Forget the fact that the hilarious host of The Wanda Sykes Show is black, female, and openly gay — one of her on-air sidekicks is a drag queen! Porsche, a denizen of the Fire Island performance scene since 2001, now shares sidekick duties with straight comedian Keith Robinson on the weekly late-night talk show. New Yorker Brant Kaiwi, who based his large and lovely drag persona on the girls he grew up with in Austin, Texas, explains why he’s flaunting his sexuality so his boss doesn’t have to.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: How did the first episode of The Wanda Sykes Show go for you?
Brant Kaiwi: Oh, it felt fantastic! The show itself was easy; it was the rehearsal and everything else leading up to it that was hard because things were changing minute to minute. But working with Wanda is a blast. How could you not have fun with her?
Why shouldn’t we switch over to Saturday Night Live during your show?
Because you never know what we’re going to do next, and you never know what’s going to come out of Wanda’s mouth. SNL has a lot to offer, but our show has a much different format. It’s not sketch; it’s more like life.
And SNL doesn’t have a drag queen.
Well, not a good one.
How does it feel to be representing drag queens on a major network talk show?
Honestly, when Wanda said she wanted me to do this, I thought, I’m either going to be loved or lynched. But the more we got into the rehearsals, it was like, You know what? Fine, you’re a drag queen. Play with that, but we’re going to go so much further that it won’t even matter anymore.
What’s the response to Porsche been like?
So far I’m hearing nothing but good things. Fox was a little leery at first because I’m kind of a hard sell. But after the test shows we shot, they were thrilled. The show’s gotten more criticism than I have.
Yes, reviews of the first episode have been mixed. How are you and Wanda responding to the negative critiques?
The reviews have been mixed, but just wait until next week. Wanda went really safe for the first show. You have to please the censors and all these other people, so the outtakes were better than half the show that made it on.
Is the plan to get raunchier?
Oh, absolutely. That first episode was just us putting our tails in the water. Now we’re figuring out how far the envelope can be pushed.
You already pushed it pretty far with that doctored video clip of you making a blow job gesture behind President Obama. I didn’t know you could show that on television.
I didn’t either. I really have no clue how we got away with that. When we filmed it, we said, “Well, let’s hope this makes the censor’s cut.” But the censors said, “Go for it,” so we did.
Do you have a voice in the creative process?
Yes. The first week was in Wanda’s and the writers’ hands, but now it’s more of a collaboration. I’ve already pitched a couple ideas.
Are you pushing your drag agenda?
Absolutely. We’re trying to take drag to a different level and expose it to Middle America. Most people only see drag queens as bitchy hookers, which is so not true. We’re people. I’ve gotten a lot of response from the drag community thanking me for doing this.
Wanda’s first introduction of you was as her “favorite drag queen.” Did she clarify your gender in case Middle America didn’t get the joke?
That was definitely brought up in rehearsal. So many people told me, “You’re kind of passable. Some people might think you’re a woman, so let’s just hit the nail on the head now.”
“Passable” is a pretty nice compliment for a drag queen, right?
I guess so, but I don’t know what they’re looking at. I mean, come on, I tower over Wanda. And I’m not skinny enough to be a showgirl.
What do you add to the show?
Wanda really wanted to add a gay element to the show without rubbing it everyone’s face that she was gay. So here I come! I definitely add a much gayer slant than Wanda does.
Should she butch it up?
No, Wanda just needs to be Wanda. I’ve known her for three years and what you see is what you get with her.
How did you meet?
Wanda came to one of my shows at the Ice Palace on Fire Island three summers ago. She’s out there with friends every year, so the next year she came back. Then I ended up performing at her wedding in Palm Springs. This past summer, she came up to me before my show started and said, “I’m doing a show on Fox and I want to talk to you about being on it.” She had had a couple, of course, so later she came up on stage, grabbed the microphone, and asked the audience if I should be on her show.
Did you know Wanda was a lesbian long before she came out publicly?
I had always kind of figured. I would even make fun of it in my shows. She and her friends have been coming out to Fire Island for a long time. Everybody knows her, so it’s just like, “Oh, there’s Wanda.”
Are you too big for Fire Island clubs now that you’re on national television?
Oh, hell no. The best part of the show is that I have summers free, so I can still go back home and perform.
You’re best known in Fire Island’s Cherry Grove and the Pines for your live singing and celebrity vocal impersonations. Will you get to show off those talents on The Wanda Sykes Show?
Yes, but it’s hard to get rights to songs until Fox coughs up more money. It’s a pain in the ass. I want to sing everything from rock ’n’ roll to Broadway because Wanda has very eclectic taste in music. But she really loves the Rolling Stones for some reason.
Who would you most like to see participate on Wanda’s discussion panel?
Seth MacFarlane from Family Guy. He’s brilliantly funny and completely irreverent. I think he’s cute too.
He should be an easy get considering you share a network and drink during your show.
And it’s real alcohol too. The stage manager mixes the drinks and the place reeks of booze. It really makes me feel at home. I’m up there drinking straight vodka. Next week they’re getting me a huge martini glass. Maybe it’ll make my hands look smaller.
Advocate.com, November 2009.