With a horror/comedy aesthetic made up mostly of actual trash, Avant Garbage may at first seem like an unlikely winner of not one, but two brand new drag pageants: Miss Nerd last year and Miss Lady Liberty this year. But it only takes a glimpse of her startling-yet-hilarious stage presence, with costume reveals and fake blood and goofy props galore, to get that something pretty special is happening here. Too Brooklyn for Brooklyn and too ballsy to play it safe, Avant’s got some great gigs coming up, and a joyful, junky future ahead.
Thotyssey: Hi Avant, thanks for talking to us. So, I understand your family swooped in for a surprise visit and took you to a taping of The Chew today. That’s fun! Was Mario Batali wearing crocks?
Avant Garbage: He was! Bright orange Crocs! He made chicken parmesan. It was interesting to watch him relentlessly mallet the thigh.
I bet he was getting all his frustrations out about having to go on endless foodie tours with Gwyneth.
“Better this bird than that!” We had to be there before 7am, and I was definitely the youngest member of the audience. You can’t even enter the show unless you’re at least 14 years old, so half the new drag queens wouldn’t be allowed in.
Sorry, Blake Deadly!
Heh, Blake and Aquaria have to wait at Chuck E Cheese.
So, it’s nice that your family loves you enough to take you to places! You said they haven’t seen your drag yet?
The last time they visited was five years ago, and my Midwestern Mom loves The Chew… so she killed two birds with one stone.
They are aware I do drag, and know of Avant… but I’m not sure they understand the entire concept. Playing off of avant garde with trash. There isn’t a ton of art in Ohio. They call her “Advent.” But at least they provided me with a lovely Christmas theme!
Maybe they can accidentally come up with a good name for your first weekly show!
The name of my first show will always be “Trash Talk with Avant Garbage.”
That is pretty perfect. When you told your folks about your Miss Nerd and Miss Lady Liberty wins, did they catch on that this was a big deal for you?
They’re definitely starting to get onto the garbage truck now that I’m making a name for myself! But they were over my apartment, and I was showing them this macaroni noodle wig I’ve been working on… and they were like, “oh…. cool! Well, I wonder if they’ll make pasta on The Chew?” [laughs]
That sounds like my parents. So, Ohio was where you grew up? What was that like for you?
Ohio was very interesting. It provides me with a wonderful foundation to become the person I am today. But I ultimately left for a reason. The state itself is unique in having five large cities, but I came from a fairly small, rural town, with a “Corn Festival” no less.
Cedar Point was a highlight of the state and I will always have my heart in Cleveland, especially in providing me the love of city life and being the ultimate motivator for me moving to New York.
But I came out of the closet when I was 14, and it was very rough. I was the only gay youth in my school, and I used to get spit at and receive death threats. My vice principal told me it was in my best interest not to bring my boyfriend to prom because she worried about my safety.
My senior year, I got pretty fed up with the teasing. We had a school policy that if you got into a fight on a Friday, you would be suspended and not allowed to participate in any weekend activities. So I waited for the big Friday football game, knowing no one would hit me, and I sauntered into the cafeteria wearing 30 inch bell bottoms, a bright red shirt cut off one inch below my belly button, and the gaudiest fur coat I could find from Goodwill.
When I walked in, you could hear a pin drop. I slid over to the football team, sat right on the quarterback’s lap, and said to him, “If you don’t get everyone to stop teasing me, I’m going to start making it just as difficult for you!’
And shortly thereafter, he did. And I remained pretty unscathed until college. So, I suppose Ohio taught me to never let anyone fuck with you.
That was a pretty bold – and crafty – move. Were you afraid?
No, I had nothing to lose by that point. Once kids start prank-calling your house and telling your parents they’re going to kill you, you have to take matters into your own hands.
This was also at a period where it was still relatively taboo to be out and proud. Despite my impossibly high cheek bones and smooth skin, I’m no spring chicken.
So growing up in a town where kids rode tractors to school, and the only homosexuals you see on TV are from the Real World or Will & Grace, you kind of have to fend for yourself.
I was on the train the other day and saw these two boyfriends; they had to be 12-14 years old, and they were holding hands, and I just wanted to start sobbing on the subway. It was so incredible to see and know they were able to grow and enjoy themselves without fear of being murdered. Even when Matthew Shepard was killed, I just locked myself away and cried. It really could have happened to me.
Wow, that’s quite a journey.
