Merrie Cherry’s Reign Is Just Beginning
The ‘Dragula’ star talks working through grief, growing pains, and the Brooklyn drag scene.
Merrie Cherry is a centerpiece of Brooklyn drag, helping to found some of the scene’s most venerable institutions. I caught up with her on a brisk October afternoon to chat about her appearance on the upcoming season of the drag competition The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, working through grief, and growing pains of some of the institutions she helped found.
John deBary: The past year-and-a-half has transformed everyone’s lives. For you, what’s been the big changes that you’ve experienced since the pandemic started?
Merrie Cherry: To be honest, 2020 was not that bad for me. Yes, it was weird staying in my house and only seeing my roommates for weeks at a time, and the fear and stress of ‘am I going to get it?’ But my career continued to expand. I achieved more accolades and attention during 2020 than I had since starting drag. Obviously, I was not working four or five nights a week, but I was staying online doing gigs on a regular basis.
And, you know, I think that it just shows how much my hard work in the years before the pandemic really helped me stay afloat—which I’m very happy about. And also I realize that I’m privileged to be in that situation, because I know a lot of other people were not.
JdB: It’s been said that you’re one of the founders of the Brooklyn drag scene and I’m curious about that in two ways: What do you define as Brooklyn drag and how would you describe your role in creating that?
MC: For so many years, we steered away from what’s different about Brooklyn and Manhattan because we just wanted to be New York drag, but I do find there is a little bit of a difference. At times in Manhattan, I find they’re performing for the dollar or for what they think the audience wants. In Brooklyn, that happens as well, trust. But you’ll have people doing songs you’ve never heard of, looking like things you’ve never seen. And I feel that both scenes are important—they do offer a different flavor.
JdB: Do you mind being named as one of the founders of Brooklyn drag?
MC: I definitely don’t mind the name—I’m honored. It’s important to me to hold myself to a certain level. When I started doing the show Dragnet, which was an amateur competition and, at the time, there weren’t many competitions in Brooklyn. A lot of people came on the Dragnet stage like Scarlet Envy and Dahlia Sin. It gave a platform to a lot of people. And then on top of that, I did the Brooklyn Nightlife awards and that brought a lot of attention to the scene here.
JdB: You’re also very involved in Bushwig, which was recently featured in The New York Times, where there were some criticisms leveled at the organizers.
MC: Bushwig has allowed a platform for so many people to perform on a stage that most of them would never be able to perform on, but hopefully will again. An amazing space to set your art free. Bushwig is not perfect. It has tried it’s hardest to support the community as much as possible. In the 10 years I’ve been part of Bushwig, I haven’t heard this level of complaints. Yes, Bushwig has some things to fix, but the people who are bringing it up are bringing it up for self-serving reasons. I was not a huge part of Bushwig planning this year because of what was going on with my grandmother and filming, so I’m looking at it more from the outside and it seems as if people were upset and they decided to attack and use buzzwords like ‘transphobia’ and ‘racist’ to speak on members of the Bushwig who are people of color and trans. That doesn’t make any sense to me.
I will never say that Bushwig doesn’t have a lot of work to do, because it does. You can tell I’m a little upset, but every single person who has gone off on Bushwig online were all contacted privately by multiple members of Bushwig to have a real conversation over the phone or in person and have received crickets. That is very telling of the maturity level of these people and what they’re really trying to focus on, which is not trying to help build a better community, but get something for themselves.
JdB: Let’s switch gears. Tell me about Dragula. A lot of people love drag, but I feel like the show is a little bit underground still.
MC: Yes, it is, and a lot of people were like “well you’re not really spooky” and that’s why I was hesitant on applying, because...do I have to be spooky? That’s how they advertise and there is no way I’m going to come close to winning because of those expectations. I can dress weird and be alternative, but “spooky” is just not my steelo.
In the last season, I feel like there was more attention to an alternative set of performers, which made me more interested in applying and being part of it. You can see from my season that there’s at least five people who aren’t considered ‘horror queens.’
JdB: Is there anything you can tell us about this season before it airs?
MC: It’s…I mean, a lot of drama. I definitely brought my New York flavor and kept it really a hundred percent and people were not ready for that. And I forget that other people are not from New York. So I’m telling someone about themselves because that’s what we do and then people are shocked because they’re like ‘I can’t believe you said that!’ And it’s just like, ‘Oh wait, you’re not ready for that.’
I will say we definitely had fun on set, and off set as well, which got us into a lot of trouble with production. And my partner in crime, Bitter Betty, we were the oldest ones on the show and we were the most trouble. So yeah. A lot of real moments too because my grandmother had just passed away and the funeral was June 3 and we started filming on my birthday, June 25, and I definitely hadn’t started mourning yet. A weird thing for me to go through on national television. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.