She’s been a top New York City nightlife performer since the 1990′s, and one of a handful from that era to remain at the absolute top of her game. As one of the genre’s most prolific creators of song and video parodies, she’s worked with pretty much everyone in the biz (and major stars beyond), and has created tons of hilarious media over the years–she even produces her own online channel now, with constantly-added content. And she’s the rare queen who sings her own parodies live every week! In the years before “RuPaul’s Drag Race” made a million drag stars, she paved the way for queens to get their name and talent out there for the globe to behold. Thotyssey is honored to chat with this New York City Queen of Everything, Miss Sherry VIne!
Thotyssey: Hi Sherry, what an honor to speak to you, and Happy New Year! What were you doing while the ball dropped?
Sherry Vine: I was DJing and performing at Indochine, and did the countdown there. I’ve
worked there about five times on NYE and it’s always the best time!
You were quite busy with your YouTube network SVTV this holiday season, posting a new song/video parody for each of the eight days of days of Hanukah! If I had to pick a favorite, it would be “Jappy.” Amazing! How long ago did you start writing, recording and filming those? It must’ve taken forever!
I love that you love “Jappy!” Well, I wanted to do it last year, but started too late. So I started recording the songs in early 2016, and we shot the first video in September. I knew it would be a lot of work, but had no idea how much–it was quite ambitious! But I am so proud of it. Not patting myself on the back, but we just pulled off a large feat with soooo many people working on it, for free. I think it’s an epic art project [laughs]!
As the reigning queen of song parodies, what is your usual process? “I want to parody this song,” or “I have this funny idea, what song works best with it?” Or something else?
Totally all of the above. If there’s a big hit, sometimes I force myself to write a parody of it–which can be more time-consuming. As opposed to having an idea for a song that just pops into my head: these I usually can write very quickly. Or sometimes people give me ideas, and I run with it.
I used to spend so much time trying to stay current, but how many Taylor Swift
parodies can a queen do? So lately I’ve been finding classics that everyone knows and doing parodies. Like “Hallelujah” or “Grindr Queen.”
Parody is generally protected as free speech, but now we live in the world of the Intellectual Property Hair Trigger, especially online and especially on YouTube. Do you get grief from record labels–or YouTube itself–when you post the videos sometimes?
OMG yes, I used to. I spent a year fighting Sony because they were making YouTube take down my Gaga videos! It was so frustrating and annoying, because the Fair Act law clearly states it’s allowed for internet use. I had a lawyer, an angel who was working with me for free, who really saved the day. But it was a full year of them removing my videos. Finally, Sony met with us and signed me as one of the first video artists l[laughs]! They said it was too much to police all of YouTube, so now they have deals.
Pretty much every damn queen is doing video parodies now, but you and your girl Jackie Beat were pioneers of this—and still the masters. Are you okay with this girth of parodies, or do you wish some queens would step off and do something different?
Well, I certainly didn’t invent the art form! Jackie is the master, hands down!
The only part I have a problem with is when some young queen thinks they are brilliant for coming up with an idea that anyone can come up with, and then they accuse me of stealing their idea. I’m like, “Girl, it doesn’t take a genius to get to ‘Hole of Glory’ from ‘Edge of ‘Glory!’” I know I don’t steal ideas, and I have enough confidence to just do my thing. I’m not threatened by other queens doing parodies, and when there’s one I love I’m the first to reach out and say “congrats” or “let’s do one together!” I’ve
worked with many queens I admire and respect.
You’ve been a beloved entertainer in NYC nightlife for a while now, but you’re a Florida native raised in the Baltimore area. I understand that you missed the Divine / John Waters era when you were going out there. What was cute in Baltimore when you were exploring that scene?
Contrary to popular belief, I am too young to have been a part of the Divine scene in Baltimore [laughs]. But B’more was really fun in the 1980’s. I was so into the New Wave club scene, and saw every one-hit band you can name.
I wasn’t into the drag scene then–it was very pageant, which is great, but wasn’t my interest at the time.
You studied acting at USC MFA program under the great Anna Deavere Smith, pre-Sherry.
