Cooper Douglas the standup comic literally created PhilEsha De Lox in front of a live audience, and has been killing it in venues (in and out of drag) and slaying it on pageant stages ever since. Now PhilEsha’s got some big gigs coming up, including an Uncle Charlie’s cabaret showcase and a night of standup in Stonewall. And in September–Fire Island! Thotyssey goes on Lox-down for this coveted #HiPhilEsha moment!
Thotyssey: Thanks for talking to us today, PhiEsha. It looks like this is turning into the summer of De Lox! I see that on July 24th you hosted another monthly installment of Twist, a charity drag show at Peaches in Nowalk, CT. What exactly is that show, and how did it go this time?
PhilESha De Lox: Twist is a monthly party I host up in South Norwalk Connecticut. It is sponsored by the Triangle Community Center which puts on events and lends support to the Fairfield County LGBTQ Community. They put on a ton of events, like Pride in the Park and their yearly Gala, but most of their focus is on helping those with HIV/AIDS, at-risk youth, and substance abuse help. Twist started about 3 years ago, and 1 year ago TCC took it over and it has grown it into one of the largest social gatherings for the LGBTQ people in Fairfield.
The show was a blast, we did a Christmas in July theme. I did end up getting a whole bag of flour in my eye during my “White Christmas” number, but the show ended with me hanging from the rafters with [my co-host] Bridgett London underneath my dashiki lip-syncing to “Let It Go!”
Sounds like a time! And you’ll be back next month?
Yes! We just set the date today. August 28th. and Peaches will have revamped the entire space and have their new patio open.
Wonderful! So, let’s step back for a bit…where are you from?
I’m originally from Pennsylvania, went to school in Philly. Thus the name “PhilEsha.” Then I moved up to Connecticut, where I lived in Stamford and Greenwich, CT (the two easiest towns in CT to get into the city).
And it looks like you have a background in both performing and art. When did this all begin for you?
I have been performing since I was a child, but when I wanted to go to school my parents–who are both chemists–really discouraged me from pursuing musical theater as a major. They wanted me to pursue something more “practical,” so I said “Okay” and I enrolled in art school.They weren’t particularly pleased at that choice either. [laughs],
I bet. Did you have a strong interest in drawing before school, though?
Eh. Not really. I liked art, but I definitely wasn’t in love with it. I was more into photography in high school. Our school still had a darkroom. It was my photography that got me into the program, which I found out afterward is one of the hardest programs to get into. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I went into college, but I was good at photography so I went with that. And I still do that professionally on the side today, but isn’t as much my focus anymore.
So, what made you want to try your hand at standup comedy? This seems to me like the most terrifying of all the performing arts to partake in, even more than drag.
It’s something I had wanted to do for years. My friend and I talked about it and talked about it, and finally one day we both signed up for a class at Gotham Comedy Club.
It really is scary the first time you go into an open mic. Most comics are assholes, and even more aren’t that funny. It can be intimidating, but you just have to own it and realize it’s just practice. Comics will be your harshest critics, so if you can make them laugh, you know you have something.
I see a lot of straight comics come to open mics at the gay venues and just bomb, because they’re not trying to connect with the room. Do you think these folks are just practicing in front of any audience they can get, or are they really clueless to the reception they’re getting?
The only people harder to make laugh than comics are black people. They will let you know what is and what isn’t funny. And the only people harder to make laugh than black people are gay people. Gay people are by far the hardest audience, especially if you’re not used to performing in front of a large gaygle of them. They’re easy targets when in a straight comedy club. Usually a comic will pick them out and banter and it’s all cute.
But when it’s reversed, its more difficult. So if a straight guy is performing at a gay venue, although it may be like pulling teeth and it could just be practice, it is helpful for the comic to help polish a joke in order to make it funny or work on a different delivery.
How about your own standup? When did you first realize you could be funny in that way?
I just added a lot more dick jokes! Actually, not true.I usually just talk about my life .I feel I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller, and have been thinking about trying to take this into writing a web series. I’m usually one of those people that weird stuff will happen to. (Or maybe I put myself into weird situations, who knows?) But, when something funny will happen to me, I write it down in my phone and try to make a story around it. And usually people can relate to it and laugh. Or just judge me and my bad decisions.
How long have you actually been doing comedy?
I started performing standup about 2.5 years ago. During my set, I would walk on as a man, and through my jokes transform into a woman. But then it became so much about that happening, the jokes were getting lost in all the hubbub. So I started being either just Cooper or just PhilEsha.
