Jinkx Monsoon, aka Jerick Hoffer, won season five of RuPaul's Drag Race largely by virtue of comedic and theatrical talents. That was a surprise to some fans given the show's emphasis on glamour, fashion runways and lip syncing.
"People who watch the show like glamour and the over-the-top nature of it," Hoffer says via phone from Seattle. "I was prepared for the (reality TV show's) challenges from watching previous seasons. I knew they'd focus on my fashion. I was a broke college student and just starting to make my name in Seattle. If they made fun of the things I wore on the TV show, they should have seen what I left behind."
On the show, Monsoon improved her fashion sense and delivered memorable moments, such as an impersonation of a flighty Little Edie, the Jacqueline Kennedy cousin who was discovered living in relative seclusion with her aunt on a rundown estate in East Hampton, New York — captured in the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, which later was the basis of a Broadway musical.
Hoffer was drawn to Edie's disconnection from reality. Hoffer created a similarly odd but driven character, Miss Kitty Witless, an old time singer living in current times, for The Vaudevillians, staged Saturday, Jan. 14, at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
"Kitty Witless is an amalgamation of all the female characters of the 1920s," Hoffers says. "She's a ditzy blond who doesn't say words correctly. She plays dumb until she gets pissed off, and when she's pissed off she becomes an evil genius."
In The Vaudevillians, Hoffer and performing partner Major Scales, aka Richard Andriessen, are performers who were buried in an avalanche, preserved frozen and revived in current times. With Hoffer in a flapperesque dress, they look like they should be singing songs like "Puttin' on the Ritz." Instead, Scales puts a ragtime-y touch on songs that audiences soon recognize as pop tunes, such as Madonna's "Music," and songs by Janis Joplin, Britney Spears and Daft Punk.
It shouldn't surprise Drag Race fans that Jinkx has a background in theater. Around the time she appeared on Drag Race, she starred as the transgender title character in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and as Angel in Rent. But Hoffer also has played many classical roles and The Vaudevillians was hatched when he and Andriessen performed in Thornton Wilder's classic, Our Town.
"We were both playing really boring roles in Our Town," Hoffer says. "I played Joe Crowell, the paper boy who dies early in the show. Major Scales played Simon Stimson, the alcoholic choir director, who is clearly gay. It was the whole thing of being stuck in a small town in the early 1900s. We were like, 'What would it be like if two characters like us lived back then?' And what if those characters came to these times?"
The first version of The Vaudevillians featured some old songs and improvisation, but it evolved into a mostly set show full of pop tunes. Jinkx's exposure on Drag Race enabled them to perform it across the U.S. and in London, and they debuted a sequel in New York in 2015. Hoffer also tours as Jinkx, both solo and on tours featuring contestants from Drag Race. Hoffer's first visit to New Orleans was on such a tour stop.