Kim Etiquette from Connecticut
By Tom Reardon, April 2020 issue.
I’ve never met Phoenix drag queen Kim Etiquette but after meeting
the-man-behind-the-queen, Brad DeBiase, I’d certainly like to get a chance to
get to know the budding icon.
glimpses of “Kim,” who will have her own show on the main stage of Phoenix
Pride in April, come out during the conversation DeBiase and I had over beers
at Main Ingredient in Central Phoenix on an early March evening, but DeBiase is
so entertaining on his own I think we’ll have do a follow-up conversation with
Miss Etiquette down the road.
during the day works for Arizona Commission on the Arts as a Program and Grants
Coordinator, moved to Tempe in 2012 to work on his Ph.D at Arizona State
University after living in Connecticut during his formative years and later
attending Trinity College-Hartford in his home state where he earned a
Bachelors in Anthropology. A theater kid at heart with a desire to become a
“real life Indiana Jones,” DeBiase realized during his first year in Arizona
that this route might not be the best for him.
“I was in
grad school, working on a Ph. D in anthropology of religion and I was pretty
miserable in academia. I realized I was not going to thrive there, and I had
put my creative self away on a shelf. When I got invited to do drag for the
first time, it was like kind of the first time my Arizona community saw me
perform and I was very excited,” says DeBiase.
A handsome fellow, DeBiase has an easy smile and an intensity about him
that easily draws you in. You want to listen to what this east coaster with no
discernable accent has to say, and his theater background makes eye contact
seem ultra-easy for him. In short, it’s not hard to believe that Kim Etiquette
from Connecticut lives quite easily within DeBiase, but after watching video of
her perform, it is also easy to wonder how Brad keeps Kim under control.
this, it is best to journey back to the beginning.
was born when drag queen Afeelya Bunz reached out to DeBiase about a charity
turnabout event she was hosting and wanted to see if he wanted to help raise
money for LGBTQ youth.
As DeBiase so
eloquently wrote in his essay that he read for a December 2018 Bar Flies event,
“I consulted with my friends for all of a few hours — What do you think,
should I do it? What would I even do? The usual considerations. I feigned
hesitation, but in my heart of hearts, this moment was too good to pass up, and
lowkey, it was an exciting prospect. Impact be damned.”
piece was recently included in the 2019 book, BarFlies: True Stories
From The Early Years, and it sets the tone beautifully as he recalls his
first-time doing drag. The glint in his eye while we discussed this might have
been because of the delicious beers we were sharing, but my money is on the
fact that when Kim Etiquette was born, Brad DeBiase was reborn as well.
afforded a lot of kindness in the Arizona Drag community. I feel very thankful.
The drag, it happened very organically. It really snowballed. The charity show
happened and then that turned into Afeelya inviting me to join her for
something up in Flagstaff, which turned into me doing a newcomer contest, which
turned into a guest spot here and was turning to a guest spot there. And so, it
just really all just organically snowballed. And then some of the performers
who I came up with and got going around the same time that I did in Phoenix,
like Rubye Moore and Benaddiction and Espressa Grande, they are a few that come
to mind, we all found ourselves in similar places,” shares DeBiase.
learner, DeBiase immersed himself in allowing Kim Etiquette to evolve as he
soaked up the experience of doing his first round of drag shows. With a theater
past, both performing and on the technical side, the 30-year-old understood
what it meant to put on a good show and leave the audience wanting more. After
watching videos of Miss Etiquette on YouTube it is clear that she is extremely
talented. With stage presence for days, two things clearly stood out in the
handful of available videos: Kim is very, very funny and she can also move to
the beat. DeBiase demurred a bit when asked about how much practice time he
puts in when he is she, but there is visibly a lot of work that goes into a Kim
Etiquette from Connecticut performance.
“I am so
indecisive. When you have every option in the world an artist’s is the biggest
barrier is to have to decide on the one thing, right? So, I will agonize over
what I feel like performing. It’s always an exercise in considering your venue,
considering your outfit, considering your audience. I want to bring something
that’ll be successful in several ways,” says DeBiase.
One of the
lessons that DeBiase has had to learn in his first four years of doing drag
(and share with a newbie such as myself) was how drag shows are built. He
shared that each hostess runs a show differently and figuring out where Kim
Etiquette fit in, as well as what type of act to do, was a learning experience.
It was within this learning that he figured out a base from which he could
create and then allow Kim Etiquette to grow as learned what type of shows are
best for her talents and personality.
is a “bourbon” guy, Miss Etiquette is a “vodka soda” girl, for example, from
the East Coast who loves to take a theme and work it for an evening.
know, Kim Etiquette, the character idea began as this like housewife of the
Southwest. Like this New England housewife in the Southwest. There is some
cable knit sweaters in Kim’s closet. I call it ‘glamp.’ She’s got a little
Stepford Wife by day, a little glitzy by night. Being from Connecticut, she’s a
little snow bunny,” says DeBiase with a bit of mischief in his eyes.
evening wore on, DeBiase shared some of the music that Kim Etiquette likes to
sing and dance along with and it is quite an eclectic mix. Everything from
Britney Spears to Michelle Branch to Celine Dion to Nicki Minaj. DeBiase also
copped to serious early 2000s love of pop music, especially Willa Ford (“I
Wanna Be Bad”), and then disclosed that Etiquette does Hillary Clinton doing
“If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher. Now there is a visual that must be seen to
be appreciated, for sure, but after getting to know DeBiase a bit, the best is
definitely yet to come from this one-time anthropologist who appreciates
another refreshing part of our conversation touched on the reverence DeBiase
holds for the quality of drag here in Phoenix.
“Phoenix is …
(DeBiase pauses and takes a sip of his Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi) it’s drag
hotspot. We’re seeing new queens pop up everywhere. We are living in the
information age, so folks who’ve got to grow up with YouTube have a resource
that once upon a time didn’t exist. So, that allows for people to have a
knowledge that once wasn’t as widely accessible. I like storytelling. I like
histories. I like genealogy. I like the history of Phoenix drag. I like to
respect spaces and like what’s happening in different spaces,” says DeBiase.
appreciation for what has come before is an excellent base from which to build
a balanced career and both daytime Brad and nighttime Kim know how to balance
the needs of each other.
“I do a
moderate amount of drag. I’d probably do maybe three or four gigs a month and
not on a weekly basis. People who have a 10:30 at night on a Wednesday show and
then have work at eight in the morning, my hat goes off to them. I would be
cranky at work and that would disrupt my week. So, I admire their stamina,”
says DeBiase, who often travels around the state with his work for Arizona
Commission on the Arts.
It is evident
DeBiase cares deeply for his audience as he expressed several times during our
conversation the importance of putting on a good show for the audience and
connecting with them in the space of the performance. With this type of
dedication to his craft, an appearance on the main stage at Phoenix Pride is
just a drop in the bucket for what is to come for Kim Etiquette, although it is
still easy for him to remember what the first few times of becoming Kim was
few times I did it, I felt like Brad in a wig. As a theater kid I was like,
‘This is what I’m supposed to, this is how I am supposed to act.’ I move my
mouth to the music, and I do heightened behaviors and I lean into my comedic timing
and the character kind of grew around them,” concludes DeBiase.
It will be fun to see what and who both Brad and Kim become. Be on the lookout for upcoming Kim Etiquette shows at The Womack and on the main stage at the 2020 Phoenix Pride event.