The WERRRK.com Interview: Cissy Walken

Hi there Cissy and congratulations on being crowned the brand new Miss Stonewall! I’m excited to sit down and talk with you tonight. How are you doing this fine summer evening?

I am doing great! My sisters Aria Derci and Pussy Willow are over my apartment rehearsing numbers for our show next week!

No rest for the weary! Let’s jump right into Miss Stonewall first shall we? Its seems like you found the kryptonite for the other queens in the pageant….carbs! Can you tell us a little bit about your….ahem….home cooked talent number?

I created my pasta number during my day job at a cooking school for kids. We had been trying out this new recipe for Pasta For One and I had come to this wild idea that what if I turned this into a number? I loved Be Italian from the moment I saw Fergie do it in the movie and we honestly started playing around with it as a joke. But I started to feel the music and I knew I was onto something. And so I found a way to take the song from the soundtrack and make pasta from beginning to end.

But the question is, did you make enough for everybody?

Enough for the judges! *Laughs*

That’s the key! How special was it for you to be crowned Miss Stonewall during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots?

The single greatest honor of my life. This Pride was such a huge celebration and so winning felt even more intense than just having a high score. I feel like this title has given me a new sense of purpose in my career. Whenever I speak of my title I get to speak, at a minimum, about our history as queer folk and hopefully teach or remind someone about our journey. I’ve gotten to experience beautiful moments of charity with this title, as well. It feels amazing to be able to recognize our history and give back to the community our elders built for us.

How did it feel to be a part of the Stonewall float at World Pride this year as the newly crowned Miss Stonewall?

Well I basically cried the whole time! It was so beautifully overwhelming to burst into the heart of the parade and see people everywhere with rainbows flying all around. This year marks ten years since coming out and it was such a tender reminder of just how much support people can have for one another. And personally, it felt like the fears that I had had of finding acceptance as a gay kid were released from me. There’s more than enough love out there than to let one person’s opinion matter.

So this seems like a good time to hop in the Delorean and go back in time a bit, shall we? Where does your story begin?

I was born on a hot July morning in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I grew up in Hillsborough, New Jersey and left after high school. My parents split when I was twelve and that’s about the time I started doing theatre. I had been no good at sports and I found performing, and mostly singing, as an outlet to express and deal with emotions I had kept suppressed. I did have a really happy childhood and grew up close to my extended family. They taught me to be proud of my Italian heritage which, in a way, is how I learned to be proud of my gay heritage.

Would I be right in assuming your Italian heritage is where your cooking comes from?

Absolutely. I loved my Nonna’s old kitchen. We made so many meatballs and easter pies there. Rows and rows of jarred tomatoes were stored in a concrete cellar in the basement.

I’m pretty sure she was legally required to as a woman of Italian heritage.

Hey, that’s because my grandparents came up from nothing. They lived off the land. I only really understood the importance and appeal of my family’s recipes once I understood how they were made.

What was it like to come out in your family?

It honestly took me a while. My mom came first and it was emotional and quick. My dad took me a while because he was not so supportive of gay people and especially gay rights. Right at the time the conversation of gay marriage intensified. I eventually came out to my dad the morning of the Pulse shooting. I couldn’t stomach going out to the bars and my dad having to come claim my body there while we never had the conversation. The rest of them all love it, but they knew if they hated it, I wouldn’t fight to keep them in my life. Luckily, everyone loves me and I love them too. I’m very lucky actually.

Congratulations, that is wonderful. Hopefully your father’s opinions have evolved since then.

Yeah they have. I think he saw others around him dealing with similar things and has accepted that the world is in constant motion.

What was your first exposure to drag when you were growing up?

Well when I was three my grandma made me this Shania Twain red costume and I sung and danced the entire Come On Over album for my dad’s family. So I’m guessing that’s when they knew.

They might have had a hunch dear. As you got older though, when did you begin to consider pursuing drag for real?

I felt like the dream was always lingering in my head. I had the dream of being the pretty lady in the big dress centerstage. It only came to me as an idea for my performing career when I started going to the bars and seeing shows. That wasn’t until I was 21 and living on my own because I was a good boy and stayed in school. I then went on tour with a Theatreworks USA tour and played two girl characters and the kids would completely shatter my expectations of what they’d think of me. They were so open to the idea and it hardly bothered them. You’ve got to be carefully taught. I understood exactly how kids can be the future and so I said I’m gonna do drag for the children!

Where did Cissy come from?

I tried Cicely at first because of the homophony with Sicily. Then people started calling me Cissy which was easier to say, which triggered me and brought up being called a sissy or a girl. But that’s where I swallowed that shit and owned my life. It was the first lesson I learned in drag and so it’s fitting for my name.

