On Point With: Lola Michele-Kiki

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Overcoming child bullying and a rigid upbringing, Ari Kiki’s drag daughter Lola Michele-Kiki (aka Jean-Michael in Boy Mode) is carving out her slice of the nightlife cake. She’s that winning combo of fun and carefree performer/ hostess plus reliable and hard-working professional. And it all started with Joseph in the Nativity. Take it away, Lola!

Thotyssey: Lola! How was cocktail waitressing at Stonewall last night? Did you get to do any numbers for Erika Klash’s Invasion?

Lola Michele-Kiki: It was great! We had such a busy night. It was a very large crowd of people who were all just having a good old time during Erika’s super successful Invasion.  I was able to perform one song during Erika’s show. Mostly because she hates me and wouldn’t let me do more than one number (Just kidding–we were really really crowded last night!).

Glad it went well! Let me ask, what goes through your head while you’re doing a number? Are you trying to remember words and choreo? Are you living in the moment? Are you aware of the audience? Or are you just drunk?

[Laughs] Believe it or not, I’m barely ever drunk when I’m performing. Because of my round shaped bone-body structure, and due to the fact that I sweat 80 pounds of sweat a number, my body very rarely allows me to get drunk like that while I’m performing. I’m just always stoned [laughs].

As far at what goes through my head? It depends on the number, honestly. There are some numbers that I do, that I know so well, that sometimes I can be thinking about what I’m going to eat for dinner later while doing the number. (I’m often thinking about what I’m going to eat.)

I’m always aware of the audience. At the end of the day, I’m there to entertain you, so if you make a sad face, my job is to be aware of it and make you do a smiley face instead.(Clearly my metaphors and examples are of a three year-old!)

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When you were coming up as a queen, you at first guest-performed for pretty much every drag queen’s show in the city (that’s the way you’re supposed to do it!). I’m sure that was exciting and fun in a lot of ways, but was it also stressful to be on a different stage, with a different queen and a different energy and crowd every night?

Being on stage with a different queen and a different crowd isn’t stressful; at least not for me, it wasn’t. In fact, it was it inspiring. From guesting at all these queens’ shows throughout the two years of drag I’ve been doing, I’ve learned things about both my drag and myself that I never thought I knew.

What’s stressful is the drunk straight girls. And the unnecessary shade. I hate shade.

It seems like just yesterday when you were struggling to get a regular gig to stick, and then all of the sudden you got, like, four weekly or monthly gigs at once! Does being a drag queen feel more “real” when you finally get your regular gigs?

[Laughs] This year definitely started rough. But I can’t complain. “Too blessed to be stressed” right? Or what’s the other one they use now? #BookedAndBlessed?

It definitely feels more real once you have your regular gigs. It also draws the line in between it being a hobby and it being a job. At first, drag was all fun and silliness (it still is), but now I definitely treat it with more professionalism than I did before. You go from guesting at someone’s show and doing two numbers, to having to figure out a different set list every week for a two-hour, solo, show to keep people interested, and to keep your craft as fresh as possible.

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Speaking of fresh numbers, I watched your first week co-hosting your new Boots & Saddle show with Catrina Lovelace, and you did this very long, intricate lip sync from Hamilton pretty perfectly.

Why, thank you!

Could you have possibly seen that show?

[Laughs] I have not seen the show. I tried to fuck my way through it to get tickets (cuz, you know, Hamilton is sold out til like 2020), but that didn’t really work out. I’m a really big fan of Lin Manuel’s work. He’s a big inspiration in my life. I’ve been listening to the Hamilton mixtape for years (if you guys didn’t know, some of the music for the show was a mixtape that he created in, like, 2010). So I understand his way of music, and for some reason it’s really easy for me to learn and memorize. You should see me spit some In The Heights sometime. You’ll gag [laughs]!

Are you a Broadway queen / showtunes fanatic in general?

Totes a Broadway queen! I went to school for theater. And until very recently, I was working for a theater company as an assistant director. Theater is where everything started for me. I’ve been performing on stage since I was 7, so it was only a matter of time for me to queen out.

What role did you play when you were 7?

My first role was Joseph, reenacting Jesus’ birth for a Christmas talent show when I was in the third grade.

Joseph is such an underrated part! I mean, shit, God knocked up his wife! That’s heavy.

[Laughs] It had the least speaking parts, and they couldn’t find another boy that was masculine, that wasn’t already cast as something else, who could play the part.

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Where did you grow up? Were you a happy kid?

I think I was happy [laughs]. Within what I thought happy was. I grew up in the Dominican Republic. Moved here in 2004. I had a good childhood. I didn’t have neglecting parents or anything. But I would’ve done it differently, if it was up to me. Growing up in a church and being a gay boy can really fuck with you growing up.

So, you had a conservative upbringing?