What was the most important thing you learned from her?
We were pretty close then, and I was her assistant on one show there. She pulled me aside one day and said, “You will have a hard time in Hollywood, because you don’t fit any type. You need to carve out your own path; write or find writers to write for you, etc.” And that’s exactly what I did. I will always be thankful to her for that.
What were some of your early acting roles?
Oh Honey, I did everything! Lots of musicals. General Bullmoose in Lil Abner, Fiddler, about five productions of South Pacific. Then when I was cast as Harold in Harold and Maude at a theatre in downtown Baltimore, I really pursued dramatic and character acting. It was also in one of Anna’s classes that I did my first “ladies” role; a monologue from For Colored Girls… and that’s when that seed began to blossom.
I love the story about the “crack house” that you’re named after–can you explain to those not in the know?
[Laughs] I was just Sherry at first, performing in LA at various clubs with Jackie Beat as a broken down torch singer. Someone told me that there was an apartment building on Vine Street called the Sherry (actually the Shari) and I drove by and it totally looked like a crack house. Boom: name!
It was a pretty brave decision, I would think, to work as a drag queen in a pre-Drag Race world, when the job maybe wasn’t well understood by the generally homophobic public and there was even less job stability then there is now. Was it just about living in the moment and doing these great performances for you, or did you have like a long-term career plan?
I didn’t have a long-term plan at first. I was just having fun and exploring, but once I committed to the idea of doing Sherry Vine projects and stopped auditioning as Keith, things just bloomed. We had a theatre company, Theatre Couture, that was very popular in the 1990’s. It was a bit harder before Drag Race, even before RuPaul became so famous. It could be quite scary! And there was a lot of drag-phobia in the gay “community.” I’ve been lucky to travel all over the world: TV, films, YouTube, etc. Now there’s no Plan B, so it’s definitely long term!
When you arrived in New York it was huge clubs that ruled the day in the 90s–and amazing queens like you, Peppermint, Jackie Beat, Shequida, Vivacious and Sweetie were mixing it up with everyone. Did you feel a much more narrow gap between gay and straight nightlife at that time?
Oh yes! The club scene in NYC was so mixed and pansexual. Squeezebox was the best example. You had to leave all labels outside! It was queens, gays, queer, girls, trans, hot straight rocker boys–everyone just dancing and partying together. There’s nothing like that now.
You’ve worked and rubbed shoulders with so many amazing legends… OMG Madonna!
I know – blessed! Being onstage with Madonna was pretty cool. Singing with Debbie Harry was another OMG moment.
We’ve lost so many icons this year: David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Pete Burns, Natalie Cole, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds… did you have any gigs or encounters with any of them?
I used to hang out with Pete Burns in the 1990’s – he came to Bar D’o a lot, and then we would all go to Jackie 60. We lost a lot of inspirations last year.
Tell us a little about Bar D’o. That was a pretty legendary venue where you performed famously with the likes of drag all-stars Raven-O and Joey Arias. You and Joey continue to perform at annual reunion shows for the bar at other venues (like Indochine in 2016). Can you describe what was so magical about the shows there?
I don’t know where to start. It was just a magical time in NYC nightlife. Bar D’o was another example of “mixed crowd.” One night, Meg Ryan was dancing on the sofa with a group of drag queens. Liv Tyler was there a lot. Almost any celeb you can name was probably there once. And the shenanigans in the bathrooms–shhhh! Raven and Joey are brilliant, and I learned so much from working with them. Family!
Of all the many countries and cities you performed in aside from NYC—and there are many—what’s your favorite?
I love going to places I never dreamed I would get to; like Estonia or Croatia. The people are so thrilled and excited that someone they have seen on YouTube is there. I mean they treat you like a rockstar [laughs]. I recently performed in Bucharest, and it was amazing. They just freaked out. And people were so kind and generous.
I am a fangeek for the short-lived Queens of Drag: NYC web series which starred you, Peppermint, Bianca Del Rio and several others. It wasn’t too dishy like today’s reality TV (except maybe for Dallas and Logan’s segment), and I think it would’ve been great viewing to just watch you all live your lives and be real.