Heh, this drag interview took an interesting turn! Do you want to hear my opinion on pancreatic cancer?
There’s a very confrontational element in your drag performance. I guess it’s safe to say that your hard time as a kid was a big part of where that comes from?
I definitely like being different and standing out. I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. I never wanted to be like other queens. I can’t dance to save my life; I look like an ironing board trying to do the worm. And lip-syncing isn’t my favorite medium. I’ll put on a real hair wig, and it just doesn’t feel right if it’s not the mop.
So, I enjoy pushing buttons on stage. I feel like drag has elevated to such an art form now that we can use the platform as artists to make a statement, whatever you want that statement to be. I don’t just want to dance along to Britney Spears, and if you do and it makes you happy, keep doing it! Because there is definitely a place for that. But if I can make people stop and think–or hell, even make them a little uncomfortable and open their eyes, I’m going to leap at that opportunity.
But it’s part of Avant’s charm as well. I play her up to be very dumb, but she’s incredibly quick-witted and intelligent. I feel like, coming from a position of privilege as a white male, women can play dumb to get what they want from men. Unfortunately I’m afraid that’s what they have to do to survive, though.
True in many ways, unfortunately. When exactly did you create Avant Garbage?
Avant is a very recent development. She’s only around three years-old in concept and two years-old in execution.
I used to make action figures and dolls as a hobby, and as an occasional side business. For example, if you wanted to be a superhero, I’d make a figure of you. I used to always be obsessed with the Universal Studios monsters, Frankenstein and Dracula, etc. And recently Mattel, the creators of Barbie, made a doll line called Monster High, and it was those monsters’ children in high school.
And one day, my friend asked me if I could create a new type of monster, who would it be? I came up with the concept of this trash queen. And I started brainstorming who she would be and what she would be like and eventually I thought, “I know how to root doll hair and sew doll clothes, and I bet if I just multiply these proportions by 6 I can become the trash queen!” Hence Avant Garbage was born, and I never looked back.
It helped that I’ve always been a Halloween fanatic and avid cosplayer. But Avant seems to be so infectious to everyone she meets, and I feel it’s just a matter of time before I become incredibly famous.
I wonder, do you feel female as Avant? Unlike other queens, it doesn’t seem like gender play was a huge part of her reason for existence.
I identify as cis male when I’m out of drag, but Avant is definitely a lady. I have been enjoying taking my wig off on stage, though. The beauty of Avant Garbage is, she is so malleable to whatever you want her to be. I want Avant’s face on a urinal cake just as badly as I want her to have her own boxed brand of tampons. She’s the blue-collared queen.
People are generally surprised when they meet me out of drag, though. My beard grows quickly, and my voice is naturally very deep. But I really want Avant to appear feminine. I like playing on tropes expected of women.
You’ll never see Avant out of a corset and heels. But at the same time, you’ll never see Avant get away with anything woman can’t get away with. I see other drag queens take their tops off and flash nipples, and I think, “a woman could get ticketed for that–or worse, some man may take advantage of her.” Women understand the constant fear or just being dressed in public, and I never want to exercise my privilege as a male while trying to portray female.
So, tell me about what brought you to New York.
Originally, I moved here to do stand-up comedy and to model. They couldn’t be further apart, other than constantly [having me] being on display. Stand-up comedy made me super depressed, and modeling was really poor for my image. I used to weigh 350 pounds, and after losing 200 when I was a teenager I thought I would prove myself how attractive i was by modeling. I’ve also been incredibly funny my whole life, and was doing very well in the stand-up scene. But both were mentally taxing on me, and I needed to get out. Thank God I did both though, because they gave me wonderful insight in how to portray Avant.
Everyone is a work in progress, and I kind of waffled around my 20’s. I lacked direction, and had no idea what I was meant to do. Avant gave me the direction I always wanted, and I’m now more confident than ever because of her!
Where did you debut her in town?
My birthday is in April, and every year I have a costume party called “Halloween in April” with a different theme each year. Upon the creation of Avant, I decided that year would be themed “GenderBent,” and I debuted her in April 2013.
Then I immediately went into wig making mode. I make all of Avant’s clothes from trash, or heavily alter existing clothing. Each of the mop wigs take about one month from design to completion. It wasn’t until May of 2014 that I debuted Avant Garbage to the world. Her first time on stage was at Metropolitan in Brooklyn.
