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    Murray Hill is busy. When we speak in March, he’s got three different TV shows streaming on three different networks, he’s writing a memoir, and he’s working on a pitch for his own Murray-led detective show. Even his recent well-deserved Miami vacation turned chaotic when the mayor enacted a curfew following two shootings in one weekend. “As much as it’s nuts, I didn’t realize it was spring break,” he explains from the safety of his home in New York City. “Why are there cops on horses and children with coolers and White Claws?” It’s no wonder then that the self-proclaimed “hardest working middle-aged man in show business” claims 2 p.m. is “the morning.” He needs his rest!

    If Hill is having a mainstream moment now, though, it’s only because he spent years grinding, hosting drag bingo nights and performing his act in clubs in a pre-gentrified East Village. In N.Y.C., he’s something of a local celebrity, having emceed all manner of pageants and fundraisers (including BUST events). Real Housewives fans may also recognize him from his cameo in Countess Luann’s “Feelin’ Jovani” music video, or as the opening act from her 2019 cabaret tour. 

    It’s difficult to draw a clear line between Murray Hill the character and Murray Hill the person, but the gist is this: The character is a mustachioed wisecracker in a jaunty three-piece suit who could have traveled in a time machine directly from 1973. The person is that, too, just on a smaller scale. “After 25 years of therapy, I can say I’ve reached a place in my life where there is some separation between onstage and offstage life,” Hill explains. “When I’m home, I’m kinda, sorta relaxed. I’m not as full-blown as when the suit is on.” 

    Murray Hill the character has always been 50, but now Hill the person is, too—and he’s seen it all. “It’s such a long-winded, crazy story,” he says, before launching into the Cliffs Notes version of his evolution into Murray Hill, aka Mr. Showbiz. “I grew up in a tumultuous, Irish and Italian Catholic household,” he recalls of his New England childhood. “I never felt safe or accepted.” He threw himself into extracurricular activities to escape the turmoil at home, playing sports and joining any school groups he could—but not the drama club. “I was never consciously interested in performing as a kid,” he says. Even so, he still found his way into a costume or two. “Instead of writing a book report, I’d show up to school dressed as the character. Coincidently, it was always male characters. I started young.” Things began to improve in the early 1990s when Hill moved to Boston for art school, where he was exposed to the photography of Diane Arbus. “I came from a very conservative background,” Hill explains. “Closeted, had no idea what gay, queer, or trans meant. I didn’t know anything.” Arbus’ work, however, ignited something in him. “To me, it was seeing other kinds of people,” he recalls. “And having her take photos of these people that were in the margins, but she gave them the same importance as the mainstream. She was looking at them, but she was also giving them equal light.” A few years later, he moved to Manhattan after transferring to N.Y.C.’s School of Visual Arts. “I went to Wigstock, like, the second or third day that I was in town,” he says, referring to the legendary East Village drag festival. It was there that Hill had another light-bulb moment. “Everyone’s taking pictures of drag queens. There’s gay men everywhere,” he recalls. “Where are the women? Where are the lesbians? And I thought to myself, ‘Is there something on the other side of this spectrum that we just don’t see?’” 

    There was, and Hill eventually found it in a drag king show in the (again pre-gentrified) Meatpacking District. While he was impressed, he still thought there was something missing. “It was, like, serious,” he recalls. “It was about passing, being masc. The people that were on stage, they didn’t perform. They just would walk up and down and ‘present,’ so to speak.” 

    The missing link was comedy, and Hill wanted to change that. He started performing in N.Y.C. wearing a blazer and painting on chest hair. “I looked more like a lounge lizard back then,” he jokes. His stage moniker, Murray Hill, M came later, and was inspired by exactly what you think it was: the Manhattan neighborhood of the same name, where he was living at the time. 

