Drag Legend alert! With her off-kilter style and sharp humor, this queen has ruled the scene from the art-punk floors of the 80′s Pyramid Club to the bingo halls of today’s Le Poisson Rouge. Known as a truly original emcee, comedian, nightlife historian, playwright, and magazine editor, she continues to keep the crowds in deep thought and belly-laughter. All Hail Linda Simpson!
Thotyssey: Linda, hello! I hope summer has been treating you well! If you can read this, then that means the eclipse didn’t fry your eyeballs.
Linda Simpson: I was napping during eclipse, so my eyes are fine. I’ll make sure to catch the next eclipse in 2024!
Well, you didn’t miss much. So the summer’s winding down, and everybody’s talking about Drag Con… are you gonna be there?
I’m scheduled to be part of a photography panel. I’m hardly a professional, but I do have my slideshow extravaganza, “The Drag Explosion,” featuring pix I took of NYC drag scene in the 1980s and ‘90s. Drag queen magic took over, and I got some stunning shots.
The panel is on Sunday, September 10th at noon. Daytime drag in effect! I was also on a panel at last year’s Drag Con in L.A., with other NYC queens talking about the nightlife back in the day.
You certainly have earned a spot among drag royalty at these panels. What are your thoughts on how drag has evolved from pure counter-culture to kind of mainstream over the course of the past several years? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
It’s mostly good, because it’s provided queens with a lot more job opportunities. However, drag has also lost a lot of its edginess. I enjoyed the days when it was more of an underground art form. But even back then, I think we were all chomping at the bit to break into the mainstream. So be careful what you wish for!
Too true! So you’re a Minnesota native, but you came up in NYC nightlife during the 80s in the East Village. Can you describe what was so alluring about that scene when you discovered it?
Back then, drag was very square and most gay bars wouldn’t even consider offering drag shows. But in the East Village, a drag-quake was in full force at its two most popular venues: the Boybar, starring a new generation of glossy showgirls, and the Pyramid Club, ruled by renegade queens in thrift-store ensembles. I especially clicked with the Pyramid sensibility – it was about unleashing your raw talent and eccentricities. Drag was being transformed from something old and stale into a wildly creative form of expression.
I love the queens and performers from the 80s and early 90s; so many were influenced by punk and the downtown art scene. Did you base Linda on anything specific when you created her, or was she just kinda an exaggerated version of you?
I didn’t really base my drag persona on anyone specific. Linda is more an extension of my male self. My sense of humor was definitely influenced by a lot the East Village crowd. They helped me fine-tune my appreciation of the ridiculousness in life.
You’ve written a few plays over the years, and you’ve regularly contributed to Time Out New York and HuffPo. You even published your own magazine, My Comrade, which circulated for quite a while. Were you a writer before you were a performer?
I began My Comrade magazine and started performing all around the same time. Prior to that that, I really didn’t know how to channel my creative energies. Drag was the perfect vehicle for me to start experimenting as a writer, editor, emcee, party promoter, etc.
The Village Voice just announced they are cancelling their print edition, but will remain online. Any desire to bring back My Comrade as a web publication?
I did try making a My Comrade blog, but I don’t think it was a good fit. If I were going to revive the magazine, it would be a print version. Print media will never die!
Your drag performances usually focus around standup and your quirky, smart sense of humor. Has the lip syncing scene held any appeal for you?
I never got into lip syncing, which has hurt in me in terms of booking – but it’s also distinguished me as an emcee. I do fantasize about finally giving lip syncing a try. But don’t expect any splits and somersaults.
We get enough of those! A truly great emcee is diamond in the rough. So, I guess it was the early ’00s where you really started making bingo your thing. Why do you think that’s been such a great match for you?
I enjoy being a game show hostess. I used to write lots of skits for the bars that were game show themed, like “Gay Jeopardy,” and bingo is an extension of all that. My bingo games attract a really wide variety of people, and I’m good at interacting with all types. It took me a while to learn because I was coming from a gay scene, but now I’m really comfortable with straight audiences. Bingo has helped broaden my horizons.
These days, you’re hosting “Linda Loves Bingo” at Le Poisson Rouge, Fridays and Saturdays starting at 7:30pm, where you have a huge, mixed-crowd following. What do you like the best about hosting in that venue for that crowd?
It’s very conveniently located, in the heart of Greenwich Village. And the staff is great. Anyone who’s worked in nightlife knows that a lot of establishments can be really shady. Le Poisson Rouge is not like that at all. The owners and staff are all great and very supportive. I really look forward to seeing all of them every week. I’m sure the customers pick up on that good vibe.
They occupy different worlds. Svetlana is wowing the crowds at Brandon Voss’ events and at venues like Stonewall and Barracuda. She’s very plugged into the Manhattan scene, and I get a lot of scoop from her.
Glace is enmeshed in the experimental Brooklyn scene, and recently started a monthly cabaret called ”Neurotica“ at Metropolitan Bar. They’re both a riot as bingo spokesmodels. The crowd loves them (even if I don’t)!
I’m one of those unusual drag queens who really doesn’t care for photo sessions. He made it very painless and fun. I know Greg as a friend, so that helped too.
On Thursday, September 7th, you’re gonna be co-hosting the DRAGS Release Party at the Highline Ballroom, and the event will also serve as a benefit for Ali Forney. A million and a half amazing queens and kings will be performing, including the most recent winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Sasha Velour! Do you keep up with Drag Race?
Yes, I’ve been watching Drag Race since season one. I know some of the queens who’ve been contestants, including Sasha. She actually designed my Bingo invite. I guess I’ll have to curtsy when I see her at the party.
It should be a completely epic night, just in time to start Drag Con weekend.
I think the party is going to be a great way to get an overview of the NYC’s current drag scene. I’ll be meeting a lot of them for the first time. Should I demand they curtsy, too?
Absolutely! One of your two co-hosts for that night is legendary drag king Murray Hill, whom you’ve also co-hosted Bingos Past with (the evening’s third host will be Wang Newton)! Murray is constantly on the road; have you two been keeping in touch?
We run into each other occasionally. Next time, I hope I’m in my car!
This has been a great chat, Linda! Last question: What in 2017 is the best thing about being a queen for you, and what is the worst?
The best part is that I am able to financially support myself just doing drag. It was a goal of mine for many years, and I finally achieved it. I’m not rich, but I love being able to set my own schedule.
The worst, I think everyone would agree: sourpuss Trump is our “leader.” What a bad joke!
Indeed, and one with no punchline! Thanks again!
Linda Simpson hosts “Linda Loves Bingo” at Le Poisson Rouge Friday and Saturday nights (7:30pm). Check Thotyssey’s calendar for other upcoming appearances. Follow Linda on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and her website.