A veteran performer and fan favorite among Boots & Saddle Drag Lounge’s coveted roster of queens, Delilah Brooks has had a remarkable career of highs and lows, and has come out in the end as an incredibly competent comedienne–and a truly happy person as well. With words of wisdom and joy for us all this season (and a little sweet T to top it off, of course), let’s get on point with Miss Brooks!
Thotyssey: Hi Delilah, thanks for talking to us! How are you feeling now, you’ve been ill!
Delilah Brooks: Hey Jimmy! I’m so much better, thank God! This up and down weather got to this broad! But I’m back on my heels and on stage again!
Glad to hear it. And I’m also glad you took a little time off to recover; I can’t think of anything worse to do when you’re sick then piling on all that makeup and heavy layering. Have you ever had to drag sick before?
Hmmm, I don’t really remember ever being that sick in drag. I think the hardest part would be keeping the makeup on a sweaty fever-ridden forehead! But I’m a big believer in “if I’m not feeling good I can’t possibly make and audience feel good!”
Oh, you know I love Toys for Tots! This year was a major success for us. All together with cash and gifts, we raised over $4000 for the kiddies! And in my usual tradition, I had the Marines playing bartender, which is always fun for them and the customers.
What do you want for Christmas this year?
So this is gonna sound insane, but I’ve been begging for a taser for Christmas! The world is getting wild out there, and I think a taser is more realistic then a gun [laughs]! And trust, after one run in with my taser I don’t think anyone would be messing with Momma D after that!
Can I please give you a list of people to taser? Okay, so, let’s go to the beginnings of Delilah. Now, I know you and your family are in Westchester now, but you are originally from the Bronx, right?
Yes sir! Born in the Bronx, and when my parents made enough money [laughs] they moved us into Westchester! But I grew up in Westchester.
And your family is in the restaurant business?
Yes, I grew up working in our family restaurant/bar, and now work for my dad’s catering hall.
So you weren’t some little spoiled Westchester brat–you had a strong work ethic early on!
Yeah, I started busing tables at 12!
What was childhood like for you, as far as the things you were interested in?
My childhood was very blessed. I have incredible parents that always encouraged me to follow my dreams, and I started theater extremely young. When I was 9, I was in the ensemble of Oliver on Broadway. And I just kept performing in regional theaters until high school.
And how well did you get along with other kids?
I’ve always been outgoing and super silly, so I’ve never really had problems making friends.
That’s great! What were some other pre-drag productions you were in?
Oh God, I’ve done everything! All the usual suspect shows for theater kids: Willy Wonka, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wizard of Oz, Anything Goes… I’ve done over 30 regional theater productions.
Wow, I haven’t thought about this part of my life in years! Thanks for the jog down memory lane. I remember, like most fat drag queens, my first drag role was Edna Turnblad in Hairspray! I feel like that’s a must if you’re going to become a drag queen. Or for the skinny girls, Angel in Rent [laughs]!
I would’ve loved to see your Edna! What was your take on Hairspray Live? And have you been liking these TV musicals in general, or are they too gimicky?
Oh, I know I’m cheesy, but I love all of them! Even if they are bad, I just think it’s so important for children to see the magic of musicals! I wish they had these when I was young; every time I watch one I feel like a little kid again! But Hairspray was by far the best one so far. I did love The Wiz, though!
So Edna aside, what was your first exposure to actual nightlife drag?
Well, you might remember my best friend Miss Cherra Secrett, who is currently in Kinky Boots on Broadway. I used to escort her to and from shows when she would perform–and I would go out as a boy. That’s how I got to know all the queens. And it was just inevitable that I would end up in drag! Actually my first night out, me and Kitten–well, now Bob the Drag Queen–went to Saliva Tuesdays at the Ritz, and Bob made my dress while I put on my makeup! [Laughs] It was a mess–the dress was in three different parts, and just tucked in! And yet, I felt like a million dollars… and [host] Thorgy let me perform! It was pure magic back then, doing drag: there was such a sisterhood and family atmosphere. It was more then just doing gigs; it was making memories.
And how did the lovely Roxy Brooks become your drag mama?
She came with Cherra to an open mic night one night when I was doing comedy as a boy, and she said she wanted me to do comedy in drag. And I said, “You do my hair, makeup, and costume and I’m all there!” And the first few times I went out, she had a strict rule: that she had to do my makeup, because I was wearing her last name [laughs]!
But I’m extremely grateful to Roxy. She always encouraged my drag and experimenting. I don’t know if you remember, but the original Delilah Brooks was known for her monochromatic looks–just one color from head to toe! Blue, purple, pink, orange! That was my thing for awhile!
