The Wise Cracker!
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The Wise Cracker!

Brigit Grant meets the unashamedly Jewish Drag Queen ahead of her Palladium debut

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Maxwell Heller
Maxwell Heller

The arrival in the UK of RuPaul’s Drag Race was the greatest gift BBC3 could bestow on the thousands of fans who have been glued to the US show forever.

Adored predominantly by young girls – my daughter among them – the search
for America’s next drag superstar hooked the fan base with 12 seasons of fantastical flouncy fashion, caustic wit and more Yiddishisms than even Mrs Maisel can muster.

That the reality show’s eponymous host occasionally wears a Star of David, kept an English–Yiddish dictionary underneath his chair and told contestants “it’s beshert” was thrilling for viewers of the faith, but engaging with the Hebrews didn’t end there. In the resident judge Michelle Visage, who is currently owning the floor in Strictly Come Dancing, RuPaul found a flag-waving shayna maidel, who talked about her genius delivery of the Haftorah at her batmitzvah and refers to any Jewish drag queens as “mishpucha”.  Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer) and Sasha Velour (Alexander Steinberg) were Jewish winners, but there were others who were highly placed.

Miz Cracker is “mishpucha”and came fifth place in Season 10, but it the wisecracks in her smart online show Review With A Jew (202K followers) that gives her the edge, and in February she will be one of the first drag queens to headline at The London Palladium since Danny La Rue.

“I am so excited,” says Maxwell Heller, the ‘him’ behind his dazzling alter ego. “We were offered the opportunity by Holy Trannity (the home of drag queen entertainment) and we thought we would give it a whack. So I am bringing the sisters (other drag queens) with me to perform,
as without their help I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Born in Seattle, Maxwell now lives in Harlem, Upper Manhattan, where from behind a sewing machine he reflects on life post-Drag Race. “Appearances across
the US that afford me the right to work just four days a month” and “lots of travel – Lisbon is great, but the biggest welcome is in the UK”.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 Cast
Credit: VH1

Maxwell intended to adopt the name Brianna Cracker for his female self, but it proved too much of a mouthful and Miz was a pithy honorific that cut some ice in the fiercely competitive New York drag scene. “There are an unlimited number of girls, but limited clubs.”

Before La Cracker, Maxwell taught English to Senegalese nationals in NYC and now speaks their native language, Wolof, fluently. He also earned his black belt in judo, but the only belts he wears these days are covered with sequins.

His handling of a sewing machine is the result of his artist mother, Kristi, doing lots of craft challenges when he was a child; Miz Cracker has 100 dresses, not including the one he was stitching. The theme tune for Review With A Jew is Hava Nagila, and Maxwell says his family was devout when he was younger. “Now I’m just culturally Jewish,” he says, adding that his very public identity and affiliation is less about being brave and bold than having no sense. “Antisemitism is very present in the States, too.”

Intending to enjoy Miz Cracker’s celebrity while it lasts, Maxwell believes she has a duty to support important causes such as #MeToo, and her ‘She’s A Woman’ sweatshirt is a good seller. “I feel drag queens are incredibly visible right now and should speak up for what is right,” he says, although determining what is and isn’t correct is a political correctness minefield. “I go by what my mother taught me – instinctively you know what is right.” Spoken like a true Jewish mother’s boy. Or girl.

 

Miz Cracker will be at The Palladium on 23 Feb 2020. For tickets, go to www.eventbrite.co.uk

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