Spencer Brown:I thought I’d let you know that I’m living the high life through July 18th with the Kinsey Sicks. We’re playing the Rrazz Room at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco…and Shayna Steele is doing a show after ours on the 16th & 17th. I’m planning on seeing her show. It’s like 6 Degrees of Bette Midler! The Bay Area Reporter
The Sicks sense
‘Kinsey Sicks’ Ben Schatz sees humor everywhere
by Robert Sokol
Need a recipe for musical delight? Take four lawyers or activists, add high hair and high heels, sprinkle with Bette Midler, and strain all instruments. Leave the rest to the Kinsey Sicks, currently at the Rrazz Room for an extended run, who are guaranteed to shake things up.
The group was, in fact, founded out of the experience of being the only drag queens at a Bette Midler concert. “Well, the only drag queens other than Bette,” remembers Ben Schatz, co-founding leader of the pack along with Irwin Keller.
Possessed of a dry, quick wit not unlike Bruce Vilanch, Schatz quickly scopes out the parameters of the interview. “Is this going to be an article where you only pull selected quotes, or are you just going to transcribe everything? In other words, do I only have to be occasionally interesting or perpetually interesting?” he asks. “Oh, thank God,” he sighs when assured of the former.
Back at Bette, he remembers that “it was New Year’s Eve, San Francisco, Bette â€“ we figured, why not? We were very considerate drag queens. Even before we formally existed, we had a social conscience and removed our wigs when the lights went down, so as to not completely block the view of the people behind us. It was, however, the last socially conscious thing we’ve done!”
He jests, of course. In fact, Schatz sees the Sicks as keeping a link to their activist roots. “The group is a reflection of who we are as people. Is the purpose of the group to be activist? No. Are those of us who write the lyrics activists at our core? Yes. So sometimes we have a special message, and sometimes it’s just raunchy or silly. The key to the Kinsey Sicks is that we have something to displease almost everybody. Have you had the misfortune of seeing us?”
Lots of people across the land have indeed seen and heard “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet!” They’ve recorded several CDs, the most recent being the basis of their current show, and have toured 40 out of 50 states in the Union. They appeared off-Broadway in Dragapella! â€“ a copyrighted term, Schatz advises â€“ and in an extended run at the Las VegasHilton. On screen, they made their debut in Kinsey Sicks: I Wanna Be a Republican (2006), and were the subject of the documentary Kinsey Sicks: Almost Famous (2008).
The original 1993 group included Schatz (Rachel), Keller (Winnie), Abatto Aviles (Begona), Maurice Kelly (Trixie), and Jerry Friedman (Vaselina). A year in, Aviles died of AIDS, and his character was not replaced. In 1999, Vaselina gave way to Trampolina when Friedman retired, and Chris Dilley expanded on the character. Currently, Jeff Manabat and Spencer Brown fill the respective heels of Trixie and Trampolina.
The characters are the core of the group, and each is pretty well-defined, though Schatz advises, “The word pretty cannot be used when applied to Rachel in any context. Rachel is very defined, but she sure as hell ain’t pretty!”
“Rachel is a kind of exorcism. She’s the combination of everything I don’t want to be in my life and everything I most want to be. Her essential purpose is to give Ben a fighting chance to be socially appropriate. Before I had Rachel, I would just go places that people who pretended to be respectable simply should not. I was never the buttoned-down, respectable, homosexual lawyer type, though I ‘played it on TV.’ There was always a very, very, very, very bad girl in me that I was fighting to keep from jumping out at any moment. Now she has her place to jump out.”
Before he adopted juris prudence, Schatz did have some youthful theatrical yearnings. “I did tons of theater,” he says, “but I felt that I was not talented enough to make it. It was only later that I discovered that talent was not necessary to be successful as a performer, which was a great relief.”
Still, he deferred to the calling of AIDS activism in the 1980s and early 90s. Now, he says, “The Kinseys give me the opportunity to combine my love of theatre, of making people laugh, and of making music with the chance to shake up the status quo. I’ve always loved to push the envelope, and the Kinseys are a much more effective means of doing that than being a talking head.”
With their 20th anniversary just a few years off, Schatz looks ahead, but cautiously. “This is our Sweet Sixteen year, and we never thought it would last this long. I still pinch myself.” All he asks now is that everyone “say the name of the current show three times out loud to their boss or loved one!”
The Kinsey Sicks in Each Hit & I at the Rrazz Room. July 6-18. Times vary. Tickets ($35-$40): (866) 468-3399 or www.therrazzroom.com