Drag legend Sherry Vine poised to spread holiday cheer in Asbury Park

Sherry Vine
Sherry Vine

In what is fast becoming a yearly tradition, veteran drag entertainer Sherry Vine is set to return to the Jersey Shore to ring in the holidays with her unique brand of raucous whimsy. She will perform an evening of Yuletide material titled Oy to the World! when she graces the stage of Asbury Park’s Paradise nightclub on Saturday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m.

Of course, fans can expect the irreverence and tomfoolery that have made Vine a unique and enduring comic delight.

Though she has given audiences the gift of laughter for over 30 years — a milestone she is proud to have reached — Vine retains not just a youthful glow but extraordinary ambition and vigor, with a calendar of engagements that is nearly fit to burst. She attributes this first and foremost to one core truth — her love for performing has not diminished even one iota.

Famous for her witty parodies of popular songs, Vine continues to craft new material — her latest EP (Carpe Diem, released in June) demonstrates that she knows how to please younger fans who are new to the fold without forgetting the old-school sensibilities her faithful have come to expect.

She has been busy elsewhere, too. Vine has created a plethora of digital content for her official YouTube channel, amassing many millions of views, and launched The Sherry Vine Variety Hour, her unique, drag-filled spin on classic TV variety shows. The latter features the talents of many of Vine’s most cherished and familiar colleagues — Bob the Drag Queen and Varla Jean Merman among them — and can be seen on OutTV and Apple TV.

She also competed recently alongside her longtime friend Jackie Beat on Drag Me to Dinner, a reality show presented by show biz veteran Murray Hill, in which two teams of queens compete to see who can host the better themed dinner party in 90 minutes. The series streams on Hulu and counts Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, David Burtka, among its judging panel.

Vine made time to speak to me during a busy afternoon. We discussed the evolving scope of drag, memories of fellow legend Heklina, her plans for 2024, and what the holidays mean to her.

It’s lovely to catch up with you in advance of your return to Jersey!

Sherry Vine: Thank you, likewise! I just finished recording studio work. Perfect timing!

I only just re-listened to your lovely conversation with Heklina from her podcast — what a fun and valuable conversation you two had. Such a pleasure.

SV: Oh, Heklina! [Her sudden death this past April] was quite a shock. Jackie [Beat] and I actually went to San Francisco for her memorial, which was insane. I thought to myself, I didn’t know this many people liked her! [Chuckles.]

I watched it virtually. It was very touching, and appropriately funny, too.

SV: Oh, absolutely! Everyone really came through and did a lovely job. No queen would want something somber or serious, least of all Heklina.

And like she had, you’ve had some fans who’ve stuck with you for a long time, through many industry changes and shakeups — many were at your show when I saw you perform in June — but it looks like your recent touring as Bianca [Del Rio]’s special guest has won you an influx of younger fans, too.

SV: Oh, absolutely. Opening for Bianca was a huge boost. It’s been very gratifying, for sure.

Sherry Vine
Sherry Vine was on the cover of Out In Jersey magazine

What can fans old and new expect from a Sherry Vine holiday program that separates it from your usual presentation?

SV: [Chuckles]. So, I mean, first of all — I feel like, well, my dad was Jewish and my mom was raised Southern Baptist.

Oh my.

SV: Exactly. But they were actually not religious at all. We grew up celebrating Christmas, but simply as a fun holiday for us kids, not as a religious holiday. So I had an interesting exposure to one side of my family doing all the Jewish holidays — they’re not Orthodox Jews, they’re super liberal Jews who do Passover and Hanukkah and still do Christmas and assorted holiday stuff.

It was interesting as a kid to be exposed to it all, and so I put both in my holiday show — there’s parodies about being Jewish and, naturally, songs where I destroy peoples’ childhood memories of Christmas. [Laughs.] I also do parodies of pop songs that I tailor to fit under the umbrella of the holidays. It’s a little different from other drag shows that are Christmas-themed.

Jackie [Beat]’s is probably the most similar to mine since she also does song parodies, but she mostly does just Christmas stuff. And I’ve seen some drag queens do Christmas shows that are actually really sweet and nice and not filthy or dirty…but of course, I can’t do that. I’ve got to be filthy! [Chuckles.]

In the past year you did a delightful episode of the Hulu show Drag Me to Dinner. What was it like to film?

SV: Oh, that’s with Jackie and Bianca and Neil Patrick Harris and it was such a hoot! It was one of the longest days ever, but when I watched I thought they did such a good job editing it! Amazing. It’s really funny and silly. I love all the goofy things that are part of the situation. I loved it. It was so much fun. With Jackie and BenDeLaCreme — we were literally just cracking up.

And that’s just the kind of levity we can really use right now.

SV: Totally! Yeah, I say that on stage at my show all the time. I’m like, I know how stupid this show is, but we deserve one hour to sit here and be stupid.

You’ve sent up in a hilarious way how drag is becoming more family-friendly and sanitized. It made me think of how some queens I respect have lost some of their bite and edge as they become more famous. They have to play to the balcony, and suddenly things change. You’ve seen a lot in your time in the industry. Do you think there will be always be a place for old-school drag?

Sherry Vine
Sherry Vine

SV: Jackie and I and actually [Lady] Bunny also, we’ve all talked about this together, about where the drag does get kind of homogenized. Then it just becomes our responsibility to keep it cutting-edge. And look, I’m glad that there’s something for everybody. If you want to read books to kids, gorgeous — go do that. I’m not interested in doing that at all, but I’m glad it’s there. I don’t want everyone to be a filthy parody queen because then there’s too much competition! [Laughs.]

