Karl: Today is March 10th, 2011, and I’m at Basix Café sitting across from the lovely Wendy Ho. Wendy, how do classify your occupation? You’re all sorts of things.
Wendy: I would say a good umbrella would be “entertainer.” But I’m a singer, comedian, rapper, and truth teller. *smiles*
Karl: Your stuff is awesome by the way! I absolutely love it.
Wendy: Thank you.
Karl: The shaving in the tub video is fucking hilarious!
Wendy: *laughs* That’s mostly my fiance, he thinks of that stuff and I’m like, “Okay…” *rolls eyes* “Let’s do it.”
Karl: On that note, let me throw out that you have a show coming up on March 16th.
Wendy: “The Ho & Buteau Show.”
Karl: At the Palms in West Hollywood. So your current relationship status would be “engaged?”
Wendy: I’m engaged.
Karl: Is he in the area?
Wendy: Yeah. At the moment he’s in Houston shooting something about female wrestlers, but I moved out here because we got engaged. I lived in New York for 9-years.
Karl: Oh nice. So how did you two meet?
Wendy: We met shooting a reality show on Showtime called “I Can’t Believe I’m Still Single” with this guy, Eric Schaeffer. He approached me about doing a show and wanted to put a Wendy Ho song on it. And of course I was like, “You know, I really don’t want to be just one of your bitches.” But he said, “Well, what if you come on and you reject me?” And I was like, “Ok!” *laughs* So I did the show and my fiance was camera man on the show. So we met, had some chemistry, and kept in touch on Facebook. I came out and did a tour two summers ago, we went on a date, and fell head over heals for one another. And after I was out here, I saw the possibly of being able to work more because I could work from my car rather than being confined to the island of Manhattan.
Karl: How long have you lived here at this point?
Wendy: A little over a year – a year and a month.
Karl: Were you working in LA often while living in New York?
Wendy: No, not a lot. I would come once a year. It’s funny because when I would “come to town,” all of the queens would make a big fuss and do their best to get me on the show. But now that I live here, I’m their competition, so I don’t get treated that way anymore. I mean they’re nice to me. They love and support me. And I support them the best that I can, but it’s more of a “you book me, I book you” type of situation rather than, “Oh my God, Wendy Ho’s coming!” And now in New York, I get, “When are you coming back?!”
Karl: Tell me a little about yourself outside of work. What do you like to do in your free time? It doesn’t sound like you have much of it.
Karl: Wow, good for you. What type?
Karl: Bible? *laughs*
Wendy: Yes, totally! A whole bible, it’s like a script that you have to read the whole time and you can’t adjust to what the class needs. I enjoy socializing and going out, but I don’t do that a lot because my job is so much of that. My fiance and I love to go to Disneyland. That’s our date place that we love to go and cut up. But what I do is pretty all-encompassing. I’m always preparing for a show, or shopping for a show, or producing a video, or writing, so there isn’t a whole ton of free time. My life is designed around expanding what I do, and it’s part of my relationship with my fiance as well.
Karl: How did you get into this industry? Tell me a little bit about what it was like starting out.
Wendy: When I first started out, I didn’t know where this was going to land or who was going to like what I did. I was recording stuff, and I brought this guy my cd. I said, “I do this thing, and I’ll like rap at parties and stuff, and people always request it.” And I gave him this cd that I recorded, mostly as a joke. And he said, “Oh my God, this is so funny! Nobody’s doing this, why aren’t you doing this?” So I wrote a couple of songs and emailed a bunch of people asking, “Does anybody know where I can perform? I’ve got some crazy shit to say!” *laughs* And my gay friends said, “You can come in here, girl!” And as soon as I did it, it landed. I performed in a lot of straight up comedy clubs too. I don’t so much anymore because out here they pay you $12 a set. But at the time, it was something that people were hungry for – they wanted to see some bitch just break the fuck out and not hold back.
Karl: When did you start?
Wendy: 6-years ago.
Karl: What did you do before that?
