[photo credit: Davide Laffe]
She’s the current showrunner of the celebrated drag revue Queen at Industry, and one of the most recognizable faces in nightlife today. A consummate professional and a hilarious and beloved entertainer, she hosts and performs all over the city (and the world), and she’s won more pageant titles than most queens could dream of. But coming from a humble, pre-”Drag Race,” self-taught place, she’s truly a queen’s queen. Her bawdy humor will probably offend you at some point, but her talent will always amaze you. It’s one of my personal favorite performers, Miss Holly Dae!
Thotyssey: Hello, Holly Dae! We finally get to do this! So, given that you’re named Holly Dae, is this usually a big time of year for you as far as private gigs, corporate gigs, etc?
Holly Dae: Hey Jim! Finally! And yes, this time of year can be a very busy time for all of us gals. Ranging from our normal shows at gay bars to straight people Republican parties… yes, I did one of those also around this time last year!
Oh my God, that’s right!. Do Republicans have the right to a fun Christmas drag show this year?
Let’s just put it this way … the show will just be a lump of coal.
Ha! No way gurl, you’re a professional! So, congratulations on all your GLAM nominations this year! You’re up for Best Hostess! Plus, the weekly big time show you run, Queen, is up for Best Group, and your revue Distorted Diznee is a contender for Best Cabaret Show. Which one are you the most proud of?
Well, I have to say I am proud of all of them. I work really hard at what I do, so it’s nice to be recognized by our community. That also being said, I know tons of people that weren’t nominated and work just as hard, if not harder! So I take the GLAM nominations as a time to congratulate everyone, working in a fun but very hard field!
So I was at your 30th birthday bash at Industry a few months ago, where your girl Pixie Aventura lip-synced one of your YouTube interviews in old lady drag. 30 is a baby by most human standards, but it makes you “seasoned” in drag terms… in the best possible way, though! I can’t see a lot of the new girls accomplishing what you’ve accomplished for years to come.
Aw, that’s very nice of you! Very true, the girls all call me Grandma! But it’s exactly what you said, it’s the years in the business. So I take it as a term of endearment … or else I’ll just cry [laughs]!
So, before we talk about your amazing career, lets get to your roots! I know you moved around a lot, but is it safe to say you’re from the Boston area?
Yeah, that’s kind of what I call home, However, I have lived in NYC since 2006
–the longest I have ever been in once place.
And you come from a military family. Does growing up in that kind of environment give you a strong sense of discipline and work ethic?
I’m not sure if I could say “discipline.” My parents, in my mind, are some of the best parents out there. They put a lot of trust and support in my brothers and I. It forced us to grow up and be independent. In my mind, that’s the best work ethic you can teach your children, to be independent and strong.
Totally. Were you always interested in being a performer of some kind?
Yes, as long as I can remember I was always performing. As a kid, my brothers and I use to put on shows for my parents and their friends. I can remember as a kid, running into my parents dinner parties and making everyone stop talking as we did a full-blown production. And yes, I always played the female ingenue!
So, did you study theatre or any performing arts at all, in high school or beyond?
Yeah, I was in every school or community show I could be. I danced in a company in high school. I went to a performing arts boarding school, and then a conservatory in college.
How did you get along with other kids/peers along the way? Were you always able to find your own crew?
I was. What’s great about performing arts is, usually we all depended and pushed each other to grow as artists. Some of the kids I went to high school or did shows with, I still talk to this day.
Nice! So what was your first big break on the theatre stage, would you say?
With theatre I got lucky pretty fast. I ended up leaving college early, since I got a national tour at 19 with Mame. After I did a few other tours, I landed Gypsy with the one and only Patti LuPone. I was very lucky to have that success. But I could tell something was missing.
I was always seen as a chorus boy. If I was given a big juicy role, it was as an understudy. I needed a chance in the spotlight and Holly was the one who gave it to me.
So when and how did the birth of Holly *ahem* Cost come about?
HA! Well, Holly was born mostly as a joke, and just some friends and I went out. I had a great time, and I started to do shows, as a guest, or charity work. TONS OF FREE WORK (hint hint, new girls!) Eventually, I started to enter competitions, pageants, and worked very hard to get my name out there. Even when I wasn’t working, I would go out and try to hit four or five different bars. I made a point to go and meet bartenders, waiters, managers… not just go and get drunk! I wanted Holly to take off, and I knew what I had to do.
And it worked! It’s got to be tough though, when you’re young and new to the scene, and promoting yourself and working for free… some venue owners or promoters or whatever might be taking advantage of you.
That’s always the advice I give new queens: treat this like a business (if you’re trying to make drag your sole living). Understand that we all had to pay our dues to get where we are today. If I ever felt like I was being taken advantage of, I said it. There is a way to approach owners and managers and explain your point of view without getting crazy. My biggest recommendation is to put the cocktail down before you do so!
I think a lot of girls need to hear that! So, what was your first paid gig as Holly?
To be honest, I can’t even remember the first paid gig I had. I know my first weekly show was at Pieces bar. It’s funny, I am still working at that bar, so many years later. Of course, doing a very different show. But the Pieces family has been so good to me over the years, and I can’t thank them enough.
Before you were Holly at Pieces, you were, like, a karaoke host or DJ there, right?
I was, but Eric the owner didn’t like me making fun of the bad singers [laughs].
Well, you made a wise career choice! So, did an actual person give you shit for going by Holly Cost, or was it just like a general feeling that you should change the name?
Oh, I got mixed reactions from everyone: bar owners, other drag queens, bloggers, costumers, etc. But the biggest reason I changed was when I got booked for Providence Pride, and they wouldn’t use my real name. I had to go as Holly C… and I said, It sounds like I’m the missing Spice Girl! So I changed it to something more PG. And it stuck as my name ever since.
When you were just starting out, how much did RuPaul’s Drag Race inform your drag, if at all?
Well, I was before Drag Race. When the show first aired, I had already changed my name, and was living off of drag by that point. I don’t know if I would say it changed my drag… but I was very glad that it was making drag more main stream all over the world.
You have this signature vintage, old Hollywood silhouette for a lot of your looks.
When I first started out, I only wanted to do that old Hollywood glam. As the years have passed, I opened my mind to other looks, but still feel the most like me in that classic silhouette.
You create a lot of your costumes and dresses yourself, right? Was that always the case, or is that more recent?
I do a mix of making my own clothes and buying. Now with Queen and Diznee, I do a lot of characters or imitations, so buying replica costumes online is pretty easy nowadays.
And obviously your paint has evolved tremendously over the years. When you look at your old beat pics from when and you just started, do you laugh or do you cringe?
A bit of both. I mean hell, back in the day I used my real eyebrows, liquid foundation, and Duane Reade lashes. That’s pretty comical in itself. However, I am glad they are still there. It’s good to go back and see how far and how much work you have put in!
And even till this day I am still trying new things every now and then. If you don’t think you have anymore growing… quit.
You have a close bond with a lot of the queens that came up around the same time as you, many of whom you still work with in Queen, Diznee and your Monster show. How important is it for a new queen to have a network of sisters like that?
It’s very important! My sisters and I all lean on each other for support and advice, and the library is always open amongst us, which helps keep us sane! That being said, I call a lot of girls my sisters that came up before me, and after. It doesn’t matter when you start, really, but it’s very important to get a support group in our business. Our business is unlike any other, and it’s so crucial to have friends that understand that.
And like you said, you’re part of the last generation of totally self-taught queens, with no Drag Race and not much by way of online tutorials when you started out. Did you have a drag mother, by the way?
I actually do have a drag mother. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see each other much anymore. But Miss Kitty Hiccups was a great mom to me when I first started out. She was a perfect example of a drag mother. She would send a compliment with every correction. She was a class act!
So, when I first met you, you were trying to get an open slot for a weekly show at the old Boots & Saddle, back when they used to have competitions to fill the slots there. It was you versus another queen vying for drink tickets. That other queen was being really aggressive and kind of desperate about it, basically begging and bullying people for these damn tickets. But you were cool and laughed it off, and wound up winning anyway. Professionalism usually wins over dramatics I guess, right?
Oh god, I remember that night. Yeah, I mean, keep your cool and let your talent speak for itself. I remember the games that were being played that night, and I didn’t want to win like that. I wanted to win because I was best fit for the job, and when all was said and done, that’s how it went down. But God, that feels like ages ago!
That was a long running solo show you had there at Boots, and meanwhile there was your Pieces show. How did those solo shows help you evolve as a performer?
They forced me to really hold onto your audience. The biggest skill you learn is how to read your audience. Big or small, you must be able to do that. There are so many choices/shows out there, and so many bars that are so close. Your audience can walk out at any minute. As a solo performer, it’s all on your shoulders.
As far as drag pageants are concerned: you’ve done quite a few of them, placed a bunch of times and won several titles. What’s your process for deciding what pageants you’re going to do in a year?
Well, don’t forget there are some that I didn’t even place. It’s part of the game! As far as when I choose to do one, it all depends on timing and if I have it. Pageants take a lot of time and dedication. And if I am going to join, I want to be able to give 100%.
Your fans were sad that we didn’t get to see a lot of you this summer in Fire Island like we have in summers past, but you blew everyone away with your win for Entertainer of the Year at Miss Fire Island, which you’ve also won before. I still haven’t seen a video of that, but everyone went on about how moving your number was.
