Pennsylvania-born Michael Witkes is perhaps best known for creating, writing, directing and starring in the acclaimed queer web series “Interested In.” But in recent years he’s also become a NYC drag star on the rise, with a unique aesthetic all her own. Have a taste of Pink Pancake! [Cover photo: Kevin Kulp]
Thotyssey: Hello, Pink! Wait, that’s actually my first question… are you “Pink?” “Pancake?” “PP?” What do your Judys call you?
Pink Pancake: The full name is Pink Pancake, but I prefer to go by Pancake.
How did you come by that name, by the way?
It literally came from a meme that was, “what’s the color of your underwear and the last thing you ate?” One of my friend’s got Pink Pancake, and I never felt more scene by a name… hah! It just clicked. So stupid!
Love it! So, you seemed to be involved in tons of projects this summer… is it all a challenge to balance?
To be honest, it really can be. In addition to drag, I’m also a writer / actor. This summer, I produced the second season of Interested In, a queer series I wrote. It was a huge undertaking, and was delayed because of Covid. And on top of that, I dove head first into drag–which has been so fun and rewarding. I’m used to wearing many hats, but it’s not easy! I’ll say that.
The show’s episode count and lengths are relatively short, but I don’t think most people know or appreciate what a massive undertaking that producing an indie series is.
Oh yes, 100 per cent! It’s such a long process. Every film is a blessing, truly.
The first season of Interested In was filmed in Philadelphia… is that where you’re from originally?
Yes! I am born and raised in the Philly burbs.
And did you basically come out of the womb as a performer / writer / director?
Haha, yes! I was always putting on shows as a kid, and making costumes for my stuffed animals. In the third grade I “wrote,” produced and performed in a production of The Wizard of Oz (which was mostly just plagiarized from the movie) to a paying audience, even. Haha! So it’s definitely always been a passion.
Of those three prior-mentioned roles—director, writer, actor—do you consider yourself to be more of one than the other two?
I see it like gender: very fluid. Which is why drag has been such an amazing outlet for me, because I’m able to wear all the hats at once.
Before you devised it as a web series, did Interested In begin on the stage?
It actually did start as a play many years ago. I presented it at two festivals (in NYC and Philly), and then reworked it as a series. Technically, Season 1 was closest to the first half of the play, and Season 2 was closest to the second half. But the story changed so much as I developed it, especially Season 2. I’m really excited to finally get to share the second half of this story, that I’ve been sitting on for so long.
I bet! What inspired the characters and stories of the series? I’m guessing there’s a lot of autobiographical stuff there.
The initial impetus to write came from my total confusion after I came out of the closet. I thought that I would just immediately accept myself, but it’s obviously a much longer journey to self-acceptance. At the time, all the queer stories ended with the queer characters coming out—or they didn’t survive to the end of the story. So I wanted to start the story right after the closet, and showcase a character learning to love himself for the first time… and highlighting unapologetic queer sexuality as he starts to shed his shame. In so many movies and shows they pan away from the gay sex scenes, and strip gay relationships of queerness. So, it was important to me to highlight that.
Did you mostly cast actor friends and hire tech friends for the crew, or did you go through a more formal process?
I just wrote the roles based on the story I wanted to tell, and we cast it from there. All the crew was through interviews or referrals. For Season 2, we even had a casting director. It’s going to be a much bigger production.
Is Season 2 filming in New York?
We filmed interiors in NYC, but we are going to Philly to shoot exterior scenes and establishing shots next week. Movie magic, haha!
Amazing! I see that the mysterious YouTube censors took the first season and the whole channel down for a spell, even though there’s (from what I’ve seen so far) no explicit content. That must’ve been incredibly frustrating, to say the least!
Oh my God… yeah, that was the worst. Truly devastating. I’m so glad we got it put back. Creating this, I’ve definitely felt the different treatment of queer content.
How long have you been a New Yorker now, by the way?
I moved to New York directly after college… almost six years ago.
And what inspired you to become a drag queen?
It’s hard to say how Pink Pancake was born. There’s always been something in me that felt confused by my gender, and felt stifled by the notion of “masculinity” and feared my natural feminine side. So, Pancake was born from that desire to explore the limits of gender. It’s also a love letter to my childhood. I’m now able to do all the things I wanted to as a kid… but instead I turn the toys into costumes.
Where do your looks inspirations come from?
I like to say my looks are Club Kid meets Second Childhood meets Genderfuck; I like to bring a full concept to my costumes and lip syncs.
You’re also a bearded queen! Does that make a statement about gender expression, or does it just look cool, lol?
I hope both! Haha!
And what’s you’re favorite number to do right now?
Hmm that’s tough to choose. I love a reveal moment, or incorporating the costume with the song. One of my favs is “Pancake” by Jaded–obviously a signature cuz of the name. I start in a chef look, and reveal to various stacks of pancakes. Always a crowd pleaser!
I mean, Janelle was literally one of the only queens consistently working during Covid. She is a businesswoman! So when I heard about her competition, I knew I had to try it out. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had doing drag; I love the camaraderie with the other girls, and getting a chance to share my drag with an amazing crowd. Aura Cocina is a party, mama. I also so appreciate how supportive Janelle is; she’s especially supportive of all different forms of drag. She’s so gorg and polished, but really cares about helping newer queens. She’s a gem.
You’ll be at Aura with her again this Saturday for brunch shows! What can we expect?
Yes ma’am! It’s gonna be so fun! So high energy! It’s a great group of girls, and I think we each offer something very different. So it’ll be a gorgeous, well-rounded drag experience! Plus, drinks for days… and the food is actually really freakin’ good. What more could you want?
Anything else coming up for you?
Well, after this show I’m finishing filming Season 2 of Interested In. So be sure to stay tuned for that, and watch Season 1 if you haven’t already! I’ll also be competing in “Drag Wars All-Stars” [at Pieces Bar], so come out and support the dolls!
Okay, last question: what’s been the song of the summer for you?
I mean… the middle school girl in me has to pick “Good 4 U!”
Well played! Thanks, Pancake!