Wendy: I’ve always been a theater person, so I was always singing and trying to find my niche. I did musical theater for awhile, but I prefer this. It’s so much more gratifying to write my own stuff. I witnessed a lot of artists who would land these Broadway gigs and would just want to kill themselves because they were doing the same fucking show every night. They ended up feeling like they were working a temp job. Unless you had some role that you just loved to sink your teeth into every night, a lot of these dancer boys were just like, “Oh my God, my career’s going to be over in like 2-years and I don’t know what to do.”
Karl: Has LA been a positive change? Were you more stressed in New York?
Wendy: Well, New York is just a more stressful place to live. When I went back for the first time after just living here for 5-months, I couldn’t believe that I had lived in New York for as long as I had. It was just a constant buzz.
Karl: Where were you living?
Wendy: I was living in Queens, in Astoria.
Karl: I lived in Astoria too, off Ditmars. I loved it there.
Wendy: I loved it too, just thought it was darling. But I’m not a winter person, and carrying around my costumes and stuff on subways, it’s not like I had money to get cabs everywhere. So it’s gotten better here, definitely. I’ve been able to spread out and just kinda chill.
Karl: Do you miss it?
Wendy: Sometimes, yeah. There’s an energy there. The pace is easy to get swept up in. But I lived there for a long time, I’m not somebody who’s really affluent, and I was ready to relax a little bit. I definitely miss my friends there, but I can always go back.
Karl: Well, what are some of the differences in the community there compared to here?
Wendy: There are a lot of similarities actually. The thing that you don’t realize in the art of drag is that there’s different sections of it. There’s definitely different classes, or sects of being gay, or of doing drag. There’s this east/west mentality. The east side of LA is like the East Village of New York where there’s a lot of avant garde, edgy, underground, artistic stuff that’s happening. It’s fun, irreverent and crazy. And then there’s West Hollywood which would be like Chelsea in New York, where it’s a little bit more clean and pretty, and they like their drag a little more Top 40 and…
Wendy: Yes, poppy. More female illusionist than “I’m going to give you my take on this character.” But it’s all got this sexual vibe to it. The sexuality is something that’s apparent in each one of the cultures, so they’re the same but they’re both different. It’s funny to me how it has kind of divided. So that’s how I would compare it. I would say there’s an east/west mentality in both places. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just interesting that there’s that split within both communities.
Karl: In these different venues, what types of crowds do you see coming in these days?
Wendy: The east side of town, where the more avant garde stuff goes on is where I really see a lot more gay men. Here it’s started to become more “everybody.” Even at Hamburger Mary’s, it’s predominantly a straight crowd. You know, women coming in to do bachelorette parties and stuff. And what’s so funny about my act is that I am able to translate to both crowds. I can really straddle that line and I’m still the nasty bitch for each one of them. *laughs* I’m a bit of a novelty act in the fact that I’m a girl, I doll myself up, I’m pleasant to look at, and can get away with that in West Hollywood. And then there’s the east side where the fact that I’m raunchy and funny and nasty let’s me go and do things like Trannyshack.
Karl: Have you seen similar changes in New York?
Wendy: *thinks* I don’t know… Midtown and Chelsea still seems to be predominantly boys. The East Village too I would say. Now, in the neighborhood of Chelsea, I definitely see more of a mix, more families and strollers. But in the bars themselves, not really. Not like here.
Karl: What were people’s attitudes there in your opinion regarding the families and strollers?
Wendy: You’ll find some boys who say, “Stay out of the neighborhood. We want to be outspoken about our sexuality without feeling like we’re being offensive to anybody.” But because of what’s happening, the “gay bar” is kind of dying out. Even the need to have a Gay Pride is something that’s not really needed anymore because the mass opinion is, “That’s fine, we don’t care.” I was even talking with someone who’s in the Army, who is gay, who picked me up in Texas, and even he was saying, “Yeah, it’s really not a big deal. We’re not flagrant about it, but it’s very gay in the Army. We’re not scared that someone’s going to beat us up or anything.” Of course there’s going to be exceptions to that rule and people who hold on to those staunch opinions ’till they die.
Karl: Of course.
Wendy: I know some business suffer because they’re losing the certain market that they play to, but I still think it’s a good thing. Not necessarily the gentrification, I mean I don’t want corporations to move in, but I don’t have a problem with the cultures mixing. Although maybe it’s not the best place to bring kids if they continue to have the underwear stores and the sex shops, but that’s a choice that the parent makes. I think anyone moving in needs to be aware of that, conform to it, and respect that. Because that’s their choice of where they’re living. They shouldn’t come in and try and change it.
