One of Thotyssey’s earliest interviewees is still one of nightlife’s busiest and best DJs and event producers… and one of the most avid Madonna enthusiasts to boot. He keeps his home bar Stonewall standing strong with his long-standing gigs–along with some innovative new ones–and still makes his mark in venues beyond. Let’s catch up with the amazing Chauncey Dandridge!
Thotyssey: Chauncey, hello! How’s it going today?
Chauncey Dandridge: Hey Jim! Today is great… it’s actually been a whole lot of really great days in a row lately!
I’m glad to hear it! You’re always doing so damn much, do you basically just stay home and sleep all day when you finally get downtime?
I honestly don’t know what downtime is anymore, haha! I’m not a big sleeper. I always feel like there’s something to do, something to promote, or something to create.
And you’re just the man to do it all! The last time I saw you, I think, was at your home base Stonewall for my Extremely Successful Event (see what I did there?) Night of 1000 Thots! That was fun, right?
It was a really great event! So many nightlife angels and demons in one room celebrating the man (you) who celebrates them all year long. It was great to see all those people in one room!
Terra is one of my faves. She has such a wild and twisted sense of humor, and is a real life Fem-bot come to life.
That’s a perfect description. You must see queens evolve so much over time as they continue to guest perform in other queens’ Invasions, and then eventually host their own.
Yes, I really have quite the view from the booth there. I get to see so much progress and evolution, it’s uncanny.
I pride myself on being very accommodating and easy to work with, so that they can shine. It’s an interesting animal, because there is no rehearsal. So, I have to feel out each performance as it is happening, and be totally involved in it so that I can light it properly and add drama where necessary. It’s exciting every night, and that keeps me interested.
Nobody works that swiveling spotlight faster then you! So, Happy Madonna Week! Queen M will be 59 on the 16th. How do you think she’s celebrating this year?
Happy Madonna Week indeed! It’s so refreshing that people still want to celebrate Madonna in NYC! When I was a wee gay, there were Madonna parties constantly. I hope she is planning on doing something outrageous as usual. Her birthday parties are always wild and creative. I hope she pops by Stonewall this week incognito, so she can see the magic we pull together in her honor!
I bet she will! Were you happy to see scenes from a previous Madonna Stonewall party of yours appear in the 2016 Strike a Pose doc?
That was an unexpected dream come true! When I was planning the 6th Annual Madonna Worship Night, the first to take place at Stonewall, I decided to kick it up a few notches with a Reinventions Benefit Show to raise money for local LGBTQ charities to be in line with my own and Madonna’s philanthropic style.
I had a friend in common with Kevin Stea, one of her dancers in her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in performing. He said yes, and mentioned the documentary in progress back when it was a total secret. The directors asked if they could film his performance, and the rest is history.
The scenes from Stonewall are absolutely gorgeous and powerful. The documentary is epic. The only thing that’s wrong with it is that they didn’t show me once!
Yeah that was bullshit, lol! And how was the Madonnathon at the Brooklyn Bowl this past weekend?
Madonnathon is, like I said on Instagram, a religious experience. Cathy Cervenka and her team put on probably the best Madonna show in the world. She curates such a talented cast of performers who literally take Madonna’s songs and pull and stretch and elevate them to otherworldly heights. Everyone in that room is a huge fan, and appreciates every moment. There’s no competition, no cliques, no drama, just communal adoration and homage. It’s beautiful, and I’m so glad I have joined that event-warming up the crowd before the show with a DJ set since 2015.
There seem to be one or two Madonna biopic film projects in the works. Do you think a Madonna movie could be done well?
I think her life has been so public for most of her career that there really isn’t anything left to tell. I almost believe she subconsciously did that herself. The reason other biopics are successful is because they tell a story most people don’t know. What about Madonna’s life hasn’t been shared yet? Only since she has become a mother has her life somewhat become private. She really is a phenomena in that way. The pre-fame era is really the only time of her life that is somewhat unknown.
That seems to be the period these projects wants to focus on! Well, back to Chauncey for a bit… you are all over the place doing stuff, but you’ll always be associated as the Man of the House at Stonewall. You’ve just debuted a new monthly event there in July called “Freak Out,” which returns with an Obsession/Madonna theme this Wednesday! Tell me more.
