Designer, producer, actor, writer, composer, musician, choreographer, club kid, drag performer, emcee, broadcaster, reality TV personality, JanStan… there are so many hats that Andrew Barret Cox wears, and they’re all fabulous. Here we discuss the triumph of Jan’s first “Drag Race” win, the beautiful chaos that was the opening weekend of “Jannifer’s Body,” composing for the Cock Destroyers, why all of nightlife should be more like Hot Rabbit, the joys of not fitting in, and the details of some very exciting things in store for us! [Cover photo: Grace Chu]
Thotyssey: Hello Andrew, thanks for making the time in your busy universe to chat with us today!
Andrew Barret Cox: Hey babes! OMG, I’m honored! Thanks for reaching out!
Honey, “Jantasy!” Yes! So, here’s the full story. I met Miss Jan around 2010 when I was in the process of writing my show about club kids, an immersive nightclub experience called Clubland. This was long before she started drag, but I saw something in her that for some reason not many others did. The voice specifically just blew me away, and I knew the potential was out of this world. I wrote a song for her in that show called “Unstoppable,” which was sort of a self-love pop anthem. Our friendship and working relationship grew even stronger over the years, and we both went through many different versions of ourselves.
Ten years later, wouldn’t you know it, the doll is on All-Stars. When we sat down to come up with the song for [the Drag Race challenge modeled as a] talent show, a lot of ideas popped up. It was originally going to be a song called “Not This,” but it just didn’t make sense. I kept coming back to the first song I ever wrote for her, “Unstoppable.” Ultimately, we decided on doing a spin-off of that song, as a nod to the start of our friendship to where we were now. After we came up with the lyrics together, I produced the tune, recorded the doll, had some singers come scream in my apartment, and the rest was history!
Funnily enough, we were told to have the song be a certain length… but it was cut even shorter for TV. I was so glad we were able to put out a full version for people to enjoy, and I’m so happy people are enjoying it!
It was a moment! And when she was only deemed “safe” that week, it seemed like it was going to be another season of Jan being underappreciated. But then the curse finally broke last week when she won for that flawless Gaga recreation!
Which I’m so happy about. I’ve known the doll was a star for our entire friendship and I’m so happy that the show is finally giving her what she has deserved all along.
So let’s introduce you to Thotysseyland! Where are you from originally, and what inspired all these very different artistic pursuits you have now?
I grew up in a small town in southern New Hampshire, and I was always getting in trouble for being a witch. Not kidding. I got sent to the principal’s office because I was trying to start a coven in my fifth grade class. I was always queer, and found solace in club kids culture in underground queer nightlife! My entire childhood was theatrical, whether that meant learning the original fight choreography from the Mortal Kombat movie or doing theatre–it was always camp, honey.
I started dancing at a young age, and got involved with music as well. By high school I was composing my own music, choreographing, and dreaming of a big old queer world where one day my art would be recognized. I’m really inspired by horror movies, anime, counter culture, and in-your-face non unapologetic art.
You put so much original art out there into the universe! Do you find yourself often struck with sudden, clear visions of what you want to create–be it a song or a script or a look–or do you have to do a lot of tinkering and trial and error before it all makes sense to you?
Oh! Well thank you! I try to put out as much as I can but to be honest about 80% of the work I’ve created has not been shown to the public eye so far. A lot of it has been baking so long with no real platform to stand on, so I’m just waiting for the chance to put everything out there. Sometimes I know exactly what I want something to sound like, look like, or feel like, and other times projects brew into their own thing that I never could have imagined!
I also realized that I’m great with prompts after designing for Jan on Drag Race. I love being given a word, material, theme, or story to execute and see how it fits through my lens of the world. For example, as soon as I heard “buttons and bows,” I had already sketched something in that category years prior that fit perfectly. When I heard “Frozen,” I started to sketch an image that came into my brain, and we were lucky enough to find someone who could bring it to life with silicone.
In terms of performance, I never walk into a rehearsal room not knowing what I’m doing. I hate wasting peoples time, and I am always prepared to teach choreography and music performers. I spend a lot of time alone in my room dancing and trying different things out with music until I’m happy with them.
Many in NYC came to hear of you first via Oscar @ The Crown, the long running immersive musical at 3 Dollar Bill which you produced as part of creative congregation The Neon Coven–co-founded by yourself with Mark Mauriello and Shira Milikowsky. How did the Coven come about, and what sort of roller coaster ride was it to see Oscar all the way through?
The Neon Coven started at a taco place in Brooklyn. We knew we wanted to create a group of like-minded queer individuals who never get a chance to showcase their art because they don’t fit into the cookie cutter performance world. We weren’t sure what our first show was going to be, but we started out with a concert of all of my music from various musicals I’ve written over the years–straight into a concert of my reconceptualized score for The Rocky Horror Show.
We actually stumbled into 3DB by accident right when it opened–like, when no one knew it was there–and ours jaws dropped. Mark and I begin working on Oscar in 2015 in Boston and had done a workshop of it two years later in 2017, where I met Shira. As soon as we saw the dance floor at 3 Dollar Bill, we knew that Oscar was going to be our first show together.
We did a workshop with a limited run, and ultimately ended up coming back a few months later for an extended run. The cast is so wildly talented and I’m still in awe of them. We’ve all remained very close.
