because of it.
You starting gigging as Peppermint in the Tunnel. How exactly did that come about?
[We were underage] college kids, and we were just looking for any place that would let us in, and without too much of a hassle. [The Tunnel] had a gay college night call Curfew we would frequent. Eventually, I remember thinking, “It would be great if they just let me come for free, since I can’t afford to keep coming here.“
What is the craziest shit you’ve seen go down in the Tunnel? Kiddies today have no idea what that scene was like.
Ain’t that the truth! New York City was just a different place back then. You could get away with a lot more than you could today, both good, bad, and otherwise. I’ve seen people having sex in public, doing drugs off of each other’s bodies, even some people who are now famous who were just college-aged kids back then.
One of my biggest memories was performing with Eminem, the rapper! It was New Year’s Eve, and we were sort of his opening act. He seemed totally cool and down with the gays and drag queens back then. This was before he became a superstar.
I do miss those times. Well, most of them.
You also met Cazwell there, your Ritz DJ (and a star in his own right) there, right?
Yes, it’s true. He was in a rap group from Boston. They came down to perform, and he even borrowed my backup dancers for their Tunnel performance that night. Of course I did not realize then that he would become one of my best friends. Cazwell was even featured on my first single “Servin’ It Up.”
He and I started the party called Do the Right Thing at the Ritz, to provide people in our community a place to enjoy hip hop music all night, just in case they got tired of hearing the monotonous drone of top 40.
You have entire albums worth of well-produced original songs, complete will high quality videos, that you made over the years. I just Shazammed ”Dolla In My Titty” and added it to my Spotify playlist!
Well, thank you!
When did you start writing and recording music?
It was actually that first song, “Servin’ It Up.” Jonny McGovern approached me to write an original song for me, and present it at a nightclub performance. After that I was hooked, and decided to work on an entire album.
Are you working on any other music projects right now?
Yes, I am about to release a Remix album of some of my previous hits (with a 2017 release), and working on my new album Black Pepper, which will drop late 2016. My first single is “Shady Phone.”
Every queen has some disposable song/video now. It’s, like, a requirement. Does that kinda demean what you do, or is it all in good fun?
Honestly, I think it’s all in good fun. And remember, there’s nothing new under the sun. A lot of people could accuse me of imitating and doing the same thing. I feel very proud that I was actually the very first drag queen whose music video ever featured on the Logo Channel, not that anyone remembers. I do pride myself, though, on really working meticulously on my music. I tend to think of myself as more of a musician than a drag queen. Maybe it’s just delusion, but it’s my life, right?
Okay, one of my guilty pleasures is re-watching the GayTV web series Queens of NYC, which featured you, Sherry Vine, Hedda Lettuce, Bianca del Rio and a few other queens. They’re very short segments, but there is SO much shade (especially Hedda, aw shit!) I wish it got picked up as a series, but I guess RuPaul’s Drag Race cornered the market on drag programming?
Of course Drag Race cornered the market on drag programming, at least for now. I’m sure eventually there will be other drag programming, as people start to see drag as less of a novelty and more of a generalized art form. I think in order for that to happen, we have to widen our definition of what drag is, or could be. And of course, I wish the show got picked up also. It actually had a pretty big fan base.
Does it suck to have that four minute episode that featured you out there forever, frozen in time? You talk about financial and relationship issues, and Epiphany throws a little playful shade at you.
No, I feel really happy that I did the show. Of course, I would have liked to have seen a little more it, as one of those sort-of-cult drag underground classics that true die-hard drags fans can always enjoy. And yes, I caught the shade!
Regarding Drag Race, are you surprised that Acid Betty came off as so cunty that season? She seemed a lot more complex in her little six minute segment on that web series then she did for her four or five half hours on season 6 of Drag Race.
I think that’s because she is complex. They all are. RuPaul’s Drag Race has done a great job of combining the most successful ingredients of reality shows. In real life we are complex, but reality as we know is often the one thing missing on reality shows.
The truth is, in order for something to appeal to the masses, it has to be extremely basic and simple. Pretty much one-dimensional, which is a shame, because drag and even human beings are anything but. That’s actually one of the most valuable things I learned when I was in acting class, and working back at the Tunnel.
After the Tunnel, you worked all over the city, pretty much. I think you even worked in Lips for a spell, right? What was that like?
Yes, I sharpened my drag skills at Lips Restaurant. It was surreal. I felt like I was working at Mel’s Diner, the eighties TV show. It was a very close-knit family, and every day was filled with drama and laughs.
You’ve also daylighted as a makeup artist. Do you still do that?
Yes, I used to work for MAC cosmetics after I left Lips Restaurant. At first I loved it, but eventually it became miserable working in retail. I think I realized the only face I like to smear grease paint all over is my own.
I know you’ve said you don’t have a drag mother, but have you adopted daughters (or nieces) over the years?
That’s true, I have lots of drag sort-of-nieces and distant cousins. And I myself have lots of drag aunts. Having a drag mother and an extended gay chosen family is a big part of the history of our community, but for some reason, New York City in the late nineties took a break from that culture. A lot of the drag queens I came up with just consider ourselves sisters. There were not very many elders to show us the ropes. We just had to learn by watching Paris Is Burning and Wigstock on repeat.