Karl: Right. The underwear store was here when you moved here, why complain about it now that you have kids?
Wendy: Exactly. Like I said, I don’t think it’s a negative thing for things to be going in that direction. I think that’s ultimately what the goal always was, that there be tolerance and acceptance for one another.
Karl: The New York Times recently reported that West Hollywood fears turning into another Beverly Hills. I guess that’s the conflict people are feeling now – how much of that acceptance do you want?
So how would you describe the attitude of this city?
Wendy: Of West Hollywood? It depends on what day you catch it on, really. She’s kind of a moody bitch. There are days when she’s real cute, fun, and skipping down the street, and then there are days when it’s total shade. Just like I never know what kind of show I’m gonna have. I never know what the audience is going to be like, if they’ll love it or hate it.
Karl: Have you had bad shows?
Wendy: Oh yeah! I’ve had people just not know what to do with it at all. I’ve had some gays get really upset about the fact that they think my act is totally racist. I’ve had people protest it online and shit. Up in San Francisco there was a whole group of people that were up in arms about it. I think that’s sad that that’s the take that they’re getting from it.
Karl: Do they know they’re attending a comedy show?
Wendy: Well, that’s the thing… Somebody made some comment like, *in obnoxious whiney voice* “It’s all based on racial stereotypes!” And I’m like, *hands cupped around mouth* “That’s what comedy is!” It’s about stereotypes. We use stereotypes to relate to one another, that’s how we make it funny. A bad comedian gets up there and just straight up makes fun of it, or degrades it. But a good comedian makes fun of it but gives you the release, makes it funny to laugh at. It cracks me up because the joke is always on me, I’m the one up there calling myself a ho, *exaggerated head bob* talkin’ ’bout the way that I like to get fucked. *smiles*
Karl: So what sorts of things would you like to see more of in West Hollywood?
Wendy: This is just a people thing, and not everybody is like this, but the one thing about the audiences here is that people just don’t come out to see shows. I don’t know if this is generational thing because people can just stay home and watch this shit. People here come out for them, but they don’t come out to watch, or engage, or be respectful. Instead, they come out to be seen themselves. It’s more like, “Where can I go to be seen, what’s the hot thing this week?” I guess as a performer in an overly saturated market, you always wish that people would come out and sample new stuff, and generally support it.
Karl: You mean, as opposed to making the person on stage an accessory to the club?
Wendy: Absolutely, that’s what it is. It’s just something they want to point to once in awhile. I mean Karaoke, that’s fine, I get it, that’s what that is, but my show over at the Palms, it’s been tough to get people over there to check it out.
Karl: Well, do you think that’s maybe a recessionary thing too?
Wendy: I definitely think it is. Yes. Getting people to come out is just hard in general. There seems to be a complaint among business owners that the city makes it really hard for them to run these bars. I don’t know the details of what the laws are or how they’re making it difficult for them, but for a place that’s so supported by this community and goes out as patrons to these bars, I wish that it was easier for the businesses.
Karl: Where are you primarily performing in this area?
Karl: It’s pretty hot down there, huh?
Wendy: Yeah, it’s good.
Karl: You seem to have the promotional thing down, you’re pretty good at it.
Wendy: I am good at it. I hate it, but… Performing live is what I love to do, it’s my first love as an entertainer. And I realize that whatever I do for a living is going to be in support of that habit – you know, getting out there, and *bobs head* findin’ the luv! But I didn’t expect the business part of it. I think everybody has this idea that somebody’s gonna come along and take care of that part of it for you, or produce you in some way. And in reality, you just have to do it. I consider myself very lucky that I can make my living doing what I’m doing, and that the community has been welcoming to me. They don’t have to be. They could be like, “Oh that girl, she’s just trying to be another female drag queen, and she’s not a man, and blah, blah, blah.” But they didn’t. They totally embraced it.
Karl: Well, you are the community. All of us weirdos *points around restaurant and cracks up* make up this community. Do you get recognized? Do people come up to you often?
