Jinkx Monsoon Is Filled With Rage — and a Lot of Hope

It’s been nearly two years since Jinkx Monsoon began her incredible run on the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars all winners season. And, since we last spoke, Jinkx has been making the most of her title as Queen of All Queens. In addition to a sketch show, a podcast, a comedy special, new music, and her very own perfume line, Jinkx was cast on the latest iteration of Doctor Who, made her Broadway debut last year in Chicago, and has now taken over the role of Audrey in an acclaimed off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors.

It’s this last achievement that feels most noteworthy. It’s rare to see a transfeminine performer cast as a romantic lead and even rarer when that performer is known for drag. But watching Jinkx as Audrey doesn’t feel radical — it just makes sense. Jinkx and Audrey are a perfect pairing of actor and role.

I talked to Jinkx about Little Shop, learning to trust her instincts, and finding the balance between optimism and white hot rage.


Drew: I heard you had a really fun night last night at MCC’s Miscast Gala.

Jinkx: I did. But I’ll be completely candid because I always am. I don’t experience stage fright or nerves pre-show these days. Pretty much since Chicago. Making my Broadway debut was the most nerve-inducing, stage fright-inducing thing I’ve experienced in my adult life. And after that everything else has felt easy.

But last night was one of those events where everyone told me I was going to have so much fun and there were going to be a lot of really cool people there and I was like, yeah yeah yeah. My brain was just so busy with Little Shop that I wasn’t really thinking about this event. And then it’s happening and I’m in this room with like everyone from Broadway, right? Cabaret is one of my favorite shows. Bebe Neuwirth is one of my favorite people and she’s playing my favorite role in that show. And I’m sitting next to the director of Cabaret and the costume designer, my friend Tom, and it’s hitting me that like everyone from the New York theatre scene is in this room right now.

Then I’m in the green room and I’m looking around at all the other performers thinking, oh my God, why— how— why— how am I here? My number was toward the end so I’d watched one powerhouse performance after another thinking, what the fuck am I doing here? Then I started my segment — honestly I was shaking — and I cracked a joke and once I heard the audience laugh, I was like, ohhhh I know what I’m doing.

I realized in that moment comedy isn’t just what comes natural to me — it’s what I prefer. I love being an effective performer and I do have some sad scenes in Little Shop. I want to be earnest and genuine when it’s necessary. But I believe in comedy. I believe in the time I’ve spent learning how to do comedy as a craft. And last night solidified something for me. The laughter is part of what I need to feel like I’m right where I need to be. (laughs)

Drew: And it puts the audience at ease! A good joke makes them feel like the performer is in control.

Jinkx: Yeah. I’ve just been thinking about this. Sorry to completely hijack the top of the interview.

Drew: No, I love it.

Jinkx: Candidly, again, I was approached with a project that’s very dramatic. I’m considering it but this is making me pontificate on why comedy is so important to me. I don’t know. Just being able to lighten the mood. All these amazing, emotional performances were happening and our emotions and energy were bubbling. Then I got to tell some jokes before my very comedic performance and it felt like I brought a special flavor to the stew. (laughs)

Drew: What did you sing?

Jinkx: I sang “One Day More” from Les Misérables. All of the principal roles.

Drew: Incredible.

Jinkx: So I flipped back and forth from my lowest register to my mid register to my falsetto back down to my low back to my falsetto. And in place of waving the French flag at the end I waved the progressive pride flag and the audience went freaking nuts which is all I could hope for.

Drew: Well, in a sense, it was like you auditioned for the entire New York theatre world.

Jinkx: Listen, honey, I tried to put that out of my mind before the performance but that was a big part of why I was so nervous. And I’ve got to tell you, as a performer, when you nail a performance that is giving you anxiety, it’s better than ten orgasms.

Drew: (laughs)

Jinkx: It’s like an orgasm that doesn’t go away. (laughs)

Jinkx Monsoon in Little Shop of Horrors as Audrey in a tight black dress looks over her shoulder in Mushnik's flower shop.

Jinkx Monsoon in Little Shop of Horrors, photo by Evan Zimmerman

Drew: Let’s actually keep talking about comedy and drama because Little Shop is one of my favorite musicals ever, but I do think it’s a tricky one. It’s a real balance of tones. Did it come naturally when to lean into camp and when to ground a moment? Or was finding that balance part of the preparation?

Jinkx: That’s the lovely thing about working with a production versus working on my own, right? I create a lot of my own work and I have to just trust my instincts. But, when I work with BenDeLaCreme, she’s often directing, and I love working with a director because when you have an idea it’s great to be able to challenge it, and make sure it’s the best idea.

