INTERVIEW | Kelly Mantle
Kelly Mantle is probably one of the most famous of all the Drag Race queens, because before her time in the Race, she was a bonafide TV star in her own right, having appeared in countless shows and films.
It’s the eve of Thanksgiving and Kelly and Jake Hook settle in to talk about Drag, Bacon and talking on those pesky keyboard hating warriors.
JH: Are you going out or are you cooking? Are you putting on a big spread?
KM: Well, I don’t cook. I like to keep it strictly alcohol and weed. It’s 80 degrees, so we’re going to literally just spend Thanksgiving around the pool.
JH: I saw you were on Feast of Fools Cooking With Drag Queens? How was it?
KM: Milk and I were both on it together. Yeah, we actually were in their kitchen making toast, different kinds of toast, so I didn’t have to actually cook anything. I just got to put things on toast and feed it to Milk. Some of it was very good. We ended up making use of most of it just by putting it on Milk’s face and calling it makeup, as she does.
JH: We know that bacon and you might be a sore point, because of what Michelle Visage said your dress looked like on the show… But tell me, have you heard they’ve started selling bacon-smelling underwear?
KM: Now, that’s a new one. I think I’ve heard everything bacon under the sun since my appearance on Drag Race, but no, that is a new one. Bacon-smelling underwear?
JH: I got the press release today. I was like, “Who the f*ck wants their underwear to smell like bacon, really?”
KM: No, like bacon? Wow. You’ve got to be a real pig to wear those.
JH: You should get onto their marketing team. You could be the face of bacon underwear.
KM: Well, let me tell you, I think I’ve been the face of bacon for the past two years. I think I’ve helped them more than they know. We’re in the middle of November right now where no one wants to shave their pubes anymore, so we’re talking a hairy bacon bush, is really what we’re talking about here. I might have to try those.
JH: I’ll send you the link. I’ll put it on your Facebook later.
KM: Thank you for that. I love when people pollute my Facebook with things about bacon. Wonderful. The gift that never stops giving, really.
JH: Did you ever think that your name would be synonymous with pork products?
KM: Never in a million years. I told Michelle Visage, and they cut this part out of the show, but when she said it looked like bacon, I looked down and I said, “Well, I actually thought they looked more like dirty maxi pads, quite frankly.” My name could have been synonymous with dirty maxi pads instead of bacon, I guess.
JH: I thought it was like lilies, like lilies of the valley or something. We see what we want to see in these things, don’t we sometimes? Tell me what you’re up to at the moment?
KM: Well, at the very moment, I am sitting here lounging by my pool on this gorgeous day with a little mimosa in hand, but I guess you mean in the bigger picture. I’m recording music. I just released a single, as you know, Keyboard Courage, with the video. Now I’m in the studio working on what will be technically my forth studio album to release.
JH: Will it be a full album or will it be an EP?
KM: It’s looking more like an EP at this point. I just don’t … I think we’re going to keep it EP at this point, about 6-8 numbers on it.
JH: Will all be in this anti-bullying message or will you go back to being sassy and comic?
KM: What do you mean, “going back to being sassy and a comic?” I thought that Keyboard Courage was being sassy and being a comic. See, a lot of people are taking it too literal. Everything I do is tongue in cheek. I mean everything. I don’t take myself seriously at all. This is about a serious epidemic, mind you, which I never even knew existed before I got on Drag Race, but obviously it does exist. Anything I do over a heavy topic I like to keep it light and fun. It’s not to be taken literal by any means.
JH: Oh! I thought you were really sticking up for Madonna.
KM: Well, you know. I do love her. She was my childhood idol, absolutely, She’ll post a picture on Instagram and you’ll read the comments. Ageism is something I’ve just never understood. I can wrap my head around racism. I can wrap my head around homophobia because it comes out of fear, of not knowing whatever. People don’t like something that’s different than them and chances are, they may never become that thing that they’re not liking. Ageism is so strange to me because we’re all going to get old.
JH: Are you more geared to the up tempo number or is there a torch singer there inside you somewhere?
KM: Definitely my heart lies in the dark, haunting torch songs. I love a good ballad, yes. I always laugh and say that I’m like the Tori Amos of drag when it comes to music, when it comes to my real music. That’s where my soul lives. I love that. I realize that there’s a time and place for that music to live and be performed, especially in the drag world. I’m certainly not going to show up to a drag nightclub for a midnight performance and sing some sad, gloomy song. I like to keep my reper-twat full of all types of material.
JH: Did you just say reper-twat for Repetoire?
KM: I did.
JH: Love it. Amazing.
KM: I like to dig deep down into my repe-twat and pull out what’s ever necessary for the gig, whether it be a song about my pussy that’s funny or whether it be a funeral dirge on my piano. It depends on the gig. The wig depends upon the gig, I should say.
JH: What inspired you to write about online bullying, then?
KM: It’s something I wasn’t even really aware of until I got on Drag Race and then all the sudden, I started getting all these tweets saying, “I hate you, I can’t stand you, I wish you would go kill yourself.” I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. Wow. These people feel really strongly about this.”
JH: You actually had people tweeting that they wanted you to die?
