The other day I teared up watching TikTok—not an unusual weekday occurrence. After snooping in on my texts and emails, the algorithm must have recognized that I had been looking up Broadway shows more than usual and showed me a clip of Jinkx Monsoon, the first two-time winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, circa 2013, being interviewed by Rupaul. In it, Ru asks Monsoon what she wants to do with her life post-competition and without missing a beat, Monsoon answers, “It’s been my life dream, ever since I started doing drag, to do drag on Broadway.” 

Today, over 10 years after that first RuPaul’s Drag Race win, there’s no question that Monsoon’s life dream has been realized. Only a few days ago, I had the pleasure of seeing her star opposite former teen heartthrob Corbin Bleu in the Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors. When Monsoon first entered the stage as her character Audrey, she received more applause than I’d ever heard anyone receive on a Broadway stage. It was like we had all seen that interview clip and were suddenly overcome with the emotion of seeing those dreams come true. (We clapped until Monsoon ran out of ways to stall her entrance.)

Of the performance itself, Monsoon’s tender, sorrowful, yet hilariously ditzy interpretation of Audrey, a tragic heroine, brought to mind the many real women stuck in toxic relationships. Much like many of those women, Monsoon never missed the opportunity to relieve the audience of their pity by making them laugh. She had fun with the role, but not so much fun that she forgot to act—in addition to her many years as a professional drag performer, Monsoon also has a BFA in theater, so her natural stage presence comes as no surprise. 

It’s a refreshingly curious time to play with gender fluidity on-stage. Joining Monsoon in this new wave of queer Broadway talent is her friend Cole Escola, a comedic actor best known for their zany, whip-smart impressions and appearances on At Home with Amy Sedaris, Search Party, and Difficult People. Escola is the writer and star of the play Oh, Mary!, a certified NYT Critic’s Pick, and a show that left my sides sore from laughter. The two thespians sat down to geek out about some of their shared deities (loyal attendees of the church of Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone), queerdom in the Pacific Northwest, and general funny business.

COLE ESCOLA: You look so pretty.

JINKX MONSOON: Thank you. I had to go record something today, an in-studio performance of “Somewhere That’s Green” [a track from the musical Little Shop of Horrors].

CE: Fox News?

JM: Yeah. Lauren Boebert introduced me. No, it was for… What do you do before a show?

CE: Um, I haven’t figured that out yet.

JM: Wait, you’ve been doing [Oh, Mary!, Escola’s play] for how many weeks? 

CE: Since January. I need a life.

JM: Is that all you’ve been doing? Your show? I mean, it makes sense. You thrash about and expend a lot of energy in your show.

CE: Yeah, my knees are sore. You know, I sleep in—it’s 1:12 pm right now. What time do you wake up on a show day?

JM: Pretty much every day I wake up at about 7 am. On show days, I make myself go back to sleep until about 8 or 9 [am] depending on what I have that day.

CE: I can’t believe it. 

JM: It wasn’t immediate. It took me a long time. But, at some point after I quit drinking, I became a morning person. And then I remembered I was a morning person back in the day. Coming out of the fog of alcoholism, I was like, ‘Wait a second. I used to be a type A, overachieving, morning person Virgo. Like what happened to that?’ She’s been suppressed by alcohol for so long. And so I’m fully back in high Virgo.

CE: I haven’t drank in like over 12 years and I still stay up till 4 or 5 am. I mean, I had to set an alarm for this.

JM: I go to bed earlier than I ever have before. After years in nightlife. I thought I had to go to bed at 4 [am]. And I totally support that. Like, I think you do you when it comes to sleep. Especially if you’re an artist.

CE: Thank you for saying that. 

JM: I think it was Jennifer Holliday who said, when she was doing Dreamgirls, all she had the energy to do was wake up, drink a two liter of Pepsi, go back to sleep, then wake up and do the show and then go home and go back to sleep.

CE: All I need is the Pepsi and that’s basically my life. I find that I need a life, I need something that’s not the show in my day to remind myself that I’m a human being. 

