Spilling the tea on her long career throughout the changing landscape of NYC drag, the “Drag Race” effect, the spooky season of this Covid year, the origin of her drag name, her haunted Zoom bingo, and an intense suckage of toes… it’s our 2-ply lady of laughter, Charmagne Aültra!
Thotyssey: Hello Charmagne, thanks for chatting today! How’s the spooky season treating you thus far?
Charmagne Aültra: It’s amazing. There nothing like fall in NYC! Fall is the best drag weather… but with all this performing at home, I’ve had an AC and two fans on me at all times! With the ring light and all the windows closed (so the neighbors don’t hate me), it’s been mandatory to keep me from melting. Plus, reaching through the Zoom and bringing laughter and joy to people… I feel like I’ve really needed to push a little extra at the end of the shows!
We’ll take our Char however we can get her!
So, where are you from originally, and how did you begin as a performer?
I was born in Rochester, New York. I went to Niagara University for my undergrad in theater, and the University at Buffalo for my Masters of Arts in humanities (focus on performing). As the middle child of five kids, I always loved performing and being in front of a crowd… but my professional career was always working for others. I was in their show, or part of their company… nothing was really mine, and it always took me out of the city.
It wasn’t until I was traveling with my friend and comic, Brad Loekle, when he introduced me to Sherry Vine… chatting with her, I realized that drag was an amazing career. Plus, it’s all your own creation and reward. So, I dove all in with drag, and have been performing as Charmagne for the past 8 years.
Amazing! How did your drag name come to you?
OMG! So, I was performing at Six Flags around the time that Sex & The City was airing, and my coworker Charmagne Hale comes into the dressing room and announces “if anyone ever does drag, you have to take my name!” (Of course referencing the Sex & The City episode where Samantha Jones runs into a drag version of her.) So when the time came, I had to take her first name… but had no clue for my last name. So, a friend was like, “Ultra–like the toilet paper,” and Bob the Drag Queen was like, “put an A in the front and make it fancy.” Thus, Charmagne Aültra was born!
Yes! Monet, Bob, Terra, Ari Kiki… we all hit the NYC scene around the same time. I have these amazing performers to thank for inspiring me and keeping me going, as well as a huge thank you to Pixie who always finds a way to include me and hire me for her various shows around the city.
How would you describe what sort of queen you are, and what your shows are like today?
Charmagne Aültra shows have changed so much over the years. I love to give high energy and slapstick performances while lip syncing to pop songs. Early shows, people didn’t know what to make of her… but they knew that they would have a good time. But the early shows were crazy, anyway. Almost always, they were competitions or pageants.
And what’s a really bizarre experience you’ve had during your drag career?
Okay, so my “let me feel my oats” moment happened at the upstairs back bar of The Stonewall Inn after one of Ari Kiki’s Riots (a monthly show). Viki Villainess came running over to me saying that there was a guy at the bar giving foot rubs. So naturally, I saunter over to one of the bar stools and dangle my heel of my foot… and low and behold, this guy starts rubbing my feet! We just did a show, so it was awesome. But then, he started putting our feet in his mouth. Now, Viki is wearing tights and I’m in head-to-toe body paint… and after a minute or two, my foot is back to my natural color! And the photos that were snapping all while this was going on are legendary. And also, totally gross! Haha!
OMG, that would’ve had my vote!
In what big ways have you seen the biz and art of drag change since you started?
Haha, “the Biz!” I don’t know much about the “drag biz.” I have been doing my own thing and making my own path since I started. I have so many good Judys in the city that have fallen into the NYC drag machine: “this step will lead me to that step, which will lead me to to Drag Race.” And almost always, they get used and burnt out.
Which leads to your question: “what’s changed since I started drag?” Well, everyone’s an expert now… haven’t you heard? And if you haven’t heard, they will tell you. One of my favorite things people will tell me after my show is, “you know, you’re actually funny.” It’s just this mentality of people just not wanting you to succeed. And then when you do make them laugh, they are like, “proceed.”
Yuck, today’s drag fans can be the worst! Actually, while the other queens we’ve mentioned worked the gayborhood bar scene, the best place to find Charmagne over the years was the Midtown East restaurant Somm Time. That’s where you’ve been hosting popular, long-running weekly bingo and game nights. How did you come by that gig?
What an amazing experience! Drag has become a source of entertainment for all walks of life, and Somm Time time was looking to capitalize on that. What was the biggest learning process was trying to create a returning clientele, whereas a gay bar already has that clientele in place. Well, I must have done something right, ’cause those clients keep calling for more bingo!
So here we are in lockdown–although things are indeed opening up a bit now, finally! Digital drag is still the way to go though, for the time being. You’ve been hosting a recurring drag bingo on Zoom, and you’re next one is Saturday, October 24th (9pm EST)!
That’s right, I’ve teamed up with The Stonewall Foundation to help raise money for people in need during these crazy times, and Zoom Bingo has been going great! We have an amazing DJ, Jemma Nigh, who takes request and spins the hits during our four rounds of game play. People love messaging other players during the game, as well as typing out some of their favorite jokes. They are all on mute until they are one away from the win, so it keeps it easy to enjoy the music while I’m calling numbers.
This upcoming bingo will be our first “late night” game, which means (hopefully) no kids. So we will see where this show goes, since I don’t have to edit for the little ones. And we are calling it “spooky” to encourage people to wear fun costumes.. ’cause, why not!?
Anything else to plug?
Vote, vote, vote! And to close festively: what is your all-time favorite witch movie?
I’m gonna call on the Guardians of the Watch Tower of the North and say The Craft.