Meet the man behind the makeup: John Burd. Philadelphia Magazine voted him one of the top-10 event producers of the summer, and his amateur-drag night has been a consistent hit and talk of the town for its fun and inclusive entertainment.
PGN: I understand you’re a Jersey boy.
JB: Yes, I was born and bred in New Jersey. I grew up on a farm right outside of Glassboro. I went to Rowan University and got my master’s degree in computer science there. Then about five years ago, I moved to Philly to get out of Jersey. Well, not so much to get out of Jersey, but to a place where I’d feel more welcome and would fit in better. I absolutely love it here.
PGN: So take me back to the farm and tell me a little about your home life.
JB: I’m one of four. I have an older sister, who is married and lives in New Jersey with two kids. I have a brother 16 months younger than I and he’s also gay, and a younger sister who just got engaged.
PGN: So who came out first, you or your brother?
JB: I came out first, but I always knew he was gay. My parents didn’t want to believe me. They said, “There’s no way we could have two gay sons! It just doesn’t happen that way!” And I was like, “Yes it does so you should be ready for it!” And so a year and a half ago, he moved to North Carolina and then came out — and my parents were like, “We didn’t knooow!” and I was like, “Yes you did! I’ve been telling you for years!”
PGN: Tell me a little about life on the farm. Did you have farm chores?
JB: No! The complete opposite. My parents kept us away from all that; they wanted us to do better than they did, so they kept us away from the farm work and concentrated on our academics — which was unusual for people in the farming community. My dad is fifth or sixth-generation farmer, and usually people are like, We want you to carry on the tradition; it’s a family thing. But my parents were very proactive about making sure we all went to college.
PGN: What kind of farm is it?
JB: Vegetables, no animals, though my dad was a dairy farmer at one point, but it was before we were born. We grew up with them growing potatoes, corn, tomatoes and watermelon.
PGN: What were you like as a young person?
JB: I’ve always been a big tech person, always have, always will be. My mom knew from a very young age that I would be. Even as a young person, I had a job in my hometown at the school in the tech department helping out the teachers, fixing computers and that kind of stuff. Eventually my path changed, and I got more into training people in how to use technology — and now it’s changed again and I’m in technology sales. I help people figure out what they need in their schools and classrooms. It’s cool.
PGN: So were you one of the AV [audio/visual] guys at school?
JB: Yes, I was.
PGN: It sounds like you’ve come full circle from working AV in your school to now planning what the schools need.
JB: I’m working with schools now to decide what the future of the schools will look like technology-wise. Every kid will have a device, that’s already happening; it’s about what’s coming next. So my job is to a) sell, but b) mentor people and help steer them to the future.
PGN: So what is coming next?
JB: That’s a big answer, but this is what I know: The classroom as you and I knew it is going to change. When we were in school, the model was that you sat at a desk in a big room, with everyone facing forward listening to the teacher preaching about a subject. In the future, the classrooms will be more hands-on and center-driven.
PGN: What does center-driven mean?
JB: They’re like hubs — so I could walk into a classroom and each center, or station, if you will, will have something different for kids to do. One might have virtual reality, one center may be more research-driven, one may have physical things like Legos for building — several spaces for kids to learn in different ways.
PGN: Cool. Switching gears, what is your drag name?
JB: Lydia, but I don’t bring her out much anymore. I started to host first and I loved it. I’m a salesperson, so I like speaking in front of people, but I quickly decided it was hard to host and produce, so I decided to run the show and put in people I loved. My goal is and was to be an equal-opportunity promoter who would put good people into shows and pay them fairly. I don’t ever want anyone to feel like they’re being taken advantage of, or that they spent more money to get to my show than they made. I think I’ve stayed true to that. I constantly ask my performers if they’re OK and if they’re being treated and compensated fairly, and it’s always a yes, so that’s gratifying.
PGN: So going back a little, how old were you when you came out?
JB: I was 20. I’ve known since I was 3, but as I mentioned, I grew up in a farming community and it wasn’t the easiest place to be a gay man. In my whole school, there were two people who were out, which is not a lot of people at all. I knew it wasn’t going to happen for me — I just wasn’t ready to come out. I never hid anything, I just wasn’t ready to talk about it and then when I hit 20, all bets were off. I just woke up one day and thought, Why am I not talking about who I am to my family? So I texted the entire family in a big group message and confused the heck out of my poor mom. She had no idea who was gay because everyone was texting at once. Later she said, “I had no idea what was happening, I thought it was Taylor coming out!” At the time, my brother had a girlfriend named Taylor who we all suspected was gay … My parents are super cool, but they’re also super oblivious to things right in front of them, and they were like, “We had no idea about you … ” and I was like, “Mom, I used to sing Shania Twain’s ‘Man, I Feel Like a Woman’ to you as a kid. All my favorite artists were the divas like Cher and Whitney, not that straight men can’t like them too, but you didn’t pick up anything from that? Hello!” But I was lucky that my mom’s cousin, who was like an aunt to me, was gay and had come out a long time ago. She got married and I think that’s what prompted me to come out. Seeing the love and acceptance she received from the family, I was like, Why am I acting so scared? I just need to bite the bullet and do it. After, I was mad and sad that I hadn’t done it much earlier.
PGN: So who is the handsome man I saw in your Facebook pictures?
JB: That’s my fiancé Victor, and he’s absolutely the most wonderful human being in the world. He definitely complements me because I’m very … well, opinionated, and I can be a bitch at times and not always the most understanding or patient person. He’s the polar opposite. He’s the sweetest, nicest person and everyone is always attracted to him because he’s such a great guy. Where I can be high-strung, he’s calm and relaxed, and it’s definitely settled me down being with him. He makes me a better person.
PGN: Who did the proposing?
JB: I proposed to him at Christmas. We were in Disney World and my goal was to do it in front of the castle, but for some reason that day the park was swamped with people. I had such anxiety with so many people around, I ended up doing it back at the hotel instead. Fortunately he told me later that he was glad I did it that way instead of in front of everyone.
PGN: What has been your most precarious moment traveling?
JB: We were in Vegas when the shootings happened [last October]. That was crazy.
PGN: If you were to have a dinner party, which three celebrities would you invite?
JB: No brainer: Adele, Cher and Celine Dion. More than just their music, I love their personalities. I love to see them on talk shows and listen to the banter between numbers at live shows. We actually just went to see Cher last weekend in D.C.
PGN: What’s a line that your parents used over and over?
JB: Get your shit together.
PGN: Ha! Well, let’s talk about some of the things you do have together that are coming up.
JB: I do Paula’s Kitchen, which is fun, and my flagship show, Amateur Drag Night. In the fall, we’re going to have some exciting new stuff in areas of the city we haven’t been in yet, but you’ll just have to wait and see what we have in store!