I do remember that! It was impeccably done, though! I met you right before your weekly show started at Boots in the old location, right after drag started becoming a thing there. And now yours is one of the longest-running shows there! It’s been through several incarnations and obviously you’ve changed a lot as a performer over the years, but what do you think has been the biggest evolution for you as a performer since those first shows?
Well, in the beginning the crowds were significantly smaller.Then Drag Race took over, and more and more fans came. But back then it was about forming a relationship with the customers and making the bar a safe, happy, and welcoming place for all–and that is one thing I still try to do every time I get on stage! It’s my relationship with my audience that makes going to a Delilah Brooks show different then the other shows in the city.
You’ve created a lot of permanent regulars that way.
I hope you don’t mind me asking this, but you’re very open about past struggles with alcohol and substance abuse. Is it a challenge every day to work sober in nightlife?
Well this is a loaded question, because the simple answer is: now, no–it is not. But that’s because I’m at a different place in my life and career.
Everyone gets wrapped up in the world of nightlife fame, and I was no different. I lost myself into the idea of who and what Delilah should be. And that kind of motivation is driven by insecurities, pride, ego, self-centeredness. Those kinds of traits running your mentality every day is not a happy or healthy place to live, and I learned that the hard way. At the height of my career, working all the major clubs in NYC and an international TV show about to premiere– I was miserable, because I was living for achievement and not fulfillment. And I crashed hard. But because of the love and support from my family friends, and especially my Boots family, I’ve been able to pick myself up and remember why I love drag.
One thing I learned from my troubles is, the heart wants you to live for fulfillment, and your head wants you to live for achievement. I’ve been blessed to achieve many things in my career–now it’s time for my fulfillment. I’d rather be happy then famous today, and that’s why those feelings that drive us to drink and use drugs… they almost can’t hurt me anymore. I’ve had the success, and it didn’t fulfill me the way
I was expecting. Now, today, you look at me and my career, and I don’t have much anymore. But I’ve never been so grateful or happy in my life. I’m just in a different place today. I guess you can say I grew up l[laughs]!
Your story is certainly very inspiring on so many levels!
Let’s back track a bit and talk a little bit about your long time at Lucky Chengs. You started out in the original location, and were a big part of the move to the huge midtown spot. Chengs was a lot of fun, but there was so much chaos due largely of course to the sad events surrounding the owner Hayne Suthon’s illness and death. What do you make of your time there, looking back at it now? Was it a positive or negative experience mostly, or both?
OMG, Lucky Chengs! I think almost every girl who worked at the Times Square location would agree it was a mess! But it was probably the most influential time in my career. We were young queens being welcomed by legends in this city (most of the girls at [the original] Chengs were responsible for the Golden Age of gay culture in NYC: a lot of them were featured in Party Monster and Studio 54 and Wigstock).
The best way to describe Lucky Chengs in Times Square is the NYC DRAG SORORITY HOUSE! Yes, the working part was a disaster, but the friendships and the sisterhood and the memories are what dreams are made of! I mean just look at some of the girls I worked with five nights a week: Laverne Cox, Bob The Drag Queen, Thorgy Thor, Sweetie! I mean, I wouldn’t trade that time of my life for anything. And the building was just a giant clubhouse for the girls; we could come and go at any time day or night. If the dressing room walls could talk, the book would be a New York Times bestseller.
And not to mention, we were across the street from Roseland Ballroom! The after parties and the celebrities, it was a dream come true! I remember one night it was late, kinda dead. I was working the bar and I heard a voice at the front say “darling, may I use your restroom?”
I looked up and it was Liza Minnelli! Just the interactions and the run-ins were legendary in their own right!
And let’s not forget all the sexy men! You ask anyone, and they’ll tell you the thing Delilah liked most was the men! And they ain’t lying! But 100% those years of my career–and they were early on for me–are absolutely the most incredible, memorable, most fulfilling years for me. If I could go back and do it again, I would 100 times over!
You must be quite proud of Laverne Cox, speaking of TV Musicals! I hear that she was always sweet in those days, but relatively shy off-stage. Was that how you remembered her then?
Laverne and me spent a lot of time during the shows talking because she was the pre-show performer and I was the bartender. So I have a lot of fond memories of Laverne just sharing advice and experience with me: on the what not to do in my life! She always had an older sister kind of role for me. She was warm and compassionate, but also at the same time slightly stern and protective.
She’s an extraordinary women who has lived threw a lot, and has learned many things the hard way. That’s why whenever she spoke, I listened. She always spoke from experience, and those are the lessons I treasure! But she’s also very funny! And I loved to kiki and talk about all the boys! Mostly cracking jokes about me and the boys [laughs]!
