Tearing down gender and finding love amongst the balloons
Eric Jaffe is a unique hybrid of a queen, and that ingenuity and knack for turning down what people may think drag “is” completely upside down has elevated him to top of his game in the Philadelphia drag scene. After sweeping some of the biggest categories at the Philly Drag Awards (including Drag Queen of the Year), Jaffe himself was surprised when his now fiancée Greg proposed to him live (via flash mob) at the five-year anniversary of The Eric Jaffe Show at Tavern on Camac.
As Jaffe puts the final touches on his new show for Philly Fringe Festival, he grabbed some time away to talk with me about his path to the top of the heap in Philadelphia drag. He discussed his unique and important perspective on drag today, and what it was like finding love and acceptance within the Philadelphia community
Okay, take me back how was your drag persona created?
Eric Jaffe: I have been a performer my entire life. I started performing in musicals at a very young age. I found such a love and passion for it that I decided to study theatre in college. When I was in school, I was constantly told that I needed to ‘pass’ as a straight person if I wanted to work. After spending some time trying to straighten myself up for one of the gayest art forms, I realized that I didn’t want to fit into these boxes. I didn’t want to tell other people’s stories. And I didn’t want to have to wait until i was 60 to play Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.
When I graduated from college, I moved back home to Philly. I stumbled into the incredibly queer cabaret and drag scene. I was a very different person/performer back then. And I was performing out of drag and playing cover songs on the ukulele. But comedy was always my main priority. As I was developing the ‘stage version of myself’, I realized, that’s just what it was. Eric Jaffe, but for the stage. So over the years I learned how to paint my face and I didn’t change my name. I didn’t want to be anyone else. My drag is not a separate persona from me. It is the most heightened version of me that there is.
You like to be Philly’s “Genderless Glamour Monster”. Why is it important to not define your creation by a gender?
EJ: First of all, gender is a social construct. And I am here to tear it down. My drag is a perspective on gender, and the societal norms that have even transferred over to drag. Anyone can make their own rules about what drag means to them. To me it’s about looking gorgeous with a full beard, a hairy chest, and hairy legs, while singing at the top of my lungs about food, farts, and dick.
It’s so amazing how mainstream drag has become. You can literally turn on your TV and see incredible high glamour drag on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I love that and I am so grateful for what it has done for the drag community, but the drag that you see on the show is a sliver of the drag community. I do not consider myself a ‘female impersonator. You can have a beautifully painted face, and a beard, and a hairy chest and legs, and that is beautiful. And that is drag.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments in drag, on or off stage?
EJ: Last summer, I focused a lot of my energy into writing a full-length parody musical, Thweeny Todd: The Flaming Barber of Fleek Street. I produced and starred in the show that had sold-out in Philadelphia. It made me realize that combining drag and theatre is what I want to do with drag. Currently, I am working on my next show which opens next month as a part of the Philly Fringe Festival, Gay Mis (tickets available now at theericjaffe.com). This will be the biggest production of my drag career. I am SO excited to unveil it to the community.
Last November at the Philly Drag Awards I won Best Host, Best Alternative Queen, and Drag Queen of the Year. The feeling of being recognized by my peers was unlike any other. As a ‘nontraditional’ drag artist it means so much to me that Philly appreciates what I am doing.
You are a true performer in every sense of the word; what are some of your favorite types of material to perform? Are you trained or specialize in any certain types of performing?
EJ: I love to make people laugh, and I mostly do that through parody and original songs. I am trained in theatre and voice, and I specialize in fart jokes.
Finding love with your now fiancée Gregory culminated with an engagement this past week. What was it like finding Gregory?
EJ: I never thought I would find a love like what I have with Greg. In my early twenties I lost both of my parents. And for the years following that trauma, I was just existing. I was doing the bare minimum as a person to survive. When I met Greg, I had just come out of a really dark place and was finally learning to truly love myself. I knew from the second that I swiped right on Tinder, that he was going to be a big part of my life.
Our first date was at the Franklin Institute, and I will never forget walking up to meet him, he smiled and my whole world came crashing down. He was so kind, honest, and downright cute. On our third date, I told him about my parents passing away. It was hard for me to open up, but he listened, held my hand, looked into my eyes and made me feel comfortable talking about the heavy stuff. I knew then that I had found someone special.
Gregory how do you deal with having a supernova of a partner? Eric is such a big personality? How does your own personality compliment his?
Gregory: PATIENCE! No, but seriously, Eric is a Gemini and luckily the twin to their stage persona is a very sweet, calm, Jewish mother type who is kind of a homebody, which I love. Eric works so much in the scene that when they are off, it’s nice to spend time making a home together and cuddling on the couch.
EJ: Greg balances me out. I can jump off the deep end sometimes into a fantasy world. It is so nice to have someone so grounded to reel me back in. When I first met Greg, I found out that he was a balloon artist, and I knew that I would find a way to incorporate his art into my drag. Cut to a year later and Greg is spending hours, and hours, weaving balloons into stunning balloon dresses (like the one I was wearing when he proposed). I never thought that collaborating artistically with a partner was something that I really wanted. It is so amazing working with Greg. Any idea that I have he is able to bring to life. He is such a brilliant artist and I am so proud of how far he has come in such a short time. Aside from balloons, he is a visual artist as well, creating gorgeous canvases using all kinds of different materials.
Okay, tell me about the engagement. Gush away gir!!
EJ: So last night was the five-year anniversary of The Eric Jaffe Show, my monthly cabaret at Tavern on Camac in Philly. The show was wonderful, my closest friends and family were all there. The show came to a close and right before I was about to say goodnight, Greg stormed the stage and took the mic, which is very out of character for him. He asked the audience to cheer for me one more time which I thought was sweet. He then started speaking about when we first met, and all of a sudden, my friends are guiding me off stage and Greg tells the DJ to hit it! Suddenly Greg is lip syncing to a parody of one of my parodies, which he had recorded. I could not believe that my shy boyfriend was performing! Then suddenly my family gets on stage and starts dancing behind him. Then I looked around the room and it hit me: THIS IS A FLASH MOB AND EVERYONE IS IN ON IT!
The next thing I knew, my closest friends had cleared all of the chairs from the show and were suddenly performing a choreographed dance to this song. At this point I am crying because I know what’s about to happen (I’m obsessed with flash mob proposals and Greg knew this fact). I am pulled into the middle of the dance floor and am surrounded by everyone spinning around us. Then at the end of the song Greg gets on one knee, pulls out a stunning ring, and asks me to marry him.
Do you want your relationship to be an example to the community? If so, how?
EJ: I want my relationship to be full of love, honesty, silliness, growth and beautiful balloon dresses. I hope that we are an example to the community by being our true selves and being as queer as possible at all times.
What gives you pride?
EJ: As a kid I was always told that I was weird; well I am proud to be weird. Growing up I never fit into a box of what I was ‘supposed’ to be. It was really difficult for a long time. But I came to realize, that I am proud of the weird, silly, obnoxious person that I am. I am proud of my city, Philadelphia, for so many reasons. For creating a home for my drag, And for unveiling the inclusive black and brown striped pride flag, for Gritty, and for embracing people who are different.