The Venerable, Voluptuous, Halloween Horror of Sharon Needles

Sharon Needles, the unofficial Queen of Halloween (until Elvira dies). | Photo by Santiago Felipe

BY VICTOR O | Sharon Needles will probably kill us in our sleep for saying so, but the unofficial “Queen of Halloween” and self-professed “Future of Drag” — who made her bones as the dark horse winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 4 with an uncompromisingly unique point of view and a series of stunning, avant-garde-meets-horror fashion statements — is actually the kind of gal you could take home to mom. And shortly after they hit if off, she’d kill your mom in her sleep. But that’s to be expected.

Needles has always walked the razor’s edge where sex, violence, sincerity, satire, and insanity are locked in a death grip. That was the takeaway when our Victor O spoke with Needles, in advance of her Oct. 9-13 NYC run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, where she’ll premiere this year’s installment of her annual seasonal spook show.

VICTOR: Sharon, tell us a little about what we can expect from your new Halloween show.

SHARON: The show is a little different than our shows in the past, which have been a retrospective of my relationship with Halloween; being a child, being an adult child, and the being someone who got the title I have always wanted, which is “Queen of Halloween” — and that title will actually be solidified once Elvira f**king dies. But this show is titled “Celebrity Morgue,” where we go through the gamut of my two favorite things on earth: fame and death. We inappropriately dance through the poignant but cut-short lives of stars, but focus much more on the very longer death that they’ll be having. So whether it’s Prince or Aretha Franklin or David Bowie or Lou Reed, we’re taking the songs of yesteryear and giving them a Halloween twist. And I’ve heard, possibly, even Joan Rivers returns to the very last stage she ever performed on. For those who don’t know, Joan Rivers, every other week, would “test out” material [at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, serving as the venue for the kickoff of Sharon’s Halloween show tour]. I never thought she used it to test out new material. I think she used it as an outlet for material she could never say; that she actually couldn’t say now. And I’ve always said, Joan Rivers got out when it was good, because they would have “Roseanne-ed” her by now. But yeah, this is, who knows? I hope I’m not ripping off ticket holders and they’re expecting Jack-o’-lantern carving and bobbing for razor blades. This show takes something as proper as losing our favorite celebrities, and we’re making a complete mockery out of it.

VICTOR: Sharon, I like you so much, because I’m also a fan of Halloween. I do this thing with my friends: Every Halloween, we have a theme. My favorite was Celebrities’ Mental Breakdowns. I was Britney 2007.

SHARON: Slay!

VICTOR: That’s my favorite costume. What’s yours?

SHARON: I’d say that’s my favorite costume, too.

[Victor laughs, Sharon laughs]

SHARON: You know, it gets harder and harder to always outdo myself. If you think about it, I could have created Sharon in a way that Sharon would be what they got on Halloween — but I love the diversity, and all the colors in the crayon box of this job… If I was smart, I would have just “Elvira-ed” myself and show up the same every day… but I love outdoing myself. I mean, this isn’t just for the fans. This is also for myself, since I was a kid. I’ve done every horror icon there is, and I try not to repeat. So every year has been hard. Like last year, I had to think of what was the most terrifying character in pop culture that I haven’t done, and it struck me: It was Jeffree Star. So my favorite costume I’ve ever done is probably Angela from “Night of the Demons.” Now, see, I love doing these costumes. Unfortunately, kids these days, they don’t identify with those video rental horror movies of the ’80s, and sometimes they [my references] get lost on them. But as an entertainer, I’ve always considered myself, also, an educator. So I know young kids run to go find that online and try and figure it out.

VICTOR: What’s your costume for this year?

SHARON: I don’t like to reveal too many of them, but I’ll tell you one. I try to do about four every year, when my Halloween tour kick off, and then I will repeat them until… Halloween ends for me about the end of November. But one costume I’m looking forward to this year is, we’ve recreated the album cover of Marilyn Manson’s “Mechanical Animals,” where he has the breasts and the androgynous genitalia and he’s completely naked? I’m very excited for that. I’m also doing the half-zombie girl from “Return of the Living Dead,” which is my favorite horror movie of all time. If the kids don’t get it, that’s on them. It looks so terrifying.”

