Quirky comedian Jon Wan donned drag for the first time as part of the surreal duo “Kiko & Tuna,” and soon enough Kiko Soirée was coming to slay at gigs all over the city. She’s best known as the host of the monthly “A+ Pan-Asian Revue” at the Monster, and she’s just won the first preliminary round of this year’s Mx. Nobody Pageant. Let’s have a Kiko!
Kiko Soirée: Mx. Nobody was thrilling, so fun! It was so great to meet new people, see people perform, and be a part of something special and wild. When you walk into the main room of Brooklyn Bazaar, they just have rows of beach chairs out and a humble stage at the back wall. The top half of the walls are mirrored, and you just can’t really place what the hell the interior vibe is supposed to be. Then everyone is in drag / an alter persona. And it is, to me, deeply funny.
Lol! What did you do for your number?
I performed a mix of some stand up comedy (impressions), and also an original musical sketch comedy song!
So, you’ve been doing standup for awhile now.
Yes! I’ve been doing standup / solo performance for about two years now, and before that improv.
Where are you from originally?
Do you know the American Revolution?
Er, yeah, I think so!
I grew up in Lexington, MA, birthplace of the American Revolution! it’s the town’s lil’ claim to fame. Amy Poehler also based Eagleton off of it in Parks and Recreation (she grew up in Burlington, a nearby town, where I spent a few baby years too).
Uh oh, that wasn’t a very flattering portrayal of a town!
Oh haha, it’s okay! Lexington was a little snobby. For example, town rules said fast food wasn’t allowed in the town boundaries. But…kinda hypocritical because we had, like, six Dunkin Donuts, which were “not fast food.” But at the end of the day, it had a great public school system… and that’s why my parents plopped down there! Wow, is this town talk boring?
Did you ever get picked on or bullied, growing up in Lexington?
I was never bullied, or have strong memories of that. I think my sense of humor growing up was one of my best–and perhaps worst–assets. I kind of figured out that I could make people laugh, or laugh at me (be likable) as a way to protect myself. It’s been a long journey, learning how to embrace my more eccentric side and use that to drive my humor instead!
I was a studio art major in undergraduate, and spent a lot of time then understanding and accepting that I was an artist and loved to create, and that this process would be with me for my whole life. Then when I got to the city after school and dove into improv, I really found my voice and footing as a performer and comedian. Part of why I love drag now is that it’s very psychological, and I love meeting new parts of myself I hadn’t expected.
Who have been some of your comedic influences and inspirations?
Oh…so many! Fred Armisen, Amy Poelher, Kristen Wiig, Aidy Bryant, Ali Wong. And some rising stars: Julio Torres, Jo Firestone, Cat Cohen, Joel Kim Booster, Cole Escola. Lol, I could probably name a dozen more performers I’ve had the pleasure to perform with who I think are stunning… another time! But when it comes to drag queens, Alyssa Edwards is my GODDESS.
You’re often prone to surreal material in your standup. But things got really, delightfully weird in a two person act I saw you in at the LOL comedy showcase at the Ace Hotel last year… Kiko and Tuna!
YES! Kiko and Tuna. That’s how I dipped my toes into drag in the first place! Hannah Solow and I decided to put together a duo musical cabaret act, Kiko and Tuna: A Story of Two Unlikely Friends. Some songs are scripted, and some are totally improvised. We’ve done fuller shows at the Duplex a few times, and it was great.
I think we performed, “Beautiful Salad” at that [Ace Hotel] show, a song at the turning point of a hypothetical musical (Meat: The Musical) where the main character, Fantasia, witnesses a bowl of salad fall from the sky in her otherwise entirely meat world.
Yes, you did! You were pulling lettuce leaves out of strange places!
That’s the one, baby.
So at that time, Kiko was just a character that you created for that act?
Yes. But perhaps like many other people curious about drag, I had been watching many seasons of Drag Race prior going, “Hmm…that looks fun,” or “…I could definitely do that…” So when we got the idea to put the act together, it felt very right. I had, of course, a healthy amount of fear and doubt, and my makeup was…highly mediocre!
You were lovely when I saw you! At what point did you decide to take Kiko out of that show’s context, and bring her into the wider world of NYC drag?
Actually, just last October! Emi Grate tapped me to do the “A+ Pan-Asian Drag Revue.” She was about 2 or 3 months into producing “A+,” and heard from a friend of a friend that I did drag, so I said yes! It was thrilling. I didn’t even perform under Kiko then (I couldn’t pick a surname for Kiko, so I emailed and said, “pick any name you want!” She picked “Jo Wanne,” a pun on my boy name Jon Wan, and referring to the Lady Gaga album of course). I cut together a lip sync number, and people threw dollars at my face. I was hooked!
Tell us about that crazy Shark Week-themed show that you just did with Tina Burner and Blake Deadly a few weeks ago at Caveat! That looked bizarre, but I bet it was lots of fun. There were… shark scientists there?
Yesss! One of my favorite shows of 2018 so far! The night paired up a real marine biologist with a drag queen, and we gave short presentations / lectures on sharks. It was as insane as it sounds! I presented with the lovely Joshua Drew of Columbia University, a [segment] titled “Anything But Great Whites.” it was literally just that–a scientist and a drag queen talking about sharks. And it was a riot!
I hope you all come back next year! I gotta see this craziness. And I bet TIna wore her fish head!
Let’s talk about what’s coming up next for you. First of all, on Wednesday, August 15th you’ll be performing at Wang Newton’s show at C’Mon Everybody, “Happy Beginnings!” Wang is another “A+” performer.
I love me some Wang, and I know it’s gonna be a fab time!
One great thing about “A+” is that it’s giving a platform for so many Asian nightlife performers. It’s introducing us to some relatively obscure or new queens and kings, and highlighting the under-discussed Asian heritage of better-known performers. And in some cases, it’s creating Asian performers out of thin air! Do you feel a sense of community with the people who come through “A+?”
Literally, 100% (A+!!). The showcase is about celebrating our Pan-Asian heritage, and also putting the focus on and highlighting community. We’re entertainers, performers, competitors (bitches), but also part of a community that celebrates and supports one another. And that, I think, is one of the most inspirational facets of drag.
The lovely Fareeha Khan is putting up the show Outcast which will feature comedians sharing their experiences of feeling like outcasts, othered, or on the outside. It will be the first show, so I can’t say from experience too much of what it is. But from looking at the lineup, I know that it will be powerful and very funny.
Just what the doctor ordered! And then on Tuesday the 28th, you’ll be back as Kiko and back with Emi for her monthly show at the Rosemont, “Last Month Tonight!” That’s a talk show that turns into a drag show. Are you a Rosemont virgin?
Yes, and I can’t wait to pop my cherry!
And you’ll be returning to Brooklyn Bazaar for the Mx. Nobody finale on September 13th! What else should we be looking out for?
The bitch finally bought a sewing machine, and can’t wait to get to werk! And lol, follow me on Insta, I post about upcoming shit there!
Okay, so my last question will be about comedy: we’re living in a world now that’s equal parts too depressing and too absurd to easily joke about. What is a comedian to do in this reality?
I always appreciate comedians who are able to share their story and their truth. And while it may be delivered in a funny way, it’s sometimes deeply sad or dark because the truth is sometimes sad or dark. And that is okay. And I think the more we can recognize our shared humanity in a joyous way, the more we can dissolve the boundaries between “Us and Them” and see that we are all tiny people here on this blue marble speck in an infinite dimension of space and time!
Also, watch Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette.
Well said and will do! Thank you, Kiko!