A wacky presence on NYC’s drag scene and the winner of the Glam award for Best Comedy Performer of 2017, Ari Kiki does funny lip synchs to pop diva songs, along with all sorts of raunchy shtick and physical stunts. The New York-born and raised queen (who performs at places like Stonewall and Phoenix Bar and who sang with me at a November duets show) stands out from the pack for daring to be enjoyably off-kilter in a Divine-ish sort of way. I talked to Ari (male name Marti Balloveras) about her fabulous girth and mirth.
Hi, Ari. How did you get into drag?
About 15 years ago, I saw a drag show at XES hosted by Jade Elektra. I was interested in doing drag. I did a Halloween look, a few drag competitions. My drag name was Marbal. I ended up putting her away. The person I was dating was not interested in me doing drag. I buckled, so I guess I was an ass. We were off and on for five years. In June 2010 [when the relationship was over], I was reborn as Ari Kiki. I was using Ari as my online hookup name and then it kind of just stuck.
What’s your idea of drag? Funny? Glamorous?
With Ari Kiki, it’s having a good time, not taking myself too seriously, and fucking with gender, the key being having a good time and laughing at things.
You call yourself plus size.
Absolutely. Plus size and a hot mess.
Do you want to stay plus size?
No, for health reasons, I don’t, but for the time being it is what it is. It’s not a quick fix situation.
But you make it interesting as a drag queen.
Yeah. I enjoy being comedic. I use the weight as, I don’t want to say a crutch, but a staple as part of the gimmick. I wasn’t always this size. When I first started Ari, I was a size eight or 10 and slowly ballooned my weight up to a bigger size.
Where do you get your clothes?
The bulk of it comes from Rainbow and Forever 21, and lately I’ve stepped up my pussy and shopped at Ashley Stewart and Lane Bryant. I look for color, comfort, and a little flair. You can never have too much flair.
What kind of reactions do you get from audiences?
Laughter, smiles, tipping. An overall sense of a good time.
What are your favorite songs to do? I enjoy when you vamp around to “Candy” by Mandy Moore.
Currently I’m on a fixation with an artist named Lizzo. She’s a plus-size singer. Hiphop-soul. The main one she does is “Phone,” and she has another one called “Scuse Me” and “Good as Hell.”
Do you feel you stand out in the crowd of other drag queens?
To some extent, yes, now that you see a lot more diversity in drag aesthetics, but I feel a lot of people still take themselves a little too seriously. Part of that is this is not my main source of income, so I don’t have to be so serious about it. I have a day job. I work at a visual merchandising company called Circle Visual. I’ve been with them for 10 years.
What’s your feeling about other plus-size drag stars like Darienne Lake and Ginger Mini?
I think Ginger is fabulous. Darienne comes off as self-deprecating, but it could just be the edit. I love Latrice, as well as Jiggly, who I know and have worked with a number of times. We did a web series called Dishing Divas, on YouTube.
What do you aspire to as a drag queen?
As long as I can make the audience laugh and forget their cares for a few seconds, I’m happy.
You are also infamous for doing backflips, body flips…
It’s all a physical challenge to me. I don’t have much of a choice when it comes to gravity.
But you perform a lot of physical stuff by choice.
Right. I do reverse somersaults and I roll around the floor. I grew up around slapstick. I used to watch Laurel and Hardy growing up, and The Muppets, Tom and Jerry, Betty Boop, Lucy. I used to love slapstick. I think that’s part of the shtick with me.
Your thoughts on the closing of the Boots & Saddle Drag Lounge, where you performed, and which is hoping to reopen? (The West Village club’s Robert Ziegler says he’s held back two months rent trying to deal with insurance red tape after a big flood kicked him out of the building and caused major damages.)
I was blessed to have two weekly shows there, where I was able to allow up and coming performers an opportunity to get on a stage and get their feet wet. I loved performing there for the crowd, which usually consisted of a bunch of regulars we called family. It was our lil haven, and it’s sad that it has become another casualty of the ever-changing scene in NYC.
Do you want to keep doing what you’re doing?
Yeah. I enjoy it. A long as I’m not dead and not hurting anyone, I’m good. I feel like I would perform in wheelchair if I had to.
Night of the Dawn
An old staple (which I was involved in), the Limelight Nightlife Award was revived at Jue Lan Club, which is situated at 49 W. 20th Street, down from the old Limelight side entrance. Last week, the honoree was Dawn Wells, Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, who told me she’s not working on anything right now, but she had done a play and she loves doing stage work.
“Mary Ann was pretty…” she said, then made a rectangular shape with her hands. “Square?” I said. Uh-huh. “Right after Gilligan’s Island, I did Owl and the Pussycat and I played a hooker!” So theater lets her make things less rectangular, I guess.
Also in the crowd were Ben Curtis (the Dell dude), Randy Jones (Village People), Robin Byrd (TV host), and Mason Reese (former child star), all of whom would be perfect to win this new, old award.