The first time I started hearing about you was when you were doing your Amy Winehouse show at the Beechman. Where did that concept come from?

Well I really missed singing. I was only doing lipsyncs for a minute because I didn’t know how to bring my voice into bar drag. I noticed people loved when Amy music came on during/before/after shows, which so did I. Before drag I only sang Back To Black once: drunk at a Brother Jimmy’s on my 21st Birthday. I started heavily rotating the album again; I was heavy into Lioness throughout college. I always thought those songs to be too hard and untouchable. Nevertheless, it started to line up for me that this works with my voice, I know her work and her life, for the most part, it was time to try her out. And that’s when, 6 months into drag, that I first watched the documentary on her life. That’s when the context of her music became clearer, yet murkier. Now she was an acting exercise. And so when I finally came to putting the first mix together there was so much history and information I was sorting with. But I guess people saw what I was seeing too.

I performed Amy for a few months before meeting Chip of Spin Cycle NYC who offered me the space to create the show. I wrote Back To Life in six weeks by myself with the incredible guidance of Lennie Watts.

She was so incredibly talented but obviously tragic at the same time. Do you feel any connection to her as a performer?

Totally. We’re kids of divorce. Dads went elsewhere. We found a connection to our pain through song. Our young loves were powerful, if never fully reciprocated.

Now it seems like your new show you’re working on is really a polar opposite. What can you tell us about that?

Oh man is it. I’m in the heat of writing my newest drag cabaret, The Simsinz. Me and a cast of my dear drag friends are taking America’s favorite animated family and exploring them with gay themes. Top 40, Broadway, witty humor. And a whole lot of yellow makeup.

There’s already a lot of gay themes going on on that show to start with. What made you decide to tackle this idea?

Well first of all know where they already exist lead me that way to begin with. But also I’ve watched the show all my life. These characters are so well known and because they’re animated they don’t get to be reinterpreted in impersonations. It’s also time to go big with my next steps. I spent Back To Life in fear of my execution and writing. So much fear that the show was and stayed small. I want to paint broader strokes with my brush.

Considering the sheer number of drag artists working in New York City now, one of my favorite things to see is when queens branch out into new, untapped venues to ply their craft. Case in point, Cissy Walken’s Pasta Party. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Cissy’s Pasta Party is an event I created within Freshmade NYC where I work during the day. My manager is so supportive of my drag and she wanted me to try something in drag at our studio. She especially loves that my pasta number is based on our class recipe. The class is a cocktail hour, cooking class and drag show in one. We have a gay ole time and make fresh delicious pasta. I firmly believe in drag that goes into new spaces and my class does just that. I’m really proud of its success and can’t wait to bring it into people’s homes for private events.

How can people take part in it?

Keep following me on social media @misscissywalken for info on upcoming classes in the fall. We’ll be doing more public classes soon! And while the website is being built, you can always DM or email me with request for private parties!

Well not to be *ahem* shocking but we have reached……THE LIGHTNING ROUND! Are you ready??

Sure!

Must have makeup item? 

Coty airspun powder.

4 AM post show craving?

Hot chips or stuffed Twizzlers.

The best part of drag?

Looking like your mom?

The worst part of drag?

The physical discomfort.

Most surprising thing about you that people might not know?

I love cars. I know a lot more than people think.

Queen you would pay the most to see?

Divine.

Guilty Pleasure?

True crime podcasts.

Last movie to make you cry?

Knock Down The House

Death Row last meal?

Mom’s red sauce with spaghetti.

Netflix binge recommendation?

Inside the American Mob

Disney character you relate to the most?

Timon.

Final question, most embarrassing song on your phone?

My ringtone is Nicki Minaj’s laugh from Anaconda.

You were cruising along until that final answer…..but in spite of that, I think you’re still going to survive…..THE LIGHTNING ROUND.

Oh my!

So looking ahead to future, what kind of goals do you have for yourself? What’s left on your drag bucket list?

I really would like to see the Miss Cissy show happen somewhere. Both a weekly and a recurring cabaret. I wanna talk about me next.

Well my dear, we have just about reached the end of our time here but I am so looking forward to following your career in the coming years, and maybe having some of your pasta as well. In the meantime, do you have any final words of wisdom for the WERRRK .com universe?

Spread love, share space and move forward. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with being a Cissy!

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About Chiffon Dior 623 Articles
Despite being a drag journalist for over five years, Chiffon only recently realized that she missed a golden opportunity back then to change her drag name to Rhoda Story.

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