“I’m A Freak And I Like Being A Freak.” Keith Levy On The Creation, Ups, And Downs of His Drag Persona Sherry Vine.

by Keith Levy

y name is Keith Levy, and I’m originally from Columbia, Maryland. I also am known as Sherry Vine, who’s a character I perform as.

My entire life and vision was on this path of being a movie star. And then, it just kind of was like, oh, there’s this song “Black Coffee” – this torch song – that I’ve always wanted to sing. And I was like, ‘Well, I can’t really do that as a guy. No one wants to see Keith up there singing that song.’ I was like ‘Maybe I’m going to do it as this tattered ex-showgirl.’ And people really responded to it, and were like, “Oh, you need to come and perform here!” And I was like, “Okay…” but I really was kind of trying to keep that at a distance. I was still auditioning and doing stuff, and I was like, ‘No, I’m going to do this, and I’m not going to be a professional drag queen. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.’

Why are you fighting this? Why are you not embracing this? I mean, do you really want to get up at six in the morning to stand in line all day to audition to be in the road show of some musical? Or do you want to be the star of these shows? I was like, ‘I want to be the star of the show.’

My whole life was geared towards, like I said, getting to L.A. to become a movie star, and now I have to tell my parents, “I’m moving to New York to be a drag queen!” And they were like, “All you’ve talked about for 20 years is going to Los Angeles, and you’re there, and now you’re leaving?”

It can be very actually kind of cathartic and inspiring. That chapter is done, and now I’m excited because what’s this next chapter going to be?

And it’s been 22 years of doing Sherry Vine, and I still love it, and it’s fun and inspiring, and I have so many things that I want to do that I haven’t done yet.

I’ve been really lucky and fortunate with this career to travel all over the world. I mean, I’ve sang with Debbie Harry, and Nina Hagen, and Marc Almond, and Boy George.

I performed on the MTV Awards. They had a bunch of drag queens come out and do different eras of Madonna, and it was this whole Madonna retrospective, and I was “Like a Virgin.” I came out first. I was like, “Oh, I have to come out and roll on the floor like Madonna did on the MTV Awards!” “Oh no, there’s no time for that. Just come out and get.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I’m like, ‘Fuck you.’ So I’m standing in the wings ready to go on and Diana Ross is like, “Hey, girl! Oh my God, girl, you look great!” I’m like, “Thank you! So do you!” And the music started, and I’m like, “Oh, I’m on, girl!” So I came out and, of course, immediately roll across the stage. The crowd goes crazy, and all the queens come out and then Madonna comes out and she’s walking up and down, and talking to us and shaking our hands and everything, and that was like really, really cool. That was fun.

I want to make people laugh, and I do comedy, so I rarely do something that’s political. but just the fact that you’re a man who puts on women’s clothes, and when you walk out that door, and you’re bombarded sometimes with hate and anger, then it does become political. I mean, I’ve been chased down the street by a gang with bats. That was scary. I’ve had bottles thrown at me. Literally, I could walk out and stand on that street, and a taxi will slow down, and then take off.

People who perform in drag have an important voice to share, especially within the gay community, if you will. I mean, we all have to come out twice, as come out once as gay, and then we come out again as drag, and people who are like, ‘Oh yeah, my parents had no problem with me being gay, but they hated-they freaked out when they found out that I did drag.”

There are a lot of gays that don’t like drag, and hate drag queens. I’ve had people say things to me not knowing like, “Ugh! I fucking hate drag!” Even at the parties, they don’t want the drag queens or the leather queens representing them, or that we’re slowing down the process of assimilation. It’s like, I don’t want to assimilate. I don’t need to assimilate. I’m gay. I’m a freak, and I like being a freak, and I like the freaks.

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