I notice now that you seem to be in Manhattan a lot more than Brooklyn, gig-wise. I figured that Brooklyn drag collective would’ve gobbled you up right away!
I recently moved to Washington Heights after eight years in Brooklyn. I moved to be closer to the West Village and Hell’s Kitchen to perform. I performed in Brooklyn a little bit, but I hate to say, outside of a select few amount of Brooklyn queens, I had a difficult time breaking in there.
The fanbase seemed to really be into Avant’s aesthetic, and Ragamuffin and Daphne Sumtimez are absolutely lovely people. But I had a little bit of push back from some other queens. I don’t know why, and I’d like to flatter myself by thinking they’re just jealous of the wonderful trash concept I invented, but I’ll never be entirely sure.
I have no ill feelings whatsoever. Avant was born in Brooklyn, and I’ll always consider her to be a Brooklyn queen. It just makes me sad to think others wouldn’t say that about her.
But I really love the level of growth I’m showing. And everyone has their own individual trajectories in life and career. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to behave, or where you can be yourself!
So, Miss Nerd 2015! What put that pageant on your radar?
I was, and always will be, the first ever Miss Nerd New York! I’m actually a huge Nerd in real life. I can name the 13 members the Jedi council from Star Wars Episode 1. I’ll also kick your butt at Super Smash Bros! I’m an active member of the Gay Geeks of New York. I love playing with Geeks Out, and when Shane Cherry announced he wanted to hold the pageant at one of my favorite bars, Rockbar, I knew I had to participate!
I absolutely loved having the title for the full year, but Erika Klash is a huge Nerd as well and she is a worthy successor to the crown.
But the prize package definitely wasn’t as great as the Lady Liberty prize package!
Yeah, remind me what that Lady Liberty package was again.
I got a custom made garment of my choice from The House of La Rue. I got a ton of makeup, costume pieces and a gift card from Abracadabra. And I got a custom made wig from Bobbie Pinz. As well as a cash prize!
What was interesting about you and Miss Lady Liberty was, if I’m not mistaken, you came in at the very beginning to win your slot, and like two months later you returned for the final win, right?
Yes! The Lady Liberty pageant was long, and six competitors a week, and the winner would return for their semi-final after six winners. It was like a football bracket for queers! After I won my week, and then came back for my semi-finals, the competition was still at the Ace Hotel. I won the semi-finals, of course, but then for reasons unknown to me, the venue switched [Edit.: because of tech problems at the Ace]. So there was a tiny break until Boots & Saddle took over hosting. So by the time of the finale, it had been months since my semi-finals win.
But I was actively following the other girls. I was sitting pretty, but never wanted to get comfortable. I wanted to know exactly who I was up against. Take advantage of every angle if you can! It was actually an interesting way to get perspective on the personality of some of the queens. Being there in my boy form, some of the queens weren’t interested in entertaining me or giving me the time of day, so I just sat back and watched. Then when they figured out I am Avant Garbage it was amazing to see that dawn on their faces.
Were you working on your final pageant presentation and Freddy Krueger number for the last talent portion that whole time? It was all pretty epic, I must say.
I was actually involved in the Gay Geeks of New York’s annual production of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Musical Sing-a-Long, so the majority of my free time went into rehearsal for that. But then Geeks Out contacted me for their Flame Con (NY’s first ever gay-themed comic convention) kick-off party. I came up with the concept of the Freddy Krueger number as my love letter to the horror fans. And I knew the number would be a perfect fit to cap off my performance for Lady Liberty.
So for a period, I had the Buffy Musical on the 13th, Flame Con on the 19th, Buffy encore on the 27th, and Lady Liberty on the 29th. It was definitely crunch time.
My original idea for Flame Con was to do a number dressed as Rogue from the X-Men to a mashup of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold your Hand” and “I Touch Myself,“ but I couldn’t get that one off the ground quickly enough. That will definitely come one day, though. But thankfully, I put the Freddy Krueger number together in a couple of days. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of my audio designer Phoebe Duncan, though.
You had amassed this huge crowd of screaming supporters for the finale. Who were those people???
Friends and co-workers who believe in and support me. I couldn’t do it without them! I have amassed a huge trash team. They call themselves “Avant’s Army.”
Congratulations! How did you get along with the finalists? Because you were all so spread out during the competition, you might not have gotten a chance to bond like queens can in other weekly competitions where they’re together all the time.
