NYC’s Cabaret Lady With a Thousand Voices (and faces, and costumes), Dorothy Bishop has become a beloved cottage industry all her own. Known for her flawless sendups of all our favorite singing and comedy divas (and Sarah Palin to boot), she’s about give us Pride Liza Realness just a short time before digging into her Dozen Divas closet for another installment of her popular impersonation show. Thotyssey surrenders to Dorothy!
Thotyssey: Hello Dorothy! So, Pride Week is now upon us. Do you have any crazy memories from Prides Past?
Dorothy Bishop: Well, my craziest Pride memory was when I used to do Sarah Palin. I crashed the parade and snuck in with two fake bodyguards, and marched for the last 20 blocks. People were screaming with laughter. Some thought I was really her!
I miss those days. I got into every gay red carpet event, and rubbed elbows with the likes of Jerry Springer and the Real Housewives of New York, and all the Rupaul drag stars. And that’s how I met Lady Bunny, and co-starred in her viral video parody of “Harper Valley PTA.” I also met Michael Musto, who has been a friend and supporter of mine since.
I met a lot of the gay New York movers and shakers as Sarah. Glad she isn’t running our country, but not sure we are much better off with today’s clown in the White House. Oooops… had to get one in!
You sure did get a lot of mileage with your Palin. Is she just, like, an impersonator’s dream?
OMG, yeah. I mean, she was so easy. I tried to do Hillary; she is way harder. I would have worked on her and figured her out if she had won. Maybe she’ll be mayor of New York!
But Sarah was comedy gold. She still is. I got the new Sarah frosted wig and a leather jacket for today’s gaffes.
She’s the pussybow tied around our hearts!
Yes, I found that pussybow blouse on Amazon! The $14.99 version. I can’t put her in my mainstream “Dozen Divas Show,” though. Even Hillary was a little too much. There’s always a right or left factor that recoil when I do politics. Though Melania is a sympathetic character, I think.
So where’s your hometown? And have you always wanted to be a performer?
Well I was born in Atlanta, but grew up in the less glamorous Jacksonville, Florida: beach town, and kinda redneck.
I sang in a rock band that covered Styx and Heart and Fleetwood Mac. And sometimes I was forced to sing the theme from Ice Castles – you may be too young to remember that chart topper. There was a great scene from the movie, where the ice skating diva keeps falling down on the ice!
I always was a singer/actress, and drawn to comedy. Even as an opera singer (which I trained extensively including Yale school of music), most of my career was comic opera. I gave that up around 2002.
How about impersonations–who came first?
Cher! I always could do Cher and Barbra, and my friends would freak out. And when I sang covers in the rock band, I would try to sound like Stevie Nicks. Ann Wilson in Heart was more of a challenge…that voice! Still one of my fav rock voices of all time. And [Debbie Harry of] Blondie, and Cyndi. They are easier, though.
To impersonate the singing styles of divas that you don’t naturally sound like, you must really have to study them like crazy.
Yes, I have a system. I put their original on Garage Band, then a karaoke underneath. Then I listen, and then imitate, and record my vocal. Line by line. It takes a while. I keep playing my vocal back, and re-record ‘til I like it. Eventually I have a full recording of me as that singer, and I play it over and over. That’s how I perfected Stevie, and Kristen Chenoweth, and Madonna.
For some, I have just thrown up my hands. I’ll come back to them; maybe change the key. One is Celine Dion. Her belt is soooooo high for me. And she’s like a little humming bee: so fastidious. I have a fuller throat. So, divas like Cher and Shirley Bassey and even Adele are way more accessible.
Can anyone actually sing like Celine, though? Maybe only the lip syncing drag queens can do her justice.
I have heard some female Celine Dion impersonators that are spot on. Christina Bianco, hello! She’s an amazing singer. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Forbidden Broadway team since I’ve been covering Christine Pedi in Spamilton! That’s been a thrill.
Not all of your impersonations are of singers. Besides Palin, your Joan Rivers has gotten some stage time recently, hosting this years Tonys viewing party at the Metropolitan Room.
Oh, Jim. I miss Joan so much. I grew up with Joan. I mean, in the 80’s she was so epic (right up until the end), and though there were great comic divas from SNL (Gilda) and some real unique, fun divas from the comedy club boom (Judy Tenuta), Joan was just so glamorous, and grounds-breaking. And so when she died–I had just really started doing her, and I stopped. But on her birthday last week, I went on a Joan marathon and I watched videos and docs about her for three days nonstop, and I got very inspired.
I’m thinking about really putting my energy into getting more red carpet work as her. I get inquiries all the time, but I was just too sad to study her. The Tonys 2017 party at the Metropolitan Room was kinda my relaunch of Joan. Mind you, I can’t even remotely replace the legend, but I can tribute her. I loved her so. I love the glam! Her look was so put together.
It was lovely to see Joan back on the red carpet throwing her classic shade, as channeled through you! What did you think of this year’s Tonys, by the way?
Well, we all knew Bette would win! I secretly was hoping for Patti, because I am so about the voice. And Patti in War Paint! OMG, the voice! I just love that voice. But I was happy for the Divine Miss M, and I loved her long fucking speech, and I am seeing her next week in Hello Dolly so I can’t wait! Also I am not a Dear Evan Hanson hater–I loved it! And Ben Platt is a genius.
