Here’s a delightfully campy queen that helped to blaze the trail of drag back in the 90’s, and continues to spread the joy and the weirdness from native Minnesota to PTown to “Cake Boss” to your home screens and way beyond. Her stage material is both family friendly and for adults only, she’ll do anything from play the saw to dress as a Christmas tree, and with her bouffant wigs and giant glasses she makes a most interesting spokesperson for a popular travel site. Here she is, Miss Richfield 1981!
Thotyssey: Hello, Miss Richfield! How is your quarantine going?
Miss Richfield 1981: Life is busy in Richfield, Minnesota! I’m performing at least thee times a week, since I do Bingo Bonanza twice a week and now Miss Richfield’s Pajama Party once a week! It’s hectic, but truly a blessing to be busy and have income!
Are you neighbors doing right by social distancing?
I’m not noticing a lot of change, because people have always backed away from me!
As Russ King, you are actually a Richfield, Minnesota native where you worked as a journalist for a few years. Were the seeds of Miss Richfield there from the beginning… meaning, were you always making people laugh and being Fabulous?
I was the youngest of four siblings, so that often sets the groundwork for a clown. And although my parents were not patrons of the arts, they were good about letting me be involved in theater and music during my formative years. And later in college, my interests were more career-based for a “real” job. So I developed skills in writing journalism, and ended up getting my degree in that field back in 1986.
Speaking of the arts, this is random: you can play the saw! How does one learn that?
Online! A friend talked about his childhood pastor playing the musical saw and I immediately set out to make it part of my act. But in 1999, the internet was not quite as organized. Fortunately in the list of about 438 mentions of the saw, I found a business that produced novelty instruments and I was able to get the saw, bow, rosin, 3-page lesson, carrying case, and two cassette tapes with music to use in practice. All that for $77, delivered!
So, Richfield is a suburban city in Minnesota, and in 2015 you received the Gene and Mary Jacobsen Outstanding Citizen Award for bringing recognition to it! What are Richfielders like?
Thank you for asking about that! Richfield is a cool place, where a gal like Miss R can be recognized by the City Council and receive a wonderful award like that. It’s a first-ring suburb that had 65,000 residents, and now about half that. It’s a nice size suburb of Minneapolis. It tends to be a working-class population and just in the last 10 years, it’s been the place to be! Property values are booming, which is great to see. The population is much more diverse now as well.
The Miss R character, a former beauty pageant winner, officially debuted as a lark of sorts at a Miss America pageant party in 1995. Was she much different then, as opposed to how she is today?
Miss R is now much more defined, but has always held to her roots of warmth and hospitality that makes her one of those friends you’d always want at a party… but be relieved when she finally left. The character does not swear or use any foul language, and never is inappropriate, at least not intentionally. But in reality, she’s pretty clueless, which makes her a blast to inhabit both on stage and in real-life situations, like the streets of Provincetown, which she pronounces “Providence-Town.” She also thinks she is spending the summer in Rhode Island!
Are there any women, famous or from your personal life, that Miss R is based on?
Frances Faye and my mother are the two main influences. Frances was a fabulous and “out” cabaret performer in the 30’s through the 80’s. She was amazing and raucous and fun. And my mother, God rest her soul, was also raucous and fun in her own way. I never thought of her as an influence until family and friends came to the show and said, “You’re doing your mother!” And the best part was that my mom loved the act and never caught on!
As you mentioned earlier, one thing that’s really remarkable about your shows is that while they are definitely meant for adults, children can still technically be present because you don’t use profanity or blatantly lewd material. Did you originally plan your persona that way, or is it just a natural expression of your own style of humor?
Being that Miss R is a former beauty pageant winner and a church-going, bingo-calling gal, her background does not call for foul language. And it’s created an interesting act that can relate to both adults and kids. And it makes it more challenging for me as well. The lack of strong language also allows me to maintain the integrity of the act, while kids are in the audience.
You’ve traveled with so many scripted stage shows over the years. Are you just constantly writing?
For the last 18 years, I’ve written and produced a new show every year, debuting it in January and running through the calendar year. Like most of us “creatives”, I don’t write as much as I should. I like the impromptu approach, which is fun, challenging and keeps the act fresh for me. But there’s always a need to write and commit to a script–not my strong suit!
Do you have a “craziest thing that happened during one of my shows” story?
Several fun things come to mind, like the time I appeared at the Inaugural Ball for the Mayor of Minneapolis in the late 90’s and was doing a costume reveal and instead of taking off the outside outfit, I took off my entire top! Realizing it quickly, not everyone saw the brown eye, but those who were paying attention did.
