Kiki & Herb Interviewed
Kiki & Herb is a cabaret act wriiten by Justin Vivian Bond, and performed by Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman.
There have been different shows written around the two characters, some which have been performed all over the world to rave reviews. After attending a performance of Kiki & Herb: coup de theatre (read review) at the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theater in New York City, I caught up with the stars in the lounge of their dressing room for an interview.
It was a quiet space, if you don’t count the guy who came in asking if we wanted pizza. I feel into the stuffed couch with Justin next to me, and Kenny in a chair across from us. It was an intimate spot for a chat.
B: Justin, who is Herb?
Justin: An officer and gentleman? (laughs) He’s Kiki’s life long friend and piano accompanist
B: But who is he as a person, what drives him? What’s he about?
Justin: I’m not sure
B: Kenny, who is Kiki, the person?
Kenny: Herb’s best friend and worst enemy. You do know they are vaguely retarded, so I don’t know that they know. It’s funny, no one ever asked us that before and I don’t know that there is anyway to really answer it. That’s a really good question.
Justin: You know I don’t really think they (Kiki & Herb) really know each other. They know each other’s history, they perform together, but I don’t think they really know each other as people.
B: Justin, do you prefer to be referred to as he or she?
Justin: Makes so little difference to me
B: Does it bother you that so many of the reviewers refer to the show as “drag?”
Justin: No. I don’t think it’s correct, but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t ever feel that I am in or out of drag, that’s a category.
B: And people love to categorize
Justin: If I went to a themed costume party, that might be drag. Sometimes I resent the people who are using the term. I feel that they trivialize my work. I don’t mean that as disrespect to drag. But when I read, “Life is a Drag for Kiki & Herb,” it’s just so tired. It’s an illustration of people’s lack of imagination and rigidity. So therefore, I have come to resent the use of it, not because of the word itself, I just get upset as to how stupid people can be.
B: Is it accurate to say you consider yourself “gender fluid?”
Justin: Yes. I wake up and think of myself as me, sometimes in a more feminine way, sometimes not. I’m not polarized.
B: Kiki & Herb, as a show, has been around a while, five years or so. How did it start?
Justin: Ken and I have been performing together around town, me singing and telling stories, then I came up with this character, we developed it and over the years it grew.
B: Is there non-fiction in Kiki, did you draw from yourself, friends?
Justin: Sure, I drew from things people far wiser than me have said to me, the news, the fascists who run our government, whatever I see, hear or read that moves me.
B: Do you like your characters? If you met them on the street would you engage in conversation?
Justin: I love my character.
B: Would you hang out with Kiki; kick back and have a drink together?
Justin: I’m sure I have, many times (laughs)
Ken: I’m sure I have as well. I find it charming when I see little old ladies and men that have that theatrical craziness. I always want to go up and hang out with them, because I think that’s what I’ll be someday.
B: Which character are you more inclined to hang with?
Ken: (laughing) Well, I might be more scarred of Kiki
B: The show is being received so well. Is this the biggest gig for you to date?
Ken: Yeah, it’s the first time we have been in a theater
Justin: It’s a whole lot different than the lounges we’ve done. It’s a different thing, the way we approach it, on stage, off stage, is different. The audience is different.
Ken: Starting the show on a quiet moment is new to us. In a club we had to beat people over the head to grab their attention.
Justin: In a club, an environment like that, it’s much more chaotic, people are drinking. There’s less control over the script, the lights, the sound, the mood. One of my greater strengths I think is my ability to improvise, which in the theater I don’t need to do, because it is so tightly scripted, focused. It’s more about technique. We have to be more true to a moment that has been predetermined.
Ken: We can now come out and start slow and build from a center.
B: Do you prefer one type of venue to the other?
Justin: No, not really. They’re each fun and challenging in their own way
B: Do you have any emotion for Kiki, do you feel sorry for her hard life?
Justin: No, I have complete love for Kiki, I think she’s fabulous! She wouldn’t want me to feel sorry for her – she wouldn’t want pity unless she wanted to use it to get something.
B: So, she doesn’t want anything unless it results in something for her?
Justin: Exactly! That’s why she does what she does to the audience: she manipulates them.
B: How long have the two of you been working together?
Kenny: 13 years, I was 21 when we started.
Justin: and I was 14 (laughing)
B: You took the Kiki & Herb show around to different parts of the world before doing off-Broadway. Did the audiences react different?
Kenny: They did. In Austria they didn’t get the humor at all. They loved the show but saw it as a tragedy. So we didn’t play for laughs there, we played it more serious.
B: What’s next?
Justin: For me, I’m planning a tropical vacation. I haven’t decided which gay lover yet (she says with a coy smile looking towards the direction of a tall good looking straight fellow who came through the dressing area). Maybe I’ll get Sweetie to take over the role of Kiki for me.
B: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
Justin & Kenny: And, thank you.
(PUBLISHED in Girl Talk Magazine 2003)
Postscript follow up: Kiki & Herb Alive on Broadway was nominated for the Tony Award in 2007
Tags: Justin Vivian BondKiki & HerbNYCOff-Broadwaytransgender
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