With Little Shop, first of all there’s Michael Mayer who is the director of the production and set the tone for the piece, and then Austin Regan, the associate director, directed me in my rehearsals. He really challenged me on some of my joke placements. We talked about when to be sincere, when to lean into the joke, and also when I could do both — when I could get a laugh and then flip it. And I love that because being funny comes naturally to me, but I love to be funny with a purpose. I think everything is better with a purpose.

My theatre mentor Kiera McDonald, who was my favorite teacher in college, she and I wrote a show together and she said, “The recipe for a good show is for every fifty minutes of comedy, ten minutes of tragedy.” And I use that rule in my work pretty much across the board. It’s served me well. I don’t think I’m unable to perform the pathos and the sincerity, but I find I’m most effective playing those moments after I’ve really buttered you up with some comedy. (laughs)

Drew: (laughs) Yeah. I was going to ask when you step into a role like this or Chicago and the production has been ongoing, how much are you able to bring that’s you versus how much is already set?

Jinkx: We talked a lot about that with this production. With Chicago, Mama Morton kind of stands alone. She has her scenes with Velma and that’s pretty much it. I have one scene with Roxie and I kind of interact with Billy Flynn. But I feel like she exists in her own little compartment of the show. Audrey is so infused that I really had to be specific about marrying what I wanted to bring to the character, what was already established in this production, and then drawing on what people want to see. I have learned in my work that you have to acknowledge what the audience wants even if you’re only going to give it to them a little bit. I’m a drag queen playing Audrey, so I got to look fabulous, I got to be charming, I got to be a little funny.

But I love that we don’t do any drag references. We never make any kind of comment about the character being a drag queen. We haven’t changed the show at all. I’m just playing Audrey. But I’m playing Audrey like only someone with my life experiences could.

Drew: A lot of trans people — myself included — have long read Audrey as trans. To the point where there was an announcement that Scarlet Johansson was going to be in a new movie adaptation and I was like, ugh this bitch is always taking trans roles.

Jinkx: (laughs)

Drew: And then I was like oh wait no that’s actually not canon.

Jinkx: See I didn’t know that! I’ve just always said there are cis women in entertainment who have been doing drag. Ellen Greene’s performance of Audrey is a drag character. She’s in a wig, she’s in full costume and makeup, she’s created a full persona. That to me is drag and so I’ve always seen Audrey as a drag persona whether a cis woman is playing her or not. It’s a big part of her character and informed my performance. Her femininity is a coat of armor, it’s how she’s survived in her scary life. She’s kind of regressed to a Barbie doll as a way of protecting herself in this harsh environment. I describe her as a lily growing in a trash heap. (laughs)

Drew: I know you’ve talked about wanting to see more non-traditional casting and I think this is an interesting example. People sometimes interpret that to mean anyone can play any role and we shouldn’t think about their identities. And, sure, sometimes that’s cool. But what I think is even better is a situation like Audrey where everything you’re saying is so true and this has been fundamental to this character and so it makes so much sense for you to play this role. Non-traditional doesn’t have to mean random — ideally it fits really well. Charity from Sweet Charity is another one where I want to see a trans woman in that role so badly.

Jinkx: It would make so much sense! And here’s the thing: Casual to extreme racism in theatre has been explained away or justified by “well historical context, this show is set in this time period so it wouldn’t make sense” but that’s often not true. We have all these examples in history of people of color being prominent people in society. We just haven’t had as much media around it. And we have all these examples of trans people existing in our culture at large throughout time, right? Lately, more people have been learning about the trans clinics in the 1930s in Germany and I’ve been talking about that to anyone who will listen for years. Trans people aren’t new.

I’ve been saying in interviews, I’m not intending to play Audrey as a trans woman — I’m just trying to play Audrey. However, if you see my Audrey as a trans woman in this scenario that’s totally plausible!

Drew: Yeah!

Jinkx: And a trans woman in the 1960s would likely be living on skid row where she’s an outcast of society. So I use my life experiences and that knowledge to inform this character, but at the end of the day I’m not thinking about Audrey’s genitals. I’m thinking about who the character is and how she fits into this story. That’s what I’m playing. I’m bringing my life experiences but I’m playing Audrey the character.

Jinkx Monsoon as Audrey rests her head in her hand next to Corbin Bleu as Seymour.

Jinkx Monsoon and Corbin Bleu in Little Shop of Horrors, photo by Evan Zimmerman

Drew: Is Audrey a character that you’ve been drawn to in the past? What’s your history with Little Shop?

Jinkx: Oh yeah. I saw Beaches as such a young child, but that’s not a musical, so I’d say the Little Shop movie was probably the first musical I saw. It was one movie that everyone in my family liked. My mom hates musicals, a lot of my family hates musicals, but they all liked Little Shop. So I’ve known all the music for so long and then as a teenager when I became more invested in theatre and wanting to be an actor, I started learning about the stage show. I learned how different it was from the film and the history of it and that Ellen Greene has owned this character from its inception.