FREAK OUT is an interesting adventure. My friend, comedian Francesco Paladino came to me with the idea that he and fellow comedian Nicky Sunshine came up with, asking me to produce it. I checked the schedule with Mike, the manager of Stonewall, and he gave me a few dates to experiment with so we are Freaking Out once a month! The night is an exploration of what makes people “Freaks,” unique and stand out. The first month was a rollercoaster of happy songs and dramatic readings, killer stand-up comedy and a celebration of freaky.
This month fell on Madonna’s actual birthday, so we made the theme “Obsession” and I will be telling stories of my Madonna obsession and a dramatic reading of her lyrics, Francesco and Nicky will be headlining with some top notch comedy, Vicky Boofont is singing one of her killer B-sides, and newcomer and new Facebook friend (haha) Antony Cherrie has something in store for us. We will also be screening excerpts of MAD for Madonna, a documentary about some of her biggest fans around the world.
Stonewall is definitely the perfect spot for an event like that. Which brings us to the next big Madaonna Worship event, a dance party via her songbook all night, complete some great performances of her hits, on Saturday, August 19. This is always a big night for you and Stonewall, and Madge fans in general. You must start preparing for this, like, months in advance, right?
This event is definitely part of my legacy as a Madonna maniac. It just gets more exciting every year. And I honestly feel so behind in the planning this year, but a good friend told me not to worry, because it’s muscle memory and that I will be fine.
Since it’s move to Stonewall in 2014, it has taken on a completely new life, kicking off with a Reinventions Benefit Show at 8pm with some of my dearest and talented friends donating their time to a different cause each year, along with some new friends I meet through this event. It’s really a beautiful thing, and I hope if Madonna knows about it, she is proud that we do something to give back to the community in her honor.
And then we get wasted and dance the night away to her insanely vast catalog of hits, remixes and rarities. My cohort and superfriend Lorant will be sharing turntable duties with me upstairs and Susan Levine will be sprinkling her set with Madonna on the first floor to keep those waiting to get upstairs entertained.
We have a long list of performers, as well as a bunch of surprise pop up performers throughout the night. We have a set of raffles of Madonna memorabilia, and will be giving away some Madonna promo items including DVDs, maxi-singles and more. It’s going to be “something to remember!”
Werk! All of this is amazing, but let’s face it it’s all worth it just to see Beardonna’s performance alone!
Oh, Beardonna. What a history we have. Do you know we met the very first day he became Beardonna? It’s kismet. He and Coby Koehl have performed at almost every Madonna Worship. They both have been with me since I did the party at Nowhere.
And as always, you’ll be turning a number yourself onstage. I know you’re song choice is always a secret, but do you basically think about which one you’re going to do all year?
It is usually a secret, and love that you’ve been paying attention to that! I usually do a ballad, but this year I am turning it up a notch and doing a rocky acoustic version of one of her classics from the first album. My friend Carlos is accompanying me on guitar. Plus, I’ll be wearing a custom piece of clothing designed by the incomparable Viki Villainess. I am marrying a 2001 look of hers with a song from 1983. Should be awesome, I hope!
Let me ask about your weekly Thursday nights there at Stonewall, where you’re still DJing Fantastic Beast Logan Hardcore’s long-running weekly show! Has married life mellowed her out a bit, or is she as wonderfully irreverent as always?
We are about to celebrate four years together at the end of the month! I dubbed her the Glamour Demon. She is definitely still irreverent as always, and I love her for that.
We really start each Thursday with a loose plan, and the night just explodes in it’s own way every week. I know her pretty well as a performer by now and her talents have transformed dramatically over the past few years; she can still dance her face off when she wants to, but her wit and humor have really taken center stage. The past couple weeks of shows I have literally been slamming my hands down in the booth laughing out loud. My favorite moments are when she actually surprises herself with what comes out of her own mouth. It’s priceless. Look up the hashtag #52shadesoflogan and you’ll see my weekly photo sessions with her in the middle of her show. The girl turns some fierce looks!