Yeah. My dad was a neurologist, and we lived a very structured life. My childhood consisted of school in the morning, and a million extra curricular activities after school. My parents had me do everything: choir, tennis, swimming, taekwondo (I know, right?!), tap, piano lessons, English lessons, French lessons, church, more church, church again [laughs]! We had to be conservative, both for God and my dad’s reputation.

Oh My gawd, I spent my childhood watching Ninja Turtles and eating Fritos. When you finally came to NYC, I’m guessing you must’ve been all “YAAAAAZZZZZ HENNY” when you tapped into that other side of yourself and discovered nightlife, right?

[Laughs] When I moved to New York, I was only 14 years old. So my main focus was honestly to fit in; act masculine so the kids wouldn’t pick on me. Bullying was always very present growing up (never really affected me, cuz I’ve always been a bad ass fucking bitch). So, when I moved to NY, I wanted it to be a clean slate, to not be gay–cuz Jesus, like, hated me or something.

It wasn’t until later on, when I was 16, that I started coming to terms with my sexuality. As a part of my senior curriculum in high school, I needed internship credits. So I got an internship at a non-profit organization that basically opened the doors to gayness for me [laughs].

At 17, I got a fake ID and made some friends who took me to Splash and Rush (I know. So old!l). And then in that moment I was like “ YAWZZZZ HENNYYYYYY” [laughs]

It makes a lot of sense though, because out of drag you give off a very masculine energy. Which I guess is what you needed to steer off the bullying.

Lola is more butch than Jean-Michel! Or at least, I’d like to think so [laughs]. I’m pretty boyish, the way I dress and carry myself. I wouldn’t call it masculine. I’m still gay as fuck, and queen out all the time. I just make good trade!

And you should’ve seen me back then. I used to wear jeans four sizes bigger than me, and shirts down to my knees, with Tims or Jordan’s.

And I still got bullied. Cuz, duh, can’t cover the sun with one finger [laughs]!

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How would you describe what kind of woman Lola (the character) is?

I don’t see me and Lola as two different people. The only thing that makes us different is the padding and the clothes. So as far as me, I’m just a very laid back chick. I am smart, confident, a hard worker, and just really fucking chill. It’s probably cuz of all the weed I smoke!

When and why did you create Lola Michele?

Two years ago I started with [just] Michelle, and it was just for fun. When I decided that I really wanted to do drag and pursue it, that’s when the name Lola came along. And that was like a year and a half ago. Around the same time when Ari Kiki took me in as her drag daughter.

When did you first see Ari?

About 3-4 years ago. Thorgy Thor and Azraea used to host Saliva at the Ritz back in the day. And Ari was there being her same old mess, tormenting people with an air horn.

And when you saw that, you were like “This is my mother?”

Not in that very moment [laughs]! Because I didn’t know I wanted to do drag then. But I definitely fell in love with her as a person. It was such a different concept, and it’s brilliant.

So, once I started doing drag and I was more and more involved in nightlife and doing shows with Ari, I told her she was going to be my mother. And she said no. And a year and a half later, here I am still [laughs]!

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Persistence is key!  You’ve mostly taken over you drag mamma’s duty as Stonewall’s resident cocktail waitress.

[Laughs] She’s getting old!

Is it a challenge to be doing this “regular” job of taking drink orders/mixing the drinks/opening & closing the tabs/etc., while being Full Lola?

Yes. It’s a challenge. It makes it so much harder to be padded (whenever I do pad, which isn’t too often. But still!) and wearing a shaper, and sweating through a wig. But you learn new tricks and shit to accommodate you the best way possible!

The Stonewall staff though, aren’t they like a cute little family? I was always jealous of them when I worked in other bars [laughs].

[Laughs] We are all really close, and we push each other to be better all the time. Some of my biggest inspirations, and people who have helped me be where I am today, are from my Stonewall family.

Speaking of which, have you gotten to see Lady Bunny’s show there yet?

I haven’t! I’m catching it next week, I think. I’ve just been all over the place and haven’t had time to go. I did meet her two weeks ago, and she’s a doll.

You and Ari hosted the Stonewall Drag Race viewing party this season. What do you think Season 8’s biggest WTF moment was?

Derrick Barry making it as far as she did. Thorgy going home. Me not getting on.

All crushing moments! Your second Invasion (Stonewall’s queen-of-the-week showcase) is happening June 5th! You’ll have Ari, Viki Villainess & Mary Muscles as guests. Your first Invasion was a big success. Do you think you can top it this time?

I can top it anytime, I’m a top! But yes [laughs]! My second invasion is June 5th. It’s my birthday invasion!  I’m really excited for it. I think it’s going to be just as good as the first one. I have really great friends that are always a big support, and I have a decent following that enjoys the stupid things I do on stage. Plus, there’s gonna be random tourists there too, anyway. I think it’s going to be great, honestly.

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Happy Almost Birthday, by the way! Do you/will you feel older?

My liver does! And thank you!

