A post for Omnified by Billie Monnier-Stokes
U.K. native James Doyle is a living testament to the transformation Berlin offers its transplants. Before his move to the city five years ago, he worked in classical ballet and contemporary dance. Now, he’s a core part of the drag collective, “The Real Housewives of Neukölln.”
If you haven’t witnessed the Housewives in all their glory, they fall under the bracket of “trash drag,” an alternative to the more normalized drag that is now being broadcasted across screens globally, thanks to shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Doyle’s on-stage persona is “Fanny,” often sporting a bubblegum pink wig, bright blue eyeshadow, and short dresses. He and the other Housewives are fully aware that their costumes turn heads.
“It turns everyone’s preconceived idea of drag on [its] head and it also allows me to teach the audience that there are actually many different types of drag,” said Doyle.
I first met Doyle at a fetish bar, without his “Fanny regalia,” as he calls it. Doyle was in the audience to support fellow Housewife, Collapsella, who was there DJing.
“We [the Housewives] are not looking for attention,” Doyle told me. “Which sounds ridiculous because we get on stage and scream in people’s faces.”
After the success of “The Real Housewives of Neukölln,” Doyle was emboldened to make a foray into stand-up comedy. In some ways it was a natural progression to take the over-the-top Fanny to a solo act, but there were nerves that accompanied the transition. Despite his fiercely confident persona on stage, Doyle says he was not immune to the doubts and challenges faced by many queer comedians.
“Turning up in the Fanny regalia into a very straight male scene was nerve wracking. It was a huge challenge to put myself into that world where people might not understand what I’m doing or my comedy,” he said.
But it worked. After just three shows, he was offered his own three-part showcase at Cosmic Comedy, an English language comedy club in Berlin.
On the night that I attended his show, a rowdy crowd of British men from Dorset, England, dominated the audience. It seemed their approval would be difficult for any comedian to win over, let alone one who was performing stand-up for only the fourth time.
When called to the stage, Doyle made a bold choice: Rather than following the script as planned, he began to interact with the intimidating crowd to the center left of the stage. The risk paid off.
“We have a live audience that we can talk to, so let’s do it, interact and laugh together,” Doyle said. “That’s what’s so great about live theater, anything can happen.”
But Doyle, as a queer performer, has thought about his delicate role on stage and how he is representing his community.
“Because my life is very queer, I have to be very careful that I don’t use that for my jokes to the extent where I’m getting the audience to laugh at the queer community,” Doyle said. “For the first time, it’s something that I really have to think about. Going into that world and having to represent a different world, I have to be incredibly conscious, not just for anybody else but also for me.”
Doyle has thrived in Berlin as he’s found financial freedom which has led to creative freedom as well. “People are willing to help for free because nobody is stressed about paying their rent,” he said.
Outside of Berlin, this might seem like a luxury, and Doyle admits that, “Living in Berlin is not living in reality.”
Being financially stable in a city with a buzzing party scene opens new doors and creates a special community of productive artists, he says, many of whom don’t face the typical financial constraints faced by many in other major western European cities.
Doyle believes that living out of sync with the rest of the world has made him the artist that he is: “Living in Berlin hasn’t only shaped me as a performer but it’s made me the performer that I am, I would say.”
Although Doyle knows there will be a learning curve as he delves deeper into stand-up comedy, he remains positive for the journey ahead.
“It’s really exciting because as much as I really love being a part of the Housewives, this is my little thing,” Doyle said. “This is me doing my little thing on my own.”
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