Supernatural Sissy Dandy Darkly Branches Out

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 29, 2012

Capering around the stage in ghost-white face makeup, striped stockings, gaudy jewelry and a woefully undersized hat that, like its host-seems firmly rooted yet in perpetual danger of going over the edge, Dandy Darkly is a sardonic, sinister, supernaturally sissified sight to behold.

If Rip Taylor and Vincent Price farmed out their sperm to a satanic lesbian surrogate, the conjoined twin one imagines might be produced from that fiendish union doesn't even begin to approximate the human oddity that is Dandy Darkly.

The plump but nimble spawn of queer wit, sexual promiscuity and creepshow intimidation is a comedic creation unlike anything you've ever seen.

Lately, the mincing and malevolent Darkly (whose possesses a gift for spinning alliteration-filled yarns) has been making a name for himself as an in-demand guest on NYC's downtown variety show circuit.

The past few months have seen Mr. Darkly appear, among other places, at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, in the Dixon Place queer-themed HOT! Festival and in the FAB! Festival's "Freak Fiction" showcase.

Out of his mind

Even on a bill full of freaks, Darkly stands out-as in, out of the closet, out of the box, out of his mind.

The creation of Brooklyn-based Georgia native Neil Arthur James, Darkly is a most unusual fusion of southern-fried charm and urban outlaw morality. Add to that schizoid personality type his material of choice-straightforward horror cut with manic highs of outrageous humor, and delivered in a fey, sing-song voice that has unmistakable notes of evil and bad intentions.

EDGE recently spoke with James about his proclivity for mixing horror, comedy and sexual politics. First up, though, we quizzed him on how storytelling became his chosen vehicle of expression.

"I think the art of storytelling is long overdue for a renaissance," asserts James. And as for the genre: "My two favorite things...horror and sex. We’re all born as the result of sex, and we all die. Those two things, we have in common; and I’ve always been intrigued by terror and horror. Then there’s my identity, that of a gay man growing up in the age of AIDS. There’s always been a terror aspect of sex."

Finding the terror and fun

But rather than cowering in fear of sex as a portal to death and allowing it to push him into the closet or a state of miserable celibacy, James decided to "find the terror and fun" in gay sexuality. As of late, that’s translated into Dandy Darkly thrusting his cautionary tales of horror into venues long associated with aggressive forms of queer expression.

"I love bringing my performance into places that have a notoriety for gay sex," says James. "I perform annually down beneath the Dick Dock, in PTown, and this summer, I made it into the Meat Rack on Fire Island. In 2013, I’m hoping to trudge into the Central Park Ramble and bring an audience with me."

In doing so, James seeks to inject some danger back into these not-yet-dead but somewhat tamed trysting places that exist off the beaten path, where men have sex just beyond eye and earshot of respectable society which, of course, makes it even hotter.

Of gay sex (public and otherwise), he notes, "There is this sense that so much was hidden. For so long, for gays, there was a bit of horror about the sex, because it had to be behind closed doors." Growing up as a young teen, James recalls, "There was this notion that my identity would be that of a boogey man hiding in the shadows.

Many of the characters in Darkly’s storytelling monologues (which vary in length from around 8 to 15 minutes) are simmering pots whose evil nature is, in the grand tradition of horror, a thinly veiled metaphor for their own internal sexual conflict. In Darkly’s world, though, the suppressed nature of a character inevitably bubbles to the surface where, once unleashed, it either frees or destroys him...sometimes, both.

"My new story, which I’m unveiling Halloween night," teases James, is called ’Bitten: A Portrait of Zombie Sex Addiction in Three Body Parts.’ It plays on the notion of those cautionary tales so popular in 80s movies, like ’Cocaine: One Man’s Addiction.’ The main character, Chauncey Everyman, becomes embroiled in the taboo world of Barebite Zombie Porn. It examines HIV through the horror lens of a zombie plague."

Damned variety

The Halloween gig he refers to is "Dandy Darkly’s Variety of the Damned!" and it’s the character’s first stab, so to speak, at hosting his own variety show. With Dandy as the emcee and booking agent, (not to mention the Halloween night performance date), it’s bound to give the already-edgy Downtown aesthetic an extra jolt of strangeness.

Scheduled to join Darkly throughout the night will be "Adam Tinler, an amazing classical pianist. He actually plays alongside me on occasion" as Hookah, Darkly’s "ever-suffering valet and pianist." Adding the tinkling of keys to Darkly’s storytelling, says James, "changes it. In a way, it’s like singing along to a musician...except you’re delivering prose. So some of it can be very sing-songy. It feels wonderful"

Also on the bill-and, we imagine, fun to feel up-will be some "dashing boylesque dancers." Multiple musical personality Amber Martin, comedian songwriter Ben Lerman, rock and roll ventriloquist Carla Rhodes and vaudevillian musicians Fein and Dandee will be there as well, joined by Jenny Lee Mitchell, the delightfully chaotic Empress Olga, contortion dancer Backdoor Bjorn, The Amazing Amy, handsome storyteller Rod Sayegh, hula-hooping hottie Randy Bush, Teddy Turnaround, Luck Y. Charming and Mr. Matt Knife.

"I’m really lucky to know so many talented performers," says James of his rogue’s gallery of guest stars. "In New York, I discovered such a welcoming community in the cabaret and variety scene. We’re so lucky to have Dixon Place. It’s an amazing test lab for emerging talent, and they’ve been really supportive."

Dandy Darkly’s Variety of the Damned! happens on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 7:30pm, at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie Street, NYC-between Delancey & Rivington Streets). Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door ($15 at the door if you come in costume). For info, call 212-219-0736 or visit dixonplace.org. Visit Dandy Darkly’s website for info on the artist,

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.

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