RuPaul's Drag Race alum and Call Me Mother co-host Peppermint talks about how her love of peppermint as a flavor led to her choosing it as a name, even if she now says "it was a dumb mistake, but I guess it's too late to change it." She talks about the winding road of her theater career, from "knocking on Broadway's door" and getting "no one's home" in response, to becoming the first out trans woman to originate a role on Broadway. Then, she plays a colorful game all about shades of red, blue, and green. Spoiler: she passes with flying colors!
Heard on We Ship It.
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JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thanks, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. She was a contestant on Season 9 of "RuPaul's Drag Race." And this fall, she'll co-host the reality competition series, "Call Me Mother" on OutTV. Her latest album, "A Girl Like Me: Letters To My Lovers," is available now. Peppermint, welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
PEPPERMINT: Thank you so much for having me.
EISENBERG: Just to ask right off the top, why did you pick the name Peppermint?
PEPPERMINT: You know, it was a dumb mistake.
PEPPERMINT: But I guess it's too late to change it now that I'm, like, a full-fledged adult. It just so happens that peppermints are my favorite candy flavor, my favorite ice cream flavor, my favorite tea flavor.
PEPPERMINT: But I happen to have been sitting in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven as a teenager does in Wilmington, Del. And I was in the parking lot in a car with a guy that I had a huge crush on.
EISENBERG: Uh huh.
PEPPERMINT: And I was ready for him to - he would - he - I would have done anything he suggested, let's just say that.
PEPPERMINT: And he was like - and I had a mouthful of peppermints. And he was like, you should just name yourself Peppermint. And I was like, OK.
PEPPERMINT: But it is a terrible name for, like, Google. Like, this was all pre-Google, right?
EISENBERG: Oh, right, of course.
COULTON: That's a great point, yeah.
PEPPERMINT: You know? This - now you Google my name, and like, you know, Wrigley's gum comes up.
EISENBERG: You got to wade through some other stuff.
PEPPERMINT: Yeah. It's like, oh, my gosh.
PEPPERMINT: And so, you know, there's that. But then also, it's not very, you know, subtle when you're in like...
PEPPERMINT: ...A doctor's office or...
PEPPERMINT: ...At a - you know, like when someone has to call out your name. And you notice - when you have an awkward name like that, you notice how much people need to scream your name out to strangers.
PEPPERMINT: (Screaming) Peppermint.
EISENBERG: How do you feel about non-peppermint-flavor candy canes?
PEPPERMINT: I feel like they're a joke. They're farcical. They're a joke.
PEPPERMINT: I feel like they are an insult to my very existence.
PEPPERMINT: I think we should get used to peppermint being a dominant flavor in our profile and not treating it like it's just some Christmas thing.
EISENBERG: I agree. I absolutely agree. So in 2017, you were a contestant on Season 9 of "RuPaul's Drag Race." And so every episode of "Drag Race" ends with a lip sync for your life, where two queens lip sync a song at the same time. And then whoever performs best gets to stay in the competition. You were considered a lip sync assassin.
PEPPERMINT: Yes, I was. I've got the bodies in my wake.
EISENBERG: So what - how do you prepare? What makes up an entertaining lip sync from your point of view?
PEPPERMINT: Well, you know, I mean, specifically for something like "Drag Race"...
PEPPERMINT: I think right now, I'm coming off as very cool and calm and collected and living in that confidence because I did not have it when we were actually doing the show. Every single time, even when I was feeling like I was performing well in the competition and maybe I thought, OK, there's a chance I could win, I learned every breath, every nuance, every beat, every song, every - obviously, every lyric to the lip syncs that we were given to prepare on "Drag Race." And I was, like, in my room like, OK, they could send a twist, and the winner might have to lip sync or whatever. Like, they could throw a dart and it hits you, and then you have to lip sync. So that's how I knew I was going to be...
PEPPERMINT: ...OK. And so I can relax now, but only because I was, you know, going through it then.
EISENBERG: So the other finalists from your season have gone on to compete in "All Stars." Would you consider competing in an "All Star" season?
PEPPERMINT: Of course I would.
PEPPERMINT: The timing would just have to be right.
EISENBERG: OK, got it.
EISENBERG: Because you have a new drag competition show coming out this fall on OutTV called "Call Me Mother." So could you tell us a little bit about how that show works?
