When men dress up in women's clothing, they call it drag. Essentially, that's what I do, but I'm really an actor playing a female character. What makes me successful is that people believe my character. When I walk into a room, people see a drag queen. But when I walk out, they see Momma. I always say that a drag queen is a bitter gay man who gets drinks at bars, and Momma gets apartment buildings—I've been so successful at what I do, I've been able to buy rental property.
I knew about the movie while it was in pre-production. The wardrobe department actually called me and asked for some tips about the body suit—something that Adam could get in and out of really quickly. The ass, the hips, the boobs are all built into in one compression garment like a swimsuit. You just step into it, zip it up the back and shave the chest. If you look at it, you never saw cleavage. You'd see v-neck and boobs. They cut it right where you'd see the cleavage. And when you wear a body suit like that, it also helps create a defense against seeing that bulge in your pants.
My first thought when I heard about the movie was, "Oh, Adam's not going to make a pretty girl." They didn't even try to make him pretty. I get that for the comedy, but his five o'clock shadow could have easily been hidden better. You can really see his stubble.
I don't think the make-up did a very good job of hiding him as a man. When he's playing a girl—or even when he's playing a man in drag—the make-up stayed the same. It's like he really wanted everybody to know that he was a guy instead of a real character. I think a lot of straight men when they get dressed in drag want people to know that they're just making fun of drag queens because they don't want to be seen as sympathetic, or as people who have fun in drag. So they make them ugly as a way of distancing themselves.
Make-up can do a lot of things to make you look pretty and feminine. I'm a man, and I paint my face every time I dress up in drag, and I look beautiful. And can paint myself to bring out those feminine qualities, and I feel like Jack and Jill chose not to do that. Barbra Streisand is not the prettiest girl. And look at Oprah Winfrey—she shows us all the time how she looks without make-up on.
And Jill's eye make-up was blue, very outdated. But she was a character who was stuck in life. She never really dated, she was taking care of her elderly parents, so her make-up style was stuck in the '80s. That makes sense, but there's different eyelashes they could have worn, things that could open up the eyeline. What makes a feminine eye is drawing your eyeliner so it goes up instead of following the eye. Men have more droopy eyes. And the lips weren't feminine either. I think they did make-up that made his nose look as big as it could instead of defining and softening it more by using darker colors on the side. It looked so harsh. Making the cheekbones stand out more. I get that she was frumpy, but they still could have made her look better than just Adam Sandler in make-up and a dress.
Even though there's a lot of make-up on me, when you look at pictures of me that's not what you see. There are some drag queens who have the Divine-style of make-up and it's the first thing you see. Even though I wear very theatrical make-up, people never notice that I have on bottom lashes, or that there's a white line underneath my eye to make my eyes open. They just see the character.
As for Jill's clothing, I do and don't think that's how her character would really dress. When you meet women that have been sequestered to a life where they're parents approve and disapprove of what you wear, she's again naturally stuck in her high school look. At least she wasn't wearing sweatshirts. But you could tell by her matching that she really wanted to look good. I just back from Florida and you see these women walking around in these matchy-matchy things thinking they look fantastic—and in their social world, they do. But it doesn't mean that they're right.
I'm 6'4" and I have double-F breasts. You need a lot of bling-bling to make it all work. What I wear might not be appropriate for any other woman in the room, but it's appropriate for my character. Women come up to me and say, "Your gown is so fabulous!" but if they tried to wear what I wear, they'd look ridiculous.
Because of the way the character was written, it really made Adam Sandler look like a better dramatic actor because his Jack was the straight man through the whole movie. His twin sister was so obnoxious. What was offensive to me was that she was this very stereotypical Jewish girl. It felt really politically incorrect because she's not a drag queen—she's supposed to be a real female. If I was Jewish, I'd be sort of offended by it.
She had that over-the-top look-at-me Bronx accent and he was this super-cool LA producer with this very slight New York accent. Her voice was a choice he made because he thought it was funny, but it was grating. It didn't sound like anybody real. Before Momma, my voice was in a lower register. But Momma talks in a high, smooth, feminine lilt—not squeaky, just delicate—and now my natural voice is between Momma and my old voice.
I think Adam Sandler is a very nice guy. I've met him twice and he's very shy. And I thought there was heart to the movie—the way that it ended made it a little more forgivable. I didn't hate it, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it. But I think that fart jokes and fat jokes are offensive—it's another way of bullying people. Jill wasn't fat. She was overweight, but she didn't deserve all those fat jokes.
