New York drag mistress Mimi Imfurst describes herself as "the hardest working bitch in show business" -- and with good reason. Imfurst -- who will be featured as a contestant in the new year's edition of RuPaul's Drag Race -- is well known in the Big Apple for her over-the-top, off-center performances in all the forms they take as she's busily worked in theater, cabaret shows, TV and film as the hostess of Logo's The Big Gay Sketch Show and an appearance in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist among many other credits.
In recent months, Imfurst has been lauded for her role as a not-so-talented small-town Midwestern Cher impersonator in Boylesque, a parody of the Cher-Christina Aguilera film seeing its national release this week. She also is featured in Gay.com's web series The Queens of Drag and even has a new single with her band XELLE coming out next month.
And, most importantly for us here in Chicago, she's bringing her upcoming holiday show on the road, including a stop at Hydrate on December 18. In "Mary Christmas II You, Too," Imfurst plays the Virgin Mary, a role that has gained her a certain level of.. notoriety with the Catholic community, which has taken an active interest in coming to some of her shows -- with protest signs in hand.
Just before she hit the road, Imfurst spoke with ChicagoPride.com about what fans can expect of her holiday show and the upcoming season of Drag Race, which debuts in January.
JE: (Joe Erbentraut): Hi Mimi! I think your Burlesque parody is the first example I've heard of a parody opening before its source material! I did read on your Twitter that you saw an advanced screening -- what did you think of the movie?
MI: (Mimi Imfurst): It's exactly what you think it will be: A Showgirls that looks like Cabaret. I'm not sure if us opening before the movie makes them a parody of us, but it's definitely been a bit of a process. We've made some small changes to the script.
JE: Can you clue us in on any of the changes you had to make without spoiling the movie?
MI: Well, the entire plot point of what "saves the day" is just like.. Really? That's it? Really? That's what saves the day!? When you see if, you'll know.
JE: You were also involved in the filming of Gay.com's web reality series the Queens of Drag. What was that experience like?
MI: We filmed it over a year ago and it was a really interesting experience, essentially with all the top New York drag queens working together on the project. We were all kind of nervous because we didn't know how it would look. They're still working on it and something more may come of it. A network is interested. I think it was great to allow people to see the behind-the-scenes lives of drag performers. It really delved into how we are as people. It's not about drama or fights with each other, it's just about how we live our day-to-day lives. The response has been great.
JE: How does the show compare to another recent gay reality show -- Logo's The A List -- which has gotten some pretty mixed reviews?
MI: Well, people are opinionated about everything obviously, and some people are really upset with The A List, but they're all secretly watching it at the same time. It is similar in that it does follow a cast of characters going about their lives, but Queens of Drag isn't about the drama and having some sort of "air" about being on the A List. It's sort of the opposite. The reality is, we lead these fabulous existences in nightlife but we're kind of ordinary with our wigs off, like anyone else you'd see in the places we perform. We don't think we're better than anyone else at the end of the day.
JE: You've also got the excitement of being featured on the upcoming, third season of RuPaul's Drag Race! You'd auditioned before this successful attempt, correct?
MI: Yes, it was the third time. Third time's the charm I guess. Drag Race is an amazing experience that any drag queen would love to be on and it's just such an honor to be recognized within the drag community for the show. I'm really excited and can't wait to see how they pull it all together because there's so much that happens in the taping of an episode that I don't know how they're going to whittle it down to an hour.
JE: What can you tell us of what to expect of the next season? Does Logo have you on a vow of silence?
MI: I actually have an ankle bracelet on me. Any time I tell something too much, I get a little zap of electricity. But I can tell you that this season of Drag Race is going to be much crazier than ever. They've upped the ante with the cast. It's more draggy than past seasons and the level of talent is hyped up by about 10 times. They're also giving away $75,000 this time, instead of the $25,000 they gave away last time. The judges are fierce -- they brought in a new permanent judge Michelle Visage to replace Merle [Ginsberg] on the show, and she's just fantastic. It's going to be a crazy ride, I can tell you that.
JE: You've worked with a number of previous Drag Race contestants -- were you able to get any advice from anyone of what to expect or how to prepare?