PEPPERMINT: Yeah. It's a drag competition reality show. And in the grand scheme of drag reality competition shows, it has drag and performances.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.
PEPPERMINT: But we wanted the show to focus on the entertainers over sort of just putting them in, you know, zany situations and seeing if they can, you know, sink or swim. We really wanted to tailor a lot of this competition to the actual people on the show. And so we also wanted it to be very diverse and inclusive, which the world of drag really is. But I think the message that drag is popular has been sent. Everybody gets that now.
PEPPERMINT: But I think drag is inclusive isn't necessarily a message that everyone has - has resonated with people. And so we wanted to send that message. We have trans performers, non-binary performers. Regardless of their identity or sexuality, we have drag entertainers - and regardless of their presentation in drag. So it's not just drag queens, like female - doing - performing female drag.
PEPPERMINT: It's male - it's drag kings doing male drag. It's non-binary performers doing non-binary drag. It's just drag. And I can't wait for the world to see that.
EISENBERG: So you grew up in Delaware, and you grew up doing theater. And then you came to New York and graduated...
PEPPERMINT: I did.
EISENBERG: ...From the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in 1999. I imagine the idea was then to just start auditioning for Broadway musicals. But you've said that you knew Broadway wasn't the kind of performance that was for you.
PEPPERMINT: Yeah. I mean, I was - if I didn't know it, I was informed by my professors.
PEPPERMINT: Like, what are you doing here? And to be fair, I was definitely more - I was advertising that I was more into nightlife and, you know, nightclub life than I was - when I say advertising, I mean quite literally I was advertising. I got paid for every student that I could recruit from - to go from the college to the club.
COULTON: Oh, wow.
PEPPERMINT: And I earned money on their heads.
PEPPERMINT: And so I was quite focused on that. And none of the roles that we were doing in school - they just weren't for me. Even the teacher was like, this is the closest I have. I'm sorry. You know, like, they'd hand it to me, and I'm like, Jack and the beanstalk? You know, it's like, what? You know, like, just - you know, I love "Into The Woods," but come on.
PEPPERMINT: I was like, not the witch - hello? Goodbye.
PEPPERMINT: Call me in 20 years.
EISENBERG: Well, then in 20 years, you...
EISENBERG: Yes. You had - 2018, you're on Broadway in the musical "Head Over Heels," which was inspired by The Go-Gos. And you made history as the first out trans woman to originate a role on Broadway. I mean, did that in some way feel like all of your hard work paid off and you were able to...
PEPPERMINT: Felt very full circle.
EISENBERG: Yeah - arrive on Broadway, like, on your own terms?
PEPPERMINT: Yeah, absolutely. I knocked on Broadway's door, and it said, no one's home.
PEPPERMINT: And I was at the club, learning really who I was through drag, through the art of drag. You know, drag taught me how to get in touch more with my gender identity and gender expression and who I am and just learn all the freedoms, as it does, I think, for anyone who does drag, really. And I was able to really live and experience my transness and my womanhood and my womanness (ph) in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do had I not done those things. And then I didn't have to call on Broadway. Broadway called on me. But it did feel very full circle.
EISENBERG: Absolutely. And you have a new album...
PEPPERMINT: Oh my gosh.
EISENBERG: ...Out called "A Girl Like Me: Letters To My Lovers."
PEPPERMINT: It's true.
EISENBERG: And you've described the album as being very personal to you. The - obviously, the title kind of points to a very personal story. But can you tell me a little bit more about it?
PEPPERMINT: Yeah. I was in a relationship, the best relationship I'd ever been in. It had ups and downs. And, you know - spoiler alert - it ended but not before I had the chance to write down so many of the experiences, the great experiences and some of the sad ones. Before I knew it, I was - I said, maybe this is a song. And then lo and behold, it was, like, 15 songs. And so I obviously I had a lot to say. And so we decided to do - put it all to music and kind of organize it in three bodies of work - a beginning, a middle and end. And the beginning, "A Girl Like Me: Letters To My Lovers" is out now. The next one, "Moment Of Weakness: Letters To My Lovers" comes out at the end of the summer in August.
EISENBERG: So this is part of a trilogy.
PEPPERMINT: It's part of a trilogy.