KM: Oh, yeah. After they saw me on Drag Race, most certainly. I had lots of tweets like that. I had a lot of great ones, too. I have a lot of fans and supporters that just send wonderful, beautiful, gorgeous tweets about they think I was robbed, “You should have stayed on longer, I love your style of drag, I love your music.” I have a really thick skin so I can laugh it off and to me it’s funny. In meeting a lot of the younger fans out on the road and at meet and greets a lot of them would send me messages online, they started telling me these stories about how they have to deal with it and it’s like some of them, even suicidal. I thought, “This is a really big epidemic that’s going on right now that I would love to address in a song.” That’s really why I wrote it, was more for them, just to give them an anthem to sing to, to dance to, to be able to shrug it off and not take it that serious.
JH: The look in the video, you were really channeling Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman there, with the straight hair. You’ve got quite a number of wigs. Why do you have so many different looks? Some drag queens, they just choose the one hairpiece and then that’s it. Is there any particular reason for that?
KM: Well, because I’m a glutton for punishment, really. That’s really what it comes down to. One of my dearest friends is Coco, Coco Peru.
JH: Exactly what I had in mind. She’s very famous with just having that one look.
KM: Exactly, and I laugh with her about that all the time. I’m like, “Why did I not go down this route? Why did I not think of that? That was so genius of you.” I just love to just … It’s like what I just said; actually, “The wig depends upon the gig.” I grew up on Madonna and one of the things I loved so much about her was that her look was constantly evolving. It was ever-changing. I even do that with my own out-of-drag, personal look. One minute I’ll have black hair and the next minute I’ll bleach it out. I love changing my look all the time.
JH: When you were growing up, did you have experience of real life bullying, or were you one of the crowd?
KM: I was very fortunate. I did not deal with it at all. I grew up in a really small town in Oklahoma and my daddy was the high school football coach and my brother was the all-star athlete. Then there was me. My uncle is Mickey Mantle, the New York Yankees legend; so I think that helped, in some way, protect me in my own school. When you’re the football coach’s family in a small Oklahoma town, you’re treated like royalty.
JH: He could literally make or break the careers of jocks in your school?
KM: Well, exactly. (Laughs) I wish I would have known the power that I held at the time, because I would have been utilizing that a lot more in the locker room. They actually embraced me for my differences and the fact that I was so different than everyone else around me rather than punish me for it. I had two best friends in high school. One was the head cheerleader. The other was the quarterback of the football team. We’re still friends to this day.
JH: Not much is known about you in your personal life. Is that done on purpose? Do you like to keep your private life very separate from Kelly?
KM: Yes. Very much so.
JH: Is it difficult to let people in, and do people in your real life know about “Kelly Mantle”?
KM: People in my… You mean, “about Kelly?”
JH: For instance, picking up someone in a bar or something like that, do they know that it’s you?
KM: Oh, well, I don’t pick up people in bars anymore, none of that. I’m assuming that they would know it’s me. I don’t know. Yeah. I have a very small, close-knit type group of very close personal friends and all of them are in the business. I think we’re all very … I think it’s not a conscious thing, really, but I just think we’re all just very private about our personal lives.
JH: Before Drag Race, you were on TV and you were doing films in your own right, which is why, I suppose, you can have that level of privacy.
JH: When it’s a wrap, it’s a wrap, and it’s done. When you’re going on something like a reality show like Drag Race, was it a bit of a shock to have that privacy taken away from you?
KM: It was, and I won’t say “shock” because of course, I knew that that was going to be part of it. But you can’t imagine going through it until you’re actually there. I’ll just put it this way, I think that I could tell very early, and that they could tell very early, the minute I got there, that this isn’t going to work out.
KM: Yeah, and I think it was a mutual, unspoken agreement between us both. When you’re as private as I am, you are certainly not a good candidate for reality television. You have this camera on you 24/7. I think that was a big, I won’t say shock, but it was certainly a big component in, “Oh, wow, this is not for me.”
JH: Would you do more reality TV?
KM: No, never ever. When they say, “Don’t ever say ‘never,’” I can say “never.”
JH: You can’t confirm or deny the rumors of All-Stars, then?
KM: I cannot confirm nor deny any rumors about All-Stars, no.
JH: Would you like to do it? I suppose that’s just more reality TV.
KM: I love to be in more control. I love being an actor; I’ll just put it that way. That’s when I’m good on camera, is when I am in doing my craft of acting.
JH: How did your name come about?
KM: Well, Kelly Mantle is my birth given name.
JH: Oh, is it? Okay…
KM: There’s a few of us, there’s me, there’s Charles Bush, there’s RuPaul. RuPaul uses his real name. Willem’s another one. Yeah, there’s a few of us that stayed true to our real names. For me, early on when I got out of college and moved to Chicago and was acting and especially when I moved to LA and started doing film and TV, I was doing so many roles both in and out of drag that it was easier just to keep it.
I had a drag name for a hot minute when I first moved here. I was in a band called Sex With Lurch and I went by Brandy Warhol. That was fun, but it just never stuck because I’d be out and people would be like, “Brandy, Brandy,” and I’m like, “Who is that person yelling at?”