It was really fun making that, and I think we all thought it would get picked up. But it’s all about timing. And sadly, I do think people want train wrecks and “drama” when it comes to “reality TV”. But there was plenty of real drama that could have been explored if given a chance [laughs]!
And you were also a model in the famous pre-Drag Race drag episode of Project Runway, where Ru was a judge! How did you enjoy that experience?
That was such a fun two days! I wish they had footage of the dressing room. Twelve queens stuffed into one room–we were laughing and cackling all day. And Heidi and Tim were super sweet. A real blast!
Drag Race has done wonderful things for drag no doubt: exposure, opportunities, etc. But do you think the show promotes a “type” of drag over others excessively?
No, I think all types are presented on the show. And certainly, there have been winners that break the mold.
One aspect of it that many point out as a negative, though: drag queen saturation. There are just too many young queens and not enough places for them all to work, it seems! What’s your advice for a young queen today that wants staying power?
I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve been through several periods of what people referred to as “drag saturation.” Part of the challenge of being an entertainer is to stay relevant and fresh. If someone thinks drag is mainstream or homogenized, then turn up the volume!
My advice to young queens is always: don’t try to be someone else. Find the thing that
makes you special, unique and stand out, and then exploit that to the max.
I loved seeing you honored with a special legacy award at the GLAMs in December. Was that an emotional moment for you, or just fun with the gals?
It’s always an honor to be recognized by your peers. I loved it. Some queens do take it was too seriously… but it’s great. There aren’t many occasions where everyone gets dolled up and goes out for free!
I loved how [hosts] Bob and Bianca were reading me and calling me old all night, but
then Bianca’s introduction of me was sweet and sincere. I almost shed a tear–almost [laughs]!
Have you seen Hurricane Bianca yet,by the way?
Literally just watched it! I saw Not Today, Bianca last week and was cracking up. And Hurricane Bianca is soooo great. I was impressed. It’s funny, smart, touching, silly and the acting is fantastic. I loved seeing Roy act—he’s good! And I thought it looked good, which is hard on movies that don’t have millions of dollars. Matt Kugelman did an awesome job.
You’re gonna be delivering a video tribute to Sweetie for her birthday bash on January 13th. Do you remember when you first met her?
I first met Sweetie when she and Faux Pas were doing a show at Boy Bar. When I first moved here and started performing, they were the hot queens. We hit it off right away, and did many shows and projects together. She’s always been one of the absolute best lip sync artists ever! And she’s fucking funny as hell. She’s a hoot to hang out with.
As far as your weekly gigs today, one popular night of yours is Bipolar Tuesdays at Therapy, which you co-host with Peppermint. What do you think the key is to how well you two work together so well?
It’s funny, because we are so different… but for some reason it just works. We truly love each other and respect each other, so that’s a big part of it. I love that Peppermint will go anywhere–she never says no onstage. If I start scatting, she jumps right in. She’s funny, and a real sweetheart. I think people love the show because I’m dirty, she’s soulful and dances, and then together we are all of that. Plus, where else in NYC can you can see two
By the way, your “Telephone” parody with Pep is probably my favorite overall video of yours. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that! Did that stick out as being a particularly fun one to make?
It’s definitely one of my favorites also. I can’t watch most of my videos–once, and then they’re up, and that’s it. But “Telephone” I am proud of because it took two 18 hour days, a cast of 50, a team doing costumes, wigs, props, etc–all for free! I think as far as drag parody videos go, it’s pretty good.
Do you ever have to really “sell” an idea of a video parody to other performers when you want them to appear in the videos, or are most of them like, “It’s Sherry, so I’m on board”?
Honey, I am blessed. I’m always surprised when someone says yes lol. I also will do anything for them and luckily most of the people I’ve asked to work together say yes.
Your other weekly show is a solo, Adult Content Wednesday nights at Industry.
That’s where you do a lot of your song parodies live, play games, kvetch, etc.