VICTOR: Kids take this season as their chance to do drag, maybe for the first time, and to be, just more extroverted. What’s your opinion about this?

SHARON: Well, as long as you’re making it scary. Drag, to me, hasn’t always been about a boy dressing up as a girl — and since I’m around it 24 hours a day, it’s not a very shocking art form to me anymore. It’s my universe. But as long as they’re throwing a bucket of blood on it and having an eyeball pop out, I say go for it. You know, Halloween, when you’re a kid, it’s all about wanting to be scary and having fun, at least it was for me in the ’80s. And then, once boys and girls get a little hair down there, they always want to hypersexualize Halloween, which is I think is so dumb, because it’s so cold on Halloween. Go put some clothes on. And it always seems like boys and girls wanna dress up as sexy versions of jobs that they’ll never have the qualifications for. So if you wanna get up in high whore drag for Halloween, by all means, do it. But put a scary twist on it. We live in such a forgiving world now; you have the 365 to do drag.

VICTOR: Okay, there’s this TV show I was watching last week. It’s called “Scream Queens,” and there is this girl, Chanel, who also loves Halloween. She names it “Chaneloween,” and she sends all her fans really strange and gross gifts, like a cadaver head or blood. So what’s the most weird or awkward gift a fan has given to you?

SHARON: The weirdest fan gift I’ve ever been given?

VICTOR: Yes.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Sharon Needles made her bones with stunning, avant-garde and horror fashion statements. | Photo by Santiago Felipe

SHARON: Okay, well, we have crazy fans all over the world. But we don’t have them any crazier than our ones in Brazil. And a lot of people, during the meet-and-greet, have the blood packet in their mouth. So when they come up to me, the blood comes down, just like my first episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” But in Brazil, they always take it a little bit further, and I actually had a fan slit their own wrists for me. It was pretty intense, yeah. And at first I didn’t think it was real. But it most definitely was, and they got rushed away. So it was quite a shocking and devoted gift… at least I hope it wasn’t an attempted suicide.

VICTOR: It’s a good thing you don’t live in Brazil. There would be so many dead people.

SHARON: Well, it’s Darwinism, darling, it’s Darwinism… But gifts? I get a lot of dead animals. I get a lot of taxidermied rats and birds, which of course I love — and I get a lot of voodoo dolls. And to this day, I get a lot of homages, paintings, T-shirts, sculptures, and crochet art of my cat, who has been dead for three years.

VICTOR: What do you do with all of this?

SHARON: Well, we have a rule here at the Haus of Haunt. I have never gotten rid of a fan letter, and I’ve never gotten rid of a piece of art. If you use your hands to create — which is all I’ve ever wanted to be here to do; to support people to be creative and express themselves through any medium that they want — the rule is, it all gets archived. Why? One, to hopefully inspire my younger family members, or to inspire other people. And two? To brag. Hey, look how many mother**kers are writing me letters and sending me things. Time is irrelevant, and death is all the same. We’re gonna blink our eyes one day and be on our deathbeds taking our last breath. And I will be surrounded by fan letters and fan art.

VICTOR: Last weekend at RuPaul’s DragCon [Oct. 28-30, NYC], I went to a panel with the show’s judges [“Judgey Judies,” with moderator Michelle Visage and panelists Todrick Hall, Carson Kressly, Ross Mathews]. One of the questions from the fans was, “Who are you rooting for if they make an All-Winners season?” and Michelle said, “Sharon Needles.”

SHARON: Wow.

VICTOR: So if they do this thing, would you come back to compete again?

