Entertainment » Celebrities

Talking 'Stand Up With A Twist' with Carson Kressley

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Monday Mar 12, 2018
Carson Kressley
Carson Kressley  

Few knew what a cultural phenomenon "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" would become when it first aired 15 years ago. Yet this modest reality show, in which five gay guys representing different style disciplines would do a makeover of a straight guy, took off in unexpected ways, most significantly introducing many to gay culture in an entertaining and non-threatening way.

One of the breakout talents of the initial Fab Five is Carson Kressley, the fashion expert whose ebullient personality and quick-wit made him an overnight sensation. Kressley stayed with the show, which won an Emmy in 2004, for its five-season run. Since then he has been a frequent commentator on the red carpet at awards shows; the host and a guest on numerous reality shows, including his current stint as a judge on "RuPaul's Drag Race;" and as an eloquent spokesperson and supporter for numerous LGBTQ philanthropic causes, including The Trevor Project, The Human Rights Campaign, and The True Colors Fund.

This weekend Kressley will be trying something completely different: he will be appearing with pop music diva Kristine W for a pair of cabaret shows called "Stand Up With A Twist," first this Friday night at Manhattan's Joe's Pub, then Saturday in New Hope, Pennsylvania at the Rrazz Room.

EDGE recently caught with Kressley for a conversation about the show, whatever happened to nightlife culture, what he thinks of the revamped "Queer Eye," and just what his drag name might be.

Carson Kressley and Kristine W in a promotional photo for "Stand Up With A Twist."

EDGE: You are doing a new show - 'Stand Up With A Twist' - with Kristine W this Friday at Joe's Pub in New York City and this Saturday at The Rrazz Room New Hope, PA. How did the show come about?

Carson Kressley: Kristine and I have been friends for quite a while. If you have gone to a circuit party or 44 as I did back in the day, you would run into Kristine. After I started doing "Queer Eye," often we would be at the same benefits and became better friends. More recently when I was in Vegas I met with her and she said she wanted to do a cabaret show. I said I love cabaret shows. To which she said, 'Why don't you do it with me? We will do comedy and we will do music. It will be like an old-time variety show like Sonny and Cher and Donnie and Marie.' And we just said, 'let's do it.'

This has been my m.o. for my entire career; that is I agree to do things that I really am not equipped to do, then I show up and make it work. That's how you get things done, you push yourself. So here I am. I am pretty excited about it because I do love Kristine. Our community has really grown up with her music, and to hear her in a cabaret setting where you can really savor the feelings and the lyrics and the meanings behind the songs is a completely different experience than what you hear on the dance floor.

EDGE: Will you be singing in the show?

Carson Kressley: I don't know. I have been known to do a Broadway show tune, so you might hear me do a ditty.

EDGE: So most of what you will be doing will be commentary?

Carson Kressley: I will be doing stand-up, story-telling, such as talking about what was going on when certain Kristine W. songs came out. And where we were and my experience being part of the LGBTQ scene in New York and circuit parties and the club scene and my experiences doing "Queer Eye" and "Drag Race." I am relaying my personal stories, and Kristine will be jumping in as well because she is fun and funny. Both the rooms are really intimate spaces. I want to go out in the audience and reach out and touch people appropriately. I want them to feel that we are doing a private show for them.

EDGE: Will you be performing any political humor?

Carson Kressley: How can you not? You must look at the current political scene as humorous, otherwise, it is just sad and tragic; so I will but I hope in a positive and kindly way.

EDGE: What is going to happen with the show next?

Carson Kressley: I think the idea is to try this out and see if we like doing it and have a good response. If people like it, we would definitely do other cities.

Carson Kressley

EDGE: So much has changed since Kristine had her club hits. Now the club scene is gone or non-existence...

Carson Kressley: Oh, my God, yes. I should probably do a whole piece on that. I remember being a young gay man in New York City and leaving the Palladium at 7:15 on a Monday morning and going to a pay phone and calling in sick to work. Then I would hang up and immediately go back into the Palladium where "If Madonna Calls" would be blaring... those were the days. There were so many options back then. I feel sorry for the young people because there are not as many fun places to go. There are no clubs.

EDGE: What do you think happened to the gay club scene? Has it become a victim of LGBTQ assimilation over the past decade?

Carson Kressley: In New York it's all about real estate. You can knock down a 10,000 square foot space with a dance floor and put in a high-rise building. In the city, it is more a matter of economics. I do think across the country it is because of assimilation. Today the younger generation feels perfectly comfortable going to a non-specific club to dance. I do look back fondly at the days of the mega-clubs: the Roxy, Club USA, the Tunnel, and Limelight. It was really an experience that doesn't exist anymore, unfortunately. I don't remember most of the 1990s. I think I might have been over-served.

