Eric Jaffe: Oy vey, it’s EJ!

Eric Jaffe: Oy vey, it’s EJ!

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“Applause? I’d love some!” That’s the way this week’s Portrait, Eric Jaffe, starts his monthly cabaret, “The Eric Jaffe Show.” In addition to his regular performances, the multi-talented Jaffe can soon be seen for one night only in “Oy, to the World,” a dance party for “people of Jewish faith and their allies.” The event will include music by DJ Carl Michaels, comedy and live performances starring Jaffe, the fabulous Brittany Lynn, Satine Harlow and Alexis Michelle from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” 

PGN: You’re a musician?

EJ: Yes, I’m actually a world ukulele champion, a drag queen and a comedian among other things.

PGN: So what are some of the things that make you, you?

EJ: I feel like I am a very ridiculous performer. I’m a live singer and I write a lot of parody songs, kind of like Weird Al Yankovic. But I write them about very irreverent topics; a lot of toilet humor, a lot of queer humor, and I’m a gender-queer drag queen.

PGN: Expand on that.

EJ: I’m a bearded queen — my drag is a perspective on gender; breaking down the walls that have been set by society of what a glamorous person should look like.                                                          

PGN: Tell me a little about your show.

EJ: Every month, I bring four different live singing cabaret performers to the bar. My partner is a balloon artist, and every month he makes a different outfit for me made entirely out of balloons — anything from a dress to a wig to a headpiece. He’s turned me into different characters like Marge Simpson, and he just made a dress for the Philadelphia Drag Awards a couple of weeks ago that had my name on it. He’s so talented. It always gives me something to look forward to.

PGN: Did you go to college?

EJ: I went to Florida Atlantic University where I got a BFA in acting. I learned a lot in college about performance and how I really wanted to break away from stereotypical theater. I was constantly told to “straighten up” and lower my voice if I wanted to get any stage roles — that I needed to pass as a heterosexual male, and that was hard for me, to hear that you can’t be yourself when theater is like, the queerest profession in the world. Why should I have to present myself as heteronormative? And that’s why drag and cabaret were so appealing to me — I could do whatever I wanted and I could produce my own kinds of shows. I just started working on a parody musical of Sweeney Todd, where I’m rewriting the whole show with new songs and a parody script.

PGN: Will there be a new connotation to Todd wanting to eat someone?

EJ: Yes! Actually in this show it’s Mrs. Lovett’s Fry Shop — instead of a pie shop, instead of killing people, they cut off their fingers and turn them into fries. It’s really silly and over the top and the exact kind of thing I want to be doing. We just started rehearsals last week.

PGN: I saw the original Broadway production with Angela Lansbury the year she won the Tony for it.

EJ: Oh! She’s my hero. I’m playing Mrs. Lovett in this production.

PGN: So tell me a little about your partner.

EJ: My partner’s name is Greg and we’ve been together for almost two years. In addition to being a balloon sculptor, he’s a visual artist. He did most of the artwork in this room.

PGN: Very impressive!

EJ: Yeah, and he’s the kindest, most supportive person I’ve ever met. Being with another artist and being able to blend your artistry with theirs is nothing I’ve experienced before, and it’s inspired me to grow so much as an artist. Each week, I know he’s going to create some incredible piece for me, so I’d better have good material to go with it and I’d better look beautiful to do it justice! I want to match his level of talent with mine, so we constantly push each other.

PGN: Who’s the bigger romantic and what was the biggest gesture?

EJ: We both are. For gestures on my first birthday with him, he made me a pillow with both of our names on it. It was the sweetest gift anyone’s given me.

PGN: Give me an example of the extreme side of you.

EJ: I do a parody of the song, “First Time is Forever” from Disney’s “Frozen” and turn it into a heartwarming song about group sex. I’m often crass and crude and ridiculous. I have a whole show of songs called “Songs from the Fart.”

PGN: What effect do you think losing your parents at such an early age had on you other than no one to scold you about doing so many fart jokes?

EJ: [Laughing] Well, that part is 100 percent from my dad. He was very crass and had no boundaries when it came to humor. But yeah, it was very difficult trying to figure out how to exist without them. Both of them were huge supporters of mine, and when you lose the people who give you unconditional love it’s like, ‘Now what? How do I exist?’ It’s one of the reasons I don’t use a drag name and say Eric Jaffe in full. It’s who I am and keeps me close to them. No matter how ridiculous I get on stage, I carry their name with pride.

PGN: Had you come out before they died?

EJ: Yes, I came out when I was 16. My mom was very aware since I was young and I always knew I was different, even when I didn’t know what it was. My dad had a hard time when I first came out, but it was out of concern for me and he came around in a few years.

PGN: Did religion play into it at all?

EJ: Not really, I grew up Jewish and I still identify, culturally at least. We were never told it was bad, or wrong. They were always accepting of all kinds of people. So I never felt the shame that a lot of people feel around gender and sexuality.

PGN: This is a scary time for most people, but especially minorities with the atmosphere generated by the current administration. Do you feel that?

EJ: Definitely, it’s terrifying. My grandparents were both Holocaust survivors. My grandmother was smuggled out of Germany, curled up under the seat of a taxi and then put on a boat. My grandfather escaped as well. My Jewish heritage is another way for me to feel close to my parents — celebrating Passover or lighting Hanukkah candles. It’s scary knowing there are so many people intolerant of so many things right now.

PGN: Describe your grandparents.

EJ: My grandfather was hilarious and the most optimistic person I know. He was so smart; he was an engineer for RCA and my grandmother was probably the first person to embrace me for being gay. She knew way before anyone else. I remember in fourth grade I wanted to go to school as a woman, so she gave me this little kimono and put a wig on me and sent me to school in drag. No one said a thing and I felt great. Looking back, that was so cool of her.

PGN: A fun family memory?

EJ: My mom took me and my brother to Vegas for my 21st birthday. I wasn’t able to get into the casinos until midnight, so we sat on the street outside and got beer from a guy selling Coronas from out of a cooler. It was awesome.

PGN: If you could go back to any period in time what would you choose?

EJ: The ’70s. I love a good bell bottom and a really long weave!

PGN: Two TV shows on your DVR?

EJ: 30 Rock and Steven Universe. I just did a Steven Universe drag show. If you don’t know it, it’s an amazing cartoon, very queer with a lesbian relationship including a girl-on-girl kiss and the first cartoon with a nonbinary character.   

PGN: Cool. What was a culture shock about moving to Florida?

EJ: The lack of culture!

PGN: How often do you play your ukulele?

EJ: Every day.

PGN: You’ve won several awards. Which is the most meaningful for you?

EJ: I just won the Philly Drag Award for Best Host, Best Alternative Drag Queen and Drag Queen of the Year. It was crazy. It’s voted on by people in the community, so that really meant a lot, especially since what I do — being a bearded drag queen, which is not the norm — was amazing. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

PGN: Tell me about the show coming up on Christmas Eve.

EJ: We’re doing “Oy to the World” with Alexis Michelle from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The cast is all queer, Jewish performers. I’ll be doing a parody of “Santa Baby” called “Santa Bubbe.” n

“The Eric Jaffe Show” is held every third Saturday at Tavern on Camac, 243 S. Camac St.; 215-545-0900. “Oy to the World” takes place Dec. 24 9:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. at Tabu, 254 S. 12th St.; 215-964-9675).

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