SHARON: First of all, I wanna say that is very touching. Me and Michelle Visage have such a close, gay man/fruit fly relationship, at times the only way we can express our affection for each other is to be really, really cruel to each other. But to hear she said that, you just gave me — okay, due to sever nerve damage, I can feel hardly anything — but what a tender, humbleness is coming through, just the fact that an icon like Michelle Visage would say that… When I initially got off the show [2012], the idea of returning was an absolute “no” for me, because I thought I had created a niche in the show that would be permanent. I thought I had taken a beauty pageant and turned it into an art gallery. But the “Future of Drag” that I once proclaimed [myself to be] is now a past contestant that some fans haven’t even heard of… And there’s a curse to winning, which is that for one year, you are representing, worldwide, this art form. But that’s all you did. You don’t get to return. You don’t get that Season 2 redemption, or that opportunity to show growth, or just to play the game again. But now my stance on it is I would totally return, just because it was so fu**king fun. I didn’t really like school, I didn’t go to camp, but this was, like, my dream version of that. You show up early in the morning, the teacher [RuPaul] comes out, and you have to do something really stupid involving feathers and Dollar Store crap [the show’s challenges].

VICTOR: What’s your opinion about how drag has changed since your season? At this point, what is the future of drag?

SHARON: The future of drag is continuously, always, watching it visually expand — and that the next generation will always exaggerate the generation that came before them. But there is no “future past” or present of drag, because the essence and the spirit of drag is to be an exaggeration of the typical human form — for the needs of escapism, entertaining, and being a star. So I think [the future of] drag will always look different, especially now when they all look the same, I can’t tell them apart — they’re like Canadians, visually. But the heart and the mind and the soul of drag have been here for eternity, and I don’t think that will ever change.

VICTOR: If you could direct or star in the remake of any horror movie, what would your top choices be?

Alas, poor Michelle Visage, she knew you well: But these days, Needles’ impersonation reads as more Joan Rivers. | Photo by Santiago Felipe

SHARON: I’d say “Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers,” a movie that proves you never wanna mess around with a trans camper. It has some of the best kills, the best campy one-liners. And though horror likes to put transgender people in a negative light in films like “Psycho” and “Dressed to Kill” and “Sleepaway Camp,” at least they were put in a place of power: a murderer. I love that… So what movie would I star in? Of course I’d never want it to be redone, because it’s perfect as it is. But if I ever got the chance to play Linnea Quigley in the [1985] film “Return of the Living Dead,” of course I would. I’d have to hit the gym, though. There’s a lot of full frontal nudity.

VICTOR: Just a final question, and it’s more like a personal request. Can you do Michelle Visage? [Needles played Visage on “Snatch Game,” a “Drag Race” parody of the ’70s game show “Match Game.”]

SHARON: Okay, now I’m gonna tell you why I can’t. One, because she’s rooting for me on “All-Stars All-Winners.” And two, when Joan Rivers died, I started doing Joan impersonations so much, that when I try to do Michelle, it literally came off as [sounding very much like Joan Rivers], “Oh, absolutely incredible. Oh, oh, can we talk? F** you, oh!” That was me trying to do Michelle, by the way. [sounding like Rivers] “Oh, oh, f**k you. You’re on uppers, downers, and candy corn.” I can’t find her voice anymore — and I think why it is, is because when I did her on “Snatch Game,” I’d never really met her. You only saw her for a couple of seconds. And I thought that’s what she sounded like. But you know Michelle. She has a beautiful voice. So I don’t know why I was like [reenacts an excerpt from her broad impression of Visage]. It kinda sounds like Katya [Zamolodchikova] when she’s on a meth bender.

VICTOR: Sharon, you’ve been so great, so generous with your time. [The Thurs., Oct. 4 phone interview was near the 40-minute mark at this point.]

SHARON: Yeah, you’re getting in the way of my “Murphy Brown” and my “Will & Grace.” I love nostalgia. I just wish “Murphy Brown” was better. I love me some Candice Bergen, but it was so poorly written.

VICTOR: Any last words?

SHARON: I wanna wish you a Happy Halloween. Hail Satan, and kill your parents.

The Sharon Needles Halloween Special 2018 happens Tues.-Fri., Oct. 9-12 at 7pm and Sat., Oct. 13 at 10pm. At the Laurie Beechman Theatre (located inside West Bank Cafe, at 407 W. 42nd St., just west of Ninth Ave.). Tickets are $23. Call 212-352-3101 or purchase online here. A $45 VIP ticket includes reserved seating and a meet-and-greet. There is a $20 food/drink minimum at all performances. For artist info, visit sharonneedles.com.

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