EISENBERG: Fantastic. Oh, my goodness. All right, Peppermint, are you ready to play some games?
PEPPERMINT: Oh, my gosh. I love playing games. Yes - not mind games.
COULTON: No, no.
EISENBERG: So this is - this first game is - you know the website WikiHow?
PEPPERMINT: Mm-hmm (ph).
EISENBERG: So the website WikiHow contains user-submitted step-by-step instructions on how to do various things, like, even things you would not expect that you would need instructions for. So Jonathan and I are going to read you a small set of WikiHow instructions, and you just tell us what they are describing.
EISENBERG: OK, so here we go.
PEPPERMINT: Oh, gosh.
EISENBERG: I'll do the first one. Here we go. Choose the right tray. Fill the tray with water. Place the tray on a flat surface in the freezer.
PEPPERMINT: I mean, I feel like we're making ice, but I don't understand why we're choosing the right tray.
PEPPERMINT: Is there a wrong tray?
COULTON: You clearly have never made ice in the wrong tray.
EISENBERG: I didn't know there was - I didn't...
COULTON: Oh, it's a nightmare if you get the wrong tray. It's a complete disaster.
EISENBERG: You know, I never even thought about, like, just taking a - you know, a breakfast in bed tray and just filling it with water and shoving that into the...
EISENBERG: That would be fun.
COULTON: All right. Here's another one. Decide whether you're going to shave and what you're going to shave. Invest in some wild makeup, and start using it. Prepare your persona, her act, and choose a name.
PEPPERMINT: Oh, my gosh. OK, I was going to say getting ready for an interview at the library.
PEPPERMINT: But instead, I'll go with getting in drag.
COULTON: Yeah, that's right - how to be a drag queen.
EISENBERG: Do you feel like those are the step-by-steps? Is that the sequence?
COULTON: There's probably a couple more.
EISENBERG: Decide what you're going to shave.
PEPPERMINT: More or less.
EISENBERG: It's makeup change, decide on a name.
EISENBERG: All right. Here's your next one. Come up with an idea based around a villain. Find a creepy, accessible location to film in. Know that the evils we don't see are scarier than the ones we can.
PEPPERMINT: How to be a babysitter.
EISENBERG: That is a good premise for what I'm talking about.
PEPPERMINT: I have no idea.
EISENBERG: OK, what if I - so I think this is the key. Find a creepy location to film in.
PEPPERMINT: Making your own scary movie.
EISENBERG: Yes, exactly. Is to - how to film a horror movie basically.
PEPPERMINT: (Laughter) This is so simplistic. I love it.
EISENBERG: It's hilarious, right? You're a fan of horror movies.
PEPPERMINT: I'm an absolute fan of horror movies.
EISENBERG: OK, what genre do you like the most?
PEPPERMINT: Zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies...
PEPPERMINT: ...Zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies, zombies.
COULTON: What's the - all right. So what's the best zombie - what's your favorite zombie film?
PEPPERMINT: Yeah, a zombie film that I love so much is...
PEPPERMINT: ..."Return Of The Living Dead." OK, you don't want to know this, but I'm going to tell you anyway.
COULTON: I do.
EISENBERG: I want know.
COULTON: I do very much want to know.
PEPPERMINT: George Romero and - oh, I can't remember - his partner, Russo, I think - the two people who made - the two people responsible for "Night Of Living Dead" had a difference of opinion, and there was a lawsuit involved. One could only use dead in the future movies, and one could only use living dead in other movies.
EISENBERG: That is fascinating.
COULTON: That's really interesting.
EISENBERG: What minutia these kinds of break ups have, right?
PEPPERMINT: It's all in the details.
EISENBERG: Yeah, no kidding. All right. Here's your next one. Read a lot of mystery books, learn to spot clues quickly and efficiently. Consider using these skills in a future career.
PEPPERMINT: I mean, really, it's how to figure out if your boyfriend is cheating on you. Like, that's really...
PEPPERMINT: That's really the real tea.
EISENBERG: Pretty much.
PEPPERMINT: You know?
EISENBERG: Pretty much.
PEPPERMINT: How to be a detective.
EISENBERG: Exactly. Exactly. How to be - this is specific, not that you would guess this exact word, but this is from "How To Be A Good Young Detective."
