May 12, 2020 at 9:54 am PDT | by Scott Stiffler
Four trumps 19: The Kinsey Sicks’ COVID-era creations

L to R: Trixie (Jeff Manabat), Winnie (Nathan Marken), Angel (J.B. McLendon), Trampolina (Spencer Brown). (Photo by Paco Ojeda)

When the going gets tough, the tough get on the go—even if they’re quarantined. After all, they’ve got ample time on their hands, and it handily beats letting our present/future COVID-19 crisis beat you down, or leave you to spend your days beating your own… well, you know how that one goes. Actually, come to think of it, that second option’s not bad.

Sheltering in place but not standing still, veteran Dragapella® Beautyshop Quartet-cum-satirical/political group The Kinsey Sicks—who would have been touring right now, were it not for shuttered venues—have amped up their online presence, with timely new music and a determination to get back on the boards just as soon as the all-clear is called. (The national tour of their “Electile Dysfunction” musical extravaganza has been postponed until further notice, although in the spirit of “subject to change,” it’s presently noted on their website.)

But if anything good can come out of this end-times scenario, count among that short list drag queens who’ve employed everything from gallows humor to heartfelt advice to score-keeping tales of woe to get them out of bed in the morning, in the hopes that one day soon, they’ll be bed-hopping again.

Chief among those able alley cats, The Kinsey Sicks: Trixie (Jeff Manabat), Winnie (Nathan Marken), Angel (J.B. McLendon), and Trampolina (Spencer Brown).

The group, whose “Social Distance” parody of The Divine Miss M’s “From a Distance” dropped at the tail end of March, finds our quarantined quartet biding their time indoors by playing Jenga-for-one, eating peanut butter straight from the jar, binging on Disney+, waiting for that stimulus check, and, sans a man, spooning toilet paper. Hey, we’ve all been there. And if we haven’t? Girl, it’s only a matter of time.

Similarly, yet differently, early May’s “Don’t-cha Touch-a, Touch-a-Touch Me!” found our girls one month into self-isolation—feeling the strain of no human touch, and making due with suggestive cameo appearances by bananas and carrots. Still, their collective dry spell finds some solace in non-stop digs at Trump.

“I’ll trade off satisfaction for strong leadership and action,” goes the tune, based on a certain ditty from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” And if you don’t get the reference, you’d better hand in your Gay Club Membership Card. (Unless we can take a rain check on the secret handshake, in which case, all is forgiven.)

But it was sunny skies ahead, when the bill came due for The Kinsey Sicks to answer our burning inquiries.

The Los Angeles Blade: How did “Social Distance” come about? How was it written/shot, and what sort of feedback has it gotten from fans?

Spencer/Trampolina: Anyone familiar with The Kinsey Sicks already knows that the group’s origins were inspired by attending a Bette Midler concert in the ’90s. When her classic hit “From a Distance” got into my head, I immediately sat down and hammered out the lyrics. Then Jeff, one of our other members, whipped up the arrangement and sent the music file for all of us to learn and record. Within a short amount of time, those individual recordings were sent back to him for mixing, and the combined four-part harmony track was then sent out for us to sing along to for reference. Over the next few days, we each got in drag and shot our videos, which were then sent back to me for a few more days of editing.

Finally, after a little more than a week since I was inspired to write “Social Distance,” we released the finished video to our fans all over social media. Their feedback has been nothing but positive! Though we are devastated to cancel our spring tour (something we’ve never done in our 26 years of this group existing), this video is a gift for our fans, and lets them know we’re still here fighting the good fight!

Blade: Are there other group projects in the works?

Spencer/Trampolina: This first video (“Social Distance”) was an experiment. All four members of the group live in different states across the country (Kansas, Maryland, California, and Illinois, presently). Being able to write a parody, get it arranged, learn it, then record it (individually!), and edit/mix everything in a short amount of time is something we’ve never attempted, but having done that and seeing the reaction of fans both old and new, we’re now inspired to create more. We’re planning on even more performance-related content, and are excited to already be in pre-production for more parody music videos, and possibly live or pre-recorded appearances (depending on what technologies all four of us can master!).

Blade: What mpact did the realities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic have on the group’s worldview, and what parallels, if any, do you draw to the current COVID-19 crisis?

Jeff/Trixie: By the time The Kinsey Sicks was formed in San Francisco in the early ’90s, almost a quarter-million people, most of them gay and bi men, died from the epidemic, and San Francisco was one of the epicenters. Although thousands were dead and dying, mainstream American society still had a negative view of the community, and the American government had barely made any response to help. For several years, the LGBT community and its allies were almost entirely alone. And yet there was still a need to find some measure of joy amidst all the pain and tragedy, perhaps a creative yet politically charged way to respond to the incredible injustice from not just politicians, but our fellow Americans. Amidst this atmosphere, and soon after a fateful trip to a Bette Midler concert, a group of close friends was inspired to create The Kinsey Sicks.

To get a fuller picture of the beginnings of the group, and to trace its origins to the current political atmosphere, it’s worth watching this remarkable monologue by Emeritus member Ben Schatz (“Rachel”), a Harvard-trained civil rights lawyer, former Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, and one-time presidential advisor on HIV issues, who created the first national AIDS legal project and authored Clinton’s HIV policy during the 1992 presidential campaign: (https://youtu.be/qnEHzeN0kHI).

Our worldview is still heavily influenced by this genesis. It’s embedded in our DNA. For decades, The Kinsey Sicks has produced works commenting on that nexus of politics, culture, and sexuality through drag and a cappella, and we will continue to be influenced by, comment on, and respond to the world around us that way.

There can be parallels made between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the current crisis, such as the extreme measures by the GOP to use tragedy for their own political gain, and to pit communities against each other whilst hoarding more power. However, the swift response of the government on all levels—from federal to state to local—and the mobilization of the majority of Americans to support those in crisis is much different. Back then, it was several years before the federal government even acknowledged the existence of AIDS/HIV, let alone begin the search for treatment.

Today, the Coronavirus response has been a matter of weeks or months, and the search for a vaccine has become a national priority. However, for both times, higher powers have acted in ways that merit a critical response from artists—and for us, as it was then, it’s a response of the musical variety.

Blade: Has this forced time away from public performance impacted the group’s output, and approach to using online/social media as an expression of your artistry?

Spencer/Trampolina: Absolutely! When we’re not on stage, the group is always working behind the scenes on how we can effectively produce new material, and the traction that this new video [Social Distance”] has gotten really inspires us to keep going.

Blade: Has the group had any notable virtual interactions with fans during this period of social distancing?

Spencer/Trampolina: The Kinsey Sicks is no stranger to social distancing. Many, many, of our audiences have been avoiding us for years. So we keep our virtual interactions with fans to a minimum for their safety.

Blade: This one is for every member of the group: The all-clear is called and we’re allowed to gather in public again. What are the first things you’re going to do?

Nathan/Winnie: As soon as we can go out in public, I look forward to getting back on the campaign trail with The Kinsey Sicks, sampling all the delectable vegetarian fare from coast-to-coast.

Jeff/Trixie: I can’t wait to go back to modern life’s basic public pleasures: dinner-and-a-movie dates with my favorite boyfriends, shopping sprees with my favorite sugar daddies, and multiple anonymous hookups via my favorite apps.

J.B./Angel: I’m planning a three-way with Mitch McConnell and social scientist Peter Navarro. It might not happen but I’m trusting my intuition on this one.

Spencer/Trampolina: Vote.

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