JH: In all the films and TV that you have appeared in before Drag Race, did you appear as yourself or did you appear as Kelly Mantle, the drag queen?
KM: It was a mixture. I’d get cast. I do both. I’ve performed in male roles. I’ve performed in drag roles. I’ve performed in transgender roles. I’ve even performed in a few projects, which are always my favorite, where I get to actually be portrayed as both. You get to see the character in and out of drag or something like that. Those are always the best because then you get to see both.
JH:Does it confuse people, the fact that your name is your boy name and also your girl name? Do people sometimes go, “Who are? What? How are you?” Is that ever an issue?
KM: When you have the same name as both in and out of drag, sometimes it’s harder for people to see the difference between the two. They can’t really say, “Oh, well she’s being Kelly now,” because they’re like, “But he is also being Kelly over here.”
Before Drag Race, I pretty much was only doing acting on TV and film and theatre and performing music and doing stand-up comedy. A lot of times I would do that in my female form because I consider myself a two-spirited individual. I travel and live between both genders and that’s where I feel comfortable. A lot of times, when I show up to do a music gig, which is me and my guitar or piano, or I show up and do a stand-up comedy gig, I might be showing up in my female form, but I’m serving more just a girl showing up and doing her gig. I’m not trying to give you drag queen. I think there’s a lot of confusion there because a lot of times, you’ll hear, “Well, Honey, she’s just not giving me drag.”
A lot of times I’ll read that comment and my response to myself will be, “Well, I wasn’t really trying to at that moment. I was just trying to give you more ‘female doing a song’”. Yeah, it can be very confusing, especially when you’re using the same name for all of these different journeys, because if I had, let’s say the Brandy Warhol, if I were giving Brandy Warhol, then people would be able to specifically say, “Okay, now she’s giving us this drag character because she’s doing it as Brandy.”
JH: How do you describe, then, your gender? Do you have a particular identity that you like to be referred to, any pronoun that you like?
KM: I always jokingly say I’m a gay bisexual transgender lesbian. As much of a joke as that is, there’s a lot of truth to it because I have been one of those things at one moment in my life or another. I think that the easiest way for me to describe it, and it’s interesting because I actually am Native American, I’m from a heritage of Cherokee tribe, which is based in Oklahoma. There’s a Native American term that many have used, it’s called two-spirited, and it’s someone who possesses both genders. It’s someone who lives and travels and journeys between all
the spectrums of male and female. For me, when it comes to pronouns, if I am presenting as male at that very moment and I look like a boy to you, then call me “he.” If I’m presenting as female and I look like a girl to you, call me “she.” It’s pretty easy.
JH: Paint a picture.
KM: Since I’m a feminist, I always prefer “she” over “he,” any day. That just comes from me being a feminist, a hardcore feminist. I always encourage any writer who doesn’t know for sure to just use “she” because that’s what I usually use when I’m talking about myself. I say, “Oh, well she thinks she’s pretty, doesn’t she?”
JH: Tell me about the first time you did drag. Where were you? What happened?
KM: I grew up dressing up in my grandma’s clothes all the time, but I guess that really can’t be considered drag. The first time I ever did it, it was a high school talent competition and I dressed up as Cyndi Lauper. Everyone freaking loved it. They were like, “Oh, my God. This is so f**king fun.” That was my first time, and I just won people over.
JH: Did you sing “Time After Time”? You must have done.
KM: Was it “Time After Time”? No, I want to say it was later than that. It was “True Colors”.
JH: Ooh. Well, there you go. You LGBT activist, you.
KM: I was an activist before I even knew what an activist was.
JH: When you did that were your school, your town very accepting of that? There was no fall out from that, as there were?
KM: Oh, absolutely. They all loved it. I got a standing ovation. When you really embody your power and you don’t try to hide it or question it, I think it’s automatically going to be contagious to people. They can’t help but love it. At least, I guess, in my simple mind, that’s what I thought at the time and I still think that.
JH: How did your parents react? Were they quite supportive?
KM: My parents are like my best friends. They have been so supportive and are so amazing. That was the great thing about it, is people assume. They say, “Well, growing up in this small Oklahoma town, with this masculine football coach as your dad, he must have pressured you to play football.” Then, “Honey, he took me out on a football field once and threw the ball at me and I’m playing with my hair and just completely missed the ball.
JH: Do you think you got your sense of humour from your parents?
KM: Absolutely. Them and my Grandma, my Mom’s Mom. If you get a chance, go on YouTube and I think you can type in “Kelly Mantle playing his mother,” there’s a whole monologue from a one-person show that I did a couple of years ago where I play my mom and it’s her to a T. She’s hilarious and she has no idea she’s hilarious.
JH: What is your favorite colour?
KM: My favorite colour is chrome, actually.
JH: I love that.
KM: I love anything chrome, yes. It makes me feel very rich, which I am, but you know. It makes me feel richer than I really am. I do have to tell you.
Find out more about Kelly Mantle at her website http://www.kellymantle.com
This interview was taken from Issue 18 – download for free or subscribe now to never miss an issue.