MI: It's hard because you're not allowed to tell anyone you're on the show and you can't really call people up. But if you know them, you can kind of ask without asking. A lot of girls just said you need to bring a bazillion pairs of lashes and pantyhose because you're in drag every Goddamn day.
JE: Can you tell us what it is like when you're not filming on the show? I've always been curious.
MI: It's a lot like drag prison. They take away your cell phone and you can't have a laptop or Internet connection. You're in a tiny hotel room by yourself and you're not allowed to leave your room. But at the end of the day, there's been so much going on you just want to pass out.
JE: How did you first get into performance and how the transition to drag come for you?
MI: I've been doing theater since I can remember. I was probably doing shows in the womb, but the first time I ever did drag was when I was 10 years old for vacation Bible school. The theme was "Jesus Undercover" and my mother dressed my brother and I up in full drag -- we were beauty queens. So the first time I ever did drag as for Jesus at church. I starting doing it for real when I was 16 and it was an interesting road. I don't think I ever realized then I would be doing drag for a living. But it's funny how these things sneak up on you. Drag is a bug that, once it bites you, you just can't stop.
JE: You've certainly been successful with it, and have been involved in a wide variety of projects -- including stage, TV and film. Do you have any favorite experiences or roles you've played from all your gigs?
MI: I feel lucky because I have done a lot of different things. A lot of queens just do their club thing but I try to make sure I'm doing different outlets of drag all the time and make sure I'm dipping my painted toenails into something else. I've gotten to play some really great roles and done tons of theater in New York from Shelby in Steel Magnolias to Frankenfurter and Hedwig, which I think to this day is my favorite thing I've ever done. It's so amazing and if I could play the role all the time, I would. I still think it's my dream role in some ways and I'd love to travel across the country playing it on tour. I've done it in Portland, Toronto and New York.
JE: You've also seen some controversy from Catholic groups for your Christmas show, correct? What is that like for you?
MI: My Christmas show where I play the Virgin Mary has gotten all sorts of reactions. Some people have a problem with and I have been protested mostly by people who haven't even seen the show, which is absurd to me. They assume just because it's a man playing the Virgin Mary it's desecrating religion, but it's probably the most religious thing gay people could go and see as a cabaret show. I stay pretty damn true to the Virgin Mary's nativity Christmas story, but I just give her a bit of an opinion about things. Like anything, it's meant to make you laugh about something that's usually taken very seriously. I've done much "worse" in other shows.
JE: Could you tell us a bit more about what to expect from your Christmas show, which will be playing Chicago next month?
MI: The show is a 90 minute tell-all which is mostly music -- there's about 40 songs in the show of varying lengths. The premise is basically what if the Virgin Mary was a boozy lounge singer telling her story. I've rewritten some pop songs to tell the story-- "Good Morning Nazareth" instead of "Good Morning Baltimore" and she sings "Like a Virgin" about the night she became impregnated with Jesus. Every year I update the show with new material and topics. This year there will be some conversations about Sarah Palin and she's going to reveal a secret she's been hiding all these years -- 2000 years is a long time to keep a secret.
JE: Since we're on the topic, what's your favorite part of the holiday season?
MI: I just love the warmth of that time of year. It doesn't many any sense but I definitely find that dealing with this time of year -- bitter, cold, windy and wet - there's so much warmth from everybody because they're in good moods. I just love all the decorations and the lights and tradition. I'm fairly traditional when it comes to Christmas. I love all the stuff that goes with it.
JE: And how are you feeling about coming back to Chicago? When you were last here I saw a video of you cleaning off a CTA bus with the Feast of Fun boys.
MI: I'm a firm believer in leaving a place cleaner than when you first got there. The thing I love about Chicago is that the people who come out to my shows are so much fun. They're the people I'd want to hang out with and that's really important. Everybody treated me with such kindness when I was there and that makes me want to come back. I love Boystown, too -- there's so many great restaurants and stores. I think I spent everything I made last time I was there. I found the most creepy doll at Beatnix. I love the whole energy and in some ways it reminds me of New York but a little more subdued, without the crazy tourists.