Drag legend Sherry Vine was ‘chased with bats’ when she started out 30 years ago
Drag legend Sherry Vine reflects on her incredible 30-year career, her new variety show, and how RuPaul’s Drag Race changed the game.
Sherry Vine is a drag queen’s drag queen. Before Drag Race was even a twinkle in RuPaul’s eye, the New York queen earned the title of drag legend with her raucous comedy, live singing and undeniable charisma.
Three decades into her career, she’s launching The Sherry Vine Variety Show. It combines drag staples including fabulous musical numbers, belly-busting comedy and stunning costumes with the classic variety show format made famous by Sonny and Cher and Carol Burnett, with appearances from fan favourites including Alaska Thunderfuck, Bob The Drag Queen, Monet X Change, Bianca Del Rio and Peppermint.
Ahead of the series’ debut, PinkNews caught up with Sherry Vine to discuss her incredible career, and what fans can expect from her new show.
Your drag career has spanned three decades, what has it been like for you to watch drag be propelled from queer venues to global appreciation.
It’s been quite drastic. I remember when I first moved to New York City and started doing Sherry Vine in 1991 – so exactly 30 years ago. Sometimes – I’m not even being dramatic – you took your life into your own hands walking through the East Village in drag. I’ve been chased by people with bats. I’ve had bottles thrown at me. You couldn’t get a taxi. And it [drag] was very marginalised and certainly predominantly for the queer community.
I remember when “Supermodel” [the 1992 song by RuPaul] came out and was such a huge hit – that literally changed things. I remember being able to walk from Avenue C to the Pyramid on Avenue A and being terrified. And then all of the sudden, I’m walking the same route and people are yelling: “Work supermodel, work”.
Certainly Drag Race now, in my opinion, has legitimised drag as an art form. It has always been in Europe and the UK certainly, but not here [in the US]. It definitely was marginalised, and you maybe had one person who performed in drag. Now, it’s been monetised. It’s become viable, and there are drag queens that have more Instagram followers than Julia Roberts.
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Drag went digital due to COVID-19 restrictions, but queer venues are just now starting to open up for the first time in ages. What’s the past year been like for you?
One thing that I think that I’m good at is I’m able to adapt and evolve quickly. I had my last show in Puerto Vallarta on 15 March and left early to get home so I wouldn’t be trapped in Mexico by COVID-19. And immediately, as soon as I was like, “This is not going to be a couple of weeks”, I ordered lights, a green screen, a backdrop and a microphone. I transformed the living room into a studio and started doing shows.
So it was weird, and then you just kind of made it fun. I’m in my living room barefoot, doing shows from the breasts up. I kind of ran out of steam once I was like things are going to start opening up. Then I had my first live audience show, and I missed the applause. I remember hearing applause for the first time being like “Oh my god”.
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Jackie Beat and I were in a bubble together, and we did a lot of online stuff together. But she was the only one. I [recently] did a solo show, and the next day I did drag brunch with like six other queers. It was so fun. They [the show organisers] were like: “We have your dressing room just for you”. And I said, “No, I want to be with the girls. I want to laugh and giggle with the girls.” It was really fun. I missed that.
What was your thought process behind combining drag and variety shows for The Sherry Vine Variety Show?
I grew up watching those shows. I’m of that age where I was young, but I was obsessed with Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, the Mandrell Sisters, Donny and Marie, Dolly Parton. I was obsessed with that format because you get to sing, perform different characters and physical comedy.
There was no doubt in my mind that’s what I wanted to do. So everything else that I’ve done has just been this path to get to do a variety show where I showcase all of these different elements. And I’ve been involved in every single thing with this show – pre-production, casting, shooting, editing. I feel like it’s my baby.
It was a chance to bring together all these queens and friends of mine that are so talented and that don’t necessarily get to do different characters. So you get to see Bob the Drag Queer playing a different character, and we’ve got a sketch that showcases the kooky side of Alaska.
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What do you hope that audiences get from The Sherry Vine Show?
My ultimate goal is for people to watch it and say: “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this with drag.” This has music, dancing, comedy and interviews with Peppermint where it gets political. It has everything.
So I want people to laugh. I want love. The best compliments I ever have gotten after a show is when someone will come and be like, “I’ve been going through such a horrible time, and you made me forget about that for a half-hour.” Great, then my job is done.
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What are your hopes for the future?
My immediate goal is for season two of this variety show, and my long-term goal is development deals like Netflix – now is that asking too much? I would also like to be in a position to facilitate other shows starring other queens. So Jackie Beat has got a brilliant idea to do a completely inappropriate psychotherapist show, and I would love to produce a show and run things for other people.
The Sherry Vine Show premieres on 25 May and is streaming on OUTtv Apple TV Channel in the US and Canada. Fans in the UK and Ireland can catch the show on FROOT.tv.