divas and drag: performance artist kalup linzy on singing and acting

If you’ve never seen one of Kalup Linzy’s campy send-ups of soap opera stars and music divas, you must! Riffing story lines from classic programs like As the World Turns and General Hospital, these video works splice together drag performances with footage from actual episodes in spoofs only a devoted soap  fan could concoct. Linzy writes, directs, and acts in all of the works, which mimic the ludicrous plot lines and relationship dramas from a queer, African-American sensibility.  “Part Richard Pryor, part RuPaul” (according to this website), his scantily clad, wigged performances bring a whole new dimension to female impersonation, playing with notions of  masculinity and celebrity culture along the way.

Linzy’s music videos do much the same, conveying a love of melodrama and stagecraft that is pure camp.  With titles like How Kontessa Got Her Groove Back, and  Labisha’s Top Five Break-Up Song, and laugh-out loud-lyrics (“Here I am, I’m waitin’ baby. I’m in the Lover’s Hotel. Watching the neon sign…I’m waitin’ baby. Oh, the L just went out on the neon sign — now I’m reading a sign that say’s Over’s Hotel. But I’m waitin’ baby, I’m waitin. Oh-Oh, now the S just went out and its Over Hotel…Are you tryin to tell me something, baby?”), Linzy is indeed “A True Original Talent”.  That accolade comes from none other than comedian Molly Shannon, and is featured prominently on his website, Linzy no doubt reveling in both its honor and irony.

The mini-interview conducted here came about after I learned that  the artist is, in fact, quite shy in person (nothing like the over-the-top personas he so brilliantly conceives and adapts on video). This isn’t unusual among truly gifted performer, but  I got curious about how he started to sing and act in the first place, so asked him.

JH: Hey Kalup! So tell me when did you first realize you liked to sing and perform? Are there any specific childhood memories or influences that come to mind?

KL: I grew up singing in the gospel choir and i was influenced by relatives; also watching my older cousins in church plays. later, the passion came stronger when i was introduced to soap operas, also through my family.

JH: I love to sing myself, but am too shy to do so in public ala karaoke, etc. how did you overcome this? And why does dressing up or going into comedic character make it easier, as it often does for performers. Is it just the safety and distance of masquerade?

KL: I’m more intimidated by walking up to a stranger and saying hello. there is a lot of distance in creating a character, so yeah, that probably is the reason I use characters!

JH: You also seem to engage collaboration as both a process and a philosophy to guide your work, no?

KL: Actually, I’m not sure that collaboration guides my work. I collaborate when there is an intersection between another artist and myself. for example, I know gender is important physically, but I think physically and spiritually there are other things you can connect to in a person that go beyond gender or race. That was one of the ideas I was working with. I never know if people get that out of the videos. Spirit and essence are like different personas and characters.

JH: Who, musically, most inspires you – and your work – at this moment?

KL: I’m still inspired by Erykah Badu, while Rhiana is growing on me in a different way, and there’s these two openly gay rappers Last Offence, and Bry’Nt…and also, I like DJ Rupture a lot.

Born in Stuckey, Florida, Linz graduated from the MFA program at the University of South Florida in 2003, and in 2005 became the sleeper hit in the Studio Museum of Harlem’s influential group exhibition, Frequency. A Guggenheim Fellowship followed in 2007, with a 2008 Creative Capital Grant in tow. His work was recently seen in The Whitney  Museum’s Off The Wall: Part 1 – Thirty Performative Actions, and currently in Contemporary Art From the Collection ( MoMA).

For more information, go to http://www.kaluplinzy.net/

and check out these vids on youtube: