Hedda Lettuce is quite simply, a drag institution. Emerging from an uber talented crowd of New York queens in the 90’s, Lettuce has taken her one of a kind comedic timing and ability to “crowd surf” and become the premier “green goddess” working today. From appearances on Ugly Betty and Project Runway to appearing live on stage with The Material Girl herself at the MTV Video Awards, Lettuce has had a career that would turn other queens “green” with envy. I caught up with this consistently busy queen to talk about her start in the NYC scene, her career aspirations, and why there is still something to be said for “substance” over “a look”
Michael Cook: For those that have never seen Hedda Lettuce on stage, how would you describe your performance style and “drag” as a whole?
Hedda Lettuce: A gorgeous green goddess with a gift of the gab and a love of writing and singing my own original comedic songs. I would say a true entertainer/comedian who can captivate an audience for and hour and fifteen minutes, without the need for cheap gimmicks and a myriad of costume changes. Just give me a mic, some decent lighting and I am good to go.
MC: Your on stage humor is biting and absolutely brilliant; when did you know that your razor sharp wit would be one of your biggest qualities as a performer?
HL: Well I realized that over time. People seem to love when I improv and rift with the audience. “Crowd surfing” I like to call it. Just by asking an audience member a few simple questions, I can get many minutes of comedy. I find it challenging and fun myself, as I never really know what’s going to happen. But after doing this kind of work for so long you get a feel for people, an intuition, and you know who to play with and who to pass over. I would have been a great psychic and given John Edwards a run for his money.
MC: Take me back; How did Hedda Lettuce get her start in the extremely competitive New York City drag scene?
HL: I was lucky when I began my career in the mid 1990’s. I was involved in activism through ACTUP and Queer Nation and would do drag street performances to raise money for the organizations. There was a huge drag bar scene and I entered a contest called Mona Foot’s Star Search at the Crowbar in the East Village. Mona was an incredible drag queen, and the drunker she got the funnier she became. The contest was the search for the next drag star and I entered and won the completion for many weeks in a row. From there started doing solo gigs and my very popular Manhattan cable show (also filmed in front of a live audience at the Crowbar) called The Hedda Lettuce Show. HX Magazine was also a huge free gay magazine in every gay bar and I won drag queens of the year about 8 times. The 90’ and early 2000’s were very good to me. In fact, my career has been very good to me. I’ve lasted this long for a reason- I grew up with the best queens in the business and learned a lot and just kept on going.
MC: You were part of a legendary time for New York City drag; what do you recall as the best aspects of that era?
HL: The 1990’s were the best. Many of those queens I started with are still going strong today. It was much more organic in those days; no internet, or instagram, or fucking drag queen makeup tutorials. You really had to have talent to stand out. Sherry Vine, Varla Jean Merman, Lady Bunny, Candis Cayne, Girlina, Linda Simpson. So many amazing unique talents.
MC: You have so many legendary stories about that time; what is one experience or story that truly stands out about that era?
HL: The time I had an intimate encounter with a famous red headed comic dressed as Hedda. I still have the napkin he wrote his number on, with his name and a little caricature he drew of himself. Perhaps I should frame it? Or at the very least call the number and still see if it works.
MC: You now perform all over the world, including Fire Island during the high season. What are some of your favorite parts about traveling and bringing the Hedda Lettuce experience to so many different people?
HL: I have residencies on Fire Island at Cherrys On The Bay and in Puerto Vallarta in the winter at Act II Theater. I like staying in one place and doing longer runs, instead of getting on planes and trains and schlepping all over. Fire Island and Puerto Vallarta have been very good to me.
MC: Drag has changed in the past decade in so many ways; what is different about being a working drag queen now as opposed to when you started in the business from your perspective?
HL: Those fucking makeup tutorials (laughs)! You don’t need much talent to make a name for yourself nowadays. The girls don’t work on a craft for the most part, just a look. I prefer substance and I believe that’s what has sustained me for so long in the ever changing world of drag. Looks come and go, but comedy is eternal.
MC: The gay community has had a very trying year and politically things are very dark. What do you think are the biggest issues facing our community and what do you see as your part in helping to address them?
HL: We are becoming too politically correct, policing our community way too much and eating ourselves alive. A sense of humor goes a long way (especially about oneself) and that seems to be getting lost. We have to fight and overcome the darkness within each of us. It’s been a one day at a time journey for myself. I think I’ve made some progress.
MC: You’ve made appearances on shows like Sex and The City and Project Runway, among other television and film projects. What are some of your favorite memories of those experiences. Any aspirations to head back to the screen?
HL: Recently I filmed an episode of Ray Donovan as Hedda Lettuce as well as a new show called Katy Keene as Hedda as well. They were wonderful experiences. I was on the People’s Court, Ugly Betty, on every daytime talk show in the 90’s and 2000’s, on stage with Madonna at the MTV Music Awards, Sex And The City, Project Runway (when it was still cool), lots of campy independent films, worked with Debbie Harry, featured on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a queen to aspire to become, filmed a commercial as Hedda for a butt bleaching cream. It’s all been one big roller coaster ride. I would never have expected my life to turn out the way it has. I am very lucky.
MC: You have made music, done television, and crafted full stage productions; what is left that Hedda Lettuce possibly could want to do?
HL: I would like to be a recurring character on a sitcom. Not the star, just the gal who pops in and says a couple of zingy one liners, and leaves. I love doing live performances and I hope I can continue doing them for a long while. I really believe, at this time of my life, I am at the top of my craft. All those years working in gay bars and getting my comedic chops have paid off. I am the best at what I do- improvisation and comedy mixed with song. I was such a quiet kid, it still amazes me that all of this has happened and I am still doing it and making a living at it all these years later.
MC: What does “pride”mean to you?
HL: Self respect on my good days. Doing work you are proud of. Being a decent human being. Love.
Follow Hedda Lettuce on her Instagram page
All Art Courtesy of Hedda Lettuce (Facebook)