Q&A: Frank Marino
Diva-licious as always, the king of drag queens—a.k.a Frank Marino—remains in top form as star, creative maestro and master/mistress of ceremonies at Divas Las Vegas, in which a cast of female impersonators assume the personas of legendary and contemporary female singing stars. Right in the middle? Marino, quipping away as both Joan Rivers and a femme fatale character.
Recently we caught up with the man behind the men who play the women to ask how he keeps Divas so Viva-Las-Vegas sharp.
What’s new in the show?
Every tine Caesars (Palace) puts in a new act, we put in a new act. We have a Jennifer Lopez in the show now. We also have the Celine, the Mariah Carey, the Britney Spears.
What are your other criteria for rotating new characters in and out?
Those residencies get such hype in town that I like to have those people, but otherwise I like to put in the new hottest entertainer so right now I’m looking for a Taylor Swift (impersonator). She’s the one who, every new album that comes out, tops the one before on the charts. It doesn’t always happen overnight. You have to wait until people start impersonating that person and perfecting it. Cher’s been in the show since day one. Even though she is still popular, the person doing it has had time to hone it. Now the new characters we put in are going to be very young people, like a Taylor or Katy Perry. I have to find somebody now young that has the same quality performance as somebody who has been performing for a million years. Just as the real Taylor Swift has to be as polished as the real Cher. Right now Taylor Swift is so hot that so many people have started impersonating her. When they come for the audition, I have a few to pick from. Years, ago, when we put Celine Dion in the show, I hadn’t heard of her yet. It wasn’t my genre of music I was listening to. I have to listen to other people and find out who is hot and who is not. I tried to do Adele two years ago and it was too early. She had hit, but not enough that everybody heard her music. Miley Cyrus was a big star, but it wasn’t until she cut her hair and started twerking and doing these crazy things that all America knew who she was, so now it’s easy to get a Miley Cyrus.
Which characters are the foundation of the show that you would never cut?
Cher is the only star I have never heard somebody say, “I don’t like her.” Like with Madonna people might say, “It’s not my thing” and others love her. Cher is, across the board, the one number that every single night, they love her from prom kids to senior citizens.
When you look at your demographics, how far back do you want to go?
In the old days, the acts would have been a Judy Garland, a Marilyn Monroe. Nowadays my older acts would be a Liza Minnelli, a Diana Ross. I keep moving that time frame forward. And it also goes on star power. Diana Ross has been around a very long time but a very huge star. With other people, like Dionne Warwick, the range would not be as big.
Who are the most challenging stars for your cast to impersonate?
The newest stars are the hardest because nowadays if I wanted to do a Carrie Underwood, so many people just have long blonde hair. So I put you on as Carrie Underwood—but oh, do you look a little bit like Britney? Do you look a little like Jessica Simpson? Do you look a little bit like Christina Aguilera? Because the old stars, for lack of a better word, were in drag themselves. I can throw on a choppy wig if we were playing Charades and you would say, ”‘OK, you’re Tina Turner.” With Patti LaBelle—the big bucket wig on the head. Nowadays if you don’t have distinct looks like that it makes it difficult. The older stars had it much easier. Now people have a much simpler approach to their look.
Is this a golden period, with so many female pop and country stars now—have you hit the jackpot in the popular culture?
Right now is a really good time for impersonators to have a lot to choose from. We go down to Katy Perry, we go up to Cher, and then we try to do different genres. I have Pink in the show for the rock ’n’ roll people. Then I have a country segment that has Dolly Parton, Shania Twain and Reba McEntire.
Have you cut the ones that go back to, say, the disco divas of the 1970s—like Donna Summers?
Yes, but sometimes people have a turnaround and come back around. Since Patti LaBelle was on Dancing with the Stars, it’s one of the hottest numbers in the show now. And everybody said to me, “No, no, no” and I said, “Just watch.” Larry Edwards, who does that, gets a standing ovation in the middle of the show every single night.
Why do you still enjoy playing Joan Rivers?
Joan Rivers is one of those characters who is actually more popular now that she’s gone than when she was with us. It was really good to do a character like Joan Rivers because right before she passed I read that her average fan base was around 26 years old. Depending on your age, you knew her for different things. Older people knew her as a comedian, other people knew her as a talk-show host and the younger people knew her as a fashion critic. She had many careers that kept her in the limelight. And let’s not forget the jewelry salesperson.
Since she passed away have you tweaked your performance as her, made any changes?
I do exactly the same of what I think she would have done (now). Right now the hot thing would be Donald Trump running for the presidency and stuff like that. I consider my comedy as gossip. It’s what people would sit around at a table and talk to their families about but never say in public.
How often do you rewrite your opening monologue?
I never rewrite my monologue. I’ll tell you a joke I’ve had from day one that will be there forever. I come out in a tight gown and I say, “This gown is like a cheap hotel—no ballroom.” But the current event stuff, I will change it and discard, change it and discard, something new every day. I hate stupid jokes—“she’s so fat, blah, blah, blah.” I don’t think I would ever do gambling jokes. My favorite compliment I ever get from an audience? When somebody says, “You were so funny.” And then understand that I’m a comedian, because I get overshadowed as a comedian so badly because I do it in an art form of drag that sometimes it’s very upsetting. Sometimes we might lose a male audience member because he thinks he won’t like the show and I love when the woman is strong enough to drag him in—no pun intended—and he ends up loving the show more than the woman.
How did you nail the mechanics of doing Joan Rivers?
It’s pretty easy because she has the New York accent. The reason I picked her was because she was the only glamorous female comedian. Even today, most female comedians are very bland. Joan had a distinct look in her hair and elegant evening gowns. She was the one comedian who dressed like Cher and Diana Ross with the Bob Mackie gowns. She was the perfect host for a drag show. But also the sticking the finger in the mouth—uh, uh, uh—and trademark terms like “Can we talk?” and “Oh grow up” and the one on the red carpet, “Who are you wearing?”
What was your thinking on creating your second character, the femme fatale, and differentiating her from Joan?
About 15 years ago, I was thinking, “Joan Rivers is getting up there” (in age). What do I do if God forbid Joan Rivers were to pass? And on her television show, she asked me that question. I think I said, “I’d have to join Legends in Concert.” She got a big laugh out of it. Lo and behold? Did I know that when she did pass, she’d be a bigger star than ever? I had no idea. So I never had to fall back on my secondary character, but I actually enjoy doing my secondary character better, which is just a femme fatale—what RuPaul is to music, I would be to comedy. I enjoy creating that persona, which isn’t so much trying to be a woman. It’ the top of a wedding cake. I want my character to be over the top with crazy elaborate hairstyles that Barbie would wear.
Can you get away with things with that character that you wouldn’t do as the Joan character?
Yes. I can do anything I want where Joan would have restrictions because I’m playing a part as Joan, and my character has no boundaries. I can be as naughty as I want, I can wear what I want, I can be sexy.
Are there any new projects on the horizon?
In the fall I’m coming out with my new autobiography. It’s called Sold My Soul to Show Business. I’m going to tell the whole truth, nothing but the truth, no holding back, so help me God.
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