JM: I think what you’re talking about is why I’m a morning person. Once I quit drinking, I wasn’t hungover, but I was still doing that schedule. Staying up till 4 [am]. Sleeping in until the last possible moment, rushing to everything I was doing, and showing up 10 minutes late, flustered, [and] sweaty. I was not happy in this state. And when I started waking up early, I realized, ‘Oh, if I get a couple hours to myself before the rest of the world starts moving, I feel so much less resentful of anything I have to do that day.’

CE: Okay, well, I guess I’m gonna have to start waking up at 7. I think my body is just wired [differently]. Like, ever since I was a child, I was up until 4 or 5 am waiting for Martha Stewart.

JM: What kind of child were you? 

CE: Exactly how I am now. What kind of child were you? Were you this?

JM: Pretty much this, yeah. I mean, there was no covering this up. Every time I’ve come out as queer, as trans, or as trans feminine, it’s always just been like, ‘Yeah, we know. We were waiting for you to figure out how you were gonna talk about it.’ [Laughs.]

CE: I saw you at Patti LuPone at Carnegie Hall. And then I saw this insert in the program advertising upcoming shows. I didn’t know you’re doing a show at Carnegie Hall on Valentine’s Day of 2025. 

JM: Yes, that’s correct. 

CE: Wow. 

JM: I’m really excited because—well, I mean, I don’t need to say why I’m excited. It’s Carnegie Hall. But, I have to imagine, because you’re so good at impressions and impersonations, that you must have spent a lot of time listening to Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall

CE: I came out specifically so that I could rent Queer As Folk at Hollywood Video and buy Judy at Carnegie Hall. Because I thought, if I buy that album, everyone’s gonna know I’m gay. So I just need to come out and get ahead of it so that I can have this album and not be self conscious about it. 

JM: And how old were you? 

CE: 17. Months before I first saw you at The Escape [queer nightclub in Portland, Oregon].

JM: Oh my god! I forgot how many times [and] how early our lives started intersecting. Our lives have intersected very randomly but also at really pivotal points in both of our lives. We’re about the same age, right? 

CE: I’m 37.

JM: You’re a year older than me, that’s all. I came out at 14. We’ve been queer for a very long time. And I totally forgot you saw me at The Escape once.

CE: You sang “Cabaret.” 

JM: That was a go-to. I first saw you on the VGL Boys [Escola’s webshow] with Jeffery Self in the early days of YouTube. And the thing that got me hooked was your impression of Bernadette Peters. It was so—

CE: Stupid.

JM: Perfect. And so stupid, but so studied and so specific and wonderful. And then YouTube basically syndicated your streaming show to the network Logo.

CE: Logo came to us and they were like—I mean, you know Logo. They were like: ‘Will you and Jeffery make some vlogs for our website? Here’s $1,000.’ We didn’t want to make a 20-minute vlog, so we just made a sketch show. And then we turned it in and they were like, great, we’ll put this on Fridays at midnight. Didn’t pay us any more money. So we got paid like $1,000 each for that first season of whatever it was—six episodes? But we didn’t care. I mean, whatever, we would have paid them [to platform the show] and they knew that, which is why they did that. Yeah. But, um, no, we love Viacom here.

JM: I just remember being awestruck, because I was so impressed. Then also, there was what’s called the ‘pink envy.’ When you’re specifically jealous of other queer people.

CE: Never heard [of] that term, pink envy.

JM: I had to get over it. I was definitely full of pink envy at points in my life because you know what it feels like to be a queer entertainer. And feel like there’s only like—

CE: A handful of roles for you. 

JM: Like two roles. So when you see one go to someone else, you’re like, oh God, there goes one of the five. But I feel like, one, I had to get over that to be a happier person. But, two, it’s less of an issue these days because there’s less of a scarcity. Do you feel that way?

CE: Well, yes, I feel that way. But I bet other people don’t feel that way. It’s easy for us to say, Broadway leading lady, but it does feel very scarcity mentality.

JM: [Laughs.] It still feels that way. But I gotta say, like, so many things are happening that I had resolved to not to see in my lifetime.

CE: I know! You’re going back on Broadway to play Mama Morton [character from the musical Chicago].

