A former drag queen chats about the perils of drugs, fame and having a crush on Suzanne Pleshette
Josh Kilmer-Purcell, 37, is author of The New York Times best-selling I Am Not Myself These Days, a comic memoir that recounts his romance with a drug-addicted hustler and his adventures as an advertising-executive by day and a tipsy drag queen by night.
Windy City Times: Last night, in preparation for this interview, I drank an entire bottle of wine and watched an old Dick Cavett show that featured an hour-long interview with Bette Davis. You were once a big drinker. Do you have any advice on how I can get rid of my hangover?
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: The bigger question is why did you stop? It's impossible to have a hangover when you're drinking.
WCT: Your book begins with you telling the story of the time your crack-addicted, hustler boyfriend contemplated stabbing you to death with an expensive knife your parents gave you for Christmas. Tell me, Josh, do you enjoy cooking?
JK-P: I actually still have that knife. Last Easter, I was making lamb and I was cutting up parsley and I realized 'Oh, this is the knife.' I took a picture of it and put it on my blog.
WCT: Your alter ego, Aqua, was a drag queen who stored live fish in her breasts—obviously a tribute to your home state of Wisconsin. What was growing up in the heartland like for a future drag queen?
JK-P: There weren't a lot of drag queen role models around. But if had there been, I don't think they would have been beaten up at the bar. Wisconsin has always had a very restrained liberalism. Most people have a live-and-let-live attitude.
WCT: Your boyfriend Jack was a hustler who specialized in S/M relationships. You'd regularly come home to your penthouse to find one of his clients hogtied on the floor and begging for mercy. The apartment reminded you of the one used on the Bob Newhart Show. Tell me, do you find Suzanne Pleshette incredibly sexy, or is it just me?
JK-P: She would be one of the ones I had a crush on before I knew what a crush was. It was more that I wanted to be her, not sleep with her. I love strong, funny women. I loved Rhoda Morgenstern.
WCT: Speaking of strong, funny women, your mother plays a big role in the book, which also contains a lot of shocking stories about your sex life, your excessive drinking, and your adventures as a drag queen. Has your mom read the book?
JK-P: Yes, she has. I expected her to be shocked and horrified, but she told me that she's just glad those days are over. She is very involved in the Episcopal Church in Wisconsin and she gives the book to everyone in the church. She does it almost as a challenge.
WCT: You describe you and Jack as the Kennedys of Kinkiness, which naturally begs the question, how would you have handled Castro and Khrushchev?
JK-P: Both of them together? Castro I think I could have charmed. Three mojitos and we could have avoided the whole thing. I probably wouldn't have attacked something called Bay of Pigs anyway. Who'd want it? It doesn't sound very appealing.
Khrushchev was a sugar daddy type. I think I would have been his bitch. He had the bald head and he was virile and, obviously, he had an endless supply of vodka. So, if I was in charge back then, the country would probably be Communist now.
WCT: You are partner in a New York advertising firm. Can you explain the appeal of those Burger King ads with that freakish Burger King guy peeking in people's window?
JK-P: It's creepy isn't it? It's hard to get any advertising noticed these days. And what are you going to say about a hamburger that's been around forever? Your best hope is to be creepy and hope people remember you.
WCT: In the book, you describe how you used to drink so much that most nights you'd black out and wonder how you got home. You no longer drink 14 vodkas a night. So what did you do to celebrate when your book hit the New York Times best-seller list?
JK-P: There was no time to celebrate, actually. I'm such a high-strung worry wart. When I found out that I made the list my only question was 'What number am I at and how can I get to a higher number next week?' Every day I think I'm an utter fraud and I'm just waiting for people to find out.
WCT: When the book ends, Jack is out of your life and you have packed away your drag. Have you heard from Jack since the book was released?
JK-P: He read a review about the book in Entertainment Weekly. At first he was angry. But I told him to read the book. There's no good guy and no bad guy in it. After he read it, he said it was accurate and that I had been chivalrously discreet.
For more information about I Am Not Myself These Days, go to www.iamnotmyselfthesedays.com .