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Queerty: Murray Hill dishes on boozy drag queens, Pee-wee Herman, and paving the way for more queer folks in showbiz

Murray Hill points to the camera in "Drag Me To Dinner'Image Credit: ‘Drag me To Dinner,’ Hulu

Over the years, comedian and actor Murray Hill has become a New York City institution, a staple of the city’s art, drag, and comedy scenes since the ’90s.

For a while there, Hill was even hailed as the city’s “best kept secret.” But, these days, it’s getting harder and hard to call this “showbiz” legend anybody’s secret—because he’s everywhere!

This weekend, he can be seen in the season finale of Somebody Somewhere, HBO’s impossible-not-to-love small-town comedy. His character, the gregarious Fred Rococo, is getting married, bringing the gang together for a very special day, sending the season off on a high note.

And then, starting this week, Hill can be seen doing what he does best: Hosting! As the emcee of Hulu’s hilarious new series, Drag Me To Dinner, he’ll be welcoming audiences to this one-of-a-kind competition series, which sees pairs of drag queens going head-to-head to see who can host the best, most drag-tastic dinner party. Hijinks will surely ensue.

And that’s truly just what Hill has going on this week. The man puts in the work, and we’re excited to see the fruits of his labor paying off big time. All the world’s a stage for Murray Hill, and we’re ecstatic to have front-row seats.

Of course, we jumped at the chance to talk to this host with the most, turning the tables and hosting him for our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our entertaining and enlightening conversation, Hill shares which two cultural touchstones helped him build his “showbiz” persona, tells us what it’s really like to work with boozy drag queens at seven in the morning for Drag Me To Dinner, and reflects on his own small-town upbringing.

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, games, etc…—that you consider a big part of your own exploration of gender and identity?

From a comedic standpoint, Paul Reubens influences me a great deal—and I’m happy to call him a friend. He is the funniest, most brilliant persona-comedian that I have ever met. And I think what he influenced me on is that he created his own world, lived in it, and then shared that world with everybody.

Back then, there wasn’t internet, there wasn’t “coming out”—there wasn’t any of that stuff. So I think a lot of people—myself included—created these worlds to live in. And his first show was at The Roxy in LA—like, Pee-wee’s Playhouse but as a live theater show. So, when I was young, I saw him doing that. And it wasn’t necessarily “queer,” It was just like, “okay, here’s somebody that clearly is on the outside looking in, doesn’t fit in anywhere, is this kind of unicorn person, and now he’s the star of his own unicorn show!” So I really took a lot of stuff from him in developing my own career.

And then [the other] is this is documentary called The Queen, which I saw coupled with Paris Is Burning in high school in a social media class—but not “social media” like today. Anyway, this must have been the ’80s or early ’90s, and I was so young—I didn’t know anything from anything. But I saw this queer family—a bunch of misfits, isolated people—that came together and created their own world. And that was “after hours,” you know? Nighttime, underground, not on TV, not for everyone to look at.

But a long time ago, strictly because of that movie I put together pageants for lesbians and trans men. Because in the pageants—and it’s pretty much still like this today, 100 years later—there wasn’t a culture or a space for pageantry on the other side of the gender spectrum.

So, those two—The Queen and Pee-wee Herman—are the early, formative stuff that I wasn’t even conscious of at the time, but I ended up living to the fullest.

Drag Me To Dinner is a blast and filming it seems like it would be a dream come true—I mean we’ve got drag queens and booze, what could go wrong? What would you say was your favorite (or perhaps the most surprising) part about filming?

So I’m gonna tell you this: I am incredibly honored that Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka hired me to do the show—because we know how many seasons RuPaul’s Drag Race has been on now, and we know that there’s no drag kings on TV. Unfortunately it’s these two separate worlds that live within our community, within society. So my favorite thing—I took this to heart, and I took great pride in it—is that I got to actually do the job! That I was asked to do it. Because I’ve hosted forever—like any show that you can imagine. So not only do I have the craft to do it, but the gay guys opened the door for me.

From a political standpoint, I don’t even care that it took 25-plus years, the fact that it happened and it happened now is awesome.

The best part of filming was, just like TV, we all had to be there at 6 o’clock in the morning. And, you know, drag queens at that hour are really the most entertaining. It was so fun to see a lot of these people I’ve known for decades get dressed up, [early] in the morning, some were drinking booze already as you probably could imagine. What I love is that the drag queens got to be comedic, they got to be silly—they could do literally whatever they wanted. It was like, “Okay, here’s a loose structure of what we’re doing, and it may or may not make sense, but go have fun with it!” So, after I had to do my bits, I literally sat in the studio and watched all of it, from 6am to 6pm. I love to watch the queens improvise and just flourish without any stress about a script or a big prize or being voted out or any of that crap.

Inspired by Drag Me To Dinner: Imagine it’s the apocalypse and you’re hosting the last dinner party on Earth… what’re you serving?

Well, I know this is a written article, so your fans can’t see that I love a carbohydrate—like, even more than the next guy. I would have Cacio e pepe—so good—mac and cheese, grilled cheese, shoestring fries, waffle fries, and a Diet Coke. And if it wasn’t our last dinner, it would be after we ate all that.

