By Denny Patterson
Drag queen and female impersonator Randy Roberts has been entertaining audiences for over 30 years. A staple within the Key West community, his signature show at the LaTeDa is a live, multimedia tribute to some of the world’s most beloved stars. Roberts is known for doing uncanny celebrity impersonations, especially of Cher and Bette Midler, and closing every show with a mini-lounge act, which allows Roberts to get up close and personal with the audience.
In addition to drag, Roberts is an accomplished lyricist, writer, actor, and producer whose career has allowed him to travel across the world. Unfortunately, several changes had to be made thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
OutClique caught up with Roberts to see how he is navigating through these unprecedented times.
Denny Patterson: Hi, Randy! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me again. How have you been doing during these crazy days of COVID and quarantine?
Randy Roberts: Hi, Denny! Always a pleasure to catch up. Crazy times is an understatement! Key West shut down on March 17, 2020, and the strangest thing for me was that it kept extending. I figured a month, maybe two, but we were shut down for seven months! I went back to live performing October 10, 2020. I did not mind staying home. I realized that I am lazy and I liked not working, but I just have the little problem of needing to eat and pay bills – like everyone else. I did not mind the time by myself. I turned my guest room into a workout area, and worked out! I also sat on my a** and ate, but I did work out! I missed some of the social interaction, but it has made me realize that I do not have to interact with everyone.
DP: Can you talk more about how the pandemic has affected you both personally and professionally?
RR: Personally, the pandemic made me realize that I do not need a lot of people in my life. Just a nice group of people. A great circle of close friends, then concentric circles of less close friends. There is definitely a big difference between acquaintances and friends! I am lucky to have plenty of both. Professionally, I did not do a live show for seven months. Luckily, I had unemployment and had saved a little, something I usually don’t do. I am very grateful that I was able to pay my bills and survive fairly unscathed. Except for those 12 pounds I put on. Happy to say I lost them!
DP: Were you finding ways to stay connected with fans while in lockdown?
RR: I was more present on social media and did a few livestream shows. People were so generous with those. They are still up on YouTube. You can see how they got progressively, technically better. The first one sort of fell apart, technically speaking. Looking back, it is kind of funny – unless it happened to you! It was definitely a learning curve. Now, I have enough equipment to produce my own TV shows.
DP: Now that you are back to performing live, what kind of safety procedures have been implemented?
RR: I am back onstage at the LaTeDa, and we reopened the Crystal Room on October 10, 2020. We have hung a Plexiglass wall between the audience and me, so it feels like I am behind a sneeze guard at an all you can eat buffet. And I’m the buffet! Capacity has been cut to 50 percent with distanced tables, masks are required when you enter or stand up, and I do less interaction with the audience. When I leave the stage, I wear a face shield. It is definitely different.
DP: What can one always expect from a Randy Roberts performance?
RR: That it will never be the same. The songs and costumes may be the same, but the audience makes me change the interaction. It changes the whole show. I do try to change numbers every few months. It is more for me than for the show. As I said before, I am lazy. I do not want to have to learn new songs often. Unless a song clicks with me, then it is not worth learning it.
DP: What did you miss the most about performing in front of a live audience?
RR: The immediate response. A live audience will let you know how they feel with a laugh, groan, or applause. Livestream shows leave you standing in an empty space. I try to read the comments, but I am also trying to run the computer, sound board, look into the camera, and sing. Being back in front of a live audience gives much more energy.
DP: This pandemic has changed so much. What do you think the future of live drag shows will look like?
RR: I think we will eventually go back to what they were. It may be a while, but we will get there. I am okay with limited capacity and distanced tables for the time being. I, for one, plan on wearing a mask when I travel and when I am in big crowds. I have not had a cold or the flu in over a year, and I prefer to keep it that way!
DP: For those who may not know, when did you discover your love for drag and decide this was a career you wanted to pursue?
RR: I first discovered drag by seeing Jim Bailey on the Jerry Lewis Telethon in the early to mid 1970s. They introduced Judy Garland, she came out, and sang “Get Happy” with backup dancers, and she was great. However, I found it very strange since Judy Garland died in 1969. They then introduced Judy as being Jim Bailey. A bell went off. Even at that young age, I had always wanted to perform. I wanted to be a musical theatre actor. I never planned on doing drag, but I was dared to enter a drag contest at a local gay bar in Norfolk, Virginia. I did horribly, that’s another story, but a lovely queen told me to try again, and helped me fine tune my drag. I won the next one. Little by little, I started doing shows in the bars. That grew into jobs with traveling revues in theatres. Next thing I knew, I was doing drag for a living. It is not so much that I wanted to pursue drag as a career. It is more like the work kept coming, and I kept taking it!
DP: Are there any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
RR: Right now, I am happy to be back in the Crystal Room at LaTeDa in Key West. I have some out of town gigs brewing, but with things the way they are, who knows?