Well first off, thank you. The piece I did this year for EOY was a very personal piece. I lost my amazing aunt to MS, and we made this piece to honor her memory. Julius, my dancer and I, actually went into this pageant not thinking we were gonna win, since it was such a serious piece–and usually for Miss fire Island, it’s high energy, dancing and comedy that wins. But since I had the title before, we wanted to do it just to honor her. That title was a shock to both of us, and a true honor!
Lot’s of casual drag fans probably don’t get that as silly and fun and campy as drag can be, it can also be a serious form of artistic expression. It must be very fulfilling to find ways to show that side of it on occasion, right?
That’s the perfect word for it: fulfilling! Don’t get me wrong, I love making people laugh. But drag is an art form, and that means we can touch them in all emotional ways… not just the funny bone.
As far as funny goes, you are definitely from the school where you go to the most irreverent and un-PC places for laughs. You’re reenactment of Anne Frank in front of the Nazi firing squad always gets a pretty big reaction one way or another! Lots of queens are under fire of a different kind these days with people getting vocally offended by their numbers. And now with this coming President, I think everyone is pretty fragile right now. Do you believe queens should change the way they’ve been getting laughs?
Well, I was taught a very amazing lesson early on by that witch Bianca Del Rio: never to apologize for a joke. The minute you do, the audience will take advantage, and then you are at their mercy.
However, I do think, back to what we were talking about before: you must read your audience. Don’t just come in with something offensive… find out if they are with you on that humor level. You can please them all, but be clever enough to work with all types of audiences.
Being able to read an audience like that takes lots of experience, I can imagine. Okay, I’d love to ask you about every gig you’ve ever had, but we’d be here for, like, a week, so let’s talk about what you’ve got going on right now!
First, I wanna talk about Queen, which is celebrating its 6th anniversary at Industry on Thursday, December 8th! You are the showrunner of that troupe, and it’s one of the largest and most celebrated weekly drag shows in the city. It must be a lot of work and preparation to crank these epic shows out week by week. How long have you been running the show there now?
I have been running that show for going on three years now. Before me, it was Shequida, Peppermint and Dallas Dubois. And you’re exactly right, it’s a lot of work. Not only do we try and keep the show fresh and creative, but once a month we try and do a huge production show, such as Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Lion King, etc. The core cast is beyond talented, and I put a lot of trust in them. QUEEN would not be what it is now, if it wasn’t for all the work each and every queen brings to the table.
This year, Queen was hijacked by a lot by celebrities pandering their albums and movies to the gays. Is it fun when that happens, or are you like, “girl, we got a show to do!?”
No, I am always excited to have the celebrities. We were lucky enough that all of them that came to grace the stage (Idina Menzel, Demi Lavato, Nick Jonas, etc.) have been so grateful and sweet to all of us! And that being said, we aren’t stopping… i can’t say who, but we already have some lined up for 2017!
Exciting! As far as your themes there go, have you had a favorite so far?
I love the big production shows, as listed before. But I also love when we get super super creative and do odd things like “Elements: earth, wind, fire and water,” or “Childhood games.” In my mind, it truly shows how creative and talented the girls I work with are!
So for the 6th anniversary, nearly all the girls in your revolving cast will be there: you, Pixie, Monet X Change, Bootsie LeFaris, Brenda Dharling, Terra Hyman, Jada Valenciaga, et al, so that should be epic. Any spoilers for the anniversary show?
The whole cast will be there. And yes, we have a few surprises, but you have to show up just for that!
Phi Phi O’Hara has been another longtime cast member, and she was put through it this year by Drag Race All-Stars and internet trolls. Was that upsetting to watch?
It was upsetting, because we have gotten to know the true Phi Phi, and she is beyond a sweetheart. She is always willing to lend a hand to make the show stronger and better. People need to understand, at the end of the day it’s a reality show. A SHOW. Death threats, harassment, etc.. it’s just ridiculous, especially to caring and amazing gal like Phi Phi.
So, for the past few years you and some of Queen girls (now Bootsie, Pixie & Brenda) do the Distorted shows at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on select Friday nights. This is a very choreographed show for more of a theatre / cabaret / Broadway audience. You usually do Distorted Diznee, which of course parodies Disney classics. The show sells out almost every week and gets a huge response from the audience. Doesn’t it feel much more gratifying sometimes, to do that show in a genuine theatre setting and get that response? It must speak to your theater roots!
You got it exactly right: the four of us all come from theatre or dance training, and I can’t tell you how nice it is to perform in a venue where people sit and watch. They aren’t yelling at each other, getting up and being rude, dropping drinks, heckling you. That being said, this does all sometimes happen [laughs], but for the most part it’s a very rewarding experience.
This Friday and next, you four are doing Distorted Kristmess, sending up some holiday classics. What’s your favorite number to do in that show?
