It's the second year of DRAGram! This year, along with drag performers from Croatia and the region, House of Flamingo are bringing us two queer acts from the UK.
Joe Black describes himself as a "gin drinking cabaret darling, musical comedy misfit, drag clown and acid tongued ringmaster". He's strummed his ukulele and dazzled and shocked audiences with a mix of music, theatre and comedy across the globe, performing alongside names such as Eddie Izzard, The Tiger Lillies, David J, Voltaire, Toyah Wilcox and Duke Special.
And now he's coming to Studio Smijeha in Zagreb! I spoke to him about being a drag clown, performing dark cabaret, and what makes Mister Joe Black who he is.
What first attracted you to cabaret? How did you get started?
I just found it fascinating. It includes so much and it could be one of so many things. I always performed in a sort of cabaret style, but in music nights. Eventually I got discovered by cabaret producers and then I was welcomed with open arms into the cabaret world!
You describe yourself as genderless. I assume that playing around with gender roles and our expectations of them is a big part of your performance and your identity. How has drag and the expected conventions of drag, if there are even any, helped (or hindered) that?
Well, I've always been sort of androgynous. even out of makeup. I've always found it interesting how people get so confused by my gender! So I love to keep it questionable. I don't think it's hindered what do, it only seems to have helped. Because people seem to find it interesting I suppose? In the drag world I'm one of not all that many doing what I do — which is nice. So I think it helps to keep it fresh.
You also call yourself a drag clown. Which part of your drag is clownish, and which part of the clown is drag?
My face! I'm completely a clown… my performance, my look, my interaction. I am always the brunt of my own joke. I AM the joke. Clowns have that mischievious quality which I love so much and it's always a pleasure to try and push a joke as far and as ridiculously as I can.
Who (and what) are your biggest inspirations when it comes to your performance?
I love the storytelling of Tom Waits. I love the music of Danny Elfman. Musicals, 1920’s and 1930’s cabaret song. Music hall songs. Dirty vintage songs… I love those. The ones that are rude.. but not quite so obviously rude. I'm massively inspired by American vaudeville as well.
Would you call what you do dark cabaret, or would you call it something else? I'm asking because whichever definition you provide, it's bound to be more interesting than anything I come up with after a quick and dirty Google search.
Dark cabaret is cabaret... but I suppose it has a more sinister twist and aesthetic. Cabaret is quite a broad term.. dark cabaret sort of makes it more specific I think? When you hear dark cabaret I think you have an idea in your head of what the vibe will be and what to expect. It helps conjure an image and an idea! I also think cabaret can sometimes be conceived as quite light? I mean, it isn't always! But dark cabaret feels more specific to what I do.
What's been the main driving force behind your act? Basically: why do you do what you do?
Money? Ha. No. I just love the thrill of performing for an engaging and interested audience. I love the reaction from people when they've not seen me before... or even the people who have come to see me 76 times. I feed off of the audience energy and the conversation I can have with them. It gives me life.
You've released an album, Satan in a Sunday Hat, in 2013. (I gave it a listen and it's really cool, by the way!) Got any plans to record any more material, or are you sticking to live shows?
Albums are very expensive and very very stressful to make. I've considered doing another album.. but I haven't quite got the drive to do it just yet. I prefer performing live so much more. An album will never capture what it's actually like. But it's a good thing to do every few years for me, it does give me that little extra push to play around with new ideas.
You've performed and collaborated with a lot of artists - most recently you've opened for Jinkx Monsoon, if Twitter isn't lying to me. How was that? I know it's probably a bit rude to pick a favourite, but it would probably be a much more boring old world if we were all polite, so - who has been your favourite to work with?
I did just open for Jinkx Monsoon! I love Jinkx. We've been friends for a few years now and I've opened for her shows whenever she's in London. We're a fantastic match and we get on very well. We just did a song together this past weekend. We did Radiohead Creep with me on ukulele and her singing it, acoustically! Packed out nightclub. No microphones. We just went for it. An incredible moment, I really loved it.
I'm going to say Jinkx is my favourite to work with. But Eddie Izzard was fun too! I only spoke to him a little bit, but the thrill of performing for his crowds the two nights I was opening for him, was incredible.
I feel like I have to ask this, as one gin aficionado to another - what's your favourite type of gin?
There is a local gin company near me who do fantastic gin. It's simply called Brighton Gin. And it is AMAZING. Made in Brighton too! Which is where I live.
And finally, what are we to expect from your Zagreb show?
Utterly ridiculous behaviour, songs and stories. I'll probably bother some people in the crowd and do something filthy. Depends where the moment takes me! We'll see what unfolds. I'm VERY excited to be coming to Zagreb.