Murray Hill’s signature catchphrase is a percussive “Showbiz!” When he began performing as a drag king in New York during the mid-90s on stages he recalls being “the size of a postage stamp,” shouting “Showbiz!” called out the irony of his Vegas showman persona against the gritty and grimy environs of underground drag clubs.
Today, at age 51, with roles as Fred Rococo on HBO’s “Somebody Somewhere,” which was recently renewed for a third season, and as host of Hulu’s new game show “Drag Me to Dinner,” the distance between Mr. Hill and the mainstream is shrinking.
Still, his life isn’t wall-to-wall glamour. “I’m in a two-bedroom apartment right now, the second bedroom being my bathroom where I’m talking to you,” he told me from his home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, during our video call.
For Pride season, which lasts the month of June, we unleashed Mr. Hill on the town with his iPhone to capture some of his most “Showbiz!” moments.
These are edited excerpts from the interview.
I love “Family Feud.” With everything that’s going on in the country, to have us on their daytime slot, I thought it was pretty subversive and radical. Steve Harvey did not know what to do with us. That’s me with Haneefah Wood (above, middle) and Bianca Del Rio (above, left). I knew Bianca when she was just starting. We’re cut from the same cloth, but she’s more Joan Rivers; I’m more Don Rickles. And you know what? She bought a house in Palm Springs with a pool. There’s a whole economy around drag that was never there before. Thinking back to the ’90s — those dirty, stinky clubs — that is mind-blowing to me.
That was at Susanne Bartsch’s “New York, New York” Pride kickoff party at the Public Hotel. Susanne Bartsch (above) is like the mother of the queer community. She’ll book Joey Arias and Amanda Lepore, who were the generation before me, and then she’ll book Charlene and all these Brooklyn kids. I don’t know anyone else who does this.
I was on “Today With Hoda & Jenna” with Neil Patrick Harris. We’re talking mainstream here, a dream come true. So Jenna and Hoda and Neil were all doing cakes and I’m so short I couldn’t see what he was actually doing. He made a cake of me.
Neil Patrick Harris is the producer of “Drag Me to Dinner.” I’m pretty sure I’m the first drag king — transmasc, whatever I am — to host a TV show in history. Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, David Burtka, had me host one of their Restaurant Week gigs. I didn’t know at the time, but I think that was my audition. Robert Evans says, “There’s no such thing as luck, it’s opportunity that you’re prepared for.” They gave me an opportunity.
I’m a sports guy. When I got to Mets stadium, I was so excited, I was like a child. I was in the owner’s suite behind home plate and they presented me with that jersey. The back says “Mr. Showbiz.” When I had gone to a Yankees game many, many years ago, I wore a whole Derek Jeter uniform and I actually got harassed a lot. So to go back for a dedicated Pride night, it was such a different experience.
I saw a lot of posts from these young drag kings saying that they weren’t getting enough Pride bookings. I always say this: If you don’t see yourself represented, go out and represent yourself. So I said, “Let’s put on our own show.” We had 20 drag kings at 3 Dollar Bill and it was completely sold out. I still have goose bumps, because I’ve never seen a show like that. And there was so much sex appeal! It was like “Magic Dyke” instead of “Magic Mike.”
On Sunday at the “Pride Across America” broadcast on ABC and Hulu, I was the guest broadcaster. Lea DeLaria jumped off the parade route to talk to us. She’s the O.G. butch comedian. I’ve known Lea since the ’90s and we often get confused for each other, people calling me “Lea” and her “Murray.” When we took this picture, she goes, “We’re both in the same place at the same time. Now people know we’re two different people.”
I never would have imagined sharing a picture of a partner, and I’ve never done it before. When I was coming up, there was this drag etiquette where you never broke character. You never knew anybody’s dead name, you never discussed where you were from, what your family life was like, or what your hardships were. I’m really inspired by the younger generation to be more open and not have things be “on” and “off,” they can actually be everything at once.
I am in a loving, amazing, queer relationship at a senior age. Her name is Michelle Casino. This is the first girlfriend that I’ve had in my life that I actually liked. They would all agree. I have this line in my act: I go, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes and many of them are in this room tonight.”