How fun and freeing is it to have this weekly gig where it’s just you doing
I stopped doing other weekly shows in NYC because I really wanted to focus on Adult Content. And Industry has been really supportive. I feel this way: if people want to see my dirty material and videos, they have to come there. And it’s very international–the audience is always full of people from all over the world. And I’m usually off Thursdays, so it’s my drinking night!
Let’s talk about “SVTV,” your YouTube channel which functions basically as an online TV network. We can find all of your parodies on there, and lots of other segments you do as well; plus features from other nightlife figures. It’s become a really ambitious enterprise, with programs ranging from Trade2Trade where Monet X Change and Kalle Westerling have sexyfun interviews with gogo boys and pornstars, to Know Your Gay-B-Cs which profiles historical nightlife legends. So, how much of your life is dedicated to managing the content of the channel?
Literally 90 percent. I’m not kidding. It’s all-consuming. That is absolutely not a complaint–I live for it, and I would die if I couldn’t create. It’s been a lot of work. My creative/business partner Josh Rosenzweig has also been working tirelessly. But we love it. I wish more people would watch stuff [laughs], but we are going to keep going. February 2017 will be one year!
There is something for everyone–so much content, and so many talented artists. It’s a dream come true, if your dream is to spend all your time and money on a project that pays nothing back [laughs]! But, yes, it is my dream. But where’s the money [laughs]!?
I’m sure you pick who participates on the channel very carefully, but has anyone really blown you away, like “OMG I had know idea that (s)he would be so good on camera?”
Busted. She has no idea how funny she is. There have been times when I can’t stop laughing, and that doesn’t happen often. I think Anita is brilliant, and of course Chris is a superstar. Also, Pickles: she’s outrageous, and I don’t know if she gets it!.
I love watching videos of you and Jackie Beat performing together. I also love The Golden Girls. And now I hate that I’m not in Los Angeles, because that’s where you and Jackie will be performing some drag reenactments of Golden Girls episodes (Jan. 11-15 at the Cavern Club Theater) along with Drew “Chloe Sevigny” Droege and Sam Pancake! You’re Blanche and Jackie’s Dorothy. Those must be the two Girls that all the queens fight over in these shows, right?
There was no fight or even discussion at all. Jackie and I wanted to do it and there was no question who was who. I think we asked Sam and Drew who they wanted to play. But I was born to be Blanche, and Bea Arthur is Jackie’s spirit animal.
You’re doing the one where little Mario Lopez gets deported. So timely! And I hope the actor has the jheri curls.
Mario Diaz always brings it!
On a more serious note, we’re looking at some pretty dark times, and lots of disenfranchised people (particularly in the LGBT world) are going to be very defensive and sensitive to the type of un-PC humor that you’ll usually see in a drag show. Should drag queens be accommodating this new sensitive era?
Fuck no! This is the time to push the boundaries. I have noticed already a change in the mood, but I’m determined to fight it–with humor.
What do you think that this presidential election result says about Americans
I am absolutely sick of talking about it [laughs]! Sorry! I have turned it off, but I’m ready to march when the time comes!
Another deathly serious question: what are you more looking forward to, Bette Midler in Hello Dolly, or Idina Menzel as Bette Midler in the Beaches remake?
Um–Bette in Hello Dolly!
Good call! Anything else to mention?
Please subscribe to Gaysvtvworld on my YouTube channel! It’s so important. And watch our shit, please!
Okay, last question: what is the very worst thing about being a drag queen for you, and what is the very best thing?
The very worst right now is the pain in my poor old feet [laughs]. Doctors told me years ago the day would come when I would pay for wearing 6-inch stilettos all the time, and that time is upon me.
But the best is, I still love drag as much today as I did when I started. I still have tons of things I want to do as Sherry: more theatre, more film, more YouTube, more music, more
collaborations – more, more, more!
Never stop! We love you, Sherry!
Sherry Vine co-hosts “Bi-Polar Tuesdays” at Therapy with Peppermint (11pm) and hosts “Adult Content” at Industry on Wednesday nights (11pm). She produces original content for her YouTube channel on a near-daily basis, and can otherwise be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sherry also has a website.
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