EISENBERG: Ageist - it's ageist on top of that.
PEPPERMINT: How dare they?
EISENBERG: Yeah, 'cause let me tell you - you can't spot clues when you don't know what you're looking for.
COULTON: Yeah, you got to have a little wisdom in order to detect.
EISENBERG: You know, I don't need a detective saying I've never seen this before.
COULTON: Yeah, (laughter).
EISENBERG: That's not what I'm looking for.
PEPPERMINT: I don't want to hear that.
COULTON: All right. Here's the last one.
COULTON: Opt for drab, slouchy clothes, incorporate acid-wash denim.
COULTON: Don't forget to add an oversized flannel shirt.
COULTON: Finish it off with combat boots.
PEPPERMINT: Oh, my gosh. Not only is it '90s, it's grunge wear in the '90s. And I'm so into it. It's basically Kurt Cobain.
COULTON: Yeah, that's correct.
COULTON: Recreating a '90s grunge look.
PEPPERMINT: Oh, yeah.
COULTON: That's right.
EISENBERG: You did fantastic, obviously, in that game.
PEPPERMINT: Thank you.
EISENBERG: And we have one more for you. Are you ready for one more?
PEPPERMINT: Oh, my gosh. I don't know.
EISENBERG: It's a quick one. Jonathan and I will name a color, and all you have to do is tell us which color it is closest to - red, green or blue.
PEPPERMINT: Got it.
EISENBERG: OK, here we go, Peppermint. Chartreuse.
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COULTON: Correct. Vermilion.
PEPPERMINT: Green, blue.
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COULTON: Sorry, it's red.
PEPPERMINT: Oh, shut up.
EISENBERG: OK, this color shares its name with an Australian beach. It was the color of the original Apple iMac computer - Bondi.
PEPPERMINT: So maybe blue?
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EISENBERG: Yes, indeed.
COULTON: Verdigris. It's the color copper turns when it oxidizes. It also appears in the musical "Wicked," in the song "The Wizard And I" to rhyme with...
COULTON: ...Absurd degree.
PEPPERMINT: As you do.
PEPPERMINT: Well, then if it's the color that copper turns, then I have to look at Lady Liberty. It's green.
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COULTON: That is correct.
EISENBERG: All right. Pantones 2015 color of the year - marsala.
PEPPERMINT: It's got to be red.
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EISENBERG: Yes, it is exactly.
COULTON: This pigment was created by accident in a lab - YInMn.
PEPPERMINT: It sounds like it would be red.
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COULTON: It is actually blue. Who knew?
EISENBERG: But there you go. From the French for the insect flea, puce.
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EISENBERG: So I would go with green, but it's red. I would have never - never would have known.
COULTON: I always think puce is green, and I always have to look it up 'cause I know that's wrong, and it's red.
PEPPERMINT: Maybe I'm, like, thinking puke.
COULTON: That's what it is.
EISENBERG: Green, definitely green.
COULTON: All right, here's the last one. Cornflower.
PEPPERMINT: Oh, that's blue.
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COULTON: Yes, it is.
EISENBERG: Absolutely. One of my favorite colors in the Crayola set when I finally got...
EISENBERG: ...The big one.
COULTON: That's a nice one.
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EISENBERG: That was great. Thank you so much, Peppermint. Thank you also...
PEPPERMINT: Absolutely. I got to go brush up on my colors.
EISENBERG: I know. We all learned a little thing there. Peppermint's latest album, "A Girl Like Me: Letters To My Lovers," is available now. Peppermint, thank you so much for joining us.
PEPPERMINT: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
EISENBERG: That's our show. ASK ME ANOTHER's house musician is Jonathan Coulton.
COULTON: Hey, my name anagrams to thou jolt a canon.
EISENBERG: Our games were written by our staff, along with Nick Garrison and Julia Melfi, Cara Weinberger and senior writers Camilla Franklin, Andrew Kane, Karen Lurie. ASK ME ANOTHER is produced by Nancy Saechao, James Farber and Rommel Wood, with Gianna Capadona and our intern Zach St. Clair. Our senior producer is Travis Larchuk. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel, and her bosses' bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. Thanks to our production partner, WNYC. I'm her ripe begonias.
COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.
EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.