That’s another thing, like I was saying, you have to give a nod to that. For me, when a character like Audrey has been so officially stamped, you have to acknowledge it in some way. That doesn’t mean recreating her performance, but creating a performance that stands up to hers. Audrey doesn’t have to have the Ellen Greene voice, but she has to have a distinct voice, you know what I mean? I love that when I asked what dialect I should have, Austin just said I had to sound like I’m from New York. You do you, but she has to sound like she’s from New York. Tammy Blanchard was from Jersey so she did a Jersey accent and that was really fun. For me, I found Audrey’s voice through rehearsal and by the time we were performing the show for audiences I had my little way of getting into her voice. I’d go, “My father was the Cowardly Lion and my mother was Betty Boop.” (laughs)

Drew: (laughs) Incredible. You had a longer rehearsal process for this than Chicago right?

Jinkx: Yeah thank Goddesses. I had eight days total for Chicago.

Drew: (laughs) That’s so crazy.

Jinkx: Nine days were scheduled, but I got food poisoning for one of them.

Drew: Oh my God!

Jinkx: It was nuts. And I felt really underprepared. It went great so I knew it could be done, but luckily I had about a month of rehearsal for Little Shop. I have to say though, James Carpinello — who is playing Oren the dentist and a myriad of other roles included when you play the dentist — he had the same amount of rehearsal time. I had to learn one role while he had to learn like five and all these different songs and he is just fantastic in his roles. He’s really, really entertaining and is a dream to work with. I just want to give props there, because yes I learned Audrey in a month and I could’ve taken two months. I always say the time you give me is the time I’ll take.

Drew: Of course. Always.

Jinkx: But James did all that and more in the same amount of time. And then Corbin came in for the final week of our month of rehearsal because he had already played the role. So here I was working with understudies for a couple weeks developing my Audrey wondering how it was going to fit with Corbin Bleu’s Seymour and on day one we clicked so well together. I cannot sing Corbin’s praises highly enough. He has been an absolute dream to work with on-stage, off-stage, he’s a lovely, passionate, wonderful human being. I’m head over heels for Corbin as a colleague. And I had dinner with him and his wife and it turns out we’re all video game and anime nerds. (laughs)

Drew: (laughs) And that’s how you bond with your cast.

Jinkx: Yeah yeah.

Corbin Bleu and Jinkx Monsoon in Little Shop of Horrors, photo by Evan Zimmerman

Drew: Okay so I know this is personal and probably a little bit corny.

Jinkx: Oh hit me.

Drew: I did just want to congratulate you on starting your medical transition.

Jinkx: Thank you.

Drew: I guess what I’m wondering is if it’s weird doing that while more famous than you’ve ever been. Or maybe it feels connected? Like you had to reach this place to step into yourself in that way?

Jinkx: It’s not as simple of an answer as that. I’m kind of just accepting that everything is happening at a wonderful time for it to be happening. I was very anxious about all of this happening at the same time. There’s a lot of things changing in my life and in flux and in metamorphosis right now personally and with my career. But it’s all working out in a way that makes sense and I’m in a really content place.

Drew: That’s great.

Jinkx: I guess I have to say re: transitioning publicly, I’ve lived my life very open. I’ve been openly, visibly me for a long time. Part of the reason I didn’t really have a coming out for my medical transition is because I’ve been me for so long. This just feels like another step in the same direction.

Drew: Totally.

Jinkx: I didn’t want to be like, “Hey everyone guess what!” and have them be like, “We know bitch.” (laughs)

Drew: (laughs) Yeah for sure.

Jinkx: I’ve been saying this a lot but it’s a really special thing to go on stage every night after taking my estrogen and sing “learn how to be more the girl that’s inside me.” It’s this wonderful moment of coalescence and serendipity and timing. I never imagined I’d be transitioning while playing Audrey in Little Shop, I never imagined— I didn’t even know any of that was possible for me. Now it’s all happening at the same time. And instead of feeling overwhelming, it feels really affirming and wonderful, because I’m just as much an actor as I am a transfeminine person. Actor feels like part of my gender identity. (laughs)

Drew: (laughs) Yeah I hear that. Yes.

I was lucky enough to interview and write a profile of Peaches Christ recently.

Jinkx: My mom!

Drew: Yes! And we talked a lot about fame and gay fame and obviously you won Drag Race in 2013 so you’ve been famous for awhile but it does feel different now. I mean, you were on Broadway. Your fame has increased. And I’m wondering if you love that or if you more see it as a means to an end? Like fame helps you get to be Audrey in Little Shop.

