Thanks to her season-five RuPaul’s Drag Race turn as Little Edie, Jinkx Monsoon was already a Snatch Game legend before the dream of an all-winner season of Drag Race All Stars ever came true this past summer. With her return, she knew the bar was going to be set incredibly high and that she was going to have to work harder than she had on any challenge to meet fans’ expectations. Well, she exceeded them: Immediately after her twin turns as Natasha Lyonne and Judy Garland went up on Paramount+, her fans and fellow queens were fawning, calling it the best in the history of the show. (It was also a demonstration of the talents that helped her win the season.)
On Good One, Jinkx discusses all that went into making Snatch Game herstory, what got left on the cutting-room floor, and her SNL dreams. You can listen to the full episode below, and tune in to Good One every Thursday wherever you get your podcasts.
So going into the All-Star Snatch Game, what did you know?
Well, based on the information that they gave us, I had a good idea that we should probably go in with two very strong characters. But I was already going to go in with like three or four because I’m a Virgo, a perfectionist, and I’m riddled with anxiety. Snatch Game is one of my favorite challenges to watch and participate in, so I was very excited at the challenge of playing two characters. Initially, I wanted to do it split down the middle, with Judy Garland on one side and Liza Minnelli on the other side, so that I could be talking back and forth as them.
But that idea became too complicated to try to pull off. So then I thought, Well, I guess I could do Judy and Liza, but I didn’t want to do any character that had already been done before. Then the immediate thought was, If I’m going to do this Old Hollywood, very classic character, I need to do someone very contemporary and new and with a very different vocal quality. I was also thrilled at the idea of performing someone who’s still alive and could actually see and appreciate it.
Which got you to Natasha Lyonne.
Yes, Natasha Lyonne. Who I have tons of mutual friends with. She’s starred in the film All About Evil, written and directed and produced by one of my best friends, Peaches Christ. And I’m friends with Clea Duvall, who had a wedding celebration with her wife, Mia. Natasha reached out and hired me as the entertainment for that. I was sitting around playing video games one morning and get a phone call: “[Natasha Lyonne voice.] Jinkx. It’s Natasha. So basically I’m Clea’s dad, and I’m trying to throw this wedding party for her. She loves drag. You want to come do some numbers?”
I was lucky enough that Natasha got to see my Natasha Lyonne, and she loved it and she reposted it. So I felt like, Mission accomplished. I was able to make this funny and reverent, and the person who I’m impersonating was in on the joke with me.
Over the pandemic, you posted a video on YouTube of your Saturday Night Live audition. I know you have friends there. Was it a real SNL audition?
It was a real SNL audition. And I didn’t really follow the rules, because they wanted some impersonations and some original characters. I filmed some of my original characters, but how do I convey Kitty Witless, the 1920s Vaudeville character that I play, and how do I convey Jinkx Monsoon in her 80s, which is basically just a cheap Bette Davis? Jinkx Monsoon is just so much me. How do I do a snapshot of Jinkx Monsoon? So I decided just to lean in on what I was good with, which is impersonation. I don’t know if not following the rules counted against me, but I was like, If they’re good enough, they’re good enough.
There obviously are impressions on Snatch Game that are not like SNL impressions, but I can see you playing in both spaces.
What I love about SNL, and why I would definitely audition again, is that it’s not just an impersonation. It’s “Liza Minnelli Tries to Turn Off a Lamp.” That’s what I love about doing drag impersonations, too. It’s not like I love coming up with a bit; I love coming up with business for that person to do. When I saw that sketch, I just thought, Jesus Christ, this is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen. I always take my impersonations to an absurd level. I had this bit for a long time where Cher degrades into a Basset Hound, and my audiences loved it: “[Cher voice.] Do you buh-lieve in life after … [Makes a series of basset hound–like yelps and howls.]”
I love taking everything to an absurd level, and SNL does that. Very rarely is it just like Look at this person do this impersonation.
You mentioned that Thirsty Burlington was the starter dough of your Judy Garland. What does it mean to learn an impression through somebody?
At the time that I experienced Thirsty’s Judy, I was doing Liza a lot in my shows. Thirsty and I were in Provincetown after our shows one night drinking, swapping war stories, and I started saying something like: “[Liza Minnelli voice.] You crazy? Why are you talking about that? Now, look, watch. Hear about it, mama.” And then she turns to me, and with one eye closed, she was like: “[Judy Garland voice.] Liza, are you hungry? You get this way when you’re hungry. I’ll make you a Salisbury steak sandwich.”
For so long, the only impersonations I had seen of Judy were Judy-as-Dorothy. I had never had any interest in impersonating Judy until Thirsty did that voice. I thought, That’s the Judy I would want to do — not Dorothy, not one of her characters, but Judy in interviews. In interviews, Judy’s not great at accepting compliments. She’s protective of herself. She’s always kind of hunched over and covering up her chest. She’s got a lot of little hand mannerisms. And she always seems a little like just the tiniest bit bewildered. That really resonated with me. I hadn’t even considered this side of her.
Would you like to know some other characters I considered?
I was really strongly considering Jennifer Coolidge, but she has been done and drag queens do her to death. But she was one of the first she was one of the first impersonations I realized I was good at, like: “[Jennifer Coolidge voice.] Wow. You know, I just love getting to do what I do.”
I also was really heavily considering Jennifer Tilly, but I can only do her at a whisper level, and I didn’t know if it would read on Snatch Game: “[Jennifer Tilly voice.] You know, if you move around too much while you’re pregnant your baby might be born with lobster claws.”
I heard you almost did Meryl Streep.
Oh yeah. But when I was trying to do Meryl outside of the world of Death Becomes Her, I never got past the point of just making noises. I switched from Meryl to Judy because it was three days before check-in when I realized, I still have a fully non-verbal Meryl. I’ve still not figured out how Meryl would speak.
How much do you have written ahead of time? Are you just thinking about the person so much that you know everything to do, or are there lines you want to make sure you get to?
Some of it was me relying on jokes that I already tell in my material. I used to do jokes about Trixie Mattel’s dick being so big that when I did a line of coke off of it, I had to stop halfway through to catch my breath. That is a joke I just had in my back pocket. And I’m thinking, Oh, I bet Judy telling that joke about Dean Martin would be hilarious. And it actually got cut.
Another moment that didn’t air was one of my favorite moments of improv with Ru, who’s very good at improv. She said something that set me up to talk about my kids. I can’t even remember. But I said “Well, yes, I’m a mom, I’m a mother. Of three, you understand? I’ve got Liza, Lorna, and the other one and …” and Rue said, “Joey.” And I said, “Yes, I know my son’s name, damnit. What are you trying to imply? Of course I know his name is Joey.” I was making a joke and laying lines, and so it was both me, the artist, explaining the joke to Ru, but also staying in character as Judy.
What I love about drag is that it is so many things all at once. Cabaret is so many things all at once. You’re doing a show — it’s probably scripted, but there’s also room for improv. You’re singing, so it’s kind of a musical. It’s a kind of stand-up comedy: You’re talking directly to your audience, so there’s no fourth wall, but you’re also in character, so there is some kind of fourth wall. I love working in this realm, where there are no hard definitions or strict lines.
This transcript excerpt has been edited and condensed.