Then when I started actually getting better paying gigs as PhilEsha, I started focusing more on developing my drag. It’s not easy being a comic in NYC.
So PhilEsha started out as, for lack of a better word, a gimmick in your standup! Were you intending to take her out to the clubs and bars in the beginning?
I was. And I wouldn’t say a gimmick, it was like a mini-one-man show. The jokes all made sense as to what was happening with my “transition.” When I would put on the wig, I would talk about how Jesus was my first love.
Got it! Who are your favorite comedians, in life or in death?
Totally! I’m gonna be unpopular and controversial though–I didn’t think Rolodex of Hate was that funny, at least not the heavily-censored version that aired on Logo. I think Bianca is hilarious, but mostly when she riffs and improvs, I don’t think “setup-punchline, setup-punchline” suits her. What do you think?
I would agree, she’s a different kind of comic–like she says, an insult comic. I don’t think she’s a “standup comic” or what we think of someone who has a one-hour special of straight-talking and joke-telling. She’s most successful interacting with an audience. She’s quick-witted, and sharp as a dirty syringe.
One more observation about famous comics: Sandra Bernhard once accused Kathy Griffin of stealing her act, but also saying that Kathy wasn’t funny because her stories didn’t have “points” the way Sandra’s did. I think both ladies are funny, but… as a storytelling comic yourself, do stories need to have a point or a hook, or can they just be funny stories?
I think they can be funny stories. I’ve seen both of them perform live, and I think Kathy Griffin was much funnier than Sandra. Sandra would get mad at the audience when they wouldn’t laugh at a joke, which is one of the worst things I think someone can do as a comic.
Oh god, I was obsessed with those videos. And that wig! So, when did PhilEsha start becoming more involved in the nightlife scene? Did you do Star Search?
I did plenty of Star Searches, I consider Tina Burner a bit of a drag mother to me. And just like my real mother, she’s an alcoholic, doesn’t really know I exist, and only tried to molest me that one time [laughs]!
Star Search was when I first realized how different gay crowds can be. Jokes that were killing at straight venues, I was getting crickets. But by watching people like Tina and Shequida or Hedda Lettuce work a crowd so masterfully–I learned a lot from them.
You entered Miss Boots & Saddle this year, was that your first pageant experience?
Well, if you don’t count the Miss Woods Pageant I did last year. [Miss Boots] was my first more legit pageant, but I went into it how I would do a pageant. I showed up with an alligator on my head. (PhilEsha loves good head…pieces.)
Truly the child of Tina Burner!
And for my talent, I did a weird white-trash number and told some jokes. I think it shows a lot more talent to get up and make a crowd laugh than to walk around a room in a pretty dress. But we all do drag for different reasons, and have different strengths. Brenda totally deserved to win Miss Boots & Saddle. When some girls heard she entered, it was like that episode of Designing Women.
Yeah, she brings it!
And is one of the sweetest and most professional people I’ve met.
Tell me more about Miss Woods, by the way–I see you’re entering again this year (Sept. 3rd).
Well I love The Woods Campground. It’s a gay nudist campground in the middle of PA, only about 2.5 hrs from the city. It’s super-chill, and everyone is extremely friendly. It’s the anti-Pines. I have been going for about four years now. I discovered it because of some friends I knew from Philly.
I heard they had a pageant every year, so I decided to enter. It was actually one of the first times I really tried to look pretty. When I first started, I used to be a bearded queen.
Really? That’s a big change.
[Laughs] Yeah. I still like to keep a little bit of that “ugly” though, which is why I like to do a unibrow. Plus, there are like 1,000,000 drag queens in the city. It’s easier to remember me if people are like “Oh, that bitch with the Unibrow….“
Upper-facial hair is the new drag beard!
Exactly. The hair just moved.
So, when you’re PhilEsha, are you a different kind of funny then when you are Cooper, or is it basically the same?
I feel like I can get away with different jokes as each persona. It is definitely confusing for people. Like, they don’t know how to book me, or how to put me in a category.
Am I a boy or a girl, a drag queen or a comic, sexy or repulsive. #BlurredLines
Ha! Back to pageants for a bit–you’ve been doing well at the weekly Next Palace Princess weekly pageant at the Ice Palace, and you’re gonna compete in the finals on Sept. 1st! How’s that experience been for you so far?
OMG it’s been amazing! [Hostess] Ariel Sinclair is sooo sweet and amazing to work with, and so is everyone else at the Ice Palace. You can tell it’s really a family. I have really just tried to do what I do and be myself, and it’s been going well.
