Professors used to prove their cultural currency by teaching Madonna. But since the Material Mom has gone boringly bourgeois, they’ve had to find their transgression elsewhere. Now on the curricula at NYU and CUNY: the drag cabaret act Kiki and Herb, currently performing their holiday show, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, at Fez.
When Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman dreamed up Kiki, the boozy sixtysomething lounge singer with a ratty bouffant wig and an even more tangled past, and Herb, her reticent piano player, they had no idea their creation would be the stuff theses are made of. José Muñoz, assistant professor of performance studies at NYU, first saw them perform in 1997. “I was teaching a class on queer theories,” he says, “and Kiki and Herb were perfect – the way they investigate gender and reappropriate popular culture. At least five students write papers on their work each semester,” including one master’s thesis this year. After seeing the show several times, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick made it a requirement for her students in Queer Performativity, a graduate seminar at cuny.
“I try not to get too wrapped up in it,” says Bond, who wears silver lamé to sing his punk renditions of Britney Spears and Nirvana songs. “I don’t pander to a heavily gay audience with gay jokes, so I’m not going to pander to academics with theory jokes.”