You and Catrina have been co-hosting “Is It Friday Yet?”, the Wednesday happy hour show there at Boots, for a little over a month now. How’s it going?

It’s going great! Boots has always been a home for us since the very beginning, and we’re so thankful and honored to be part of the Boots family.

Another big birthday happening during the first week of June is for the “new” location of Boots, which is now a year old. Before your Invasion, You’ll be kicking off the joint Lola/Boots birthday bash there on Wednesday, June 1st.

Yes! It’s going to be a double celebration. For that show, I will be drunk [laughs]!

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Had you ever gotten a chance to perform in the older, much smaller location on Christopher Street?

Yeah I did. I looooooved Old Boots! It was one of the first gay bars I ever went to. Wayyyy before I ever did drag. I used to go with my fake ID on Wednesdays and Sundays to sing karaoke with Victoria Chase. I was baptized Lola Michele-Kiki, during Tacky Tuesdays at the old Boots.

Aw! They cranked one last one out!

So, you also do a monthly party called BOYZ Night at Therapy.

Yeah! BOYZ is one of the largest, nation-wide, gay community groups on Facebook. We’ve been active for a year, and BOYZ has become, for many, a place to share ideas and opinions about current events. And something to just share dumb shit. But the main goal has always been to bring our community closer.

So earlier this year, Lex Luther, our main admin, along with Jomil Luna,
J Dooley, Romero Tragedy, among others, decided it would be a good idea to bring the community even closer, and out of their screens, and meet in person. So, the idea of the mixer came along, with a drag show incorporated into it. And that’s when I was contacted to be a part of the team.

When’s the next one?

In two weeks! We’re a Saturday earlier this month, because it’s our Pride Edition, and it’s going to be Balls! It’ll be June 11th.

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I know BOYZ is kinda its own thing, audience-wise, but in general do you notice a difference between Hell’s Kitchen audiences and West Village audiences? I mean, as far as how they respond to you, or to drag in general?

Yes. BOYZ is a little different because our group is so diverse, it honestly makes it worth it. However, the West Village is home. I feel like I’m more welcomed and celebrated by the West Village than by Hell’s Kitchen. Sad to say, but it all ties in with the stigma of “no fats, no fems.”

Not that Hell’s Kitchen has ever done me wrong. They haven’t. But I’ve seen them say some really terrible things about some queens because they don’t “look” a certain way.

The West Village is full of hippies. They appreciate the art differently.

Yes, that pretty much sums it up accurately!

[Laughs] I just wanna say, I love you Hell’s Kitchen!! Book me at TheLolaMichele@gmail.com.  Kthanksbye #nobadblood [laughs].

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HK loves you Lola, don’t worry! But back to the West Village: you’ve also taken over Logan Hardcore’s Saturday & Sunday ElectroBrunch at La Carbonara.

Well, I ate Logan. Which is why she’s now gone, and I’ve taken over the gig.

Ha! She’s actually just doing her Fire Island thing this summer. I do think you and Logan look slightly similar, though. Have any drunks there thought you were her?

No drunks have confused me with Logan, cuz no one really knows who she is. Just kidding! On Saturday, someone came in asking for the Beyonce impersonator. That’s Logan [laughs]. But other than that, no. People come looking for her all the time. And they get a half-assed version of her instead. But they end up staying and living for it anyway. So it’s all still good.

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So, Pride’s almost here. Any plans or gigs?

Besides the regular ones, no. I have brunch ON pride. So that’s going to be a toot [laughs] I don’t like working Pride. I like to get fucked up. So, I’m most likely going to do brunch, and then meet my friends and regret it on Monday morning.

Sounds like a plan! Final question: Let’s say they’re making a Broadway Musical about your life. A) What will it be called?  B) Who will play Lola? (No, you can’t play yourself. But you can play, like, your own aunt, or something.)

{Lauhs] It’d be called L.O.L.: Lola Out Loud. Or Land of Lola (if Kinky Boots doesn’t sue me).

And Ilana Glazer would play Lola. I think she would embody my spirit well, even though she’s white. And I know when the show comes out, people are gonna start talking shit cuz she’s a white person playing a Hispanic. But she looks pretty Hispanic to me, so idgaf. I endorse it!

And I would actually direct the show. I’m really good at that [laughs]

Kickstarter, let’s make it happen! Thanks Lola!

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Lola Michele-Kiki is the cocktail waitress at Stonewall for several evenings during the week, including Sunday Invasion nights. Her own birthday Invasion is scheduled for June 5th. She hosts ElectroBrunch at La Carbonara on Saturdays and Sundays (starting at 1pm) this summer. Lola also co-hosts “Is It Friday Yet?” at Boots & Saddle with Catrina Lovelace on Wednesdays (6pm – 8pm), and a special edition celebrating both Lola’s birthday and the first year anniversary of the location will be on June 1st. Lola can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.

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