by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Lily Armani, the self-proclaimed Oprah of drag queens, court jester, and pop culture historian, got 'untucked' for the last time in five years at Neighbours Seattle on October 21. After years of headlining her unscripted drag/comedy show Lily Armani: unTucked, Lily decided it was time to say goodbye to the show that made her infamous and launch Lily Armani's Show & Tell.
'I'm sick of answering questions about the name of the show,' Lily joked with the closing-night audience of over 200 fans. 'My show was called unTucked long before RuPaul had her show!'
It's true. Lily was getting untucked, uncensored, and unscripted long before RuPaul's Drag Race and RuPaul's Drag Race Untucked took over Logo TV. In fact, her story doesn't start at Julia's on Broadway. She did not debut as a drag queen at the Rendezvous' JewelBox Theater. Lily had donned her famous ginger hair and drank onstage long before she headlined unTucked at Neighbours Seattle. Her story began in Fort Myers, Florida, by way of Kentucky, on a day that Lily - and the rest of the world - will never forget: September 11, 2001.
Just a few weeks prior to her 'stepping out in drag,' Lily had attended a fundraiser in a Florida Gay bar for HIV/AIDS. 'There were about 70 drag queens in attendance,' she recalled. 'Afterwards, I went to Denny's. A drag queen named Misty Eyez walked up to me and asked me if I did drag. I said, 'No.' I'd never really though about it. A week later she was putting me in face.'
Not many drag queens can remember, right down to the second, when their career as an entertainer began. 'I performed at exactly 12:08 a.m., September 11, 2001,' she told Seattle Gay News. 'I did two numbers. Later that morning the rest of the world blew up.'
'It's not an anniversary that is easy to celebrate, so each year I do an anniversary show and we just leave it at that. This year was my 10th year in the business.'
Lily, who had always been interested in theater, found that when she was a young drag queen on the mic, she was able to quickly grab the attention of an audience. She was hooked.
'It took me six months before I ever held the mic and actually talked into it,' she said. 'I looked out and people were really listening. I've always been really good at storytelling so that became a main part of my act.'
Four years ago, Lily says she found that she had a knack for comedy. 'Comedy was what I call a 'happy accident,' she said. 'I knew I was funny. As a boy, I would always tell jokes to my friends. One night, I just started telling jokes and things took off from there.'
Lily admits that her comedy is not for everyone. That's because, as she puts it, 'My audience is my gauge. They will let me know if I'm on to something. I go where the audience wants me to go.'
Her approach to drag, hosting, and comedy is based on local and national news. She prepares for a show - without a script - by keeping her ear to the ground, observing what it is that people are talking about, and memorizing the dumb shit that celebrities so often do.
Often, Lily has joked about other members of the community - including other drag queens. She's taken some flack, but says that is nothing new. 'Growing up where I grew up in Kentucky I've been judged my entire life,' she told SGN. 'I don't make it a point to directly go after just anyone for no reason. In fact, I've learned to laugh at myself first and foremost. What I do is nothing different than Kathy Griffin and other comedians. The only difference you get to listen to me talk about people for $10 instead of $60.'
Due to her brand of comedy and drag (not many Seattle drag queens perform country music songs and parody Snooki of Jersey Shore fame in the same show!), Lily has cultivated an audience that has traveled with her from venue to venue. When she put unTucked to bed at Neighbours last Friday, over 200 fans showed up for the unveiling of Show & Tell.
'It was great validation,' she said. 'It was also humbling in a personal sense.'
Lily has always held admiration for strong women, who she calls her 'she-roes.' Her first was her mammy.
'She always had the best advice,' said Lily. 'She used to always tell me, 'You'll never make a reputation off of what you intend to do.' In other words, work hard and you will get there.'
'You can call me many things,' she added, 'but don't ever call me lazy.'
Lily says that, besides her mammy, there were a few other women who raised her, and they lived in TV land. 'I grew up watching Oprah Winfrey, the Golden Girls' Blanche Devereaux, and Julia Sugarbaker of Designing Women.'
Her top three she-ro comedians are Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, and Totie Fields. And if you've ever been to a Lily Armani show, you can certainly see the influence they've had on her. Lily is quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and rarely goes for the cheap laugh, instead opting for the storyteller approach ending with a big punch line for the big laugh.
'There is no greater feeling than that of an audience's validation,' Lily said. 'When you know you delivered a good joke and they are laughing and I'm laughing, it is just feels great.'
Lily described her audience as a group of cheerleaders. 'They want my special guests to succeed,' she said. 'If you can sing, they want you to sing your best. If you are in drag they want you to do it right.'
Lily Armani's Show & Tell will feature guest stars such as Dakita Harris, Lupe (I can't even begin to describe Lupe - you will just have to go to the show to find out about this character and why people throw money at her), Dolly Madison, GLAMAZONIA, and more. If you are interested in guest-starring at Show & Tell, Lily has a few rules.
'You have to come and see the show before I would consider casting you,' she said. 'You need to know if this is the right show for you. It isn't a perfect fit for everyone. But we definitely are interested in new talent.'
The new show's name is a take on the old grade-school show-and-tell day. Lily will offer you a 'show' and 'tell' you jokes. However, the audience (because her audience always becomes a part of the show) will be able to get involved in a more traditional show-and-tell interaction.
With the new show comes new expectations and Lily said she is more than ready for the challenge. In fact, recently Lily has made a PSA video surrounding LGBTQ suicides called 'It Gets Different,' in which she implores young people to realize that it gets different because the bullies don't just go away when you turn 18, but you learn how to deal and you are better equipped to make your life better for yourself. To view her first video go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE_GOY9eWB8.
You can catch Lily Armani's Show & Tell Friday nights at Neighbours Seattle. Doors at 7:30 p.m. and show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, or free with a valid military ID.
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