    Dressed in a natty suit, Murray Hill looked like a drag king, but the heart of his act was comedy in the vein of old-school Borscht Belt stand-ups like Joey Adams, with a bit of the big-ego energy—and old-school sexist attitude—of a star like Jackie Gleason. The jokes were as important as the outfit, and, in Hill’s mind, one didn’t exist without the other. He started headlining his own shows and hosting parties, and finally, the grind paid off. By the mid-aughts, he was landing gigs at Joe’s Pub and touring with the likes of Dita Von Teese and Le Tigre. As Hill would say—“Showbiz!” 

    While Hill became a star in certain circles, drag kings remained on the margins, which remains true today. You won’t find drag kings on RuPaul’s Drag Race or its many spinoffs, and you probably won’t see them at your local all-you-can-drink drag brunch. “It’s still so imbalanced, it’s insane,” says Hill. “If you step back and look at society and pop culture, it just regenerates or regurgitates the sexism. It’s, like, triple-layered.” 

    Hill now identifies as transgender, but he’s adamant that he prefers the word “comedian” over any other label. “From very early on, I chose not to identify by my sexuality, orientation, or other IDs,” he explains. “First, I don’t fit in any category. To choose one, for me, feels reductive. More importantly, I want to be treated like everyone else.

    You never read something like, ‘Pete Davidson, a white heterosexual male comedian, plays Madison Square Garden.'

    If you’ve seen Hill perform, you may have heard him address this subject with one of his signature jokes. “I’m reading your mind, sir,” he’ll say to a slightly confused club patron. “You’re thinking, ‘Is it a man or a woman?’ Sir, the answer is no.”

    Career-wise, Hill’s not interested in replicating anything that’s already out there, but he does want to see more inclusion for performers who fall outside of the now relatively mainstream box. “I’ve made a slight, tiny, little crack in the glass ceiling with these last two shows,” he says, “so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.” These “last shows” include HBO’s Somebody Somewhere, created by and starring Bridget Everett. The semiautobiographical series follows a 40-something Kansas woman (Everett) as she copes with the death of her sister. Hill plays Sam’s pal Dr. Fred Rococo, an emcee who also happens to be a soil scientist. HBO has already renewed the series for a second season.

    Hill and Everett “go way back.” After meeting through friends, Hill invited Everett to perform with him, and the rest is history. “We’re buddies,” Hill explains. They also lived together with their Somebody Somewhere costar Jeff Hiller while filming season one, which shot in the suburbs outside of Chicago. “Those two would totally have girls’ night and watch every single fucking HGTV show ever invented, and I would literally lose my mind,” Hill recalls. “I’m like, ‘Well, if we’re gonna watch this, then we have to watch basketball.’” 

    Life & Beth, meanwhile, premiered on Hulu in March and stars Everett’s friend Amy Schumer as the titular character. The dramedy is far more subdued and impressionistic than most of Schumer’s previous work, and that sensibility also extends to Hill’s character, who is named Murray but is a smarmy middle manager who gets excited about sales charts. “Amy had seen me at Joe’s through Bridget’s recommendation,” he explains. “And then she was like, ‘I want to work with you at some point.’” Showbiz! 

    And finally, there’s Welcome to Flatch, a Fox sitcom helmed by former Sex and the City  writer Jenny Bicks. The documentary-style show follows the quirky residents of the fictional Midwestern town of Flatch. Hill is one such resident—a local magic shop owner who peddles vapes on the side—and executive producer Paul Feig wrote the role specifically with him in mind. “He’s always dapper,” Hill says of the Bridesmaids director, who he first met at a Hollywood afterparty. “We just hit it off over our suits. It was like a dandy connection.” (You know what word comes next.) 


    While all three of these roles incorporate elements of the Murray Hill that fans know and love from his cabaret performances, they’re all different from each other—and they’re not the same Murray experience you’d see in a downtown theater, either. “My base level for Murray on stage is like, I start at about a 10,” he explains. “With TV, you can’t really start at a 10 unless you’re getting run over by a bus. I had to really tone it down, dial it back.”

