I’ve never felt gayer than I did on Friday night. Well, obviously I have. I mean, the times I’ve been doing gay things, you know, the really gay things, but this was more symbolic. Because the gig was at the Duplex in Christopher Street, the gayest road in the world, quite possibly, opposite the Stonewall pub and the gay rights memorial. And right outside the venue, with all of this gayness, was a poster with my face on it. And it’s been there for weeks!
I arrived and met up with Mark Wallis and his partner Bart Greenberg. I’d known Mark for a few years when he still lived in England, and even then he was performing as I Am Cereal Killer, a kind of camp punk spoken word artist with bright red hair and face make up. His partner Bart is a playwright and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the New York cabaret scene.
Also there were a couple of actors who Bart had hired to do a rehearsed reading of his new play, and then two very familiar and wonderfully flamboyant characters arrived. First was Margoh Channing, drag queen and cabaret artist with her giant hair and costume, her new show, Hung, about to be performed in New York, and then Dandy Darkly, the drag clown spoken word storyteller, with his pointed shoulder pads and sequinned one piece cat suit. I felt very plain in comparison.
We were shown upstairs to the green room, which is a fully functioning flat over the venue, and I did a mic test on stage with the actors, it all felt so professional and very real. And as always happens in these situations, a camaraderie emerged between the performers as we prepared ourselves in the apartment upstairs with its views down on to the small park where the gay rights statues attract tourists.
I couldn’t have asked for a better audience for my New York debut, and it felt a real privilege to headline with these acts. I’d seen Dandy before in Edinburgh and I have always been a huge fan, and I’d seen I Am Cereal Killer, but Margoh Channing was a revelation, hilarious and touching, tender, human and very funny. Nancy Stearns sang a fantastic song about being in love with a young gay man, and Bart’s wonderful play was about a gay relationship.
I think I purposefully downplayed my performance because there was no way I could compete with all of the others, but people were very kind and they laughed in all the right places, and I had to change the set order on stage as I’d meant to do a couple of serious poems. However, the audience were up for laughter and a momentum had built up. So many people wanted to chat afterwards and amazingly I sold out of the books I’d brought with me!
We went back to the green room apartment, where I felt guilty at just sitting on the sofa as the others showered and changed into their civilian clothes. But as I sat there I pondered on how amazing the gig had been, and how it could possibly even be my best one yet. I was most relieved that my humour seemed to translate well to the American audience, and that the crowd were very definitely on my side and intent on enjoying themselves.
But most of all it was the cabaret scene that I loved the most. I think I fitted in because I was, in a way, the straight man, with his shirt, tie and jacket. Drag queens, drag clowns, cabaret acts and singers, they all made me feel so welcome and I’ve made a whole load of new friends. I’d love to see them all again some time. Perhaps this should be a regular thing?