Drag star’s got Jewish roots under that blonde hair

Recently anointed by RuPaul, Jinkx Monsoon — born Jerick Hoffer — discusses her Jewish influences and why she’d love to visit Israel

Jinkx Moon bills herself professionally as “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Jewish drag queen." (Tim Harmon)
Jinkx Moon bills herself professionally as “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Jewish drag queen." (Tim Harmon)

After five hit seasons, American reality TV competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race” recently crowned its first Jewish winner, 25-year-old Jerick Hoffer, a.k.a. Jinkx Monsoon. From the first episode, Hoffer proudly declared himself “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Jewish drag queen,” and — despite his sleep disorder — tirelessly battled other contestants, week after week, for the title of “America’s next drag superstar.”

Since cable’s Logo channel broadcast his win in May, Hoffer has made a whirlwind of appearances as Monsoon, who he describes as “the hardest-working single mother in show business.”

Hoffer’s currently starring off-Broadway in New York in “The Vaudevillians,” in which he plays Kitty Witless, a 1920s/’30s entertainer flash-frozen by an Antarctic avalanche and recently revived. Originally intended as a one-night performance, the show has been a hit with both critics and audiences, getting extended last week for a second time, through Oct. 29 at Manhattan’s Laurie Beechman Theatre.

Hoffer met recently with The Times of Israel to talk about drag as an outlet for both his art and his Jewish identity.

Equally admired by audiences and critics, Hoffer recently extended his off-Broadway run for two months, but is already working on his next project. (Courtesy of Jerick Hoffer)
Equally praised by audiences and critics, Hoffer recently extended his off-Broadway show, but is already working on his next project. (Courtesy of Jerick Hoffer)

Who is Jinkx Monsoon, and how was she born?

The idea behind Jinkx is that she’s a single mother and failed actress. One time she went out to a gay bar with her son, who’s a gay adult, and started singing torch songs on the bar and became a hit. Now she’s every gay boy’s favorite cabaret act.

What’s your Jewish story?

I was raised Catholic primarily by my mom’s side of the family. But at 18, I found out there was an adoption in the family, and that I was of Russian Jewish descent on my mom’s side. After that, I started to look more into the philosophies and culture of Judaism. Then, as I re-examined “Jinkx” in art school and developed her backstory, it just kind of made sense that she’d be Jewish. She became a way for me to explore that part of my heritage.

What made you decide to label yourself “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Jewish drag queen”?

Well, I wouldn’t have announced myself as “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Catholic drag queen” because there’s a culture with Catholicism that doesn’t relate to Jinkx. I feel Jinkx identifies with the Jewish culture, and it’s a label she’s worn in Seattle for a while now.

On the show, Jinkx was called a “comedy queen.” Does she identify with Jewish humor?

Yes. Sarah Silverman has always been a huge influence on my comedy. I think Jinkx likes being in the ranks with Joan Rivers and Sarah Silverman.

Any thoughts on why there are so many successful Jewish comedy acts?

I can’t speak for the Jewish population, but I attribute my sense of humor to the tragic moments of my life. The best way to overcome certain tragedies is to develop a thick skin and sense of humor about things. Of course, I am very politically conscious and careful about my comedy. But when I do push an envelope, it’s with a purpose.

Monsoon would happily visit Tel Aviv, but ‘I wouldn’t claim my Birthright trip’

What would Jinkx Monsoon’s bat mitzvah look like?

In Jinkx’s head, she’s the countess of a villa, so hers would have an extravagant monarchy theme where everyone gets announced. The dukes and the duchesses would arrive and pay homage to Countess Jinkx. Her throne would be in the middle of the room, and she could behead anyone she wanted.

Tell me about your current cabaret show, “The Vaudevillians,” and your role as Kitty Witless, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant.

It’s a nod to the fact that in the ’20s and ’30s, there was a huge influx of immigration [to the US] that greatly enhanced the performing arts. In the original iteration of [“The Vaudevillians”], Kitty is a Hungarian Jew, and [her husband, Dr. Dan von Dandy] assimilates her. So she used to have an accent, which she slips into when she’s angry, and she puts Jewish curses on her husband. The current iteration of the show cuts those parts out to keep things shorter. But Kitty still makes her circumcision joke.

Tel Aviv is widely recognized as a very LGBT-friendly city. Any thoughts on traveling to Israel in the future?

I have two really close friends who went on Birthright trips to Israel, and it was an amazing experience for both of them. I wouldn’t claim my Birthright trip; being raised Catholic and discovering my Jewish identity at 18, I have mixed emotions about that. If they booked me for a show in Tel Aviv, I’d be all for it. I’m open to any kind of enlightenment I would get from traveling to different countries and bringing back new thoughts to my audiences.

‘When I do push an envelope, it’s with a purpose’

What’s next for you, after “The Vaudevillians”?

Richard Andriessen [my co-star] and I are working on “The Inevitable Album,” which has original songs, comedy parodies and some standards from the golden jazz era. In the fall, I’m touring Europe as Jinkx, and this winter, I’m doing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in Seattle. After that, I’ll just keep my mind open to different theater projects, which I love the most.

After your year as the reigning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner, how you do think you and Jinkx will have changed?

Both of us have already changed immensely. Just going through the show itself, I became “Jinkx 2.0.” Before, I was stubborn and wanted my character to be decidedly more disheveled and crazy-looking. To step up to the plate of “Drag Race” and win, I had to make Jinkx a little more glam and fully realized.

As for myself as an artist, I now believe I can do the things I’ve always wanted to do. When you want to be a working artist, you’re told that there’s a high chance you won’t be able to make a living off of it, or you’ll get frustrated, torn down or quit. But now, for the first time in my life, I feel it’s 100 percent feasible. That’s the most amazing gift this year has given me — the assurance that this is what I was meant to do and this is what I will be doing for the rest of my life.

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