When they're at the soccer game in the movie and Jill's with people who she feel live and accept her, there wasn't a lot of masculinity in her. There was when they went on the pony ride and she got on the pony and it breaks. I think Sandler did a good job finding her mannerisms, because her mannerisms were nothing like Jack's. I was impressed that he was really worked on the movement because that's really what sells the character. Many times when straight men dress up in women's clothing, they do the gay hand gesture type of thing where it's over-the-top and queeny. He never fell into that. And the way she walked with her hips swaying back and forth as compared to his straightforward walk was good.
I used to study women all the time. I would go to a mall and see how women walked, study their hand gestures. It'd be interesting to talk to Adam Sandler and see what steps he and his acting coach took to create this character because I don't think Adam Sandler is comfortable with men in dresses. I don't' think he's offended by it, I just think he has to show his machismo. And for him to become a woman and play that character, I think he did a good job.
I don't know why he did it? It was probably somebody coming up to him and saying, "It'd be funny if you played twins and one was a girl and one was a boy." I don't think that he would intentionally say, "I want to do a movie where I'm a woman." I don't think that's in his nature.
I think so many comedians wind up dressing as women just because it gets a laugh. Men in dresses are funny. Especially the way American men do it—it's uncomfortable. I'm interviewed by straight men all the time and they always have to put in a ba-dum bump because they're uncomfortable being around a man in a dress—especially one that they're attracted to. Momma has very large breasts and you know what? Men are pigs. Even thought they know I have a penis, they're still turned on by my boobs. It's very interesting.
Two weeks ago, I hosted a birthday party for a lovely lady who turned 80. She was a former model and showgirl and she looks amazing—you'd think she's 65. She had this party and her family is a big part of the LA Jewish community, so there were these conservative Orthodox people at this party and also non-religious people. To the Orthodox, I was crazy—they were like, "Please stay 20 feet away from me." But by the end of the night, they all wanted their picture with me, they were all dancing with me on the dance floor. Because in Orthodox Judaism, you're not allowed to dance with a woman: men and women dance separately. But since I was a boy, they could dance with me. And it makes me happy if I freak them out because I love pushing those buttons.
The very first time I dressed in drag, I won a contest. I never even entered it—I never even wanted to be a drag queen. But they asked me what my name was, and I said I was old enough to be their mother. So the announcer said, "How many people think Momma should be in this contest?" And by winning the contest, I had to perform once a month at this event called Dragstrip 66. I decided if I was going to do it, I was going to do it my way. I was going to create a character who was nurturing and fun and sassy. People love to come and get hugs from Momma. This is my 18th year doing this character. Almost all the people who were doing drag when I started have moved on to different types of things, but Momma still wants to be an ingenue.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert came out the year after I started performing and it showed me the type of character I wanted to be. To Wong Foo came around a little later, but that was more about transvestites and I hated it because all of the characters went to bed in their make-up. You never saw them transition from men to women, and I thought that was a horrible storytelling choice. Drag is so much about the creation.
These comedians that dress up as women, I think for the most part it's done well. And it's done tongue-in-cheek because most guys wouldn't go to the movies if it wasn't. And they play strong female characters, like in Big Momma's House. Tyler Perry has a character like mine—she's not a drag queen, she happens to be female so he has to dress up in women's clothing. Instead of a drag queen, I'd call her an empowered black woman with a message. Among these films, Jill was actually the most needy female character, and I think that was Adam not allowing her to succeed. She gets the gardener at the end, which was sort of rushed—I hate those resolutions—and it's like she can't be successful like her brother, but she can marry his gardener.
I'm sort of a film snob, so I don't go to stupid films. I would never go see Jack and Jill if not for this article. I took my roommate and us two gay boys in a sold-out theater were laughing at all the places that other people weren't laughing. That whole soccer thing with the grandmother with the missing teeth, everyone else thought that was hilarious. I was looking at people like, "Why are you laughing?!" But the Man of La Mancha jokes killed me. And then people were looking at us like, "We don't get it."
But, oddly, there really isn't a common term for men like Sandler or Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence or Tyler Perry who play female characters. I call myself a "gender illusionist." I don't call myself a drag queen because there's so many tragic drag queens out there that it's like putting someone who slings burgers on McDonalds on the same level as a chef at Spago's. You're still preparing food, but the level at which you're preparing it is night and day.
Worthie Paul Meacham III, lovingly known as ‘Momma' and occasionally lovingly referred to by friends as ‘Bitch,' has come a long way since growing up in the Hermosa Beach suburb of Los Angeles. In the musical Chicago is the lyric, "When you're good to Momma, Momma's good to you..." Well, Momma has reversed that role and devoted her life in service to others. Standing at almost seven-feet-tall in full drag, Momma is truly a pillar of light for the gay community.
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