JONNY WOO has ruled supreme across the roster of rebellious London nightlife ever since he arrived in Shoreditch in the 1990s. An instrumental, monumental and above all fun figure – Jonny Woo, real name Jonathan Wooster, is the elected torchbearer of alternative London’s free thought, cultural expression and right to bear art. With a hurrah-studded CV that is too magnanimous to cherry-pick from, Woo pours all that he has learnt into The Glory, the bar that is changing the London gay scene since 2014.
Cabaret superstar Jonny Woo is delighted to announce the return of his stunning ‘Un-Royal Variety’ to Hackney Empire for its third year this 19 & 20 October. Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety promises to make it his biggest and most spectacular yet as Jonny brings you the absolute best in cabaret, drag and nu-variety. The darlings of the UK scene will join up with some incredibly exciting transatlantic performers, to create all new, out of this world collaborations. This year the show is set to be bigger and better than ever before as Jonny Woo brings you the absolute best in cabaret, drag and nu-variety.
YASS Magazine met Jonny Woo and we asked everything you need to know.
Tell me about your show UnRoyal Variety that will take place at the Hackney Empire on the 19th and 20th of October.
My new show is a very big extravaganza celebration of the top queer talent in London and it involves my contemporaries and people who I would love to see, performers who I have met all around the world. In the UnRoyal Variety we have artists from Australia, America, London, a lot of female talent and feminist artists, as well as stand-ups, comedy, music, drag kings and queens, clowning and so much more. We have invited more than 80 people to perform in the show. It is a huge celebration and it showcases the best queer and feminist underground entertainment the world has to offer. I am very proud of the artists that I get to work with in the show.
Adrienne Truscotte from New York, feminist comedian, Edinburgh Comedy Award Winner and performance artist will be presenting solo work, alongside world premiere collaboration with opera cabaret star, Le Gateau Chocolat. And and in another mind blowing collaboration, Christeene and Lucy McCormick are cooking up a one-of-a-kind duet. Last year’s cameo, and rising comedy star, Mawaan Rizwan takes centre stage this year, in a song and dance spectacle. // And smash hit of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Garry Starr takes to the stage to save British theatre as only he can // Jonny invites underground performance artist, long time friend and original collaborator, Brandon Olson (NYC) to create a new Downtown NYC performance for The Empire. // Bourgeois & Maurice return to their rightful place after their year long absence from the big stage with a song and dance show to rival that in the West End.
Other returning guests from The Un-Royal family include TV comic Jayde Adams, London’s top drag stand-up Myra Dubois, East End original and Bloolips performer, Lavinia Co-op, young upstart and star of Jonny’s Cult London Club The Glory, Margo Marshal and, of course, the much loved Kate Middleton Choir.
I myself will be bringing back my much loved Mary Portas homage in a ‘Thrilling’ pre Halloween ‘Scary Mary’ performance, dancing with a 1000 Liza Minnellis (or as many as I can fit on the stage) and kicking things off with a boxing themed Drag King invasion.
Do you feel one of the most powerful people in the London gay scene? And what is the secret of your success?
I don’t know if I am one of the most powerful people in the London gay nightlife, but I put a lot of energy and excitement in the projects that I do and I feel powerful with myself in terms of my ability to harness my resources and my energy to be focused. I have a sense of strength and pride in what I do. If I am powerful or not is something for somebody else to judge. I have managed to build up a network and a community of performers the last 20 years that I have lived in London. I am blessed and supported and I am very grateful for what I what have done and for the fact that I have performed all around the world. Whatever my success is, the secret behind it is that I feel I need to work hard all the time and go with my gut instinct on what I feel it’s the right thing to do, as well as reacting to conversations. Last year we did a number about casual racism, the year before I did a whole show about Brexit, so I hope that people like that I change all the time. Also, my relationship to drag changes all the time. I hope that people are entertained by the variety of projects I commit myself to.
Are you satisfied with your career and with what you have accomplished so far?
I have to admit that I give myself a hard time. Sometimes I am very happy, sometimes I very frustrated, you know I am 45 and sometimes I wish I had more money and my own flat, sometimes I wish I had not wasted myself to so many hangovers and calm downs like 10 years ago. But, I have to be realistic and look at where I am and be grateful for I what I have. I have elements of satisfaction, but it’s dissatisfaction that keeps me going.
When did you start performing and how has the London gay scene evolved since you started being a part of it?
I started dressing up and doing shows with my grandparents when I was about 4-5, but I started perform into drag when I went to New York in 2000. I think that the London gay scene is as vibrant and diverse as it has ever been and it is the most creative I have seen it. I think that the 90’s London gay scene and party scene was very strong. The drag was fantastic, the music was great! The underground scene on East London became very strong in the 2000s and now we are at a point where the queer creativity is at its strongest. The queer voices are loud and the diversity makes people resourceful and creative.
London venue XXL has sparked controversy by turning away anyone in women clothing. What is your opinion on that?
There are many fantastic parties at the moment in London, like ADONIS where you get men dancing with their tops off next to drag queens dancing also with their tops off and all results in a beautiful sweaty draggy mess. Unfortunately, that conversation gets lost when we hear about mainstream clubs like XXL that does not let in people on high heels. This club is quite mainstream. I went there once, but I don’t generally go to mainstream places and I don’t find that place exciting. I would brush it off, but the recent statement by the owner online is kind of offensive to my sensibility not as someone who is very much in touch with their feminine side, but I have a lot of friends who are exploring being more feminine and not as masculine as other people. I understand the concept of male-only spaces, but the door policies should be used in a proper and right way and should be used with respect and realistically. Think of Berghaim in Berlin, the coolest club in the world with the strictest door policy. It is difficult to get in it, but once you are in you see masc men, people who go there for the music, for the sex, you see fantastic drag queens, women, tourists and so much diversity. Door policies is a very big conversation, but the comment of the owner of XXL was deeply offensive.
How did you decide to open The Glory? Did you expect the huge success that it would meet?
I decided to go into into it because my ex-boyfriend Colin who is one of the co-owners decided to open a bar and I like the idea of being a part of it. We are pleased that it is successful, but we were very surprised at how fast it started being successful. It feels like a cornerstone of UK’s gay scene. With the people and the reputation that it has it is literally so much bigger to what I anticipated.
What makes Jonny Woo so special and remarkable?
Haha. This is really for someone else to answer. Sometimes I am really proud of myself, sometimes I am disgusted. I try as much as possible to be loyal to what I find exciting, even if I may get it wrong. I have learnt some very tough lessons and one of them is to do what feels right and not what other people expect you to do. If I did that I would be unhappy and I would not have created the work I have created. I am happy to risk money, time and reputation to do what I think it’s right.
How was your experience in the movie “Dressed As A Girl”? Was it difficult to share some very private parts of your life and some of the struggles with your audience?
It was a weird experience because I was going out with Colin, the director. It was an interesting time, but sometimes I had a better time the other people in the movie! Also, the last years of making the film (you don’t get to see much detail in the movie) I was coming to an end with my drinking and drug-taking problems. I was in the end of the road and I can see that in some of my past interviews. It was the beginning of my recovery. I am kind of pleased with the result in the end and Colin’s snapshot, but it was a very realistic snapshot of the scene in Hackney at that time. AT that period of my life I was have a brilliant and an awful time at the same time.
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*all images are courtesy of Jonny Woo