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The Interview

The Interview: Robyn Banks

Well hello there Robyn Banks! I’m so excited we’re getting to talk today! How are you doing on this unseasonably warm February afternoon?

I am doing well. It is very warm out! I am embracing it since it may be below zero before we know it!

You know it, especially since that damn Groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter! But we’re here to talk about more important things today like your eighteen person variety show, “Black & Boujee”! Can you tell us a little bit about the show and how it all came together?

Yes! I have always loved performing groups. I think it’s the 90’s baby in me. I wanted to make sure it had a meaning behind it. I was given the Director of Events position when I joined IMPULSE NYC and I expressed this idea back in December. We had a trip to Los Angeles and the CDC sent out their year end email that basically said that infection rates had gone up in the black and brown community. This could be because of a lack of education or just not having the proper resources to get what they need to be protected. I know not everyone has access to the CDC’s email and I felt like I needed to try and present that info to the community. I expressed that I wanted to educate without it being boring like school so I was given a certain amount of funding to put on an event. I will admit I got carried away with adding so many people but I wanted many different talents to be a part of it. I did not want it to just be another drag show. I figured I could do a fun variety show and throw some educational material in there so you’re at an amazing show but also learning!

How did you get involved with Impulse NYC and for those not familiar with them, can you share a little bit about what they do?

I have always gone to IMPULSE’s events and they would always be fun events with prizes, safe sex materials, drink tickets, whatever! *Laughs* My best friend of fourteen years Day Armbrister is the president and he know that I love to plan and organize things and he asked me to be a part of this. Before I joined, they were known as “the people who throw the parties”. What I thought is that there is actually a purpose behind these parties, so we dubbed it as “a party with a purpose”. I liked that because it makes me feel like we are doing more community work. Depending on what we feel is needed, we have events (parties, dinners, gatherings, spa days, etc.) to educate the community. We recently sponsored the Glam Awards. I felt like this was the PERFECT place to really talk about what we do, to let everyone know we are more than just party people, that we are really trying to change and educate people but also to really push to make sure the black and brown community has the proper resources it needs.

Robyn Banks
Photo by Catalin Stelian

You were involved in the creation of meaningful new awards for this year’s Glams as well!

Yes! I have been doing a lot of community work since I was a teenager. I went to Harvey Milk High School (back then it was an ‘all gay school’) and graduated school president but after school I was also in the the building that was the Hetrick Martin Institute. That’s where I found drag but also where I realized I loved this community. The Glam Awards I felt need some kind of shake up, some kind of freshening up. These awards needed to be there to let the community know that these people are doing the groundwork and just because you don’t have a huge platform, this does not mean you can’t do it. By doing this, we are hoping that when it’s added to the normal voting process, people will really take the time to get out there and help the community. The awards were a heavy glass and each year they will be different. No two people will have the same award as community work can look different for each person. (The Impulse Advocacy Award was given to Bob the Drag Queen and Peppermint for their Black queer town hall meetings and Brita Filter was given The Marsha P. Johnson Award for all her work within the community both before and after Drag Race)

So how can people see “Black & Boujee”?

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They can come to HUSH on February 27th. I’m hoping for a big turn out. I wanted to use the little platform I have to uplift POC voices. I wanted to give these artists an experience. I hired a photographer, a videographer, two assistants and a behind the scenes person. I wanted to give them the Drag Race experience without it being Drag Race (photos, meet the performers, group shots). I’m sure most of the performers has never had this kind of experience, I am hoping this introduces them to new audiences and they can make new connections among each other. Show time is at 7pm!

How special is it for you to put something like this out during Black History Month?

It is HUGE! I want people to know that because it is the shortest month, we need to make the loudest noise. I did my research and nothing like this has been done before in night life. I did a kick off show at Stonewall last weekend and this huge one is a great way to end the month out. If this goes well, I would love to do it again next year with a different cast to give other people the experience.

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Photo by Dionel Rodriguez

How do you feel like NYC nightlife is doing as far as representation goes?

I feel like it is getting there but there still needs to be more improvement. For the most part I am tired of going into spaces and the only POC is security. This is about how many POC we know that can bartend, or would love a bar backing job. I think it’s time to shake things up. I don’t want people to think that POC are complaining or being the victim, I just want there to be more opportunity to shine and show off our skills. That is why this is important. Someone can see people at this event and really want to further their career.

Let’s hop in the Delorean and head back in time a bit shall we? Where does your story begin?

Lord! *Laughs* It all started when I was three. No just kidding. I was born and raised in Harlem. My mom was a single parent who make sure we got whatever we wanted. Like I was spoiled rotten as a kid,.Christmas she would say make a list and I’d get some stuff off it. It didn’t matter how long the list was, she got me literally everything on it! I was alway into the arts, loved performing and entertaining people. While attending Harvey Milk High school, I found drag and loved the whole art form of it. Once I turned twenty one, I started going to open stages and really doing my things. *Laughs* I also have had three failed reality shows under my belt so that always put a fire under me to really get out there and push the glass ceiling. I loved music and making my own parodies. I was always filming all the school drama with my digital camera. I was told I always has an entertainment reality show vibe about me. I have worked thirty two jobs. *laughs* I literally still have all my name tags but I just felt like I was not meant to work a 9-5. I get over it, I get bored and I just end up quitting.

What was your first exposure to drag, not counting Bugs Bunny? 

Those are the good episodes! I grew up watching comedy shows like SNL, Mad TV, In Living Color and even some Nickelodeon shows that had people dressing in drag. I just didn’t think anything of it. It was funny and they did a good job so I feel like we have always been around it. However growing up it wasn’t always acceptable in other pal’s households. My mom would give us an allowance and the first CD I bought with it was Cher’s Believe album and I just would lay down in bed with my CD player, making sure it was anti skip, because you did not want to be feeling it and moving and then have the cd start skipping! I would just picture myself on stage with the wind blowing in my hair and every one cheering me on. So when I was sixteen in school and got into drag, I wanted to make sure I made that dream come true. THEN I found out you could make BANK from drag and I was like I gotta get some of that so I was taking it more serious and really getting my name out there (after three name changes)!

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What were the prior drag names?

*Laughs* My first one was “Kelly Kelly”. I was obsessed with a WWE superstar with the same name. She was thin blonde and flexible.. so all the things I’m not! *Laughs* Then I wanted something that was funny so I went by Sandy Beaches but I felt like that didn’t fit me. Then I changed to Manny Montage because I wanted to tie music into my drag and thought it would be cool to be dressing up as a woman but to have a unisex name but then Robyn Banks happened and it felt more like me. it also takes a while for people to get that its a play on words

Okay girl, we hit on some common ground here! I’ve always felt wrestling and drag were very similar businesses as far as promoting yourself, creating your character and connecting with the audience. I even wrote a two part feature comparing the queens of Drag Race to WWE wrestlers. How did you become a wrestling fan?

Yesss!!! I have always loved wrestling as a kid. But I knew I didn’t want it for the guys, I mean they was hot but I LOVED seeing the “divas” and what they brought, the outfits, the air, the entrance music! Like I wanted to be them sooo baddd! Lita, Trish Stratus and even Stephanie McMahon are really what I feel started the spark into my drag career!! I still watch it to this day and I screen shot some of their outfits like “mmkay Ima get this made”

Same girl, same. Every show I usually want what Maryse or Nattie Neidhart is wearing!

Yess Maryse’s entrance song ughhhhhhh life!! I also loved how the guys would be protecting the girls but they would still be behind them talking sooo much trash and overacting! *Laughs* It was so bad back then but they really made you believe!

Before we end up talking wrestling all day though, let’s talk a little bit about your album coming out later this year.

Oh yeah, I am releasing my Second album Long Time Listener, First Time Caller! I am excited for this because again I wanted to include as much of the community as I could on this project. It has been pushed back a few times but its coming! I wanted amazing videos and interludes and just all the works for it! Its my baby! I released a promo single Dance All Night when I was a Cosmo girl and they released it on their site and things like that to really push the buzz for it.

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Robyn Banks
Photo by Junior Alcantara

How would you describe your sound?

I like to call it “Hip-Pop”. Look, I am not a singer. I know that for sure. My producers call it “sing talk”. I call it boring vocals LOL but at the moment I’m calling the sound “all over”. The one thing I got from my last album was that there was no dance music so they couldn’t play it in the clubs. I had a single out that was great and it was played but everyone said there is no dance version. so I called my producer like “Please create one!!” One week later I had “Karma (The Kool slut remix)”

So we have reached……THE LIGHTNING ROUND! Are you ready??


Lightning Round

Must have makeup item?

Marc Jacobs Mascara!

4 AM post show food craving?

Any kind of chicken nachos

The best part of drag?

Taking off the lashes at the end and meeting new people.

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The worst part of drag?

The heels and sweating!

Most surprising thing about you that people might not know?

I have dyslexia.

Drag artist you would pay the most to see?

If it is a TV drag Willam, If It’s a local drag Hibiscus.

Last movie to make you cry?

A Walk to Remember when it first came out. I haven’t cried while watching a movie in so long!

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Disney character you relate to the most?

Raven Baxter!

In the movie of your life, who plays you?

Hmmm I would love anyone black and bold!

Final question, most embarrassing song on your phone?

LORD Mary Kate & Ashley’s Greatest Hits 2! *Laughs* also have the actual cd!

Yikes! I need to tabulate the scores. Yes, it looks like you will indeed survive THE LIGHTNING ROUND!

Yaaaaaasssssssss!!! That was fast!

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Lightning is fast!

*Laughs* This is true!

So where can people keep up with you on the interwebs?

I am all over the social medias under @AyoRobynBanks. My official website and also my music is available on all streaming platforms!

Well my dear, the ring announcer has said that the time limit is about to expire but I’ve enjoyed getting to talk with you today. Best of luck with “Black & Boujee” and with all your future endeavors but before we go, do you have any final words of wisdom for the WERRRK. com Universe?

Thank you so much for this. My words of wisdom is to get out and enjoy life. I treat life like one big joke. We work hard and never get to enjoy what we worked hard for! SO enjoy it!!!!!!

(Featured image by Fagsign X Martyna Szczęsna)

Written By

(she/her) Despite being a drag journalist for over a decade, Chiffon only recently realized that she missed a golden opportunity back then to change her drag name to Rhoda Story.

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