I’m so jealous you’re seeing Dolly! Back to Joan for a sec… do you think she would be yelling at Kathy Griffin today for apologizing for the Trump head bit?
She should never have groveled. That is not the Kathy we know and love. Does Drumpf really have that much power? WTF? Was it the stupid Chelsea Clinton tweet that drove her? She should have said “It’s farce. Fuck you!” I just channeled Joan, I think!
Another subject of yours, of course, is the immortal Liza Minnelli! You can’t call yourself a diva impersonator without a Liza in your arsenal. There are so many good Liza impersonators out there, but what makes a great one, do you think?
Ohhhhh, Liza. Liza scares the shit out of me–or, did scare. Liza and Judy. The only reason Cher didn’t was because I’ve been doing her since I was 12 (same with Babs). But Judy and Liza are sacred drag icons, and men can sing the shit out of them. So I only added Liza two years ago, and I only just got the proper costume custom made.
I have to study and restudy her. But I think any great impersonation gets to the heart of the diva, not just the sound and the mannerisms. And it ain’t easy. It takes a lot of time and practice, and experience. Like, I love some of the old school impersonators: Marilyn Michaels, and Carol Burnett, and Craig Russell (RIP, OMG his Peggy Lee).
And with Liza now, there is “Young Liza,” “Radio City Liza” and “Current Liza.” Kinda like Madonna! Decades.
Oh, I will check out Alexis. I am behind in my Rupaul season!
Well, you’ll certainly be up to your jazz hands in drag Lizas come Thursday, June 22nd, when you will be part of ”Night of 1000 Lizas” at the New World Stages! You’ll be sharing the stage with Vicky Boofont, Clarice DuBois, Heidi Haux, Juicy Liu, Louvel, Vodka Stinger, Gilda Wabbit and Whendy Whaxwood. That’s a lot of Liza! Plus, Gloria Swansong emcees as Mama Judy. How did this all come about?
When I judged “New York’s Next Top Drag Queen” at the Metropolitan Room, I met a lot of young new talent, and one of them was the amazing Gilda Wabbit. Also, sexy Louvel. And Vicky Boofant–I coached [her Liza], I’m proud to say! I knew she was an up-and-comer. She has commitment. Talent! But amazing commitment.
All have gone on to drag careers, and performing at the gorgeous New World Stages. So I believe Gilda and Vicky (and maybe a few others) pitched this great idea, and it came together very fast–as great ideas/shows do! There’s a huge buzz, and I think it’s going to be epic!
No spoilers, but did you know what Liza number you wanted to do right away?
Yes, I knew!
And that brings us to your signature showcase, Dozen Divas, which is debuting its 2017 edition at the Metropolitan Room next Monday, with scattered shows following through the fall. Are we really talking about twelve fully-realized impersonations in one night, costumes and all? That must be a huge task!
Yes, I’m back at my beautiful NYC home the Metropolitan Room next Monday, June 26 –special early show, 7pm! Actually, this is my third year as a featured resident artist at the Metro Room. Very blessed!
And yes, you get twelve or thirteen live impersonations, with onstage costume changes (and wigs) and multimedia (signature feature of the Dozen Divas Show). And there will be a new duet next week of two feuding divas (hint: Evita), as well as many of the classic staples of the show. I’m happy to say you will never see the same show twice. And Joan will also be baaaaack, which is a personal celebration for me ‘cause I’ve missed doing her. She’s still relevant, and will be for a long time.
And yes, I lose five pounds every show! And I am no spring chicken. Come see this show before I need a hip replacement!
The show is comedy-based, and the best compliment is “Oh Dorothy, you made me laugh soooooo hard. I forgot about everything and just laughed.” Laughter is medicine, laughter is healing. I know I’ve done my job, and I feel such happiness. So we all heal during my show.
Unless you order the veal. Don’t eat the veal. (Just kidding: there’s no veal on the menu).
Should be an amazing night, I can’t wait! So, any closing thoughts?
Well. I think I’d like to say that it is a gift and a curse to be a live performer. We are (some say) a dying breed: comedy clubs, cabaret–all struggling. Not Broadway as much, but hey, it is struggling too. And I support new shows because they reach out to this new generation.
I teach part time at AMDA, which is a blessing. I work with 18-24 year-old Broadway hopefuls, and I learn a lot. You know what? They still love Liza. And they love Judy; thank god for YouTube! And they bring Liza songs to their voice lessons. And they have all (okay, maybe by force) come to my show. And they love it. They love all of these iconic broads,who many are still singing. So to me, heart is everything. They get it, and it makes it all worth it.
Women who have made it in this biz are rockstars. Joan Rivers is my idol, even though she doesn’t sing. She made it in a man’s world. The entertainment biz is a man’s world. Hats off to the divas. Divas Rock!
And you rock with the best of ‘em, Dorothy! Thanks again, and break a leg, or two, or a dozen, or a thousand!
Catch Dorothy Bishop in the cast of “Night of 1000 Lizas” at New World Stages on Thursday, June 22nd (8pm), and her debut of this year’s “Dozen Diva” showcase at the Metropolitan Room on Monday, June 26th (7pm). Follow Dorothy on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and her website.