JM: I mean, not just about me, but yes. [Laughs.]

CE: I can imagine it probably wasn’t that long ago that you could not have imagined that you would play like a female, quote unquote, role in an established Broadway show.

JM: I remember making it kind of like my mission in college, whether I realized it or not, but when I started [at Cornish College of the Arts], going to art school, I thought I had to leave drag behind to be a serious actor. And then as soon as I graduated, I was getting cast in female roles or getting cast as little kids, but I certainly wasn’t playing like an early 20s male character.

CE: And that’s your memoir title, by the way, Women and Children First.

JM: [Laughing.] That’s really good. 

CE: So you were playing women and children? 

JM: Yeah. And I realized, like, well, gosh, I guess I don’t have to quit drag. So I kind of just kept doing drag and acting in tandem and sometimes they would link up—but this was always on a regional theater scale. I did not think in my lifetime that I would be doing it, let alone [making a living as] a drag queen. Because just 10 years ago or I guess college was…

CE: 1971?

JM: [Laughs.] 13 years ago, it felt like a different world. And that’s why it’s so scary when people are threatening to take it away because it’s like, no, we just got here. 

CE: Yeah. Wait, how are you feeling right now? It’s been a week since you started [Little Shop of Horrors]?

JM: Tonight’s opening night and I feel just incredible. The experience has been really, really wonderful. To sum it up quickly and succinctly: any anxieties that I had, they were completely dispelled the moment I got there. The only one who’s made any transphobic remarks has been me about myself. No one there has said anything that’s even toed a line. So that feels really really special. I want to talk to you, though. You have been acting in drag at very high levels for a while now. Immediately I’m thinking of what’s-her-name… Chassie?

CE: Oh, yeah. My character on At Home [with Amy Sedaris], Chassie Tucker.

JM: My God, I love Chassie Tucker. How did that happen?

CE: Amy and I met on [Hulu series] Difficult People, and then she saw that orange juice commercial video

JM: Hehehehe.

CE: And then she and Paul Dinello [one of the producers of At Home with Amy Sedaris] created that Chassie Tucker [character] based on that video and then, yeah, the rest is herstory.

JM: I have always loved the way you play female characters because it’s effortless and it’s nuanced. I don’t know. It’s something special that only you do. Because it’s not quite drag but it’s not not drag—and it’s certainly not like Tootsie [movie, 1982]. 

CE: Thank you. I mean, I don’t like playing male roles. I feel very uncomfortable, constrained, and bored. Unless it’s like, I don’t know—I’m actually dying to play my straight guy character in something. So maybe I’ll have to make that opportunity for myself. 

JM: There’s so few male roles that have ever done anything for me. When I was feeling like I had to still go for male roles—when there was something that worked for me—I like really fucking insisted upon playing it.

CE: Maybe you and I should do something really, really surprising, like, Frost and Nixon or something.

JM: My Dinner with Andre [movie, 1985].

CE: Just the most male roles.

JM: There was a time when people asked me a lot: “Would you still play male characters?” And I think that ship has sailed now that I’ve taken a big step forward in my trans feminine identity, but like, the idea that people are letting me play female characters and there’s no conversation with me about like, “What the fuck is this?” It was just like, no, you’re playing Audrey [lead in Little Shop of Horrors]. It’s not drag but it’s not not drag because I consider every character I create, like creating a drag character. There’s no difference, you know? 

CE: That’s what’s really special about theater, too… I don’t know. I’m gay, what do I know? Did they ask you if you wanted to play Audrey or did you reach out to them?

JM: It was kind of a long process because originally I was going to be doing something else at this time. So I wasn’t available. That was what they were told when they first approached us, and they moved on. When I heard that we had to turn them down, I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. Move everything. Call them back.’ We were certain the ship had sailed. When I first heard that they circled back and were figuring it out, I immediately started practicing the Audrey track, just. you know, to be ready.

CE:  What is your favorite moment in the show to perform right now? I know it’s going to change over the course of the run…

JM: Well, “Somewhere That’s Green” is special because I’ve done that song comically for years and now I’m doing it in earnest. My favorite part is probably the death scene—which I feel like maybe I shouldn’t talk about because that’s a reveal—but it is very funny. 