One of your many shows over the years was Cattle Call, a weekly talent contest you hosted at Therapy. What years did that run initially? And, was it talent in a broad sense, or strictly singing?
In 2005, Cattle Call was Therapy bar’s first–and most successful–show, if I say so myself. It was one of my longest running shows. It was a true talent show that welcomed drag queens, dance, any type of live performance. We’d have it all. We are actually happy to celebrate 10 year reunion this summer.
So many nightlifers participated in Cattle Call, like, an “anyone who is anyone” sorta thing. Can you just go around the city to any show and be like, “you were in it, and you, and you…”?
Of course, lots of our local New York City celebrities got their first opportunity to perform in a New York City Bar during Cattle Call, including the reigning queen of RuPaul’s Drag Race Bob the Drag Queen.
Why did you ultimately end it?
I’d been doing the show for seven years, and before me Alison Tilson and Broadway star Marty Thomas hosted the show for several years. I think it was just a matter of keeping things fresh.
Okay, before we talk about the upcoming reunion on June 5th, let’s just talk about your other weekly shows. First, on Tuesdays you and Sherry Vine do BiPolar at Therapy, which is a hugely popular night for drag fans. You two work so well together after all these years. Is there anything that Sherry can do at this point that surprises you?
Honestly, no. She is one of my best friends, and such a talented queen. We clicked as soon as we met, and I have been in love with her ever since. She is an extreme inspiration for her work ethic, her professionalism and her heart. She is one of the most adaptable yet refined people I know. In fact, the only thing that does surprise me about her is that she still likes working with me all these years.
She’s said you are the nicest queen in the business. How do you stay above that drama?
it’s something that just never appealed to me, even before I started doing drag. Being bitchy for no reason these days is so basic, it’s so predictable, and it’s so played out. It’s also the exact opposite of everything we preach as a community. Working in bars, you get a chance to see a lot of hypocrisy and cattiness. Sherry also manages to stay above the fray.
Yes, she and I are working on a couple parodies right now, and my new music video for “Shady Phone” will premiere on her Channel this summer.
Then, it’s the hip-hop party you talked about earlier that you do with Cazwell, Do The Right Thing at the Ritz, on Thursday nights. Cazwell’s leaving town soon, isn’t he?
Cazwell and I started the party together four years ago, and I am going to miss him on his big move to Los Angeles. But, I am very happy to announce that we have one of the best DJs in New York City to take over and bring the party in a new direction, Scotty Rox is absolutely fantastic!
And this summer, you, Sherry, and Pixie Aventura rotate-host the Monday night party at the Ice Palace on Fire Island’s Cherry Grove. How has the Island crowd changed over the years, in your opinion?Yeah,
I’m really excited for our new show together and Fire Island. Before that, my first show in Fire Island was taking over the Blue Whale after trans icon and actress Candis Cayne headed to LA. That was at least 8 years ago, although I do not wish to count!
Okay, so you’re bringing back Cattle Call for a one-night only reunion party at Therapy on Sunday, June 5th. First of all, why?
Mike Agnew–one of the regulars–and I were talking one night about how talented the performers were, and how far many of them have come in their careers. It was actually his idea, to propose and put the entire event together.
And your guests slated to appear that night: Ashanti J’aria, Devin Snow, Heather Wood, Honey Davenport, Jacqueline Dupree, LeeLee Heavenly, Nolan Muña, Stella D’oro & T-Boy… were these past winners, or guest performers, or a little of both?
They were all previous winners. I can’t believe how long it’s been.
My girl LeeLee is flying all the way back from L.A. for this? I love her.
I think that’s fantastic, it’s going to be huge. We haven’t had all these people together in one room since the last time we were all together in one room!
What’s going down for this reunion?
Well, this time is not going to be a competition. More just a walk down memory lane, and a showcase of all the great talent we used to put together.
I saw you were just in Zurich for a show, and last year you did EuroPride in Latvia for a small-stadium-sized audience. And you’ve probably performed everywhere at this point. Did you ever dream, back when you were bopping around the Tunnel as a baby queen, that your drag would take you all over the world?
Absolutely not, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to travel around the country, let alone the world. I am truly grateful and humble and blessed with the gifts that have been place in front of me. Sometimes I have a bad day, but more often than not I find myself in the situation talking to a stranger and realizing that I’m actually living my dream, in my dream city, and that is a wonderful feeling.
You’re such an inspiration to drag queens, artists and performers of all varieties. Last question: If an artist is struggling to get by, to get his or her big break, and just gets bogged down and ready to throw in the towel… How would you advise this person?
I [would tell them] to follow your heart. It sounds corny, but I don’t need the competition. Just kidding! I have a lot of friends who have come and gone, people who were fixtures in the New York City nightlife scene, and many of whom have moved to Los Angeles. It’s always bittersweet, thinking about those folks. But sometimes, it’s not about throwing in the towel. Sometimes, it’s more about trading in the towel for a nicer one. And New York City does not have very nice towels.
It sure seems that way sometimes! Thanks, Peppermint!
Peppermint co-hosts BiPolar on Tuesday nights (11pm)at Therapy with Sherry Vine, and hosts Do The Right Thing at the Ritz Thursday nights (11pm). She’ll host at the Ice Palace select Mondays through the summer, and will host the Cattle Call Reunion show at Therapy on Sunday, June 5th (10pm). Peppermint can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and iTunes.