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My Hell’s Kitchen story …
I moved to New York when I was 17 [he’s now 30], two weeks after high school. I look back now and think: “That was insane! Who thought it was a good idea to throw my ass into New York two weeks after high school?” But I did it, and enrolled in the American Music and Dramatic Academy on the Upper West Side. But I always wanted to live in Hell’s Kitchen. And once I became successful as a drag queen, I was working four or five nights a week in the neighborhood and it just made sense to move. I got a place on W49th St six years ago and I love it.
The drag thing was an accident …
That was not on the vision board! But I did a show on Broadway and played this androgynous character. My boyfriend at the time said: “You’re having so much fun with this, you should explore a drag character.”
It started out very punk – but within a year, I’d quit my day job and was working full time as a drag queen. I didn’t know how to be a stand-up comedian, I didn’t know how to put on my show, or promote my show, but over that first year I learned how to pull in an audience and how to interact with guests and negotiate pay. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. Which is kind of what I’m doing with politics.
“It was really wild. I tell poop jokes for a living, so this is very strange.”
Why politics, you ask?
Why not? Obviously I always voted, but I wasn’t really involved in politics. Then this last election happened and it was like the stages of grief: stunned, pissed, I grieved a little, asked a lot of questions, then I was just like: “Woah! Bitching and moaning isn’t doing anything. What can we do?”
I talked to my friend Corey [Johnson], who’s a city councilman, and he said I should join a Democratic Club. I researched and couldn’t really work out how to join this thing. Then he said: “Have you ever thought about starting one?”
I didn’t even know what a Democratic club was or the work they do. So I just put on my Facebook: “Let’s start a club.” I googled a how-to guide, contacted all my elected officials … The power of drag social media – let me tell you! You put it out there and they come.
Gradually Dick Gottfried, Linda Rosenthal, Brad Hoylman got involved, then eventually Jerry Nadler, our congressman. It was really wild. I tell poop jokes for a living, so this is very strange.
What even is a Democratic Club?
We work in the community and campaign to get candidates elected – which we just did. What we’re really trying to do is make it a community home. This neighborhood has so many people who have been here for generations, and now you have all these new people like me. Our goal is to bring them together so they’re all taken care of.
I’ve lived in many neighborhoods in NY but this is the one where I feel I can walk down the street and I know the coffee shop will know my order.
My friend Zach owns Schmackary’s and I remember we would watch Real Housewives together and he would make me cookies and say: “I think I want to open this bakery …”
I can sit on the bench outside Kahve and I don’t ever have to get on my phone and make a lunch plan because I’ll see so many people I know.
That’s what I love about Hell’s Kitchen. I want that to be the experience of our members – that they have a base to go to, that they have a community. Because our world is chaotic, New York is very large, and people want that human connection, especially in today’s political climate.
My neighborhood secret …
I have a key to the garden on 48th St. I love that garden – it’s so sweet.
I know what you’re going to ask next …
Will I stand for office? I just launched a TV show, I’m president of this club, I’m doing about a billion shows a week, and I just got married, so my life is a little chaotic right now. But it’s a discussion I’m open to for maybe two or four years down the line. If I’m to run, I have to find the office where I’m best able to serve the people who vote. And that’s something I’m heavily researching right now. But it’s on my mind.
Drag queen Marti Gould Cummings founded the HK Dems club a year ago and, in September, helped candidates Tom Shanahan and Marisa Redanty become District Leaders of Hell’s Kitchen. The result ended a 120-year reign of the McManus Midtown Democratic Club. Marti recently got married, and performs six shows a night in NYC (“it’s my Bette Midler schedule”).
Kahve, 9th Ave – 51st/52nd St
Schmackary’s, W45th St – 8th/9th Ave
Poulette, 9th Ave – 52nd/53rd St
El Centro, 9th Ave – 54th St
B Side, W51st St – 8th/9th Ave
Couture du Jour, W44th St – 8th/9th Ave