CE: At this point, that show is like Shakespeare. It’s canon. 

JM: Every night when it’s clear that I’m gonna die, someone in the audience will verbally go,

‘What?!’ It gets bigger and bigger every night. Like last night, I think 3 people were not having it. They were like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’

CE: Well, they changed [the ending of Little Shop of Horrors] for the movie. Because it tested so poorly. But I love it, it’s such a beautiful story that way.

JM: It can’t be the allegory that it is if there’s a happy ending. I guess it’s a warning, right? Like Hamlet. It is like Shakespeare.

CE: Did you do Little Shop in high school or anything? 

JM: No…

CE: I played Seymour [lead role] in high school.

JM: Ohhhhh, I would have loved to see that. 

CE: I’m sure you’re getting asked this a lot now but what other musical theater canon roles are on your wishlist?

JM: I say it all the time because it’s my favorite.

CE: Mame?

JM: Mame is one I keep thinking about a lot recently, even though I don’t feel old enough to play Mame. But I feel like that’s kind of the fun thing about being a drag performer… my age range is changing [laughing] constantly. 

But! My favorite show is Sweeney Todd. And [the] role that I want to play in that show is Mrs. Lovett, but I definitely want to originate it. So that’s kind of like a 10 year plan. Right now, I’m just kind of open. I love that I’ve gotten to play roles in these shows that are from that golden era—like the 70s/80s era of musical theater. Not all of it from that time period is my favorite, but the ones that are my favorite, I’m obsessed with.

CE: So, you’re playing Audrey and then you have a little break—

JM: Then, [I’m taking] one of my shows [Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Together Again, Again!], with my music partner Major Scales, to Seattle for about a month. Then, I come back and play Mama [Morton, from Chicago] for a limited run. And then it’s pretty much holiday show mode.

CE: And then Carnegie Hall. 

JM: And then Carnegie. 

CE: So this was what I wanted to ask: Were you taking notes or measurements [when you saw] Patti at Carnegie Hall?

JM: I know I’m not going to do anything like Patti. My show is not going to resemble hers in any way. But I think the thing I’ve been learning the most from watching people like Patti LuPone and the people I share stages with on Broadway and off Broadway, is that they aren’t freaking out on stage. Like I thought I was comfortable on stage. But true comfort on stage means having a line flub and not freaking the fuck out. 

CE: Yeah.

JM: I don’t even remember if Patti had a line flub, but if she did, she corrected it and kept talking. I’m trying to be a little bit less on the verge of mania. When I started getting comfortable doing Chicago and I felt like I was present with the other actors on stage, it felt like everything that I learned in acting school just clicked into place. But you need to be doing it with other people who care as much as you [do]. Because if you’re doing work with people who don’t care about doing good work, then you’re gonna be not your best.

CE: Are you going to be singing with a band? Orchestra? 

JM: My dream is to do a small orchestra, like a big band. Kind of like a jazz [or] swing band. I don’t know. I don’t know what the term would be. But, wait a second. You told me after I saw Oh, Mary! that it became an idea in 2009. Is that true? 

CE: Yeah. 

JM: And then you said you put off writing it. What motivated you to write it?

CE: I had nothing else [to do], it was during lockdown and I was just like, ‘Okay, you stupid faggot, you write this now or never.’ I was just like get it out and see if it’s any good.

JM: And it was, objectively.

CE: Some people disagree! We’ve had some walkouts. The audiences are getting straighter, because, [we got] reviews.

JM: Walkouts because of your portrayal of historical figures?

CE: Maybe they had a reservation. Maybe their legs fell asleep and they needed to get some blood flowing. It’s not my business, but I do love them clocking that.

JM: How does it make you feel on the inside knowing that the work you’ve decided to do with this is going to be controversial to [certain] types of people?

CE: I never even consider them. I write for my friends. And by my friends, I mean the thousands of screaming queens that came early on. I’m glad that new people are coming to see the show and, you know, a lot are liking it. Some aren’t and that’s okay.

