Photo by Jon Medow.
When we arrive for Keith Cole’s drag show swan song on Friday, the mayoral candidate greets us with a pair of matronly, wax-pink cheek kisses. It is on the basis of these twin stamps of approval that we are allowed to bypass the admission fee for the Keith Cole Experience, an alternate universe where lipstick stains supersede media pass pretensions.
Bedecked in a filmy, multicoloured kilt, worn (appropriately?) commando, with a large plastic lobster fastened to his head, Cole tends lovingly to his audience. “My mayor campaign is taking over my life,” he apologizes, acknowledging the chorus of boos that follows the announcement of his performing hiatus, “so no time for shenanigans!”
The support for his decision, however, is palpable. As one Experience regular announces onstage: “I think that Keith Cole should be mayor because he is a really, really kind person. And a really, really good person.”
While Cole is undeniably gifted at executing boisterous song-and-dance numbers in excruciating-looking heels, it’s clear that his appeal goes beyond the fog and neon of the Buddies in Bad Times stage scene. Seemingly every member of the well-attended crowd is a personal friend of Cole’s, beaming fondly at his onstage antics while applauding the loopy sincerity of his campaign mentions.
“Scabies medication is gonna be free when I’m the mayor!” he gleefully announces in between musical numbers, and for a split second it’s unclear that he’s joking.
When we chat with Cole backstage after the show has ended, he explains that he’s no longer able to juggle the responsibilities associated with single-handedly managing a campaign in addition to performing. With no campaign manager, Cole is responsible for every administrative detail from website maintenance (he laments: “I’m a technical loser”) to fundraising initiatives.
For Cole, raising campaign cash means hosting community-driven events such as a “Celebrity Bike/Car Wash,” which was held in between rain spurts on Sunday. It also means passing around a good ol’ fashioned collection jar at the end of his final show, which he encourages anyone interested in stopping “all this Puritan conservatism that’s coming our way” to contribute to.
For those who ever questioned whether Cole’s mayoral candidacy was a PR gimmick for his stage show, this temporary step away from the Keith Cole Experience may lend the candidate a boost of credibility—though, if we can deduce from his prior campaign actions, Cole seems to relish his position as the oddball candidate. One thing is for certain: the performance spectacle of the municipal campaign trail is a little more bearable with Keith Cole in it.