One of the most influential performers to ever come out of the queer nightlife scene, Lypsinka has always preferred the term “surrealist” over “drag queen” to describe what she does. And if you’ve ever watched any video clips of past performances or have seen or live, you’d know how fitting that term is. Whether she’s living up to her namesake via long spoken word pieces or stringing together a bunch of audio clips to form a wonky narrative, Lypsinka has kept it weird and wonderful for decades. Thotyssey is honored to sit down and speak with this living legend!
Thotyssey: Lypsinka, hello! Thanks so much for talking to us today! How has 2018 been treating you thus far?
Lypsinka: The usual in life: highs and lows!
You haven’t performed as Lypsinka in about three years, and even before then only sporadically over time. Did you consider retiring her for good at any point?
I have performed as Lypsinka in the past three years, but not publicly in New York. But I did consider retiring Lypsinka in 1996. I created a show called Lypsinka Must Be Destroyed that year, and it turned out to be, I think, one of the best things I ever did.
So I didn’t retire! There are bits of that show on my YouTube channel; it was only done in San Francisco.
You’ve described yourself in the past as a Surrealist rather than a drag queen—you don’t like that term. “Surrealist” is a good word to describe a Lypsinka performance, though. Your bits thread together pieces of dialog from film or TV (sometimes quite obscure) in ways that could seem arbitrary, but often do have a narrative. Was this always your intention when you were creating Lypsinka?
It began to take on a life of its own. I was not analyzing my work when I started out.
Among your better known stage shows as Lypsinka is The Passion of The Crawford, where you primarily lip sync a revealing Joan Crawford interview in its entirety. Is it safe to say that you invented long form, spoken word drag lip sync? That’s how I’ve always thought of you.
You may be right about that. I don’t know of anyone before me who did it. It’s possible there is, or was, someone. I’ve noticed that people lately have been mentioning the spoken word lip-synching quite a bit. I do lip-synch to music also! I’m a trained classical musician.
Speaking of your Joan Crawford show (which you performed that at the blessing of her daughter Christina Crawford, author of Mommie Dearest), what were your thoughts on last year’s Feud: Bette & Joan?
There was a very nice moment between the Crawford and Davis characters in the next to last episode. And I thought the writers and Lange nailed the tragedy of Crawford in
the final episode. I watched that episode twice, I found it very moving.
You were one of the first drag queens I ever saw perform on TV – Joan Rivers’ daytime talk show! Joan also had other nightlife personalities on like Michael Alig and Amanda Lepore around the same time. Do you think she appreciated that world?
Yes, Joan was a drag hag! (I don’t think she was a club kid hag.) I miss her for so many
reasons. Most of all I’d like to know what she thinks about the current political situation. She was friends with you-know-who. She was grateful to him for having her on that TV show, whatever it was called. But would she now call him up and say, “Oh, no, Miss Woman, you are not doing that!”? I like to think she would.
In the early 90s when you broke through at the Pyramid Club, and then started doing your surreal stage shows, there were also drag performers in the city like Coco Peru doing her monologues, Jackie Beat with her punk edge and song parodies, Joey Arias singing in that haunting voice, etc. Nowadays most young drag queens informed by RuPaul’s Drag Race and social media (during a period of possible drag oversaturation) are primarily just dancing to Top 40 pop songs. Does this seem like a shame to you, or is it just a natural evolution of the genre?
If that’s what they’re doing, it is a shame. I saw drag performers in Mississippi –
pageant queens – who just stood there, barely moving their mouths, trying to
look pretty. It was boring.
Were you often interacting with other nightlife figures (drag queens and other performers and personalities) in the 90s, or were you more involved with theater people, or just doing your own thing?
My life in New York covers many arenas: drag, club, theatre, dance and more. Although I don’t know any of the new drag performers or club people, really, because I don’t go out to clubs or stay out late like I used to.
You grew up in Mississippi. That must’ve been rough… were you able to conceal your budding “fabulousness” as a kid there?
I thought I was able to sometimes, but I guess I wasn’t. It was tough. I’ll tell all about it in my memoir someday, I hope. My black fellow students were a great deal hipper than my white fellow students.
As someone who grew up in the south, do you have a specific point of view on American gun culture?
My father had a pistol in the house. Maybe a rifle. I was shown them, and told to stay away from them. I had a bb gun for a while, it was pretty harmless. I was not adept at it, as you may imagine. My father killed an armadillo once in our yard. I guess guns are good for things like that, when you don’t want a destructive animal to tear up your yard. My father took me hunting when I was a kid. Like sports, I had no affinity for it.
I’d love to see all guns removed from the planet and all wars and all hate and ruthlessness. However, as someone said to me in 2001 when the war in Afghanistan was begun, ‘the species hasn’t evolved yet.”
How many times must a true lip syncher listen to a long audio clip before finally getting it perfect?
I don’t know the precise answer to your question. Being a trained musician, and being able to memorize easily (a technique I probably learned because my piano teacher when I was kid encouraged me to memorize). It may not take so long, but I’m not an instant study. It probably varies from person to person.
You’re a classically trained pianist, and have performed one-man piano-based shows out of drag several times. When you’re alone with a piano, what do you
most enjoy playing to unwind, or just go on a journey?
A journey is a good thing. I like to play Charleston music.
You’re going to be part of a very unique sort of drag revue in Brooklyn this Wednesday at National Sawdust, giving a special performance for Sasha Velour’s NIGHTGOWNS. More than anything that’s come along in awhile, this show would be a perfect fit for what you do. How did you and Sasha connect to make this happen?
i have not yet met Sasha Velour, or had any communication with her. Her “people” contacted me. I am very happy to be a part of it.
As we said earlier, this will be your first time performing as Lypsinka since 2015. Is she getting a new dress, or are you pulling out a tride and true classic?
A classic. There’s no time to have anything new made.
Are you nervous about bringing her back at all, and might we see any of Lypsinka in the future?
No, not nervous. And I hope you will see Lypsinka in the future.
Anything else we should mention?
I wouldn’t be an American without mentioning a merchandise page!
In closing: there’s a great young queen now named Gloria Swansong who is a big fan
of yours, and creates these Judy Garland stage shows where she lip syncs Judy’s speeches from live performances and interviews as well as her songs. Have you seen her perform yet?
I don’t know Gloria Swansong, but I’m tickled that a young person knows of Gloria Swanson and Judy Garland.
Thank you, Lypsinka!