And I’m guessing this Thursday you’ll also be DJing the show right before Logan’s… Champagne Bubble’s pageant package fundraiser. Isn’t it amazing, the money these poor queens must drop for these pageants?
Pageants are expensive, for sure…but I can’t even imagine the cost of being a working drag queen in this city. It’s mind-boggling. And the closet space they must need is uncanny. Makeup is expensive, clothing is expensive, padding and tights and wigs are expensive. It’s why I get so bothered when people sit there and film entire performances with their phones and not tip a dollar! I have a pretty large drag mafia family (as I like to call it), and I am always mesmerized by their various costumes and character variety and looks. It’s really amazing what NYC drag queens accomplish on a weekly basis.
Totes. Just ask Ari Kiki! She’s gonna be performing for Madonna Worship and Champagne’s show, plus she hosts the monthly Saturday Riot! benefit, which you DJ for. She’s turning up in more places now… is she gonna be NYC’s next big comedy queen, if she isn’t already?
Ari is an institution. She is such a maternal figure in the community, always giving props and sharing the spotlight and wealth. We actually both started at Stonewall around the same time. I am el presidente of her fan club, always and forever. Ari’s comedy style is such a blend of so many awesome people, with a lot of her own heart and soul thrown in that she will always be on top.
I love doing Riot! with her every month. It’s such a fun night with amazing guest queens, and I get to spin upstairs on a weekend night and prove that an old DJ going on 15 years in the business can keep up with the kids! Haha!
Outside of All Things Stonewall, I see you’re going to be part of the second annual “Clutch the Pearls” event at Transmission in Jersey City–as part of Jersey City Pride–on Friday, August 25th! What’s that event like?
Clutch The Pearls is an event I co-produce with Tom Ragu. Tom is the host and mastermind of TGIF with Tom and Laura on BBoxRadio, which I tech for every Friday at noon in DUMBO. We were approached by the guys who run Jersey City Pride last year to see if we wanted to put together an event at Transmission for Pride Week. It’s a fundraiser for JC Pride House on Friday, August 25th featuring stand up comedy, live singing and drag.
It will be my fifth time ever doing standup comedy. I’m happily terrified and delighted. Performing or producing an event in my homeland is also kind of exciting and bizarre. I’m originally a proud Jersey boy, in case you didn’t know!
Werk that Jersey Realness! And you DJ’ed a new-ish bear party at the Deep End in Ridgewood, Bear Milk, recently, which I assume will be happening again.
Yes! I love being back in Brooklyn for that party. Brooklyn queers are special. They probably have the best taste in music, so I get to really play what I want to play. It’s a huge warehouse-style space with a really great bar with late night menu, lots of dark corners to traipse about in and many rooms to explore, dark or otherwise.
I also guest DJ at Truck Stop at the newly reinvented ReBar occasionally for Rob Valin of The Urban Bear and Shane Tate. Whenever I think my DJ career might be slowing down, I look at my schedule and say to myself “Nope! Try again!”
A good problem to have! Anything else, dare I ask?
Oh! I’m working on a children’s book and a play…but those are still in the beginning stages. A lot of people don’t know that I’m a poet/author before I am a DJ. Been trying to get back into that aspect of my creative output. Also, working on another club track with Lorant as producer, and will be writing some songs with Candy Samples this Fall! What did you say about sleep?
Well, if anybody out there can do all of this, it’s you! Okay, so with all that in mind you might be a good person for this question: what’s the best piece of advice you could give to someone looking to break into DJing today?
Stay humble, but stand your ground. Find your specific style and stick to your guns. There’s nothing wrong with playing to please the crowd, but there’s always room to sneak in your own little secret aural nuggets into the mix that keep what you are doing an art form, and not just a job that anyone can do.
Preach! Thank you, Chauncey!
Chauncey Dandridge DJs Thursday and Sunday nights at Stonewall, and for special events there including the monthly Freak Out event (third Wednesdays) and the Riot! party (second Saturdays). Check the Thotyssey calendar for other future gigs. Follow Chauncey on his Facebook profile and Fan page, on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, MixCloud, SoundCloud and his own website.
Previously: Chauncey Dandridge (3.19.2016)