When I was living/working in New York and visiting Atlanta, I was sure to catch local cable TV to see this bizarre and fascinating show with the one and only DeAundra Peek. DeAundra is a captivating and surreally charismatic persona. Her zest and humor is infectuous. She has the same affect on me as a particularly famous Tibetan monk. And in a way, she IS a guru…. A high point for me was when DeAundra and Duffy Odum (DeAundra’s talented sidekick) participated in the opening segment of the last ever U.S.A. Swans concert in 1997 and later made a special appearance at my birthday party (in 98) -bringing out a huge chocolate cake to a dining room of 46 stunned and joyous guests. However, the person who created DeAundra is the one I wanted to interview for my journal because he is what I love- revere- and absolutely respect : a seasoned and thoroughly professional world-class entertainer.
Atlanta is honored to have Rosser and I am thrilled to present him to you.
Jarboe:At what point in your life did you become interested in performance?
Rosser: My Mom says that I’ve been performing all my life. Perhaps it started the time I got ahold of her “Really Red” lipstick when I was 4 years old and smeared it over my entire face. Today’s cast of characters began because I was asked to dress up in early 1987 as a part of “The American Music Show”, the longest running public access show in America, which I’m still very involved with.
J: Who are some of the earliest performers you saw that you feel made an impression upon you – and for what reasons?
R: The first record I ever bought was Lily Tomlin’s “And That’s The Truth”, she floored me with the many characters she was doing. I was fascinated with one person’s ability to become so many different people. Most anything from “Laugh In” got me because all those people played so many different funny characters. Elton John was another big influence, his wild image changing from one season to the next had me cutting articles about him out of everything I could find. Later on, RuPaul’s influence fundamentally affected me ever since we met and became friends on the set of “The American Music Show” in 1983 (it’s where he got his start too!). Over the years Ru has reinvented himself more times than Madonna!
J: How does one measure fame?
R: Well, that’s all relative to your particular place in the world I think. Somebody might think that being mentioned in the church bulletin means fame. Somebody else might think real fame eludes them even though they’re in the papers every day. I’m a mixed bag really, when I go to my watering hole here in Atlanta I feel hugely famous because nearly everyone there knows me, but if I go somewhere else it’s a different story. Oprah once said that she always knew from childhood that she was going to be famous, she just didn’t know exactly how she would get there. It’s been the same for me, I’ve always known that I stuck out and I’ve learned how to channel that knowledge into something positive. I remember feeling most famous the day after I appeared on “The American Music Show” for the very first time in 1983, a clerk in a bookstore looked right at me and said, “I saw you on TV last night!” I was hooked.
R: Back in college my drag name was Drucilla Emeraude. All my friends called me “Dru”. Our gay group occasionally would do drag shows at one of the bars in town to raise money for various things and I’d do lip synched songs for tips. I didn’t actually become a total character and sing live for anything until DeAundra Peek was born in 1987, and that was mainly due to the fact that DeAundra was never expected to sing on key, ever! I am really good at singing off key.
J: Who and/or what influenced this?
R: DeAundra Peek was the first of my current character cadre, coming about because I’d been a guest just as myself on “The American Music Show” for some years, talking about my artwork and crazy antics around town. I’d idolized a group of girls on the show called The Singing Peek Sisters, girls who absolutely could not sing on key but tongue-in-cheekishly said they were driven to the stage by their “God given talent”. The group broke up, but in late 1986 one of the sisters, Wanda Peek, wanted to reform the group, so they asked me to be the first boy to play one of the Peek sisters. I thought it’d be a lark and would mean doing it one or two times, but here I am today not only being DeAundra but also about 10 other characters as well. Today the Peeks are yet another combination of sisters, with one of the original Peeks, Starla, and our little sister, Baby Jean, taking it to the stage and screen.
J: How much of yourself is in your characters?
R: There’s kinda a part of me in every character I play, most of them have some sort of crazy edge to them. I think I get to burn to a crisp things from behind the facade of a character that maybe I keep to a simmer as myself. DeAundra’s a really sweet trailer park ingeneu but terribly naive. Boompah Bailey is a horny old man after anything at all (he’s got so little time left you know). Nurse Macworld is always trying to give out some kind of “medication” to ease the pain. Ryanne Cannon (“I’m not just Dyan Cannon’s younger stepsister!”) is a deluded Hollywood wannabe. Your Aunt Roz tries to be commonsensical between the cocktails and coffee. Ashley Briquette Goulet is a strange child with behavioral problems. Dr. Peedeen Hunkapillar wants to be a good veterinarian but he’s almost too busy working on his announcing career to effectively check your cat for a urinary tract infection.
J: What in your view contributes to some people’s need to become an entertainer with multiple personas/characters?
R: Billions of people live in this world with us, each of them is a different character. That’s practically an unlimited field of being, a wealth of inspiration for somebody like me. You see somebody on the train and you say, “Wow, now that’s an interesting person, I wonder what they’re like.” It’s a challenge and a joy to come up with a new personality, somebody that the audience actually begins to believe and interact with as a real person. It takes me outside of myself so I can be lots of different people as well as just me, and I think it increases my view of what reality is to other people. I also have an insatiable lust for making people laugh, and luckily I seem to be able to do that.
J: What message do you try and send out through your performances? I see so much more than entertainment or zany spoof. To me, your work is very “David Lynch-ian” ART. I would love to see your characters fully realized in a David Lynch film. OR -Am I completely off-track here ?
R: I like David Lynch and am especially glad that he’s made a place for himself out there. His films are pretty crazy and of course I’d love to work with somebody who’d let me go nuts on film. That’s basically what I have now, a great support system of friends who essentially tell me to “go for the gusto” all the time. We sometimes say about DeAundra that “they’s a whole lot of ways of bein’ smart”, and I think maybe that’s what I try to express somewhat in all of my characters. Everybody’s got something they’re good at, and all of my characters specialize in some kind of craziness that makes them different. The bottom line is best expressed in the FUNTONE, USA motto, “If it’s not fun, don’t do it”.
J: How much does Vaudeville factor into your aesthetic?
R: I don’t think it’s so much my surface familiarity with Vaudeville as it is the influence Vaudeville has had on the people around me. Our natural tendency when we began doing things together was to mix the music and the comedy into one big thing so that you couldn’t separate the two. The songs we do enhance the comedy, and with our band Monkey One these days we’ve been able to really make that hit home since the effect of a great live band on stage is always compelling. Combine that with a bunch of laughs and you’ve got the perfect brew for a great evening.
J: What is something you see as a source of inspiration? What are 3 things in your life you embrace as truths?
R: The fans are my most precious inspiration, and I’m telling the truth! When we connect, when the audience sees me on stage and gets the joke–or at least laughs at it–that’s the ultimate. It makes you want to get up there and do it over and over again. Sometimes I run into people at the grocery store, they’re looking at me funny and then suddenly recognize me and light up. Hearing people say, “You have got my Aunt Helen down to a tee!” or “God, I had a scary grandfather who was just like that guy” turns me on so much. It’s an affirmation of a communion between us and makes them feel something they might not have felt in years, or maybe ever before for that matter.
Three things I embrace as truths, jeez!
1) Laughter IS the best medicine.
2) Talent is in the eye of the beholder.
3) You gotta be true to yourself to really be happy. Discovering and then admitting what you really want out of life can open doors you never knew existed. Be free enough to go for your gusto!
J: I’ve got to ask…..Do you think DeAundra would ever consider singing with ME?
R: Lord YES!
P.S : At the time of this transcript, an Atlanta area performance with DeAundra Peek -Teenage Superstar- and me is in the works, ya’ll.