Jinkx: The latter. Here’s what I’ll say about fame. When I had my first taste, I got addicted to the fame of it all and that threw me off of my original path. Cutting out alcohol helped me remember my original path and creating The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special helped me remember my original path. Now I feel like I’m back to who I was pre-season five. It took a decade of life experience to kind of get back to exactly who I was before this all started.

The way I was describing it to my therapist is I feel like I’m who I was in college again. I’m realizing why I wanted to do this before fame seemed possible. I started drag and I started being an actor fully aware that being famous at either of those things was a long shot. And now I’ve got the fame and I’m so glad I learned my life lessons before All Stars, and before this opened up for me. Because now I’m really addicted to the work. And yes, fame helps more work come my way and the work that I’ve always wanted to do has started coming my way and I want to keep doing it.

One other thing I will say about the fame is I love being an advocate for my community. My community is why I am where I am today. The queer community is why I am any of this. I grew up with a strong queer community in Portland and I feel at service to my community. And if my fame helps me be effective at that service then cool.

Without alcohol I am ten times more introverted than I used to be. So going out and being at social functions requires more of me than it used to but again I fucking love my life so everything is alright. (laughs)

Drew: I think even watching you in Little Shop, you’re so Audrey, but also so Jinkx. You still have your magic idiosyncrasies and it’s cool to see you hold onto that as your star rises.

Jinkx: I went into All Stars determined to do everything the way I knew I was going to do it best. I didn’t want to worry about how anyone else would have done it, I just wanted to do everything the way I do things. And then people really resonated with that. Something I lost sight of after season five — and this is what I mean about becoming addicted to the fame — I became so worried about what was popular. I became so worried about what “the kids” as me and Michelle Visage refer to everyone— (laughs)

Drew: (laughs)

Jinkx: I was so worried about what people wanted that I started shifting myself. After All Stars I realized if I do me genuinely and authentically and people respond to that then that’s what I need to keep doing. So I’ve really learned to trust my instincts and not do things because this it’s the popular thing but do things because it’s what I believe in and how I feel.

Jinkx Monsoon as Audrey in Little Shop leans against a wall in a tight black dress.

Jinkx Monsoon in Little Shop of Horrors, photo by Evan Zimmerman

Drew: The last time we talked you mentioned that originating a role on Broadway is a dream of yours.

Jinkx: Yeah.

Drew: At this point, that feels extremely possible in the near future, and what’s cool is I feel like when that moment happens, whatever show that is, whatever part that is, it’s going to be so you and so exciting and queer.

I know there are whispers of Cole Escola’s Oh, Mary! going to Broadway and it’s like, right! When artists are just themselves and doing something that’s so specific even Broadway — still recovering from Covid where everyone is being quite conservative — if you just really follow your artistic voice some truly great work can slip through. I guess I can be quite optimistic.

Jinkx: I am right there with you. And you mentioning Oh, Mary! is such a perfect example of that. Listen, I’ve followed Cole’s career from the beginning. Like the beginning. I have been such a long time fan of Cole Escola and I have watched their star rise and I’ve had the fortune of being their friend. I mean, barely. We’ve been ships in the night so many times and we’ve had each other’s phone numbers for so many years and just haven’t had enough reasons to talk. Then I went and saw them in Oh, Mary! and of all the wonderful things they’ve done in their career I was just so profoundly proud of this person I know so well but also don’t know that well. I just love them so much and I see them doing everything we’re talking about.

It inspires me and it gives me hope that this is what people are responding to! People being authentic and genuine and themselves. Not just in terms of queerness, across a lot of different experiences, but of course I’m invested in the queer aspect of things and I do have a lot of hope. I get very, very frustrated with our world and I get very down at times, of course, and the world is so messed up in so many ways. But I see so many glimmers of hope that I actually feel quite optimistic even though I’m also terrified and filled with white hot rage at all times.

Drew: I think that’s the perfect combination. Because of course there is so much grief and anger to feel looking at our world, witnessing genocide.

Jinkx: Yes.

But then I see young people and I see our community really working toward a better future. I see a possibility of a better future and I believe in that. I’m not letting go of that. We can’t let go of that.


Jinkx Monsoon can be seen in Little Shop of Horrors through the end of May.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 539 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. I’m glad I got Jinkx on the quiz and was linked here, I missed reading this the first time around. This is a really cool interview.

    Also since I’m from the future, I know that Oh, Mary! is indeed going to Broadway, and I just saw Cole Escola on Seth Meyers because I’m square and that’s how I find out about queer folks. 🤦🏻‍♀️

    Most of the time I’m happy I’m not in New York, but sometimes it does feel like I’m missing out.

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