I’ve worked with Viva Vidalia a few times before, and she is such a delight. She’s so sweet and genuine, and so funny. I was so happy to see her as the wild card. I call her my Rockbar Sister. If anyone else deserved to win, it was definitely her.
I’ve taken quite a liking to Kimmi Moore as well. I’ve run into her a few times, both in and out of drag, and she’s always a treat to watch.
I didn’t know Shuga Cain very well before the completion, but she was super polite and funny. She’s very talented as well. She sings live and has these awesome characters she does. Thankfully, all three of the girls were really pleasant, supportive and helpful. It was definitely not cutthroat backstage. If I ever have a weekly show, *hint, hint venues”, I would be happy to have them guest and share the stage with all three of them again.
Awesome! So how great did the win feel?
Oh the win felt incredible! It meant so much to me, to see how much support I had there. I was on Cloud 9 for days! There was definitely a question of, “What’s next?” After though.
What is next?
Just performing at random gigs right now. I’m filling in for Brita Filter on September 8th for her and Terra Hyman’s Drag Race viewing at the West End while Brita is out of town. This is the first time my parents will be seeing Avant in action, and hopefully they’ll stop calling her Advent!
Have you been following Drag Race this season? I love Adore, but really gurl???
It’s disappointing to think of how much potential she had, and how much some other girls would kill to be there. I would have loved to see Willam back. I know after I win Season 10, I’ll definitely want to be on All-Stars Winners!
I’m setting up my DVR for it now! How do you think your parents will like Avant’s show at the West End? It really does look like a legit theater space there, I’m sure they’re going to be very impressed!
Hopefully they’ll realize I have a potential future career here! I want Avant to host a variety/talk show one day. I’ve always likened myself to Paul Reubens, and Avant is my Pee-Wee Herman. He was a huge influence on me. I think once they see the complete transformation from me to Avant Garbage, everything will make more sense for them. Or they could be absolutely horrified. Either way I, and especially Avant, are very excited to see it unfold!
You have a lipstick color at Abracadabra, don’t you? I always wondered how that worked–do they contact you and tell you they want to do that, or do you volunteer first?
I’m not sure how it was done previously, but I participated in the Miss Abracadabra contest and all of the semi-finalists received their own liquid matte! I love my color so much, it’s this beautiful beige/nude that looks good on so many different skin pigmentation. I wear it all the time. Even my mom wears it!
On September 15th, you’ll be on the runway modeling Yuhua Hamasaki’s line for the Fashion Week closing party at Stage 48! Vincent Cooper and Monica Blewinsky produce that. This event keeps evolving into a bigger and bigger thing every day: now it’s also Brita’s birthday bash, and on top of that Shangela’s gonna be there promoting her new single! Are you excited for all this glam and awesomeness?
I cannot wait! I’m flabbergasted to be meeting Shangela, and honored to have been asked by the incredibly talented designer, Yuhua! My fitting is this Friday, and I’ll have a better idea of what the collection looks like. But I’m just honored to be participating in any way.
Do you have a model walk?
Avant walks like a sexy Clydesdale! As I mentioned, I used to do runway and print work when I was younger. But walking as a male model and as a drag queen are completely different. Whatever Yuhua wants from me, I will provide. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it with my signature toilet paper on my heel!
So, also coming up… the “We the Heroes Ball” at Rockbar on October 3rd! That’s another Shane Cherry event, and it will feature many of the city’s great nerd queens like Erika, Fifi DuBois, and of course, yourself. I know it’s a benefit for Trinity Place Shelter… what’s gonna go down that night?
I’m going to pull the Freddy Kruger number out of my back pocket if I can’t get the number I’m working on finished in time, but I kind of want to keep it under wraps just in case I don’t have it completed.
I’m also working on the Avant Garbage Halloween costume. She’s going to be the Bride of Frankenstein, and the steel wool wig is shaping up to be stunning!
Sounds like the fall is shaping up to be another big season for you. So, really important final question: can Avant Garbage work bright orange crocks like Mario?
There are some things so disgusting even Avant Garbage won’t touch them.
We’ll leave it at that! Thanks Avant!
Avant Garbage will guest co-host the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing party and subsequent “Haus of Mouth” show at the West End with Terra Hyman on September 8th (8pm). She’ll model for Runway, the Fashion Week closing party, at Stage48 on September 15th (10pm), and she’ll perform for the We the Heroes Ball at Rockbar on October 3rd (8pm). Avant can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.