By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
Raven O is a long-running singer/raconteur with a backstory right out of a gay film noir and a mouth that'll tell you all about it in between belting the shit out of the American Songbook.
Since his Raven O: One Night With You show is headed to the Bleecker Street Theater on February 23 and March 2, I took the opportunity to ring the flamboyantly funny entertainer for a catch-up chat about crooning, Cowell, and crack. Here's what quoth the Raven:
Me: Hi, dear! Tell me about your one-Raven show.
Raven: It's basically me and one musician doing a hodgepodge of songs from Johnny Cash to Cole Porter to the Carpenters. I tell stories from my life, like when I was a drug addict and a prostitute and homeless on the streets of New York.
Me: Ooh. This is different from what plays at the Carlyle. Tell me more about your wasted years.
Raven: My main drug of choice was crack cocaine. My ex was a heroin addict, and I was a crack addict. It worked well because he was always nodding out and I was always busy-busy-busy. It's less complicated when one is passed out and the other is buzzing around the apartment like a crazy bird!
Me: More, more!
Raven: Once, we did a two-day crack binge, and I forgot I was supposed to fly to Hong Kong and host a ceremony raising money for cancer with [fellow singer] Joey Arias. I got a call from Joey in the limousine: "I'm on the way to the airport." I was like, "What?" I was freaking out. My ex said, "Do a little heroin. It'll bring you down." I said, "Heroin? What do you think I am, an addict?" So I did it, and started throwing things into a military duffel bag while walking to the limo. Joey told me later he was looking at me, going, "Oh, my God!"
Me: It's amazing how far you'll go to fight cancer! Has performing always been therapeutic for you?
Raven: Yes, it's the only time I feel completely comfortable. I think I'm more in control onstage than in my real life because everyone's focused on me. If only it were like that offstage! [Laughs.]
Me: Still, really crazy things have happened to you onstage, right?
Raven: Oh, yes! Once, I did a show with [a drag queen], and we had done Ecstasy. In the middle of the show, this guy was heckling really obnoxiously, so I picked up a full champagne bottle and threw it at his table. It bounced off the table and hit him in the face! By the end of the song, nobody was there—everyone left, they were so scared.
Me: And that was on Ecstasy! Anyway, you more calmly emceed and performed at Simon Cowell's gala 50th-birthday party in England late last year. Thumbs up?
Raven: Simon paid for it. He refused to have any of his friends pay for his birthday. Westlife, the boy band, was really nasty. On the bus, they looked at me and started snickering. So after they performed, I said, "Let's give it up for Westlife. I love Europe because they're so nice to gay acts like that!" There's always that rumor that they're gay. So I, of course, called them a bunch of fags.
Me: Well, one of them did come out. What else happened that night?
Raven: I pulled Ryan Seacrest up onstage, and the girls whipped him. He was a good sport. He's so short! And I said to Gordon Ramsay, "You're a great chef, but can you eat pussy?" Later, he said to me, "You're an asshole." He was joking. He's really nice.
Me: Charming, I'm sure. In a whole other circus, you spent three years in Zumanity in the heart of the buffet-laden Las Vegas. Discuss.
Raven: You have these fantasies of Las Vegas, but when I got there, it was all extra-white people, nobody under 300 pounds, and all smoking and pink and drinking. It destroyed my vision of Las Vegas.
Me: It confirmed mine!
There She Is . . .
My vision of a closer-to-home casino resort was cemented last week when Atlantic City brought back a splashy tradition, the wild and wacky Miss'd America drag pageant, and even asked me to judge the tucked and waxed lovelies. The AIDS benefit event—Carrie Prejean's worst nightmare—kicked off with writer/director Bobby "Sandy Beach" Hitchen, telling the crowd, "Miss America may have left Atlantic City, but Miss'd America stayed here. The real queens are taking over Boardwalk Hall!"
And that they did, with Wonder Woman swimsuits, fluffy purple gowns bought on eBay, and a hint of razor stubble en route to belting showtunes and fielding urgent questions about gay divorce and ladies' accessories. The top prize boiled down to a choice between Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock—I mean Vanessa Sterling and Michelle Dupree, sensational gals who both scored major pointage in the talent decathlon part of the evening without throwing champagne bottles. Sterling lip-synched a raunchy version of "Get Here" and seemed totally crown-bound until Dupree flawlessly vamped and scamped around the runway while mouthing a manic Ella Fitzgerald scat song—"and she stayed clean," as host Carson Kressley told us. Dupree nabbed the title and turned out to be an oncology nurse with an adopted son. ("But I'm not like Sarah Palin, who brings the baby out way past its bedtime," she announced at the press conference afterward.) Meanwhile, Sterling probably could have used a nurse: "I was so nervous I vomited a lot," she admitted. "You'd think I'd be thinner!"
It was all super-fun and buzzy until I picked up the Philadelphia Inquirer and read their take on why the lavender market is being targeted in that oft-resistant neck of the woods: "With gambling dollars in epic decline, marketing to the gay community has become a priority in a town with a historically vibrant gay culture." What—so we're basically back-of-the-bus? A last resort for the last resort? How dare you fuckers! All right, I'll take it.
In New York, drag star Dame Edna and piano man Michael Feinstein stepped to the forefront and held a press meet-and-greet for their upcoming two-diva show, All About Me. Edna—a vision in pink and fuchsia—announced, "Michael and I are going to re-enact our conflicts on the stage of this unusually named theater. What's it called again?" "The Henry Miller Theater," said Feinstein. "Oh, yes," chirped Edna. "The man who wrote Tropic of Cancer. A pornographer! It's the only New York theater named after a smut peddler." I guess she's not aware of Ethel Barrymore's occasional side gigs.
I ran into gossip peddler Chelsea Handler at the East Side Social Club—well, actually, I heard she was having dinner there, so I booked the adjacent table, and fortunately, she wasn't that appalled. It turned out the TV host was having her second dinner that evening. She'd just shared bread with her ex-rabbi, whom she and her sister found through that great equalizer, Facebook. And only the night before, she'd added a "t" to "rabbi" by eating at the Breslin, the trendy boîte for upscale barbarians at the Ace Hotel. "Don't go," Chelsea warned me. "I don't want a shin for dinner!" Me neither. I'd rather heat up some tacos and buzz around the apartment like a crazy bird!