So I think there’s a place for everybody. Like, when we were coming out of the pandemic, the first show I did when we came back before live audiences was called Potty Mouth. I thought, I’m going to make this as dirty as possible….

To sort of hit the reset button.

SV: Right. It was dirty enough that the first time I performed it, in Phoenix, I was worried it might be a big flop, yet people were laughing their asses off just like before. We needed to be so stupid for just a little while, to have that relief. That’s a perfect thing that drag can offer. I just thought, we’re coming out of the pandemic, this needs to be the filthiest thing I’ve done yet!

Upping the ante.

SV: Right, yeah.

One thing I noticed last summer when I was in Provincetown — and you’ve alluded to this — is that some serious legends are now having to bark again to sell tickets. Do you think it’s happening because of the overexposure of drag now in general?

SV: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. I played P-Town for one week this past summer, and I was like, everyone who has ever worn a wig is here doing a show. And I’m like, okay, great, competition. But I do feel like — and I’m not gonna say any names — there are people who perform there all the time who said to me “Oh my God, this is the first summer in years I’ve had to bark or pay someone to bark for me.” It’s so oversaturated. But, it is what it is — if people want to do drag, then great. But there are just not enough people for it to be sold out for every queen doing a show [there]. It’s just not physically possible.

And yet, isn’t there a natural sloughing off, where the cream naturally rises to the top?

SV: Well, I mean, I know all those queens — Varla, Dina [Martina], [Miss] Richfield [1981] — they all put on a great show. They’ve been around for so long doing it and they’re hilarious. And to be fair, I didn’t get a chance to see some of the other queens. And now there are all these [RuPaul’s] Drag Race queens — they all have a show now — and it’s kind of hard to know….Well, look at it this way. It’s kind of the same with Broadway — if a family of four is flying in and they’re going to spend $1000 on tickets to a show, are they going to see something they don’t know about? No. They’re going to see Pretty Woman because they recognize the name.

I” am after all these years, still doing this and loving it as much as ever. I know how lucky I am.”

Right. That’s sort of becoming the norm — remakes of old properties, name recognition from TV shows, etc.

SV: Yeah. It’s a safer bet. People want what they know.

Sherry Vine
Sherry Vine

Still, I’m so lucky. I’m very lucky. I get to travel the world and I’m going to be 60 years old and I’ve been doing this for 33 years and I’m still able to do it — I am blessed. But the one thing that can be just so exhausting sometimes is the constantly working to get people to come to a show, to do the social media postings, all of that. But you just keep plugging away — even though sometimes you’re really working hard to get 100 while some of these queens who have been doing drag for five minutes are able to get 400 or 500 people to come because they’re TV stars. Not that I’m complaining! [Chuckles.]

Plus, they’re TV stars for the moment, and if they can’t deliver live on stage, they don’t tend to last. Only the talented ones do.

SV: Right. Absolutely. And here I am after all these years, still doing this and loving it as much as ever. I know how lucky I am.

One thing I didn’t know until recently was that one of my idols, Anna Deavere Smith, helped give you your start.

SV: Oh, yes! Just for one semester — but it was a really good semester. She was the guest teacher and director at USC as I was getting my master’s — and what an amazing opportunity! I had [been doing drag] and she pulled me aside and she was like “You need to explore this honey! You’re on to something here.” She really encouraged it.

Wow! She was right.

SV: Yes.

Now that you’ve done this for a while and come to New Jersey many times, does anything about East Coast — or even more particularly, Jersey audiences — stand out to you?

SV: Well, I think the crowd at Asbury Park, it’s just been so much fun because you get a really good range of people — there’s definitely some young people, but also a lot of older gay men, and that’s my favorite because I can do a Nicki Minaj song and this group of people will love it more, but then I can do a Judy Garland song and this [other] group will love that more. Plus, [I can expect] a group of girls who walked off the street who just come to have fun. I enjoy that, bringing people together.

Actually, I have one new song in the holiday show that’s dependent on having at least one straight man in the audience, and I just can kind of take for granted at this point that there will be some. The only time that didn’t work out for me was when I asked for a straight man in the audience in Palm Springs recently…not one! Every man was gay. Every single one. That’s Palm Springs for you! [Laughs.]

That’s funny because I remember you asking if there were straight men in the audience last summer and you spotted this one guy who walked in with his girlfriend, who had his arm around her, complete with the whole man-spreading thing. He clutched his beer to his chest like it would protect him. Like, you’re straight, we get it!

SV: Oh, my favorite! I can smell fear! [Laughs.] The more you act like that, the more I’m going to come for you.

But always in the spirit of fun, of course.

SV: Of course!

As 2024 looms, what can we look forward to from Sherry Vine in the new year?

SV: Well, we could not film until the strike was over, but we’re inching closer to doing season three of my variety show — hopefully we can do that at the beginning of the year. We will be ready to go.

We’re also trying to put a tour together and it looks like it’s going to happen — it’s a show we’ll call Jurassic Drag and it will be me, Jackie, Varla Jean Merman and Coco Peru all together. We’ve been talking about it since the pandemic and it looks like it’s finally going to happen!

Wow, what a lineup!

SV: The ancient queens on tour! [Laughs.]

Before I let you go, I must ask you something in keeping with the holiday spirit. If you had to choose just one — do you have a favorite Christmas song?

SV: Now that I think of it, I don’t know if I’ve even owned a Christmas album! I will tell you this, if I had to pick a song, Barbra Streisand’s version of “Jingle Bells” is probably my favorite. I never, ever get tired of it.

She’s evergreen.

SV: That’s right!

Tickets for Sherry Vine’s Dec. 16 performance can be purchased at ParadiseNJ.com.