THE JEWISH CHRONICLE
‘I didn’t want to be typecast as the Jewish Queen!’
Meet Miz Cracker - thin, salty and very Jewish indeed - a star of RuPaul's Drag Race who's planning a tour of the UK
Peckish for something thin and salty? How about a delectable cracker to sate your appetite? While Miz Cracker may not be the world’s first Jewish drag queen, she might just be the one most inspired by her Jewishness. Drag performer, singer, dancer and comedienne extraordinaire, sporting catchphrases like “Shabbat shablam!”, she’s known for a timeless TV performance in which she embodied a dill pickle, and a YouTube series “Review with a Jew”. This quippy New York queen is never shy to make her Jewishness a part of the shtick.
“Culturally, Judaism has been a huge part of my life, but I wasn’t aware how much so until I watched myself on television,” says Miz Cracker, adding that, before first appearing on Emmy-award-winning reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race, she was determined not to allow herself to be typecast as “the Jewish queen”.
“And then I saw myself saying things like ‘it’s the Sabbath, we’re going to have the Shabbos Goy bring us a drink’, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, they didn’t have to mould me into anything, I am the Jewish queen!’”
From her use of Yiddishisms, to her sardonic humour — which is full of doubt, self deprecation and analysis — there’s no mistaking the quintessential Jewishness of Miz Cracker.
Almost three years have passed since Miz Cracker first cracked us up with her unforgettable performances on Season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As the self-proclaimed “Jewish Barbie”, she made viewers fall in love with her platinum blonde wig, blue eyeshadow, tiny waist and 1950s housewife-inspired fashion choices. But add in her razor-sharp repartee, thoughtful commentary and impeccable comedic timing, and it soon became apparent that there might be more to “Jewish Barbie” than meets the eye.
“Jewish Barbie isn’t a real blonde, for starters!” jokes Miz Cracker. “Jewish Barbie is clever and quick and adaptable to any situation and that’s what sets her apart.
“If you were going to make a Jewish Barbie, you would take a regular Barbie doll and just raise one of her eyebrows! She’s just as gorgeous as the other dolls, but she has the brains too and she’s a bit cynical, because she knows what it’s like to be just a little bit on the outside.”
She recalls how she and her sister once used to fantasise about Barbie’s perfect comic-book world, as their fellow elementary school pupils were reminding them that they were going to hell for being Jewish.
Born Maxwell Heller in Seattle, USA, Miz Cracker’s early years were spent in the Lubavitch community, before her parents decided to move away.
“There’s this recording from that time of a bunch of boys dancing the hora, and then it pans out and there’s me alone in a corner twirling like a ballerina. If there were a video to mark the birth of Miz Cracker that would probably be it,” she says.
Despite being aware that a lot of queer people struggle to gain acceptance in the Jewish community, Miz Cracker says she “lucked out” for her coming out.
“My parents never had any problems with me being queer. At college, my friend (Kathryn) Foster revitalised my Jewish life and brought me back into the holidays.
“She was also the first person I really came out to. So my experience of Judaism and queerness has always been of the two going together,” she says.
“What Jewish queer kids have to deal with is the Venn diagram of being two kinds of strange. They’re strange, both because they’re Jewish and because they’re queer and that double layer is a lot for a young person to deal with.”
For Miz Cracker, being Jewish had always been associated with the experience of being rejected by other children. That was until she appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race and became aware it could also provide a means of connecting with people.
“Watching myself helped me embrace being a Jew and having that cultural heritage like never before because, without trying, I was the most Jewish queen I’ve ever seen on Drag Race. The fact that it came so naturally and that people identified with it, that really made a difference,” she reveals.
Having participated in RuPaul’s Drag Race twice — first in 2018 and, again, earlier this year, in the spinoff series RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars — Miz Cracker is a household name in many LGBTQ+ circles. But it has not always been this way.
“I used to perform in New York bars for tips. There were days when I couldn’t afford to eat. I was starving, but I was so thin!”, she recalls.
She had previously quit her day job as a grant writer, after her mother encouraged her to pursue her dream of being a full-time drag queen.
“She said she’d rather see me hungry than unhappy in my job. Now I travel the world on solo tours and get to see and experience everything that comes with that.”
Miz Cracker is due to tour North America with her latest one-woman show, She’s a Woman!, early next year.
Meanwhile, her new podcast series by the same name, which focuses on the stories of inspirational women from around the world, debuted on December 7.
“I wanted to give back to the people who have given so much to me,” she explains, recalling a show in Liverpool when she looked down the meet-and-greet line and saw it was all women — mothers and daughters, to be more precise.
“I realised women were making my life possible — yet again,” she notes. “My mother and sister raised me; in elementary school, the only people who would be friends with me were women; when I was at college, I came out to a woman; I have been surrounded by and have surrounded myself with women my whole life.”
With her next tour of the UK coming up in April 2021, Miz Cracker admits to having a special fondness for performing in this country.
“I’m embraced in a completely different way there than in the US. I like to tell myself that people in the UK are so damned smart that only they understand my brilliant intellect…” She pauses, “… but it may just be that you have a better grasp of sarcasm!”