Sounds like a great gal. One cute thing that came out of your time there was a cameo with some other queens in an episode of the TV cop show Blue Bloods, where Jinkx Monsoon played your boss! Is Donny Wahlberg cute in real life?
OMG, my Donny! What a sweet and extremely sexy man! He was so much fun on set! During downtime, he was calling us over to send lil’ videos to Jenny about how he found a new girlfriend, and of course I was more then willing to play along!
But my favorite story from filming that show was we were all in the dressing room and the PA knocked on the door and said “ladies, their is someone here who wants to meet you,” and in walks Tom Selleck! I fan-girled so hard! Talk about just a real man, so polite and really handsome, very, very funny and goddamn that man is tall! I’m almost seven feet tall in drag, and I still had to look up to see his eyes!
Have you gotten a chance to visit Lucky Chengs in its latest incarnation at Stage 48 yet?
No, I have not! I’ve heard it’s very nice, but I like to hold on to my idea of Chengs and just keep it that way… ya know?
Oh I definitely get that. So, let’s talk about the TV show you starred in: Psychic Queen. This was a “reality show” where you were this drag medium who went around helping people.
What network did that air on, and where?
Well Psychic Queen was picked up by OUTtv and it aired in four different countries and had three episodes.
Did you think that the “psychic” angle of the show was weird or cute?
When I signed on as an actor playing a role, I didn’t fully understand the depth that people go to when they believe you’re a medium or a psychic. I thought everyone would get the joke, but it turned out people really believed in Delilah, and my manager started getting flooded with inquiries about private readings. And let’s not forget I was no longer in a healthy mindset to begin with!
Is that one of the reasons why it ended quickly?
I realized I could sell my soul and my brand for 15 minutes of fame, or I could pack it all in, break the contract and try to put myself back together. And clearly, that’s what I did! I was so blinded by the idea of fame and an international TV show that I was willing to compromise my talent and my dream. I mean, I probably could had decided this before the pilot aired and it all became much more public, but I can’t change the past now [laughs]!
So, as far as that goes. it was an incredibly eye-opening learning experience. And it’s also something I’ve achieved that the only other queen I know with an international TV show has: RuPaul! So it didn’t go as planned, but no one can take away the fact that I tried–and to some extent achieved–my dream. Next time, I’m just gonna make it about Delilah and not think I need a gimmick [laughs]!
Do you think you probably won’t try out for Drag Race ever, thanks to this crazy experience with Psychic Queen?
Never say never! I don’t know about auditioning for the show, but if they called I would give it a tremendous amount of thought. It’s very funny to me that the last thing Reality TV is, is actually real! And knowing what I know about doing a TV show and the ins and outs, I don’t think they really want the chunky, nice queen who’s been in the game for awhile and not really looking for the drama, ya know? I’m just looking to make people smile and laugh! I don’t know if they would really try to sell that to the viewers. But like I said, never say never.
As far as your comedy material goes: do you write jokes, or is everything you say pretty much improvised, or had been improvised at one point?
Most of my material I’ve been writing for years, so I don’t really do a setlist before every show. I kinda just have them all in the back of my head, to pull out when necessary. But my favorite part of my shows is the audience interaction, cause it keeps me on my toes, and keeps it so fresh and new! Most of the times those are my funniest jokes, ‘cause its 100% authentic!
Totally! So, your show at Boots has existed in several variations over the years as we mentioned earlier, but for quite awhile it was “The Dirty Ho Show” with co-host Honey Davenport, who began as your DJ and graduated to your co-star early in her career. That was a great show because you two were opposites in so many ways, but had amazing chemistry. Do you miss that dynamic with her on stage?
The funniest thing about me and Honey is, that dynamic is just how we are with each other always, whether on stage or not, that is our friendship! It’s actually one of my favorite friendships, because we are just wild!
As far as missing it? I’d say no, ‘cause I still get 3am FaceTimes from her, and the phone calls and texts! Just because we don’t get to share it with an audience anymore I feel sad, because I think so many people for so many years loved that chemistry. But as far as me and Honey go, we still behave that way with each other every day!
I think the biggest thing that people connected with from me and Honey is, we are not afraid to be ourselves. We point out the things most people judge in each other, but we would celebrate in one another. And that’s why I think we connected with so many people, and we had such a strong following: because no matter who you are, you could sit in our audience and live your truth with a laugh instead of a finger pointing, ya know?
Yes sir! I will be there from 4-7:30, then I am running over to Boots!
