The Kinsey Sicks have been at this a long time. The acapella singing group of gay men in drag are celebrating 25 years of performing shows that are equal parts camp comedy and very of-the-moment political humor.
But there’s political humor and then there is true, mortal heartbreak.
Benjamin Schatz is an original member of the group, appearing as his drag alter ego Rachel, a character with a penchant for putdowns and a lust for the spotlight. He writes much of the shows and lyrics, and he had something important to say, something that had weighed on his mind for many years.
He decided to get it off his padded chest during The Kinsey Sicks’ most recent tour show, “Things You Shouldn’t Say,” the group’s 25th anniversary tour, which swung through Atlanta last week. In a monologue performance that is as wrenching as it is delicate, Benjamin takes the risk of breaking character to explain what the early years of AIDS have done to him and his community.
Audiences at the recent Atlanta performance of the show will never forget it. Luckily, its on the Sicks’ YouTube channel for the rest of you, and posted below. Run, don't walk to press play after reading Benjamin's insights.
“When Trump won, I thought, ‘Oh shit, I have to write a different show than I have been planning on,’” Benjamin explains. “I just went into some deep place inside myself because I knew we can’t play by the normal rules now.”
Breaking those rules meant abandoning, at least for a few moments, the pure comedy that makes the group’s latest outrageous show such a satirical delight.
“When we opened this show, I was terrified,” Benjamin says. “But I just felt like this monologue was what I had to do.”
“It’s such a techtonic shift in the show, but it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he adds.
The response has been overwhelming, resonating with audiences around the world, and not just LGBTQ ones.
That includes the more difficult, emotionally searing elements of the monologue, such as the idea that AIDS sparked both severe homophobic hate, and eventually, a greater empathy for dying gay men.
“People wonder if gay marriage came from Will & Grace,” Benjamin says about the roots of queer acceptance in the U.S. “But no, it came from hundreds of thousands of dead faggots. That’s where gay marriage came from.”
The Kinsey Sicks have always been political – Benjamin believes it has hurt the career of the group, but they wouldn’t have it any other way — but this monologue is something else entirely, and it deserves to be seen and shared. Grab a tissue and take a look.
Mark S. King is an award-winning writer, AIDS activist, longtime survivor and former Atlantan. His full interview with Benjamin Schatz originally ran on his consistently thoughtful and contantly updated blog, My Fabulous Disease. It is reprinted here and in Q magazine with permission. You can also visit the Kinsey Sicks website and Kinsey Sicks YouTube Channel.