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ARTS & CULTURE

Dude looks like a lady - hey, wait, he is!

Places/by Robin Vaughan
Sunday, July 13, 2003

``My life is so weird,'' muses a small-boned bruiser in Freddie Prinze-era gym shorts, muscle shirt and black nylon 'do rag, before his first karaoke duet at Glitter Switch a few weeks ago.

There are other interesting looking dudes here at the monthly drag karaoke event, an early show warmup party to Club Hollywood, the Saturday women's night at Chinatown's Hollywood KTV - but this guy's a head-turner, all the same.

It takes a second to recognize the little tough, under the greasepaint facial scruff and Groucho brows: It's Hilken Mancini, the blond, doll-faced co-founder of Punk Rock Aerobics. In this drag-king getup, donned for a friendly guest-star appearance, she looks like a character who might have haunted Harry's Bar, the scary old Combat Zone dive formerly at this Essex Street address. (The burly, deep-voiced dame a few stools away, who is explaining to the bartender that her ensemble is a tribute to a '40s chorus girl, might remember the place.)

For Mancini and her similarly thugged-out business partner, Maura Jasper, the Glitter Switch drag-king gig is no weirder than anything else they've done to promote Punk Rock Aerobics, the DIY concept they've expanded from endearing local exercise cult to burgeoning multimedia indie enterprise. (They've signed a book deal, bands including Mission of Burma have recorded tracks for the video, and they are considering national aerobics-class franchises.)

Just days ago, for instance, they were in London handing out fliers for a PRA class at a Kelly Osbourne concert - a tactic they reconsidered when the crowd started pelting the stage with beer. (Backstage, Mancini says, young Osbourne was fuming: ``This has never happened to me before!'')

The PRA pair appear tonight, performing karaoke tunes as their Bud-slugging, male gym-rat alter egos, ``Him and Jim,'' as part of a trading places deal with Glitter Switch host Aliza Shapiro, who guest-DJ'd their Saturday afternoon class at the Middle East in her signature drag-king persona, ``Heywood Wakefield.''

``I tried to do the exercises, but it was pretty difficult,'' says Shapiro, whose middle-aged alter ego struggled through the workout in his ``old man's sweat suit'' with his glasses flying off, bushy Gene Shalitesque 'stache coming unglued and prosthetic manhood slipping into view.

Wakefield's back to his old self this evening, in his Bill Murray dinner jacket, introducing the one-year anniversary installment of Glitter Switch with a few remarks about legal sodomy - ``Now we can legally (bleep) in the (bleep). Are you excited?'' This evening's show, she adds, will include a special ``Sodomy Trilogy'' performance by Gail and Betsy Leondar-Wright, who became unwitting poster girls for the cause when they were snapped by an AP photographer outside the State House, where they hoisted their ``Victory is sweet'' sign with big smiles, heads leaning together. The photo topped the AOL news page on June 27, accompanied by the worrisome question, ``Is gay marriage next?'' (In their act tonight, the Leondar-Wrights will have some fun rewording their karaoke lyrics to rhyme with ``Scalia.'' )

Other acts this evening include some hilarious turns by ``Charlie Girl,'' who introduces herself with a plug for her book, ``The Lazy Cross-Dresser.'' As if her singing voice weren't entertaining enough, the lanky trans-lifestyle blonde cracks up the crowd with a mock-vigorous dance routine that looks like an ill-fated, ninth-grade cheerleading tryout - tube top perpetually slipping off her ironing-board bustline, earnest ``high'' kicks a foot off the ground. Him and Jim add their own absurd grace notes, ending their crotch-scratching rendition of Cyndi Lauper's ``Time After Time'' by dropping to the floor for a quick set of push-ups.

The Glitter Switch anniversary party turnout is pretty femme for a drag-king affair, some sweet-faced butchy youths and lipstick-free older lesbians notwithstanding. There are not as many kings as usual tonight - Shapiro is not sure why, but says she normally books pros from other cities to perform at the monthly karaoke shows. The next Glitter Switch, this Saturday, for example, will feature New York tranny It-girl Lisa Jackson. But for a couple of straight girls, Him and Jim put in a manly effort. Cahones, shall we say, are where you find them.


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