Jerick Hoffer flips his wig for ‘Hairspray’ at 5th Avenue
A Q&A with Seattle actor Jerick Hoffer, fresh off a win in “RuPaul’s Drag Race” thanks to his alter ego, Jinkx Monsoon.
Seattle Times theater critic
‘Hairspray in Concert’
Thursday-Sunday at 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle; $23-$73 (206-625-1900 or www.5thavenue.org).
Jerick Hoffer is slipping into a bouffant wig and ’60s frocks for the 5th Avenue Theatre’s concert version of “Hairspray,” which runs Thursday-Sunday.
Usually it’s just one male actor playing a gal (Edna, mom to teen dance hopeful Tracy Turnblad) in the hit Broadway musical, which originated at the 5th Avenue a decade ago. But Hoffer will gender-bend another role: that of rival stage mom Velma Von Tussle.
“I always thought Velma should be played by a drag queen,” says Hoffer.
Getting dolled up is no stretch for this multitalented Portland native and Cornish College grad. As ditsy glamour puss Jinkx Monsoon, Hoffer (“Seattle’s premier Jewish narcoleptic drag queen”), ran away with the top prize this year in the TV competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Becoming an “international drag superstar” has not yet lured Hoffer from Seattle, where he has lived and performed (in theaters and drag clubs) since 2006. Jinkx will pop up again here hosting the satirical/patriotic burlesque show, “Freedom Fantasia,” at the Triple Door starting July 3.
But after that Hoffer goes bicoastal, when he and stage cohort Major Scales (aka fellow Cornish grad Richard Andriessen) bring their original show, “The Vaudevillians,” to Off Broadway starting July 9.
We caught up with the amiable and sincere Hoffer, 25, fresh from his wig-fitting for “Hairspray,” to ask about his philosophy of drag, his TV victory and other matters.
Q: How has your life changed since winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race”? You have your own entourage now?
A: It’s crazy, it’s really surreal. I have a publicist, a personal assistant, a tour manager and a booking agent. A year ago I was doing everything myself.
Q: You won “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” in May. How much of the series was live?
A: It was filmed in advance up to the final episode with the top three contestants, then a week before the final episode was airing we taped three different endings. I only found out who won when America found out! The night of the finale I was in New York, and I was taken from my hotel to this club where I was crowned in front of all these cheering people. It was crazy.
Q: You call your outrageous yet lovable Jinkx persona “corny and cheesy,” a “dumb blonde.” How do you respond to women who think campy drag caricatures put down women?
A: I feel that drag queens impersonate very strong, independent women who inspired us throughout our lives. And I like what Goldie Hawn once said: it takes the smartest actress to play the dumb blonde ... When I’m doing an exaggerated character, I hope it’s clear I don’t think this is how women do, or should, act. There’s aspects of Looney Tunes in drag. But there’s something poignant about a man dressed as a woman, talking about gender. It can make you realize how similar the genders really are.
Q: You’re a trained actor and gifted singer, with Seattle roles in “Rent” at the 5th Avenue, “Spring Awakening” at Balagan Theatre. Is it limiting to be labeled a drag queen?
A: I very much treat my stage persona of Jinkx as a character I’ve created. Some drag artists do a look-based glamour act, and when they talk they’re mostly just being themselves. In my case it’s not Jinkx the drag queen, it’s Jerrick Hoffer as Jinkx Monsoon.
Q: Thanks to RuPaul’s show and Broadway musicals like “Kinky Boots,” drag performance is even more in the pop-culture mainstream now. How is it evolving?
A: Drag is very much an art form, and all art goes through ebbs and flows and trends. What I’m doing isn’t new, but the way I’m doing it is a new version of high camp. I don’t want to just play the kitsch factor, but bring something authentic and honest to it.
Q: Can drag be both funny and serious?
A: My motto is 50 minutes of comedy can lead to 10 effective minutes of tragedy. Comedy allows your audience to be in the moment, and get on your side. When you have them on your side then you can be open with them.
Q: As Jinkx, you are dressed to the nines. What do you wear offstage?
A: I kind of just wear tight black pants, leggings, an oversize sweater. It’s a very androgynous look. I just don’t like men’s clothing, for me it’s always kind of boring. I don’t have to look like a boy or a girl, I can look sort of middle-sex.
Misha Berson: email@example.com