We had plans for the show to come into Midtown as well as go across the pond to London, but of course the shutdown happened. So, we’re just waiting to get the ball rolling on that–we can’t wait for the world to see it!–and numerous other projects.
You’ve also been an emcee for many of queer kiki conglomerate Hot Rabbit’s events, that feature you live singing and doing Crazy Circus Things! How did that gig come about?
I started performing as a club kid in Boston and New York back in 2014 when I was in college. I was invited to come in and perform at a Hot Rabbit event, and then was asked back again, and again, and again. It became a constant in my life until I moved to Los Angeles in 2015. I literally hated Los Angeles at that time in my life, and I was so depressed. Luckily, they decided to try doing a Hot Rabbit LA party! I started gogo dancing there, and when I moved back to New York in 2017 I started working as their full-time MC and host! I’ve been with them ever since, and it’s my favorite party in the entire world. It is literally the only place that I’ve ever been where I feel true inclusivity. I can be my 100% authentic self without feeling judged by anyone. I am a post-binary femme Halloween weirdo freak, and other places in the city that are cis male-centered are just not my T!
That brings us to my next question, regarding NYC nightlife post-Covid. There’s already lots of exciting things happening right now, like old venues bringing back our favorite nights and brand new spots like The Q slaying the game…
Yes! It’s so great being back, I can’t even tell you. Frankie Sharp brought in a live band to play with Lagoona… like… that’s fucking fierce. And I know he has more plans up his sleeve, too. Can’t wait to see what’s next!
Yes! But a lot overall still needs to change to make nightlife more relatable to a changing queer socializing population, and also just to keep the scene from getting stale. What are some changes you’d like to see within nightlife in NYC?
I guess I’d like to see everything resemble Hot Rabbit more! I would love for the norm to stray away from cis white gay men. I want every queer person to feel welcomed and celebrated, not just the sea of white muscle gays who just discovered skirts. Like, diva, so glad that you’re feeling yourself, but look around you–if everyone looks like you, you’re probably doing something wrong!
Well said! By the way, I enjoyed the Dragula recaps that you and Jan used to do. I guess everyone’s schedules got too crazy to reprise those for a new Dragula season?
You know… We’ll see! I fucking love the show so so so much and loved editing those reviews. I have so much admiration for the Boulet Brothers and for all of the artists on that show, it’s unreal. So if schedules permit–even if the editing isn’t as crazy as it had been–I would absolutely love to do it again!
Jan and the Neon Coven had an interesting production here quite recently: Jannifer’s Body!
Yes! It was so crazy. It got rained out the first time, and then right before the show was about to start, truly out of nowhere, it started thundering and lightning and… the screen literally exploded! After the rain died down we tried to start the show again, but three songs in the rain started again. We actually ended up doing the entire setlist in a wet, hot, crowded, abandoned warehouse. We put up some speakers and had microphones and… it was honestly kind of a magical moment? It was so communal and punk, and really at the root of what I love about performance and live music. At some point I think will try to get a fuller performance together to give the full fantasy, but it totally did the job for now!
Wow! And the original film it’s paying tribute to, Jennifer’s Body, has such a cult following that I didn’t really know about.
Yes! I am fucking obsessed with it. It was so ahead of it’s time and I am so happy people are starting to come around to it. And next up for us is another cult hit: Burlesque!
That’s gonna be Thursday, July 22nd (7pm). Tell us more!
We’re doing the good songs from the movie as well as other gay pop anthems, with the most wild vocalists, at 3DB! My goal with it is for truly everyone in the room to be having a fucking blast, singing/ dancing along, and just basking in the camp of it all. I rearranged some of the songs from the movie and added some others with wild arrangements like “Turn Back Time,” “Believe,” “Waiting for Tonight,” “Gloria,” “Ain’t No Other Man,” and more! If you love Burlesque, Cher, Christina, JLo, Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Jessie J, Madonna, wild vocals, insane dancers, drag, and being gay… it’s really the place to be that night.
Sounds perfect! Hot Rabbit returns to 3DB for a “Pool Party” on the 24th, will you be there?
I won’t, actually! This is one of the first Hot Rabbits I’m missing in years… but I have a GREAT substitute host! I’ll be filming a really cool new reality show on the West Coast until early August, but will be back on the Hot Rabbit stage ASAP! I’m sure it’s going to be absolutely wild though, because they are literally getting a pool.
Oooh, what can you tell us about that realty show?
During the pandemic I was lucky enough to write the music for Slag Wars with the Cock Destroyers. I got very close with the people who made that show (all the coolest queer witches ever), and started working on a bunch of their projects. This is a new show of theirs that I am so excited to be a part of!
I know! That was… nuts! But Mister Camp is bouncing back! He is the best.
Princess Lockerooo is such a force, and I’m very excited cuz I will be hosting that event with her! It is going to be a showcase of some of the best dancers in these underground styles. It’s going to be a hyperspace, glow in the dark dance battle, and I could not be more pumped.
Anything else to add?
Hmm! This pandemic has really reminded me about what it is I love to do, so I am determined to get back out there and do all that! Looks, music, choreography, performance, writing, nightlife. I had a period of a few years where I felt like I was really dulling myself down… but those days are over!
No doubt! Thank you, Andrew!