Wendy: Not a lot. I look different outside of my drag. I have a lot of wigs that I wear, a fro, long hair and stuff. Down in San Diego, where there were posters all over the place, everybody was recognizing me there. And that’s fun, but here it’s a little more incognito.
Karl: And what would you like to see less of?
Wendy: I would like to see less of the segregation that goes on.
Karl: You’re referring to the division that you touched on earlier?
Wendy: Yeah, and just the bitchiness that goes along with it. It would be one thing if it were just, “They’ve got theirs, we’ve got ours.” But with so many people, it has to be a competition; it has to be, “there’s not room for everybody to just do it their way.”
Karl: How do you go about resolving that?
Wendy: I don’t know. I’m always one to make it clear that I’m not here to compete against you. I had this one tranny online who was harassing me saying, “You’re not a trans, and I’m gonna come to your show, get up on stage, and battle with you. I’m gonna kick your ass and have somebody come and film it.” And I was like, “What I do is my take on things, and it’s to make people laugh, it’s not to compete against you or make you feel like there’s not room for everybody.” Actually the act is about accepting everyone as they are. I think the reason why so many gays relate to it is because there was a total cathartic coming out process that was involved in doing it. I was raised a very staunch Catholic so I had a lot of stuff that I had to battle in order to let it out.
I think the only thing you can do is just not partake in that and not feel the need to do that to another artist. It’s sad that in a community that’s so about embracing diversity that there are these divisions that happen. Existence as a human is hard. It’s hard for everybody, no matter what level they’re on, no matter what they’ve got, no matter what car they’re driving. There are these things we’ve all got to work against and overcome as human beings, and once we can unite in that I think everybody will be able to loosen up and have better relationships with one another.
Karl: So did she show up and kick your ass?
Wendy: No! She didn’t because I wrote to her and I said, “Listen, this stance that you’re taking to have beef with me online is not going to help you in your career.”
Karl: Well, is it fair to say that you’re in one of the more conflicting industries?
Wendy: Absolutely! A friend of mine has been on this “Rupaul’s Drag Race” which has been a big thing because everybody wants to go and see these girls now. But because it’s a competition, these people that watch it really take it to heart and just started firing things on my friend’s Facebook page about how she was a negative bitch, and fat, and just all this nasty shit. I always love it when somebody wants to come along and wave the flag of “let’s be positive” but does it in a completely negative way.
Karl: Yeah. Going on national television is really throwing yourself out there to the wolves. Even putting something on youtube is bad enough these days, people just tear you up!
Wendy: So much of entertainment is smoke and mirrors, make it look pretty, look how perfect it is out here, our lives are just better than yours, when in reality, everyone fucking struggles.
Karl: When you do go out, what places do you like to hit?
Wendy: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I enjoy the afternoon cocktail with my lady friends. We’ll go to really sceney places like The Polo Lounge, we’ll get a table, hang out, and just see that scene which is fun. Sometimes I’ll go have a drink with my man over at Boardners in Hollywood.
Karl: Right. Next to Bar Sinister.
Wendy: That’s the place where we dated and got to know each other, so I like to go over there and have a cocktail. And, if I’m not working, I do like to go out and frequent people’s shows. I love to hit Trannyshack when it comes to town at the Echoplex. And I love to go to the Dreamgirls over at Rage. They’re fucking amazing. I have to say, even in New York, I’ve never seen drag like I’ve seen it here. It’s just like, “Oh my Lord… You all are serious!” *laughs*
Karl: So where do you see this city in 20 years? Do you think we’re headed in a good direction or a bad direction?
Wendy: I think we’re headed in a good direction. We live in a great place, we’re able to express ourselves and do what we want to do here. There are so many places where you can do that, but you’re gonna get pummeled maybe. Things will continue to evolve and change, and the city will have to roll with it. I think the whole thing with it needing to be labeled as “gay” is gonna die. I do. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This will always be a gayborhood where gay men and women come to live, where it’s safe to walk around, hold hands, and be affectionate with one another. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it’s… I don’t want to use the word “gentrification…” I just don’t think that it’s a bad thing that it’s mixing. The small businesses are still here, and I think that they’re going to stay here, but that’s up to us and our patronage.