    At this point, Hill tells a story about a voiceover part he recently didn’t get. “It was to play a deadpan starfish,” he says. “And guess what? I couldn’t do it. I actually could not do it. [The casting director] was like, ‘Wait, you sound happy again.’ My talking like a dead corpse sounded like I just won the lottery.” 

    Hill does seem incapable of being in a bad mood, but that preternatural optimism is hard won. Just as he was gearing up for his year of TV domination, he lost almost everything in a fire at his apartment building in Brooklyn. As it happens, the fire occurred on Thanksgiving, which was also Hill’s 50th birthday—he refers to the incident as “universe shit.” Still, there were some small mercies. No one, including Hill, was hurt in the blaze, and his fans raised more than $180,000 to help him relocate. 

    So if a four-alarm fire can’t keep him down, then it’s hard to imagine him getting too upset over losing out on that talking starfish role—and who would want a dialed-down Murray when you could have the full package in all his schtick-y glory? Plus, he’s got plenty of other projects to keep him busy. He’s planning to tell all in a memoir tentatively titled My Life as a Man: The Story of a Girl, Who Thought She Was a Boy, Who Became a Middle-Aged Man to Survive, and he’s working on a pitch for his own show called Sonny Sugarman Detective Agency—starring himself, of course. “It’s like a cross between Magnum P.I.Colombo, and Benny Hill,” he says. But perhaps the most exciting news in Hill’s life is a new romance. “I have a special lady friend,” he admits. “I’m literally middle-aged, and it took me 30 years of trial and error to meet the woman of my dreams.”

    One thing he’s not sure about is whether he’ll regularly return to the stage. “I’m going to always do the live stuff, but I’m really trying to do some more projects,” Hill explains, referring back to his earlier comments about the glass ceiling. “Now I have an ice pick and a mallet, and I got a couple of hits and there’s a little crack, so now I gotta get through.” Say it with me this time: Showbiz! 

    Photos by Lauren Silberman, photographed at TV Eye at N.Y.C.   

    This article originally appeared in BUST's Summer 2022 print edition. Subscribe today!


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    It’s Pride season, and we’ve already started planning our outfit for London & Brighton Pride (hint… RAINBOW, LEOPARD PRINT, GLITTER). So let’s celebrate everything LGBTQ+! To kick things off, here are some of our favourite queer ladies throughout history.




    You cannot start a list about history’s greatest queers without mentioning Sappho. She was a Greek poet who lived on the Island of Lesbos (sign me up) around 615 B.C. Sappho wrote about her love for many a woman and was one of the highest regarded poets of her lifetime.

    Plato called her “the Tenth Muse,” which was a massive compliment at the time. The other nine muses were the Greek Goddesses of Art & Science, so he thought Sappho was a pretty big deal.

    There’s an argument between historians as to whether Sappho did have relationships with women or if her poetry was just about her dearest “gal pals.” Only fragments of her poems survive, and since she lived a really fucking long time ago, we can’t ask her.

    Personally, I think her poems evoke a deep sense of love and sexual longing for her female subjects that goes way beyond the “female admiration” lots of male historians like to think Sappho had for platonic pals.

    img 0316 78dddPresented without comment.

    See what you think for yourself. Here’s an extract from Sappho 94, translated by Julia Dubnoff:

    “For by my side you put on

    many wreaths of roses

    and garlands of flowers

    around your soft neck.

    And with precious and royal perfume

    you anointed yourself.

    On soft beds you satisfied your passion.”

    ……HELLA GAY!

    Later, history mocked and destroyed her work. It was denounced by the church and was ridiculed by poets and playwrights who wrote her off as a sexual deviant or a tragic character. But finally, our girl is getting her rep back! Sappho is the mother of lesbians and her influence cannot be argued with.

    Mabel Hampton

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    Mabel was a staunch activist and LGBT+ historian. She was instrumental in recording and preserving queer history, especially the experience of living as a gay, black woman in America during periods of huge upheaval.

    Hell… Mabel IS the reason we know so much now. The Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York are full to the brim, thanks to Mabel. She was a bit of a hoarder.