I love our group numbers, and that usually goes for all our Distorted shows. The four of us have worked together for so long that we have a good, strong bond, and good chemistry on stage. Dancing and performing with those gals is a true treat!
Okay, now I wanna talk about the shows you do with the gogo boys/men of Spunk and Adonis Lounge. Let’s start with Sunday nights at the site of your very first gig, Pieces! You host the Spunk party there, where the guys dance in tiny towels and give private lap dances. These are really the best looking guys in the business, I must say. Is it fun hosting these nights?
What’s not to enjoy?! Hot men, great music by DJ Xavier Mazara, an amazing staff, and two incredible bosses! Oh, and did I mention hot men!?
It must suck in a way though, because you have to be all dragged and tucked and you can’t enjoy the show like a civilian, right?
True, it’s not as the most comfortable. But it’s a small price to pay for the view!
And now on Saturdays, you and the Spunk boys join forces with the men of Adonis Lounge for Holly’s Fantasy at Fairytail Lounge! What’s fun about that night is that it’s a small space with tons of naked-ish guys all night, so it’s like you’re just in this pervy cave of flesh! I bet that makes it very different from Sunday night.
Yes, both parties have naked-ish guys but they are very different vibes. Pieces is more relaxed and silly, with performances and games, but just as sexy. Where Saturday Is more man meat-focused, and just horn balls!
Wednesday’s show, Holly & Her Dollies at Monster, is probably the best night to see you give the Full Holly, because your doing numbers and playing games and shooting the shit the whole time. You’ve been doing that show for awhile now, with revolving guests performers: usually Brenda, Bootsie or Brita Filter. You must hold a special place in your heart for that show.
We have been doing it for a little over four years now. And a big help to the show is the guests.. but also DJ Mitch Ferrino, who is with me every Wednesday. He has a good knack for the Monster crowd, and he helps me to keep the show fun for everyone. He is a blessing!
And you must also be very proud of Mitch; his ”Purse First“ musical collaboration with Bob the Drag Queen is a big hit! And then, of course, there’s ”Tongue First!” Which one do you like better?
They are both brilliant! Both videos and songs are well made, and well thought out. I truly believe NYC has some of the best talent out there!
Usually on the first Wednesday of the month at Monster, you host Beat Your Face, where queens perform and compete for a cash prize. It’s always a fun night, but I bet you’ve seen a lot of great talent born in that competition, right?
So true! I love that night because I get to meet a lot of girls I have never seen perform before–and some queens that are even performing for the first time ever! We usually have about 7-10 girls (or even drag kings) that come and compete, and whether its a seasoned queen or a newbie, each person brings something different to the table. Always a fun night!
But December is special, because on the 14th it’s the Miss Monster pageant (which you’ve won before)! Jasmine “Tongue First” Rice is stepping down this year.
Yes, I am co- hosting it alongside Miss Monster 2015 Honey Davenport!
Is it a fierce lineup of girls this year competing?
Yes this lineup is gonna be an epic battle. Ten girls are coming for the crown, and cash prize of $1000. I can not wait to see who comes out on top!
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a queen who’s considering entering her first pageant?
Have fun with it! And remember, you have a one-in-whatever-amount chance of winning. So, go into it for the experience, and chance to challenge yourself, and to prove yourself! If you win, that’s just icing! Do it for yourself!
Well said! So, looking towards the future, is there anything else coming up for you?
Well last but not least, I can confirm I will be returning to Fire Island again this coming season. I can’t say where just yet, but I am so excited to coming back! Keep an eye on my Facebook for details coming soon!
Yaaaaaaay that’s great news! Okay, so last question, and I’ve been asking this a lot, but I think it’s important: what do you think a drag queen’s role will be in America under Donald Trump and his band of Anti-gay hoodlums?
I think our role, just as it always has been, is to be a beacon of light for the whole LGBT community. We were fearless leaders during the Stonewall times, and we will be that again if need be. Until then, I just want to use each and every stage as a platform to make my, and our communities’, voices heard. We will never be silenced, and you can thank our fierce tucks for that!
We love you, Holly!
Holly Dae hosts Holly’s Fantasy at FairyTail Lounge on Saturday nights (9pm) and the Spunk! party at Pieces on Sunday nights (10pm). She is a performer and the showrunner of the Queen revue Thursday nights at Industry (11pm). At Monster, she hosts Holly & Her Dollies most Wednesday nights (11pm), and the Beat Your Face drag competition the first Wednesday of the month (11pm). She will co-host the Miss Monster pageant there with Honey Davenport on December 14th (10pm). She performs with the Distorted revue at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on select Friday nights, and on December 2nd and 9th they will be doing Distorted Kristmess. Holly can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.