And one time in Rehoboth Beach, DE, at the Blue Moon, as I sauntered through the audience with the spotlight my eyes, I stepped into a small stair that led outside. As I fell and reached out for anything, I hit the door and fell out into the alley. After 20 years on the road, there are some crazy times, and fortunately, most of them are fun like those times.
You’re an annual main attraction in Provincetown. When did that start, and what do you love about performing there?
Provincetown is truly special to me, and to our entire LGBT community. There’s just no place like it on earth! My first season was 2003, and for the first four years, I worked 7-days-a-week for most of the summer. And I fell in love! It is also one of those rare places where an artist can make a living! So much of my work is gig-to-gig on a one-time basis. Ptown allows me to be in one place and do up to 60 shows during the summer. A wonderful opportunity that I will always hold dear.
You were featured in a very memorable episode of Cake Boss, where the bakers put you in a giant Holiday cake that was supposed to be wheeled out onstage for one of your NYC shows, but couldn’t fit it through the door… so you did the reveal outside the theater with 150 audience members on the street! The bakers seemed in awe of you. What was that whole experience like, and is there any behind-the-scenes T?
To the surprise of most folks, the cake debacle was real! I imagine a lot of viewers probably thought it was staged as a stunt, but about 10 minutes before the show started, they realized it just wasn’t going to make it inside. They thought about cutting into pieces, removing the door and other options, but nothing was going to work. So we stepped out onto the sidewalk in NYC and presented the cake out there, which was more fun and silly! And the Cake Boss guys were as sweet as the cake itself. So dear and accepting, they just laughed along with Miss R.
You’re also a spokeswoman for the Orbitz travel company, with commercials online and airing on TV during past seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race! You probably got a huge new fanbase from that experience.
Orbitz is another one of those blessings in life. They continue to be faithful to my brand, and I am faithful to theirs! I received the honor of getting a national brand because my manager had worked with a company that Orbitz used for marketing and product placement. They wanted to reach a LGBT audience, as the first travel company to designate a separate section of their website to LGBT travelers. But they knew it had to be palatable for the general public. And when I first started working with them in 2008, the world of drag was seen very differently by television executives!
What are your thoughts about how Drag Race has changed the business and art of drag over the past decade?
Drag Race continues to mold the new world of drag in fascinating ways. The thing I love the best is the young audience. So wonderful to get kids enjoying drag! What a different world they’ll create when they become adults and don’t look at queens as strange, but simply as entertainers. That is wonderful.
Are there RuGirls that you enjoy working with the most?
And the oft-asked question: if there were ever a “Legends” season of the show, would you partake?
I would be honored to be part of a legend season. It would be fun to watch that, whoever they bring together!
As a New York nightlife blog, we must ask what have been some of your favorite experiences performing in NYC over the years… and do you have any favorite NYC queens, past or present?
My very favorite NYC queen will always be Cashetta, God rest her soul. She has been gone for five years now! Unbelievable! But I adore the girls who cut their teeth on NYC, like Coco Peru, Varla Jean Merman and Sherry Vine. And I’m always impressed with the gals who hung in there and stayed in NYC, like Paige, Sutton Lee and Cacophony, along with legends like Joey Arias! So many talented queens there!
As a queen who’s done a lot of entertaining both on TV and online, has this forced move to digital drag resulting from social distancing that all queens had to make come a little more naturally to you, possibly?
My improvisational skills were definitely helpful. It is a strange transition to sit in your kitchen and talk to your computer. Not normal! But change is always good, and working in another discipline sharpens one’s skills. I’m a better performer now than I was back in March when this all started!
Digital performing is much different from the stage, or even television studio work, since even in a studio, you at least have camera operators and other technicians and staff around you. Digital shows are just you and the computer. Fortunately, we’ve figured out a way to get a live studio audience in for a little personal connection, and that has helped tremendously.
You’ve also done amazing work as an HIV/AIDS activist over the years. Now that AIDS Walks across the country have had to be cancelled, you will be performing a livestream show on Tuesday (8pm EST) benefiting GMHC, alongside Jackie Cox, Cacophony Daniels, Sutton Lee Seymour, Evita Loca and Paige Turner. What can we expect from that?
I love the diversity of our group! It’s a perfect mix of ages and weight classes, myself being in the upper end of both of those! LOL! I can’t wait to see it because so many of us are friends. I think there’s going to be something for everyone!
And later that Tuesday, you’ll premiere an all new weekly digital party as well.
My new venture is Miss Richfield’s Pajama Party at 9pm EST on Tuesday. This new night will have games, trivia, music, and more to make it a fun slumber party each week!
Have great shows! And finally: what’s your best advice for a young queen starting out today?
Over the years, in my professional life both in and out of drag, I’ve clung to two pieces of advice:
- The rewards go to those who do the work. So keep working.
- Be careful who you listen to, because that’s who you’ll believe!
Thanks so much, Miss R!