    She had a pretty tragic upbringing: her mother died not long after giving birth to her, and her grandmother followed a few years later. She was raised by an abusive aunt and uncle before deciding fuck this, I’ve had enough.

    She moved to Harlem and worked as a dancer during the Harlem Renaissance. And she was a regular at Harlem drag balls, an early celebration of queer black identities during the roaring ’20s.

    She left showbiz and started work as a cleaning lady. When asked why she left behind the glitz and glamour, she famously answered,

    "Because I like to eat."

    I have never related to a statement this hard.

    Mabel publicly declared herself as a lesbian during a time when being black alone made you heavily persecuted. Gay too?! THE LADY WAS BRAVE!

    She met her partner Lillian Foster at a bus stop in 1932, describing her as having been “dressed like a duchess.”They were together until Foster’s death in 1978. Serious relationship goals.

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    Mabel and Lillian spent their lives documenting their experiences as a lesbian couple. They helped set up the Lesbian Herstory Archives, and Mabel and Lillian donated hundreds of newspaper clippings, gay books, photographs, and other paraphernalia to the archives.

    Mabel gave a speech at the New York Pride Parade in 1984, stating to the crowds,

    "I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people."

    She was incredible. We were lucky to have her.

    Anne Lister

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    Possibly our fave on this list, Anne (born in 1791) was seriously rich…like, MTV Cribs level-minted. Her family owned a bunch of land in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and they were desperate to marry her off to some rich oik to keep that money rolling in. ANNE WAS HAVING NONE OF IT!

    She inherited fancy country house Shibden Hall from her uncle, immediately built herself a posh new library, and decided to live openly with another super rich babe, Ann Walker. She’s lucky Ann came along when she did, because the money was running out at that point.

    She was known locally as “Gentleman Jack” (which is also the title of the new HBO series based on Anne’s life) because of the way she dressed in male clothing. She tended to wear sensible black jackets, with no frilly business. Our girl was a Georgian butch. She kept coded diaries which tell us pretty plainly that Anne was very definitely a lesbian.

    “I love & only love the fairer sex & thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs.”

    Her diaries were coded, she thought we’d never crack it, but thank fuck we did because these diaries are SO JUICY! Anne had mad game, and went through a lot of high society ladies.

    Here are some of our fave snippets:

    "But I mean to amend at five & thirty & retire with credit. I shall have a good fling before then. Four years. And in the meantime I shall make my avenae communes, my wild oats common. I shall domiciliate then."

    So she wanted life to be like a big gay 18-30 holiday. Can’t argue with that.

    img 0310 fc944Same. via Giphy

    “I begin to despair that M- & I will ever get together. Besides I sometimes fancy she will be worn out in the don’s service & perhaps I may do better.”

    M was Mariana Lawton, who was the love of Anne’s life. She married a rich old dude, which devastated Anne, as she wanted to live with M as her partner. Their affair carried on for a while after the marriage, but it fizzled out a few years later.

    Much of the info we have on Anne’s diaries is from Helena Whitbread, another incredible woman working to preserve lesbian history. THANK YOU, HELENA!

    Marlene Dietrich

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    Marlene is one of my favorite old Hollywood starlets. This German had a mind like a razor and cheekbones to match; plus, she looked fucking amazing in a suit.

    She made androgynous dress sexy and alluring. Up until this time, women dressing as drag kings was done very much for laughs or in the sanctity of queer spaces underground. Marlene brought it to the mainstream.

    img 0311 975c9via Giphy

    Dietrich was a German silent film actor in the ’20s before moving into talkies and raking it in with her “exotic” looks and fabulous accent. During this time period, the gay scene in Berlin was hip and happening.

    Marlene bloody loved a drag ball, as she was openly bisexual, and could frolic with all the young ladies she could get her hands on. At these parties, she learnt how to rock the fuck out of a three-piece suit.

