This multi-talented, “very Jewish, very political,” very funny queen has been a star of the competition circuit for a minute now… but she’s about to improv her way onto one of NYC bar drag’s best stages. It’s time for all of us to worship Hanukah Lewinsky! [Cover photo: Cody Rasmussen]
Thotyssey: Hello Hanukah, thanks for chatting with us today! So how has November been treating you so far?
Hanukah Lewinsky: Pretty good! October was absolutely crazy busy, so it’s been really nice to take a little breather before the holidays and it gets busier!
Did you have any wild Halloween adventures?
Oh, I wish! I was in drag all day on Halloween and running all around the city, so that was definitely an adventure in itself. Nothing better than the paint coming off your shoes as you’re trying to make the train!
A time-honored NYC tradition! Are you a native New Yorker?
I’m not! I moved here for college back in 2014 (in another borough), and then moved to Manhattan after I graduated in 2018. But I’m originally from Massachusetts, just about 25 minutes west of Boston.
I take it that musical theater and performance were always the loves of your life.
Oh, absolutely! My love for performing started when I was around two, I think? Every Saturday night I would dress up in my mom’s clothes (big hat, a shirt as a dress, necklaces, and her heels which I called “clicks”) and I would dance for my parents. My dad would shine a flashlight at the mini-disco ball we had in our living room, and my mom would play “Livin La Vida Loca!” Everything else really stemmed from there. I studied musical theatre in college, and I was able to do some pretty amazing shows post grad.
What were some of your favorite productions that you were a part of?
Oooh! I did La Cage a few times, which definitely started me on my journey to find Hanukah! I was on the international tour of The Wizard of Oz, which was really amazing… and I definitely was putting on waaaay to much makeup. I mean, they gave me a pastel blue ponytail and silver gogo boots–there was no way I was gonna go out in that costume without a full face of makeup! I think those shoes specifically are what really stated to push me towards drag.
How did Hanukah ultimately get born?
She was definitely a long time coming. Throughout college, I would constantly be doing my makeup and getting into what I thought was the most glamorous drag. When we had a free moment, my best friend and I would spend hours putting on makeup, steal clothes, find some wigs and wander around campus waiting for someone to take a picture of us.
We gave ourselves so many different names, but it wasn’t ’til after I graduated and actually started to think about drag seriously that I landed on Hanukah. My family is very Jewish–both of my parents are Jewish, and all of their parents, and so on and so forth–so that’s the Hanukah part for sure.
I’m also very political, and have been for as long as I can remember. My family instilled in me the belief of when something isn’t right, you speak out about it… even if the consequences may be huge. So paying homage to the incredible Monica Lewinsky seemed fitting, too. I’m also a comedy gal and can’t resist a pun, so Hanukah Lewinsky seemed like the perfect fit.
How might you describe the Hanukah Lewinsky experience to the uninitiated, as far as the looks and numbers you serve?
I’m always trying to get a laugh out of people! I always say I’m an encyclopedia of useless information and references, and I’ve found that when I put the random ideas / audio bites into numbers, the audience is on the same page as me! I love making mixes, and having the audience laugh at all the things I find funny. I love finding instantly recognizable songs that blend perfectly with the niche audio I’m obsessed with!
As for looks, I love basing a look in a certain era: 60s and 70s fashion is by far my favorite. But recently I’ve been falling in love with with the 90s, and the Fran Fine style of it all!
You’re no stranger to the competition scene, and I’ve certainly see you turn out some fierce, crowd-pleasing numbers at Lady Liberty these past few seasons! Do you enjoy that scene, or is it stressful?
The competition scene has been wild, in the best way possible! Since May, I’ve been doing every competition I can be a part of. It’s been really wonderful, getting to know and becoming friends with all of the other queens who are starting out with me. It’s also been great meeting the queens of NYC who run these completions–without them, perusing drag wouldn’t even be possible. I think the expression is “don’t meet your icons” (I think?), but I have to disagree. The way we (the group of queens who I’m starting out with) have been welcomed into NYC nightlife is a joy that’s unmatched.
As for the completions themselves, winning is fun… and I always want to show my best self. But honestly, the chance to do drag and meet amazing queer people who see value in what you do is the best part. I know that’s such a pageant answer, but I finally feel like I’m part of a community that loves me the way I love them! To share a queer art form and have a community love it an celebrate it, it just feels like I found what I’ve been looking for.
Rising star Kiki Ball-Change is your drag mom! How did that adoption come about?
It was very serendipitous, honestly! We floated around similar circles (before I started drag), so we kind of knew who each other were. Once I started drag, I would always mention to my boyfriend Andrew how much I admired Kiki, how she inspired me with everything she did, and how I wanted her to be my drag mother. At the same time, the three of us (Kiki, Andrew and I) were becoming better friends: playing video games together, chatting, etc.
Kiki and I would talk a lot, and as I started doing more virtual things (around this time last year), we realized how similar we were! We would go on live together on Instagram while doing our makeup, FaceTimeing, and stuff like that. I think we were on FaceTime in January of last year, and she popped the question!
She took a huge chance on me before ever seeing me live, so I’m so grateful for her words of wisdom, guidance and love. She’s not only my mother, but also one of my best friends. She really does inspire me with everything she does!
This Sunday at Playhouse Bar in the West Village, Kiki will be debuting a new showcase called “Yas And?” which will be an improvised and immersive weekly experience! She’ll be joined with rotating cast members, including yourself!
Kiki started this show pre-pandemic, and we’re all so glad that it’s back. This show is going to be unlike any other drag show you’ve seen! Think Whose Line is it Anyway, but with drag queens… and it’s completely musical and live sung! We have the incredible Danny K Bernstein on the keys, and an amazing lineup of queens who will be joining Kiki every week. Depending on when you come, you’ll see Kiki and three other queens from our rotating cast, so it’ll always be a different show!
I did improv all throughout my acting classes in college, so I’m no stranger to the phrase “yes, and.” I’m so excited and grateful to be part of this show! Kiki has some really big plans for the show, so we really hope people will see it as a real showstopper. There is so much going into it, and I truly can’t wait to get it in front of an audience!
What else is coming up for you?
Oooh! Hanukah (the holiday) is coming up at the end of the month, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve for that! Otherwise, I’d just say come check us out at Playhouse every Sunday at 3pm!
Definitely! So in closing, they just announced the cast of a new installment of the Drag Race franchise: a live singing drag competition, Queen of the Universe (hello, local contestant Novaczar! How do you think this show is gonna be… and might we see Hanukah belt on it one day?
I’m so excited to see it! I say the more drag on TV, the better. I love how this art form is getting such huge recognition worldwide, and even better when one of our NYC queens is part of it. It’s all very exciting! I think the show is going to be really fresh and exciting. I’m hoping for killer voices and a ton of spectacle!
We mayyyy see her up there one day. But until then, you can find me belting in my shower… or at a gig around the city!
Thanks Hanukah, and have a Happy Hanukah!
Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Hanukah Lewinsky’s upcoming appearances, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.