Downtown legends and Tony Award nominees Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman are back at it with the long-awaited return of their beloved and bizarre neo-retro lounge act Kiki and Herb. Their brand-new show, Seeking Asylum!, will open April 21 at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, and tickets sold out in record time. Playbill caught up with the pair to discuss their reign as the once and future queens of cabaret.
Your show sold out very quickly. Do you think you might add more?
Justin Vivian Bond: Nooo.
Kenny Mellman: We’re old.
Will that affect how you relate to the audience?
JVB: Well, Kiki and Herb were always of their time, in the moment and in the place where they were performing, and they have pretty much the same world view that they always had. They’ll be responding to what they’re seeing go on in the world now.
KM: And, luckily, a lot is going on.
JVB: It’s helpful that Kiki and Herb have known several of the current presidential candidates personally. And have personal, ah, anecdotes about them.
How about for you as performers? Is there a difference in your affection for the characters, for each other, for the style?
JVB: We spent so much time with those characters and with each other that, you know, it was getting a little bit scary—you start to feel like, “Oh my God, if I keep serving this beast that is Kiki and Herb, I’m never going to serve any other creative impulse I have.” Now I’m confident in my ability to do a lot of other things, so I guess I don’t have the resentment that I had before all the time.
Was it a clear decision right away to do this at Joe’s Pub?
KM: Joe’s has always been a home for both of us as Kiki and Herb, and individually, so it was a perfect choice.
JVB: We like cabaret venues because the audience can drink, and we can take our time. It can be more free-flowing, more intimate.
Literally. You’ve also played Broadway and the Cherry Lane Off-Broadway, which seemed to be kind of in a different vein.
KM: A wonderful director, Scott Elliott, scripted the Cherry Lane show. It was an interesting exercise.
JVB: That made it more like a play. It brought up the idea that anyone could play Kiki, and we were actually working on making that happen.
KM: The next Kiki was going to be Jennifer Jason Leigh. It never happened.
JVB: Nobody, including Scott Elliott, can find the script!
Speaking of the crossover between theatre and cabaret, your work has had a tremendous influence in the downtown “alt cabaret” genre that has sprung up.
JVB: Well, that was our mission in the first place. We felt that cabaret could be so vital and essential that we could bring the music of our generation and the attitudes and experiences of our generation to the genre, which wasn’t happening at all because cabaret had become all about nostalgia. So that was our goal—to make cabaret relevant, and it is again, which is really great especially in places like New York and London and even in San Francisco, various cities around the world where it’s totally transformed.
KM: We began during ACT UP/Queer Nation years. So our audience was made up of the people we were protesting with in the streets. There was a sense of community building.
JVB: The same thing happened everywhere—in New York and London and Sydney—we didn’t debut at the Opera House. We started out small and became part of the community. We did what we had to, we sucked a lot of d*ck.