Plus, I’m pretty competitive when it comes to trivia. I actually hit Heidi Haux in the eye with the dildo during the Grab that Dick portion. Whoops!
I’m sure she’s used to it by now!
And this is exciting: you’ve got your eyes on one of the biggest drag prizes in the country… Fire Island Entertainer of the Year! Have you started rehearsing for that yet?
I have not! AHHH! But I’ve talked to a couple of friends who have danced for me in the past, and I’m going to ask them to blow all the judges during my number. I have a fun number planned, though.
I’m sure you will slay, and you still have awhile to lock that down. But you have some stuff coming up a lot sooner… like this showcase at Uncle Charlie’s on Sunday at 6:30 called C’Mon Me. How’d you get involved with this?
I have been going to Uncle Charlie’s for awhile now, and have sat down and sang with Maurice [Cross, the pianist] a couple times. We had discussed the possibility of doing something like this for awhile, and we finally made it happen.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
I’ve never done anything like this. I sing with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, but I’ve never had an all-singing show before. The hardest part is figuring out which songs to do! My initial list was 150 songs, but I’ve cut it down drastically. I’m trying to do some songs I’ve never seen other drag queens do, let alone sing live. Songs like ”Worst Pies in London,“ ”Zero to Hero,“ and ”Feeling Good.“ Songs I just love, and I think the audience will love, too.
I didn’t know you were in the Chorus! Was Lily Putian (who recruits Chorus members into the world of drag) disappointed that she didn’t have a hand in creating PhilEsha?
[Laughs] I don’t know if disappointed is the right word. I’ve actually been toying with the idea of creating a school of my own: “PhilE’s girls vs. Lily’s Girls.” It’s catchy right?
Totes! By the way, what’s the next big thing that the Chorus is doing?
We are on break right now for the summer. We just got back from Denver for the 2016 GALA Festival a couple weeks ago. It was such an amazing, emotional, fun, exhausting experience. Our next big concert is our Holiday Show, but we’ll probably have some other performances throughout the fall.
Plus, the newly formed a capella group Tonewall performs quite a bit. (No, i am not in that, but they are really good.)
But I’m really proud of this show. It was a labor of love, and the first one was a huge success. I also learned a lot, and feel this show is going to be even better! We have bi girls and guys this time! So that’s also cool. Something for everyone to enjoy.
Do you recruit the lineup of comics yourself?
Yes, I recruit the lineup. They are people I’ve worked with in the past, or have been supportive of me, or just people I know are great comics. I feel it’s important to not only find the best talent, but surround yourself with the best people. Everyone I’ve booked is extremely talented, but just great people that are fun and easy to work with.It is also harder for gay comics to often been booked on shows. So I feel like giving a stage for people from the entire LGBTQ community to perform their standup [is a good thing]. But I’m always looking for new talented comedians.
Who should win Drag Race All-Stars Season 2?
Okay, anything else on the horizon for you?
Just keep an eye out for more great things to come. #GoingPlaces
And if anyone wants to help me with my web series, I’m ready to take these Cookin’ & Bakin’ FB live videos to the next level. But I do I think that’s about it.
One last closing question: two years from now, what would you rather be known as: “Funny Cooper Douglas, that hilarious comedian who I hear does drag on the side,” or “PhilEsha De Lox, fierce and funny queen who sometimes does standup as a boy?”
Hmmm. I feel like I would give you a different answer depending on my mood or what day it is. As of right this moment, I want to be known as PhilEsha De Lox, that funny comedian who slays it on Last Comic Standing or America’s Got Talent. A bitch that gets her own hour-long special on Netflix or HBO.
You have answered correctly! #ByePhilEsha, and have fun with everything!
PhilEsha De Lox’s cabaret show “C’Mon Me” will be at Uncle Charlie’s on Sunday, August 7th (6;30pm), and she’ll be hosting the standup showcase “Laugh Out Proud” at Stonewall on Thursday, August 11th (7:30pm). In September, she’ll be competing in the Next Palace Princess finals at the Ice Palace on the 1st, the Miss Woods Drag Diva Pageant at The Woods Campground in Pennsylvania on the 3rd, and the Miss Fire Island pageant for Entertainer of the Year on the 10th. She also hosts Twist, a monthly benefit show at Peaches in Norwalk, CT–next show on August 28th. PhilEsha can be followed on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube.