I’ve had the pleasure (pun intended) of seeing Maxxx Pleasure perform numerous times all throughout Brooklyn. A creatively captivating drag king, every time I’ve seen Maxxx perform I’ve noticed that he has the rare ability to capture the full room’s attention with every thrilling number.
While drag queens seem to be getting all of the media’s attention as of late, sleeping on great drag king performers is detrimental when wanting to experience the full scope of what drag and its history can be.
I caught up with Maxxx after performing drag brunch at The Liberty with Gina Tonic in Midtown Manhattan. We talk about topics like creating a realistic widow’s peak, what performative masculinity entails, and why it’s so important to create safe spaces within drag and LGBTQ+ communities.
C. Tepper: How did you get involved with drag?
Maxxx Pleasure: I went to school at SUNY Purchase. There’s a very big drag scene out there for such a small school. Thorgy Thor went to Purchase and started there, Miz Jade, Qhrist with a Q, Sherry Poppins, Alotta McGriddles.
I would do the background dancing for other kings, and then I was like, “Actually, this is really fun, and I want to try it, and I think it’ll get me more involved with the queer scene at school.” I identify as bisexual, and I was growing more comfortable with my sexuality, so I was like, “Let me be involved this way and get to meet other queer people.” So I did drag – it was terrible. I was very bad. But then the fact that I was bad made me want to get better.
There was a competition that I thought I was going to win and I lost, but that lit a fire under my ass. I realized I really liked it too.
And now drag for me has become something totally different, it’s not just a fun hobby for me anymore. It’s something that I think really validates me as a person and allows me to do all these things that I didn’t think that I could do. I used to dance, I used to do community theater, but I’m not that good of a dancer, and I can’t sing at all. It allows me to play in this theatrical setting and pretend I’m a rockstar and all the things I’m not going to be in real life.
“Save A Prayer” from Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns at the National Sawdust theater. Video by Monàe.
C: That brings me to my next question about your drag king image. Every time I see you, I think of Johnny Depp; not in the creepy way but in the “Captain Jack Sparrow” kind of cool way.
M: Yeah! So I based my drag look after Johnny Depp back in 2014/2015. This was before the whole “he’s a shitty person” [scandal]. I did that face and stuck with it because it works really well.
C: How did you get involved in the Brooklyn drag scene?
M: SUNY Purchase is right near Manhattanville College, and Manhattanville has a show where they invite performers from their college and performers from Purchase right down the road to come through. So I performed, I did a duet that went terribly, but K. James was also performing, and Miss Malice was there with him. So I met them, and I was like “It’s so good to meet you, I’ve heard great things about Switch n’ Play…” and a year later Miss Malice hit me up to do their “Moxie” show. I had done other shows in Brooklyn with friends, but I didn’t really feel like I “arrived” until I did “Moxie.” I owe my presence in the Brooklyn scene to Miss Malice because she invited me down. Of course, it was my plan to come eventually, but she really got it going, and I’m very grateful for that.
C: What’s your process with becoming a drag king? I know it varies by performer.
M: There are some kings who do very minimal makeup, and there’s some who do more. Over the years I’ve started to do a lot more makeup than what I used to because I’ve learned that onstage, parts of your face will disappear and you need to figure it out. When I first started performing, I didn’t even own a beauty blender. Now, I’ll do my contour, my foundation, my highlight like anyone else. I put on my facial hair with a toothpick and face paint, which I need to find a better way to do because it’s very wasteful. I’ve started looking at [drag king] Tenderoni and zooming in on his pics, like “How does he do it? Those neat lines!”
I always do the greasy hair gel because I feel weird without it. I [use makeup to create] a widow’s peak. That’s my thing. When I did Sasha Velour’s New York Fashion Week show with Opening Ceremony, I noticed Sasha was just staring at my forehead when she said hello to me. I was like, “How are you?” And she said, “Do you have a widow’s peak? It’s great!” I was like, “Thank you!” That’s the thing I’m most proud of because I didn’t always do it. I don’t ever change my face ever, I’m very lucky I figured out what works for me fairly quickly.
That’s pretty much my process. I don’t pack [a prosthetic penis], I don’t bind [my breasts], I’ve never had an interest in it. When I was performing in Texas, my only concern was having tape over my nipples, so I wouldn’t flash anybody with my open shirt and get arrested because of the obscenity laws are out there.
Photo by Eric Sager
C: Are there any drag kings from history that you think that more people should know about?
M: To be honest, when I started doing drag, I didn’t know a lot about the history at all. I thought, “Oh, I’m a ‘woman’ – quote on quote – so I have to dress up as a ‘man.’ That’s what drag means.” So I didn’t know a lot about the history or anything like that.
I just recently purchased a book about drag king history: Sex, Drag, and Male Roles: Investigating Gender as Performance by Diane Torr and Stephen Bottoms. It’s something I’m really looking to educate myself on because, of course, it’s important to know your history within the context of the art that you’re doing.
C: Diane Torr was a well-known king who recently passed away but was heavily featured in the drag king documentary “Venus Boyz.” which for me upon watching, seemed to focus heavily on the Drag King performers’ sexuality more than just their art.
M: What’s so interesting is my reasons for getting so involved with drag was about expressing my sexuality. I guess for a lot of people who are drag kings, it’s an opportunity to express your sexuality in a different way, but of course, you have to do it carefully.
There’s so many kings who are like, “Oh, my character is a womanizer.” It’s like, “Okay, you need to think about that.” That was my first idea too, I was like, “Oh, I’m going to be this vampire, demonic, womanizer-guy.” Some people can do it interestingly, I definitely couldn’t. And it was because I was unimaginative in my thinking of what it means to be a man.
C: Drag kingdom is a bit different from drag queendom because it can be used as a direct commentary on the patriarchy. In what ways do you bring masculine gender roles to your character?
M: Well when I first started I was like “I’m going to do this character that is a heartthrob, that’s attractive, that has sort of a rock ‘n roll vibe, who is a rock star, because that’s a way that I can step into a performative character.” Masculinity is something that you don’t have to prove, at least in my understanding of it… I mean it is in a sense, but because performing femininity is so much more performative because of the culture that we grow up in. I feel like it’s easier for drag queens to step into a character.
Meanwhile, people who are presenting masculinity, they need to find a way to do it without stepping into all the other problematic characteristics that people connect with being a man, unfortunately, and being a sexy man at that. [When I started] I wanted to do a rockstar thing so that I could take care of the sexiness and take care of making sense that I’m performing. My looks would be a lot more performative, they could be glitzy, they could be glam, and it could still make sense. But since then my kind of idea of being a drag king has changed, I’m like, “You know what? I don’t necessarily have to perform masculinity.”
Since I started doing drag, my understanding of gender is so much more different than the beginning, I’m like, “You know what? I’m going to continue to be Maxxx Pleasure, and whatever that means, that’s what I’m going to do.”
I’ve been really into the idea of wearing dresses a lot more lately. I did a song from Cabaret for Patti Spliff’s show “Sad Songs,” if I remember correctly from the version of Cabaret I saw, the Emcee wears this gown, and I was like, “I’m going to do that. And I don’t even give a shit about some people being like ‘Why are you wearing a dress?’” It’s because I want to be.
And even me doing Gwen Stefani’s “Just A Girl” number earlier today at Gina Tonic’s drag brunch, I was like “This is fun!” And as an AFAB person I have been told, “I’m just a girl and you can’t do some of the things that men can.” But I think also when drag queens who are cis men [do numbers like that] – I’m not a drag queen and I’m not a cis man – but I do think doing numbers like that there has to be a certain amount of responsibility. Especially because AFAB [Assigned Female At Birth] performers are given a lot less opportunities.
I am very fortunate that I get booked fairly often for a lot of great shows, but every once in a while there will be someone who thinks I’m brand new or treats me like I don’t know anything because they can tell that I have boobs underneath my shirt.
C: That’s interesting because when I’ve interviewed drag kings in the past, I’ve found that some have a hard time getting bookings because they aren’t drag queens. What has your experience been like?
M: There’s been a little bit of that. Recently there’s been a trend of people wanting to book me for their shows or people who want to produce content with me just because, “You’re a drag king, so you probably don’t get a lot of options and we’re really special and amazing for giving you a platform.”
It’s people who don’t know me or don’t know what I do and don’t really seem to care, they just want the points for, “I did this thing. I lifted this person up. I lifted up this community.” It’s like, okay, I am a great drag king, and I’m well known in New York state, which is great, but, you know, I’m not just a token. I’m a very talented performer who you should want to have in your show anyway. But you can’t win them all I guess.
Maxxx Pleasure Performing At “Straight Acting”
C: What current drag kings do you think people should know more about?
M: There are a lot of drag kings that I greatly admire. Some of them are already well-known, like K.James, he’s so talented. One of the best performers I’ve ever seen because he seems to have such a command of himself and also of the audience.
Vigor Mortis is a fantastic performer and fantastic human being. The thing I admire most about Vigor as a performer is his ability to have fun on stage. He has some acts that are very serious, but he has some that I’m like, “I would have never of thought of doing something like that because I take myself too seriously and I need to chill.” I envy him for his ability to do fun and silly things and pull them off so well.
Of course Andro Gin, he does something really interesting and very original. Show Ponii from Upstate [New York] is a fairly new performer whose drag I really enjoy. I met him up in New Paltz, and he’s actually recently started to come down to Brooklyn a lot more. He has such a place in my heart because we knew of each other from circling the same scenes, but when I finally saw him perform I was like, “Wow this guy’s amazing.” He’s fantastic.
Buster Balls is a new performer in Brooklyn, the drag persona of a burlesque performer who has been around for years, Bunny Buxom is her name. It’s fun to see Bunny and then Buster and see how she performs these two characters so differently. Very talented. Really amazing. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
C: Drag kings don’t currently have the large international platform that is RuPaul’s Drag Race. What do you think about that? Do you think they should have their own show?
M: I don’t watch Drag Race too much, just because RuPaul has made it very clear that people like me have no place in it. I think drag kings deserve the world. If a group of drag kings decide that they want a reality show just like that, then I think they should get it. I like what I’m doing now, I’m happy with it.
There’s some drag king performers who have really made a name for themselves [outside of Drag Race]. I was at Austin Drag Fest over the summer, and Spikey Van Dykey was headlining, and I was like, “I’ve never seen him, I’m really excited to see what he’s like.” He was great! When he entered the room, a hush followed him. You could tell when Spikey would get close because it would suddenly get very quiet. Someone introduced me to him, and I was like, “Hey, how are you.” Like sweating. Because he’s really hot, but I’m like, “We do the same thing! It’s okay! I can talk to this person.” I think with talented performers, the stars are the limit. If you’re willing to work hard and have the talent and are a genuine person – I think talent and hard work can get you anywhere.
C: What is some advice you’d have for aspiring drag kings?
M: I have a lot of opinions. The ones that I think that everyone should follow is to be thoughtful and mindful about the decisions you make when creating your persona and performing on stage. It is easy to fall into these toxic ideas and to be a little harmful in the ideas that you present, whether purposely or accidentally.
So definitely holding yourself accountable. Asking yourself, “If I do this, how does that come across?” “If I have this kind of outfit, what would people think about that?” “If I have a sexy cis woman as my back-up dancer or dance partner, why am I doing that?” I think everyone should be mindful, that’s my number one advice.
The advice that I personally hold myself to? It’s better to leave people wanting more than to give them too much. I love doing two-minute numbers because you’re there, you wow them, and then you’re done. I hate when an act goes on for too long and feel it in the room that “Oh, this is too long” and everyone is bored.
I didn’t come up with all of this stuff on my own. Some of it I’ve learned myself by trying out different things. I’m fortunate enough that I’ve had really good friendships and really good connections with other drag people and we talk to one another, and we figure things out. They teach things, I learn just by watching. I’m very fortunate, and I know that I owe a lot to a lot of other people.
Maxxx by Lonelyleap. A short documentary film on Maxxx Pleasure.
C: What’s in store for the future of Maxxx Pleasure?
M: I want to continue performing for as long as I want to continue performing. I want to go back to Austin. I want to travel more. I’m really looking forward to exploring my gender even further and exploring myself even further through my performance.
I’m hoping to bring my show “Guilty Pleasures” back. My drag show I co-produce with my friend Angelica Frankenstein, also a drag performer in Brooklyn. It’s a fun show. It’s a show about celebrating things that you were told you “couldn’t like.” I’m going to do a Mamma Mia! number soon because I’ve secretly loved Mamma Mia! my whole life. When I was an angsty teen, I was like, “I don’t like ABBA. I don’t like Mamma Mia!” But I was secretly like, “Yasss qween!” It’s a really fun show that we’re hoping to bring back and hoping to bring to a whole new level.
I’m hoping to do more visual art. I studied a little bit of visual art, like sculpture, in college. I’m looking forward to the future. I’m feeling very hopeful. I’m excited for whatever it is that comes next.
Follow Maxxx on Instagram: @mr.mpleasure. You can see Maxxx with Miss Toto and more at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on July 19. See Maxxx’s instagram for more info.
Maxxx Insta Link: https://www.instagram.com/mr.mpleasure/
About C.Tepper: C.Tepper is an active member of NYC nightlife, and has co-written the book “The State Of Drag” where she interviewed 175 drag performers with diverse backgrounds from around the world, while noting the history and future of drag culture. “The State Of Drag” is now available on Amazon.com.
State Of Drag link: https://www.amazon.com/State-Drag-C-Tepper-ebook/dp/B07BCG6QGF
(Originally this article was posted with an additional question of a serious nature that, after further consideration, we have decided to remove from the article due to it not fitting with the tone of our site. Maxxx has shared the original content on their Instagram page.)