JM: When you have walkouts with the material that you’re doing does it kind of feel like, ‘Okay, we did our job’? Mission accomplished. 

CE: Yeah, we grossed them out enough. We annoyed them with our queer stupidity.

JM: I can count the walkouts [I’ve had] in my life. I had a walk out because someone brought their mom who turned 70-something [to] my drag vaudeville show. But all the work that I write myself is just filthy. It is purposefully filthy. And so apparently she left and on the way out. She made a point to say to a staff member, ‘I love that they’re doing this but it’s just not for me.’ 

CE: [Back to Patti], what was your favorite song that she did? Mine was “Lilac Wine.”

JM: Oh, I never would have guessed that she would do “Lilac Wine.” I love that song so much. I liked “I Dreamed a Dream” [from the musical Les Miserables], because she’s the Fantine I prefer to listen to. But I think my favorite of the night was a Peggy Lee song. “Ready to Begin Again (Manya’s Song).” The way she did it. Oh my god. I fucking loved it. It was so good and I loved the way she performed it. You know when the singer is with their voice, in their expression, painting such a clear picture that you can see what they’re singing about? That’s what she was doing with that song. 

CE: She’s so Brechtian. I would love to hear her just sing all Kurt Weill music. I know that song is Peggy Lee but it reminds me of Kurt Weill like that.

JM: I bet it is Kurt Weill. It’s called ‘Manya’s song’ in parentheses.

CE: I mean, I assumed Peggy wrote it because she writes songs but maybe she didn’t. 

JM: Maybe she wrote it inspired by [Brecht] because it feels very Brechtian. The fact that it has two titles… even if it’s a nod to [Brecht], it’s a very, very effective nod. This is why I fucking love talking to you. Because, like, who else am I gonna ping pong [with], talking about Patti LuPone’s head voice and Brecht and Weill?

CE: Yeah—wait. Will you go see Bernadette [Peters] at Carnegie Hall in October?

JM: Of course. I don’t feel beholden to just one. I have a pantheon of goddesses that I worship. Bebe Neuwirth, Christine Baranski, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone… These are like the current working actresses that I’m taking notes from. I want to ask you—you were collaborating with Jeffery Self early in your career, and I assume you’re both still friends. But you both have had really incredible careers. Separately, do you still find time to work together? 

CE: Yeah, we get together. We wrote this really stupid, funny script that was making us laugh harder than anything we’ve ever written [and] that no one will ever want to make. We also did this really stupid podcast that was way more work than we thought it was going to be but it was still fun. I don’t know. You know when you find someone that’s like a sibling? There’s no one I love working with more than him.

JM: [DeLa and I have] really hit a stride and a flow working together where we know how to streamline the process. Because to be two drag queens sharing a stage—sharing what you normally do by yourself equally with another person—requires so much shedding of your ego. 

CE: It’s so exhausting that I’m sure at times you’re like, please take over.

JM: [DeLa] said to me a long time ago that she wanted to produce our tour. I thought about it and I was like, I just really want DeLa to be in charge. Like, at the end of the day, I want DeLa to make the decision. Because I really trust DeLa. She’s been like a sibling and a mentor to me. Like a big sister, you know?

CE: Yes, but much much older. 

JM: I asked her to direct my Carnegie show. And she told me, ‘Yes, but I also want to co-write it with you.’ And I said, ‘Jesus Christ, thank God,’ because it’s gonna be even better. This is gonna be a new thing for us, because every time we have [worked together] it’s been for both of us—and I’m not saying she won’t make a cameo. I don’t know. We haven’t written it yet. So we’ll see what happens. It’s a new endeavor for her to step more into a directorial position on someone else’s work and she’s really excited about it. 

CE: What a relief.

JM: Yeah, exactly. I’m fucking relieved. I know that taking what I brought to my solo tour [Everything at Stake], and combining it with what I know DeLa brings to her work… the best work I do comes from collaboration with her. 

Oh, Mary! will play Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre through May 12. Beginning June 26, Oh, Mary! will play on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre for 12 weeks only.

Photography Tina Del Pino

Editor Alyson Cox

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