    In the late ’20’s/early ’30s, she got her big break in Hollywood films where she usually played a sexy cabaret singer of some kind. In one of her most famous films, Morocco, (in which she plays a sexy cabaret singer) Marlene dresses in a fancy very masculine top hat and suit during one of her numbers, and at the end sneaks in a kiss with a young lady! SCANDAL!

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    She just about got away with it because Americans assume we Europeans are a passionate and sexually charged lot.

    This theme of taking on masculine traits was something she embraced with gusto, training as a boxer in a sweaty gym in Berlin owned by a Turkish prizefighter. She enjoyed boxing and followed the sport throughout her life.

    Marlene was known to have a network of Hollywood starlets she had affairs with; she referenced this overlapping group as Marlene’s Sewing Circle. I’m going to sew this onto my biker jacket right now.

    Later in life, she said some stupid shit (women’s liberation was ‘penis envy’…) so she’s a pretty problematic favorite. But she wasa real pioneer. 

    Billie Holiday

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    The Lady of the Blues is one of the most recognizable voices in the world. Billie had a tragic and abusive upbringing after which she then spent most of her adult life battling a serious addiction to drugs and alcohol.

    Billie had relationships with many women but her most well-known was with actress Tallulah Bankhead. It was a volatile relationship which was always on again, then off again, THEN ON. We’ve all been there.

    While Tallulah was starring in Noel Coward’s Private Lives on Broadway, Billie had a contract singing in New York’s Strand Theatre. Tallulah would sneak in and watch Billie performing after her show finished. That’s sweet, isn’t it?

    However, the breakup went badly. Billie was arrested for opium possession and Bankhurst bailed her out, then got her into therapy. They parted ways soon afterwards, but things did not stay civil.

    Billie was working on her memoirs, which included mentioning her friendship with Bankhead, but Tallulah maintained she’d never even met Holiday (despite lots of evidence to the contrary) and she sent a letter to Billie’s publishers threatening to sue unless she was taken out of it.

    Billie sent back an amazingly shitty letter to Bankhead, reminding her that she had people around who could back up her story and she wrote:

    ‘And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party. We can all get funky together!’

    Mic drop. Holiday out.

    Top photo: Sappho with Erena - Simeon Solomon

    This article originally appeared on F Yeah History and has been reprinted here with permission.

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    In a Tweet praising Disney Channel show The Owl House, Mae Whitman came out as pansexual. On Monday, August 15th, the actress known for her role of Annie Marks in recently cancelled Good Girls, tweeted about how being a part of the animated show has affected her. 

    “Just taking a moment to say I am SO proud to be even a small part of a show like The Owl House. Being pansexual myself, I wish I had such incredible characters like Amity and Luz in my life when I was growing up,” Whitman tweeted on Monday.



    Whitman then sends out a separate tweet describing what being pansexual means to her. 

    “I know ppl might be unfamiliar with what pansexual means; for me it means I know I can fall in love with people of all genders. This is the word that fits me best [rainbow emoji] and I’m proud+happy to be part of the Bi+ community :,).”

    In this tweet she also provided a link to GLAAD's Accelerating Bi+ Acceptance page which, according to the official website, “Through media advocacy, GLAAD lifts up the stories of bisexual and allied communities to build understanding and accelerate acceptance.”

    The Owl House is an animated fantasy-comedy series about a girl training to become a witch that has made headlines for featuring Disney Channel’s first bisexual lead. Whitman voices Amity Blight, a young lesbian witch who attends a school for witches. The show’s second season aired in June of 2021. 

    The 33 year old Parenthood actor is a proud LGBTQ member despite not having put labels on herself in the past. In 2014 she shared with Glamour, "I just like people. I like everyone. I see so much wonderful potential in everyone that I meet, and there's always something to learn from. I think girls are attractive, I think boys are attractive, I think old people are attractive, I think young people are—I appreciate everything and everyone."

    We are happy to see Mae Whitman proudly expressing her sexuality and being part of a show that encourages kids to be their most authentic self.

    Top Image: Screenshot Via Youtube

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