An interview with the Kinsey Sicks

Kinsey Sicks
Spanning three decades, Kinsey Sicks are the world’s longest running out-gay performance troupe.

The Kinsey Sicks

CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids (via Legion Arts) – August 18 at 7:00 p.m.

The Kinsey Sicks have been delighting fans with their poignant brand of political satire since rising out of San Francisco’s Castro District in the early ’90s. Billing themselves as a Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, the group formed on a lark after a few friends showed up to a Bette Midler concert in drag and quickly found themselves the odd men out.

Assuming they’d be among many drag queens, they found themselves to be the only ones (other than Bette, of course). They were approached that night to perform at an upcoming event. Their reply — “we don’t sing” — was quickly disproved when they realized that all of them had musical backgrounds. They began singing and harmonizing that night, and the seed for the Kinsey Sicks was planted.

Since that day, the Kinsey Sicks have released eight albums alongside an extended run in Las Vegas and an Off-Broadway show at New York’s Studio 54, earning a reputation for their sharp blend of a capalla harmonization and biting social commentary.

The quartet brings their show — America’s Next Top Bachelor Housewife Celebrity Hoarder Makeover Star Gone Wild — to CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids this Sunday as part of a weekend-long 70th birthday celebration for Legion Arts co-director Mel Andringa.

Kinsey Sicks
Kinsey Sicks’ first public performance took place on a street corner in San Francisco’s Castro District in 1994.

Little Village: When did you start to realize that Kinsey Sicks might be something for which you could quit your day jobs? Was that always part of the plan, or did it sort of develop organically for your group?

Irwin Keller: It was organic and happened at different times for different members. None of us was starved for a career in the arts. But as the Kinsey Sicks became more known and reached more people, it became so meaningful and so joyous that it began to outshine our otherwise great day jobs. But no, at the beginning it was just a lark.

LV: You’ve been around for quite a while, and this makes me curious about public perception. Can you give any insight, as performers, into any of the broader trends you’ve noticed over the last 20 years with regard to the sort of issues one might expect a group such as yours to face? You’re a very politically oriented group, and I can’t imagine things are quite the same as they were when you got started in the early ’90s.

Jeff Manabat: If you look at some of our songs, you can see a trend towards more equality. For example, when “Chapel of Love”, one of our earliest parodies, was first performed in the ’90s, gay marriage was unthinkable in this country. However, over the years, as we performed in states that have made gay marriage legal, we’ve had to shelve the song. One day, hopefully soon, we’ll say goodbye to it forever.

Another parody, “Jingle Bells, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, was performed in our holiday musical “Oy Vey in a Manger” when the ban on gays serving in the military was still in effect. Once the ban was lifted, the song was excised from the plot of the show, but we were happy to sing it as an encore and presented it as a relic of a bygone era.

But some trends aren’t so positive. The parody “We Arm the World”, about our own government arming the world, and the song “I Wanna be a Republican”, about that political party’s increasingly right-wing extremist stances, were both written and first performed about ten years ago. Sadly, these issues have either stayed the same or are worsening.

LV: What has the experience been like over these last few years as you delve a bit into the world of music videos? They really are fantastic, and you seem to have a lot of fun doing them. Are you mostly taking the wheel with regard to scripting, scene structure and so on, or is it more of a partnership with with external production groups?

JM: Years ago, we were lucky to collaborate with the fabulous Maurice Molyneaux on one of our first music videos (“BP is Creepy”), and since then, he has been instrumental in working with us to translate our Dragapella brand of music and humor into video form.

These videos are a great way to experience The Kinsey Sicks, and we love sharing them with our old and new fans. However, as with most live shows, the Kinseys are best experienced live.

Kinsey Sicks
From left to right: Jeff Manabat (Trixie), Ben Schatz (Rachel), Spencer Brown (Trampolina) and Irwin Keller (Winnie)

LV: Apart from being the best show title I’ve read in years, is there anything in particular you want to tell people about America’s Next Top Bachelor Housewife Celebrity Hoarder Makeover Star Gone Wild? Is there anything you’d say to those still on the fence about attending?

JM: We are celebrating our 20th anniversary with this show! But I should also add that we were, in fact, contestants in Season 3 of “America’s Got Talent”. In our initial audition, we received two standing ovations from the audience and praise from Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan. We were also prominently featured in their TV and web promos. However, once show producers caught wind of our brand of politics, we were cut from the show, and our performance footage was left on the cutting room floor.

So, with “America’s Next Top…”, we bring our firsthand knowledge of the reality show experience to bear, poking fun at the genre’s blatant manipulation of contestants and audience alike – but, of course, all in effortless four-part harmony! This show boasts some of the group’s best music – wicked parodies and objectionable originals – plus brilliant new songs about the ethics of stardom.

LV: Is there anything in the future, near or far, that you’re looking forward to in particular? In Is there anything you want to mention to longtime fans of Kinsey Sicks?

Trixie (Jeff Manabat in-character): I’m looking forward to all the gay marriages across this great country, especially the ones with no pre-nup, me, and the inevitable gay divorces. And to our longtime fans, I would just like to say thank you for your loyalty and incredibly bad taste.

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