Cheesy, creamy, carb-y, chubby—it’s my new tagline.

As the wonderful second season of Somebody Somewhere comes to an end, is there a particular day on set you remember most fondly? Or any specific favorite memories with your co-stars you can share?

I’ve said this about the first season and I kind of got in trouble, but I’ll say it again: My favorite part—well, besides the obvious of working with my friends—what I get the most joy from is driving The Growler [bus] because I go over the top pretending there’s people in the car with me. There’s not! There’s nobody in there. But there’s somebody on a walkie-talkie that’s telling me, “Turn right! Turn left! Slow down!” I’m just driving, looking out the window, saying hi to people, looking up at the rearview mirror. I love it.

But they let me do my own stunts in that. So I actually drove the d*mn thing all through town. So I get the biggest kick out of that. And I also—I’m a little bit of a disrupter—so they’re always freaking out when I’m driving, they’re just losing their sh*t. You know, I really embody Fred when I’m driving the Growler. In fact, that’s why they wouldn’t let any actor in the car with me. I was a liability!

You’re a New York City staple, but you’re originally from the New England area. Inspired by Somebody Somewhere, what’s something you love about your hometown?

Well, I had a first thought, but I’m gonna try to be positive. You know what? This a challenging question. Because it was rough, in some ways. I grew up in a very conservative town, and my own family was on the right wing of things.

But I think one thing that I did get from school—and there was always “home life” and “school life,” right? They were two different things. And where I grew up, there was a pressure to do as many things as you could and excel in as many things as you could. It was not competitive, but you were encouraged to do great and to overdo it, to over-achieve. So I over-achieved as a way of survival. I learned how to write in high school, I learned how to play sports and be a team person, learned my humor, and my comedy from high school. And, unfortunately, it was for a coping mechanism, but it was also laying the foundation of who I was. And up until late college, in all my experiences, I was reacting against, and that was forming who I was.

So it was that tension—not being accepted and valued and or seen—that was all pushing me down, but then it made me grow these other limbs to survive. And I don’t think I would necessarily be as tough as I am now, and be as determined to change things, and to hang in there! You know, after a couple of decades, there’s resistance now, but I had resistance growing up. So it’s like something that’s in my blood. So I’m gonna say that’s a good thing about my hometown.

As the current reigning king of “showbiz,” what’s your hope for how we can continue to queer the industry moving forward? And how can we best support queer artists?

To quote myself, as I often do: If you don’t see yourself represented, go out and represent yourself.

I think, somehow, the way that I’ve dealt with the imbalance of representation is I’ve taken up space. Now, I’ve tried to do it at the largest levels possible, and kept hitting hitting the wall—cracking at that glass ceiling now. But, until then, I put on my own shows, I created my own opportunities, I created a space where it wasn’t just drag queens or just drag kings, or was it straight or wasn’t gay—it was how I wanted to see the world, which is together.

So, it’s perseverance and resilience! I think and I hope that the young kids and next generation coming up is going to have that will, but they won’t have to wait 25 years to get somewhere, to get a seat.


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There’s that thing that comedians say—it was Jerry Seinfeld or Colin Quinn or one of those guys—when you get in the elevator and you finally make it to the top, you don’t get out. You go back in, you go down, and bring somebody up with you. And that’s how I think we can change! So I’m gonna crack open a little door here, and then I can say, when I’m in a meeting, “Hey, why don’t we have a drag king next season?” I think the more we take up space, and the more that we try to build a bridge, rather than—you know, I think our community likes to slice everything up into a graph pie, right? So we have like 100 different versions of queer—all these little slices of pizza. And I’m like: The whole pie is better than one slice, you know what I’m saying?

This is just my opinion: There’s responsibility if you get to a certain level—or have certain level of access—that you help those who are less fortunate, that have less representation. That you do service for the community. I really believe that. And there’s plenty of people, plenty of gay people, drag queens that are in positions of power that actually don’t do that. So, for me, I want to bring people up. I’m not working my *ss off to just be up there being like, “hey, showbiz!”

Who is a queer or trans artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

Well, that’s multifaceted! But the first person that comes to mind—and I just did an event with her—is Peppermint. I love Peppermint because she comes from nightlife and hustling it, and grinding it out. And she also is kind of like myself—like, started, as a drag queen and grew up in the drag environment and all that stuff, but as things evolved, and as people evolved, and as language evolved, now she’s a trans drag queen. She’s kind of a hybrid performer within the community. And she’s very eloquent about how she speaks about it.

And on top of that, what she’s been able to do on Broadway, she’s got a comedy special coming out, she’s going to be in another TV show coming out, and another musical… To me, Peppermint has a big heart—a really big heart—and is a unifier, rather than a divider. And that’s not everybody’s strategy, but I feel like you can’t not love Peppermint! People can be like, “Oh, I hate trans people, I hate this, I hate that,” but it’s like, if you actually sat down with me or Peppermint as people, one on one, there’s not gonna be any hate there. I can probably guarantee that.

And I’m just inspired by Peppermint’s energy, by her activism—because she’s very outspoken. So I think right now she’s the person that’s really pounding the boards and making a big difference. I really think that. She’s a light!


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