Yes, at Boots right after this is you new-ish solo show, 2 Tons of Fun, which came out of your success with hosting the Drag Race All-Stars 2 viewing party on Thursdays. I must say that you are probably the best viewing party host I’ve seen! The whole “viewing party” thing is kind of a new, unexpected twist in successful nightlife trends… what do you think the key to success is in being a good viewing party host?
It’s not about me! It’s about what we are watching, and what the audience thinks about what we are watching! You really don’t talk at people during a viewing party, but more or less talk to them. They want to be a part of it, and they want to feel the energy of a whole room who is feeling and watching the same thing. If they just wanted to watch and not have a more hands-on experience they would just stay home! But at my viewing parties, I try my best to give everyone a voice, or at least a chance to express how they feel about the show.
And the snacks! Snacks are very important, and skinny drag queens just don’t know about good snacks! But us big queens will give you all the yum yums!
I hear that! So, how do you like hosting a solo show now? Is it more or less challenging then working off a co-host?
I personally love it! I like to be able to just go with the energy in the room, and as comedian (not a comedy queen!) you feed off of the audience and see what they are or aren’t responding to, and then go from there. And as most people know, I open with a monologue and then get into numbers. So I find it very convenient to do that alone.
But thank God it’s only a 2-hour show! Any longer, and that’s when my fat ass needs a co-host, just to catch my breath!
And as for your current Saturday happy hour show, it’s now The Hungry Hungry Hippo Happy Hour with co-host Vita Summers! Vita is super talented, and she just added Miss Monster to her pile of sashes. How are you liking this version of the show so far, and how is your dynamic with Vita different than with Honey?
Well the Hungry Hungry Hippo show is a breath of fresh air for me. Like every new project, you have to give some time to adjust and get comfortable with each other. But Vita is a tremendous talent! Her voice, her sewing skills, and yes, her dance moves! Bitch does cartwheels and splits–she had added a new level of entertainment to the show that
I as a comedian just can’t do! But we also push each other in a healthy way. Like in our game show portion of the happy hour, where we ask the audience to pick genres of music and we battle it out to see who can one up the other! It’s extremely entertaining for the audience, and also gets them involved, but it keeps us on our toes every week!
I’m really enjoying the new direction of the show, and Vita is absolutely an asset to have as my co-host every week. Not to mention, she’s kind of a bitch! [Laughs] so our personalities are very opposite, which brings a fun and catty dynamic to the show!
So you mentioned that the timing was off in your personal life when you were doing your shows in other bars: you had one in Barracuda with Tina Burner, and another at Hardware with singer Kelly King. Do you think you’re ready to venture out in other venues again, or are you too happy/busy being a Boots-exclusive Queen?
Ummm… well, both of those shows were magic, when they were good! And if I get a chance to have that kind of magic on stage with other talents, I absolutely would. But right now, I’m happy with my schedule, If the right idea at the right bar came along, I would love a new project. But I’m not gonna go banging down doors and stealing gigs [laughs]!
Good for you girl. So, any closing thoughts?
Just that I’m extremely grateful for the career that NYC drag has given me!
Yay! Okay, so now it looks like we’re stuck with a Trump administration for four years, and all the misery that is likely to accompany that. What do you think a drag queen’s role might be in this new age?
Well, first of all… this is a time period where as a community, we need to look to those who understand and can actually handle the pressure of this kind of energy in our world. I think in these next four years, you will see the veteran queens be the ones people look to for support and strength. I also think this will be a time where drag queens need to be more concerned with the substance of what they say to audiences more then what they are wearing or how fierce their mix is. We have been, and always will be, the voice and the light of the gay community. I don’t think many queens understand the responsibility that comes with the title! But I know many, many queens who have been brought up and taught the power of drag, and I have faith that the true queens in this city will be the escape and security our city needs to keep our morale and faith up in humanity.
But as far as the new queens go: learn to listen, and listen to learn! You may be the only break that a struggling gay man gets on a really rough day; you don’t want to miss the opportunity to turn his day around and give him strength, because you’re [too busy] feeling your fantasy and thinking queens need to be shady or reading. Cut the shit! Let’s all show each other a lil’ love! That’s the most important thing in the next four years, is just Show Love!
Like, [we need] a drag queen academy to teach the history and the importance of drag. Ha, there’s the idea for my next TV show! Bahahaha, I’m just kidding!
I would watch that! Thanks so much Delilah, and happy holidays!
At Boots & Saddle, Delilah Brooks hosts “2 Tons of Fun” Thursday nights (8pm) and “The Hungry Hungry Hippo Hour” with Vita Summers on Saturdays (4pm). She’s co-hosting a benefit show with Honey Davenport at Stonewall on Thursday, December 22nd (4pm). Delilah can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.