Murray Hill is quintessentially and without doubt, showbiz. Since storming the East Village in the mid 1990's, this one of a kind entertainer gives a master class on commanding the stage and showing how you can take your talent and make that your truest form of representation I sat down with Murray to talk about the unique relationship between burlesque and drag, building bridges with his audience, and how "when you don't see yourself represented, go out and represent yourself" is some best advice budding performers could hear.
We are absolutely thrilled that you are coming back to Asbury Park, this time at House Of Independents for Burlesque-A-Pades (In Loveland) on Friday February 15th!
It’s been too long! We used to come all the time and go to the old Asbury Lanes, and it is always my favorite!
The art of burlesque and the hilarity of Murray Hill seem to organically go hand in hand, similarly to how the LGBT community and burlesque community have gravitated to each other. Why do you think that is?
That’s a really interesting question. Well you know, I have been around forever and I think when I first got into the New York City nightlife scene, burlesque really wasn’t kicking yet. It was kind of like, a drag queen night, a gay guy night, a straight night, it was really all kinds of mixed up, you know? I think with burlesque, I mean now it is all over the place, you know?
You have morphed into a New York City and entertainment legend. Did you ever think when you were starting off with Linda Simpson in the mid 90’s that you would become the force in the entertainment industry and a trailblazer in the community that you have?
You know, its funny I just did a career retrospective. I never thought that I would travel literally, all over the world; I think that when I saw myself on a billboard in Australia, it was like “WHAT”? I had always been passionate about Murray and doing this stuff, but I absolutely never would have imagined it.
We could spend the day talking about how New York City has changed in many aspects, but how do you think it has changed specifically for performers like yourself?
I hit the ground running in or around 1995 and absolutely everything was happening in the East Village in terms of queer nightlife. The underground stuff was definitely in the East Village, every night it was queer; Mario Diaz, Jackie Beat, Justin Bond, that whole crew. I think over time, it has gone over to Brooklyn and then just kind of really spread out. I think the young kids seem to be more into “fuck off” drag, and it’s very mixed. They have drag kings, and all kinds of other things, I don’t even know what they’re calling them nowadays.
Speaking of the new generation, is it surreal to see drag becoming part of the mainstream conversation now and being featured in all different kinds of media in a myriad of ways?
You know, when I first started this I felt that there was not enough representation of enough different types of drag. Everything has evolved to mainstream and beyond at this point, young kids are going to Drag Con with their families; I never imagine that! There is still a huge imbalance though, in popular culture. It has been great and it’s been awesome that RuPaul has provided an economy for drag queens to make money. Bianca Del Rio is doing her third world tour I think! All of that is great and it is getting it out there, but I want to be sure that it is not just drag queens, it’s not just gay men, there is other stuff going on. That is my mission that I am still fulfilling.
There are people who want drag kings represented on RuPaul’s Drag Race, perhaps with an all drag kings season perhaps. What do you think?
I get asked that a lot, and I tell people “I’m not a drag queen, why would I be a contestant”. I have this quote that I always say and that I live by. “if you don’t see yourself represented, go out and represent yourself”. That is what I think about Drag Race. It’s like, okay I’m not in that club, I’m adjacent to it, but I’m not in it. I make my own visibility and my own opportunities. That is what I have done, trying to get a television show and things like that, to really ramp it up.
What inspires you to keep Murray Hill the kind of daring and constantly evolving performer that you are?
I really feel like my work is not done yet, you know? I have been all over the world, I have raised the visibility that I have set out to raise. I am actually touring with Countess LuAnn for her cabaret show now. Her audience is all straight women, mothers, and a couple of gay guys. What keeps pushing me is to keep fighting for equality and representation.
As we come upon the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall in New York City, what gives you the most pride right now?
Showbiz gives me hope for humanity. This give me hope: when I am in a room of eighteen hundred people in Medford, Massachusetts with Countess LuAnn, that audience has never seen anything like me, visually or otherwise. The fact that I can go in there, be this other representation of everything, and they embrace it is amazing. Part of it is the comedy, the personality and the act that I have worked on. There is so much hate and so much crap that we hear about. When I am on stage and putting myself in a vulnerable situation, there is love. The comedy is the handshake to humanity for me. That is what is beautiful for me. I don’t up there screaming “equal rights, representation”! Three minutes in, they are on board and they don’t care what’s going on. they aren’t talking about identification or pronouns at all; they simply are saying “this is a funny guy”! That is my bridge building technique as a comedian!