Hi there Gary! It’s good to talk to you this evening. Have you had a nice summer?
Yes I have. It hasn’t been much of a summer. Not many humid days which I am very grateful for, as I’m sure all the queens are as well.
Absolutely! I always say drag is a night time, fall/winter sport so I’m sure all the queens in the city have been appreciate of this fairly mild season. So let’s hop in the Delorean and go back in time a bit shall we? Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised right here in NYC.
Ah! A native! Okay, important question then….where is the best pizza in the city?
I would have to say John’s in Little Italy. Or any place in Little Italy for that matter. For pastrami sandwiches, the Carnegie deli. And hot dogs, Nathan’s. In case you were wondering.
We can talk food ALL night! I assume you mean the original Nathan’s in Coney Island?
Exactly! But talking about food all night I would eventually get hungry and have to eat. Gary is a bear and he loves to eat! Laughs
Plus I hold grudges. Every time I see her, I still remind Jasmine Rice that she promised to take me for Korean fried chicken when we did an interview together. So let’s press on then for both our sakes. So this is a switch for me since you’re the first drag king I have ever spoken with. Normally I ask the queens what there first exposure to drag was. Drag Queens over the years have become more and more mainstream but where did you first learn about the art of drag from the king side of the business?
I have always been fascinated with the art of male illusion. The first drag king I ever heard of was Murray Hill. The first drag king I ever saw was Dred at a lesbian pride event in the late 90s. I had also heard of kings performing at Meow Mix at the time. When I started doing more research at that time I saw there is a rich history of drag kings in the performance halls of England in the late 1800’s and here in the states in the early 1900’s. Names like Vesta Tilley and Hetty King were very prominent. There was even a king there that fateful night at Stonewall as well. I always had a love and respect for drag. I would sit and watch my girls and say to myself I can do that. I eventually met Murray when he used to host bingo at XL Nightclub. I told him I want to be a drag king. He just said go ahead and do it. There aren’t that many of us. So that’s where the drag bug really bit me. Plus I always did wonder why male illusion doesn’t enjoy the same recognition and respect as female illusion.
You are clearly very educated on it’s history so why do you think that is?
There is a stigma about drag kings that I didn’t realize existed until I started researching into it. Some people feel drag kings can’t be as creative as a queen. As far as wardrobe all a king can muster is a t-shirt and jeans. Drag kings are boring. Drag kings aren’t creative. As far as hair all a king needs to do is get a man’s haircut and call it a day. In a king’s defense men’s clothes are for the most part boring, but that’s where the creativity comes in! I try to sparkle as much as any queen. I have one of the best lip syncs in this city. I try to show my face to as many clubs as I can but the funny thing is I have never actually performed at a lesbian bar. I try to go to as many different clubs as possible. The key is exposure. No one is going to know who you are if you don’t show your face at different places.
After told Murray you to go ahead and do it, how did you first get started as a Drag King? How did you ultimately decide on the name Gary Carmichael?
I asked Murray which name I should choose because I actually had a choice of two . Gary Charles and Charlie Carmichael. Murray suggested Charlie Carmichael because it’s funny. But I didn’t feel like my guy is just a comedian. He’s suave, smooth and sophisticated, a ladies man at his very core. He can be glitz and glamour if he wants. Actually he can be anything he wants to be, but he is a gentleman always. So I decided to take the best parts of the two names I came up with and thus Gary Carmichael was born. Its also a little play on my girl name.
And he’s a sharp dressed man as well! The process of getting into female drag is pretty well known but what are the challenges of male drag, transformation-wise?
For me anyway. I have long hair. Unless I am doing Meatloaf, I have to stuff all that hair in a wig, but just like a queen, I want to make sure no one can clock my hairline. Makeup has taken me longer to do as I have taught myself drag makeup. I still have techniques to learn and expand my knowledge as I go along. I can do facial hair illusions with both make up and facial hair pieces. The toughest part is binding my breasts. To be frank I have big breasts so to flatten them hurts, plus it does make it a little hard to breathe. And of course there is getting the package in your pants. I was told there’s no such thing as too big. But I try to make it look as natural as possible. I’ve been complemented on that actually.
I got a little distracted when you said meatloaf but then I realized you were talking about the singer. Do you do a lot of celebrity characters? I got to see you do Donald Trump alongside Heidi Haux‘s Hillary Clinton but do you have more celebs in your bag of tricks? Do you find there is a different level of preparation in doing a character number as opposed to a number as Gary?
Yes there is actually. When I am doing a specific person I have to embody that character physically and mentally, not just make up but mannerisms as well. With Trump I not only have to get the orange working but his stink face facial expressions plus his hand gestures as well and of course the voice. I have come out as Fred Flintstone, I have done Meatloaf and I recently started doing Luciano Pavarotti, including this past Sunday at Look Queen. There is a specific look, sound and mannerism associated with each character that makes him unique. I have a few other celebrities I will be trying in the future. I also have original characters I’ve created like the American Outlaw and the Boogie Man, but as long as I have the solid foundation of who Gary is, the rest is easy.
Oh wow, I could see Pavarotti as a GREAT character for you. I saw the facial similarities right away as soon as you said it. So let’s talk about one of the reasons we’re here, you have two shows coming up this Saturday night at the world famous Lucky Cheng‘s! What can people expect from a Gary Carmichael show? Will you be bringing any of your characters with you?
I think I’m just going to bring classic Sharp Dressed Man to Lucky Cheng’s. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity. What Gary can bring is old school flavor. He can do Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin but he can also do Barry White, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Al Green, Nat King Cole. Whatever songs Gary decides to do, I just want the people to be happy. I love what I do and the people can sense it when they see me doing the songs that I love. He can do standards, ballads, anything. If I can get someone to Google an artist they’ve never heard of or if I invoke a happy memory with a song, I’ve done my job.
I know Lucky Cheng’s has been bringing in a diverse group of queens for their shows. How did this opportunity come about for you?
I noticed they had been accepting queens for their shows so I just decided to try my luck and ask. I figured the worst they could do was say no. I sent them a video clip and some photos and they were impressed. I believe I am the first king to appear there.
Well congratulations! That’s a wonderful honor. And in addition to those shows, you’re going to be appearing later this month at Bushwig as well right?
That is correct. If you go to bushwig.com you can get a listing of all the performers that will be there. It is also an honor for the Sharp Dressed Man to be a part of this great two day festival celebrating drag.
It sounds like September is shaping up to be a big month for you. What do you plan to do for an encore this fall?
I am planning on throwing my hat back into the Look Queen competition, Star Search and I look forward to working with whatever queen will give this king an opportunity to share the stage with her. Hopefully someday I will have my own show. Which would be the biggest honor of all. Plus September 25th is my birthday!
Well an early happy birthday to you from the WERRRK.com universe! In the meantime, where can people keep up with you on social media?
You can find me on Facebook under Gary Carmichael. You can find me on Instagram as well. Plus I will have official t-shirts coming out soon so you can wear his face proudly on your chest. I am also working on getting an official website up by year’s end.
Sounds good to me but now are you ready for……THE LIGHTNING ROUND?
Giiiiiirrrrllll! Laughs Of course, I am a king!
Drag role model?
Bianca Del Rio
4am post drag food craving?
Best part of drag?
Worst part of drag?
When the drunk guys breathe on me telling me I’m hot.
Most surprising thing about you people might not know?
Watching Farrah Moan this season on Drag Race. Whining.
Netflix binge recommendation?
Since I don’t have Netflix, I don’t have one.
Do you have any drag children?
Two drag sons, Benjamin J. Smash, Benji for short and Theo Reginal.
Death row last meal?
Linguine and clam sauce, a Coke and a piece of chocolate mousse cake.
Last one, most embarrassing song on your phone?
Can’t Smile Without You by Barry Manilow. But Gary will do it on stage eventually! Laughs Oh wait. I already did! Laughs
Thank you so much for your time Gary and best of luck with your shows this weekend. If you’re in the city this weekend, you don’t miss your chance to see New York City’s own drag king. Do you have any final words of wisdom to leave our readers with?
In life respect is earned not given. Have faith in yourself. And in the words of the late Casey Kasem, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!“