EDGE: Have you been watching the revamped "Queer Eye?"

Carson Kressley: I have seen a few episodes and all of us except Ted went to the Netflix launch party out in LA with the new cast.

EDGE: What do you think of it terms of the move towards LGBTQ acceptance that occurred since the show first aired?

Carson Kressley: It was definitely groundbreaking when we did it because it was so unheard of. There hadn't been a reality show comprised of out gay men. We took some criticism for being stereotypical, but at the same time, we were just trying to do this amazing work of making these guys look and feel better through the makeover process. And along the way, people got to know us as real guys, not stereotypical characters. It was the power of visibility in action because people realized we were funny and kind and doing great work. When people get to know you and like you, they become your ally. So almost subversively and without intention, we changed some people minds and hearts.

All along I was just trying to get them out of pleated khakis and get them to cut their mullets off. We didn't have loftier goals than that. But nowadays gay is so mainstream that the show had to be different, and I think they succeeded. It has always been about looking at people from a different point of view, trying new things and about trying new things and being the best version of yourself. While it might be a little bit lighter on the makeover experience, it is still a transformative show with gay guys coming in and trying to help straight guys and do it with heart and good intentions.

Carson Kressley

EDGE: What was the impact of the original show on American culture?

Carson Kressley: Like I said before, we never had a political agenda with that show. We just wanted to do amazing work and make people look and feel better. It was about the makeover process, but as people got to know us as out gay men, they responded to us warmly. I would go out to airports and people would say to us, "you are the first gay guy I ever met." And I would say, "haven't you ever had your hair highlighted or ever been on a commercial airliner? How have you never met the gays?" But we were to some Americans the first gay guys they had ever seen and we pushed the needle forward. We didn't have political intentions, but sometimes the best way to be political is to be a little bit subversive. Just being visible and being yourself.

EDGE: Your other current gig is on "RuPaul's Drag Race?" The show has never been as popular, which led the New York Times recently to say that we are in a golden age of drag. Are we having that drag moment?

Carson Kressley: I always have been a huge fan of drag. Ever since I moved to New York in the 1990s I have been going to places like the Pyramid Club and seeing amazing drag shows. I think that since the show has become so mainstream, it really shines a light on an art form that was kind-of kept in the shadows. As gay people, we knew about it and love it, but it is an art form that was performed in the sheltered world of gay clubs and not everyone had access to it. I think these queens are so incredibly talented in so many ways, from costumes to make-up to hair to comedy to acting, and I think it is wonderful that the show has provided a platform for the art form. Now a lot more people get to experience it. My 80-year old dad watches it, probably because I am on it. He really enjoys it. It just shows the widespread audience we have. Especially young people, these tours that these queens do bring them out. I think we are in the golden age of drag right now as far as exposure is considered.

Michelle Visage, RuPaul and Carson Kressley on "RuPaul's Drag Race."

EDGE: How do you see your role as a judge on the show?

Carson Kressley: I feel my role as a judge is to give structured feedback in a positive way because I think all of us on the judges' panel are fans of each contestant and want them to be the best versions of themselves. That is for me the crux of the show, people struggling to do their very, very best. And when people fail or rise, it makes for really compelling television. It is fun to judge and I guess it does get harder as the talent pool gets more and more talented, but what a fun job.

EDGE: If you were a contestant on the show, what would your name be?

Carson Kressley: I see drag names all the time. I am like that little kid in that M. Night Shamalayan movie, but I don't see dead people, I see drag names. My dad is a car dealer, not so long ago I went home to see my family. I was at my dad's office and I looked and saw painted on the window this phrase: "Lease A New Sonata." And I thought that's my drag name: Lisa New-Sonata. It just sounded good to me, like I am a working woman.

EDGE: Recently your colleague on "Drag Race" Ross Mathews was on "Celebrity Big Brother." Did you have a chance to watch him?

Carson Kressley: I have not had a chance to watch it yet. I have watched bits and pieces from highlights of the show. I knew he was going to do great because he is authentic and fun and funny and kind. I knew that was going to resonate. Then when Marisa won, I thought, hmmm. You never saw Ross and Marissa in the same room? Are they the same person? But then they were together for the finale, so that wasn't the case.

EDGE: If they did another edition, would you be on that show if they asked you?

Carson Kressley: Oh, gosh. I don't know. As much as I love being in front of the camera, I don't think I could deal with the lack of privacy. When would I masturbate? You would be harkening back to sleep away camp and have to do it under the sheets made by the little tent made by your knees, but I digress.

For more information about "Stand Up With A Twist" with Carson Kressley and Kristine W., visit this Facebook page. For more information about Carson, visit his website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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