Arts & Culture News

And Now a Conversation with Sharon Needles, The World's Weirdest Drag Queen Character

Black leather gets clingy in the heat and her Tammy Faye Baker tattoo is susceptible to sun damage, so you won't catch drag superstar Sharon Needles hostessing a brunch anytime soon. Dance routines involving parasols are also out of the question.

In fact, her rider includes: A coffin, pallbearers, a fog machine, Pabst Blue Ribbon and a blender, the last of which Needles uses to liquify the audience's cash tips. If you want a ballad-blurring pastel flower, look elsewhere. She's Sharon Fucking Needles.

The character's personality has taken its performer, Aaron Coady, a decade to perfect. Spending that much time living in the mind of another (albeit, fictitious) human, has resulted in a nearly Stockholm connection between inventor and muse -- although who's in charge could be debated. Coady speaks in a collective "we" regarding both his personal life and Sharon, the ditzy, gothic persona who slunk out of the shadows and won the crown on RuPaul's Drag Race, Season Four. Superficially the two exist as polar opposites. On a deeper, more exploratory emotional level, Coady and Needles are modified amplifications of one other.

If you've missed her up until now, Sharon Needles is a fever dream of latex, profanity, b-horror films, failed GED attempts and lewd alleyway sex acts. She's a reflection of a non-comforming generation, a discarded black fingernail floating in the mimosa of traditional drag. And on Thursday night, she'll pop out of her borrowed coffin at It'll Do Dancing Club for Queen, the venue's new dragabration. She called me from a car, on her way to -- wait for it -- Fire Island.

SHARON NEEDLES: I'm on my way to my ferry to take me to Fire Island, and you know what they say: "What happens in Fire Island, stays in Fire Island. Unless you get AIDS!" [Wild cackle] Mixmaster: You're everywhere! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. SN: No problem! I could talk about myself for hours! M: How did you initially find your love for performing drag? SN: Well I grew up in a small town in Iowa and there weren't a lot of imaginative and fun outlets for kids of my caliber, so pretty much my mom's closet and any large pieces of fabric in the Halloween box were my favorite toys. I've always toyed around with creating over-the-top lady characters in my head. At about 15 I started performing in my first show. Then I was bitten by the drag bug, immediately infected and it's still festering until this day.

M: Tell me a little about that first show? SN: I lip synched to "Human Nature," by Madonna. I was really in love with that video when I was a teenager because she wore vinyl fetish wear. And she got tied to a chair. And she whipped a little chihuahua. So I ended up doing a very innocent, 15 year-old's version of a very adult video. It was pretty much like any queen's first performance: God awful and terrible.

M: Even then your characters were not standard-issue, hair shushers. Did you ever dabble with more mainstream, traditionally polished characters? SN: I've always been a little off the beaten path. But I wanted to fit in with the drag world, so I would try out for those pageants, but my brain has always been broken. And after a couple of years I realized that I would always make dead last. And that I must be more different than I thought I was. So I embrace it, and I love other performers who can think outside of the box to put on an entertaining show.

I like blood and guts and puke and things that make me laugh, so while I definitely tried to be accepted in that pageant world, it wasn't really flying with them. M: Needles has gone through a bit of evolution, in those early videos she's a thrashed up prostitute, wrecking through alleys. And now, she's dead. SN: Correct! Sharon Needles was based on two things: That she was beautiful and that she was stupid. I did that because the other queens' personas were to be mean, or attacking, or bitchy. Or as we like to say, cunt-y. I'm no good at faking that: I'm naturally kind of cunty. So we made her stupid and a beautiful prostitute. But she was missing something that made her complete, so I decided to make her dead.

I have such a fascination with horror films, and people like Elvira, Peggy Bundy and Rhonda Shear from USA Up All Night, so we made her beautiful, spooky and stupid. It's advice that I always give queens: Pick three pieces of your formula that really aren't you -- that's just for her -- and stick to it. That allows for versatility but keeps your character consistent. M: The fact that Needles is dumb is one of my favorite things about her. When she's in a situation where she'd have to think, you give her this barracuda slack jawed look. Then things which should affect her, just fly right over her head. It gets her into, and out of, situations really well. SN: The most lovable thing about her is that she mispronounces words, or she'll say her own catch phrases completely wrong.

M: What do you think Sharon is here to do, if she's on a sort of mission? SN: She's here to entertain. She's here to make you laugh. And she's here to make you think. M: What is she here to make us think about? SN: Well, as dumb as we try to make her, we take a lot of social anxieties, we take a lot things in our culture that we try to remain mum about, and I basically trash them and make fun of them.

It's healing through humor, but also it's a way to light the dark issues from society. If it makes the evening news, it will make it into my show.

M: What was the most challenging aspect of, or competition in, Drag Race for you? SN: Well, since I won most of them [Wild cackle, followed by an abrupt halt.] When I don't know what I'm doing, I try to think of the exact opposite of obvious. That seemed to work. In the drag world, we tend to aim to please. But I'm the kind of person who shows up in all black to a white party. I'm the person who shows up in a wedding dress to a wedding.

M: What's the craziest thing you've bought with that prize money? SN: The most lavish thing I've bought myself is the production grade of my album, which is coming out in January. I wanted the best of the best. Best producer. Best celebrity guests. Best sound quality. It's crazy. And I bought a car: a 1972 Bonneville Hearse with sirens. It's one gorgeous car that you can park nowhere.

M: After you took the crown on Drag Race, you transitioned from a place of reasonable anonymity, performing in clubs in Pittsburgh, to existing on a national scale where your actions got picked apart. Your artistic decisions were dissected and aired publicly by the media without allowing you to speak to your intentions. You later did and the topics dissolved, but I'm curious about that time as a suddenly-famous lightening rod. How did it affect you? SN: The answer that I should say is that "I don't give a fuck!" because that kind of silences the press. But that's also not an honest answer.

The answer is that fame has done nothing but fill me with absolute anxiety. The same reason I wanted fame, and all drag queens want fame, is that we're people who were misunderstood, so we want it for the wrong reasons. From smart people to dolts, we look at fame so selfishly and childishly. Then, you realize fame can only be felt by the unfamous. Once you have it, you realize that it's not a Xanax, it's not a Band-aid -- it's a microscope on your life.

What I've learned about it is that I don't make fun of stars very much anymore. I used to look at magazines and go "Uhg, why did she wear that?" You know why she wore it? Somebody told her to. She put it on. Whatever, it happened. "Or why would they do that?" You know why: because they fucking did it. That's why. People do things all day when they're not sleeping, and it can all be judged. I've learned to be a lot more open minded about everything and everyone.

And, "I don't give a fuck!"

M:Thanks for chatting and we'll see you Thursday. Sharon Needles: Happy Halloween, and Hail Satan!

Her show has a $15 cover. Pay it at the door.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin