Jonny Woo

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Jonny Woo is an acclaimed British comedian, actor and drag queen, with a cult following. He co-owns The Glory, a notorious East London pub in which he regularly performs.[1]

He is a London based performer known for taking alternative drag to mainstream audiences and being central to the cabaret revival since 2000. He spent time in New York City between 2000 and 2003 where he performed and created work on the downtown club and burlesque scene and returned to London where he created events and parties reflecting his time in New York. These parties attracted significant media attention and Jonny became a regular feature at fashion and art events London and Europe-wide. He has worked prolifically on solo and group shows with residencies at The Soho Theatre, ICA, and Bistrotheque and has created events for The Royal Opera House as well as many media and corporate companies including MTV and Selfridges. He has been hosting his party Gay Bingo since 2003. Since then he has devised numerous critically acclaimed shows as well as opening his own venue The Glory in East London.

Training[edit]

Jonny Woo, born Jonathan Wooster, trained at the University of Birmingham in Drama and Theatre Arts and at London Contemporary Dance School. He went on to continue training in dance in New York where he performed with Julia Ritter Performance Group.

New York 2000–2003[edit]

Jonny began performing as a cabaret artist at The Slipper Room on the new burlesque scene with performance artist Brandon Olson where they developed material, which later became the show ‘Go-Go Real’ at Dixon Place. They went on to perform for a season in Provincetown and created a second show for Dixon Place inspired by the events of 9/11. As a solo artist, Jonny developed ‘The Mummy Project’, a series of installations in the windows of performance space Chashama on 42nd Street, also a response to 9/11. They featured other performers Julia Atlas Muz, Dirty Martini, Taylor Mac, and Anna Matronic.

London 2003–2009[edit]

Jonny created and hosted Radio Egypt with the landlord of The George and Dragon, Richard Battye in 2003, which ran at the pub then 291 Gallery until December of that year. This performance art party became the centre for the Shoreditch fashion and gay crowd and cemented Jonny’s position as a favourite for fashion events in the capital and beyond. Regularly hosting for Louis Vuitton in Paris including the 150th celebrations, ACNE in Paris, London and Sweden and Fashion East in London, hosting S/S 2010 at Quaglinos.

In 2004 Jonny began his 8-year residency at Bistrotheque, the unique restaurant, bar and cabaret venue. He hosted the hugely popular "Tranny Talent" and "Tranny Lip-Synching" competitions and went on to develop performance art, cabaret and multi-media shows for the space. His show Night Of A Thousand Jay Astons, a lip-synched musical inspired by the singer Jay Aston from 80s pop group Bucks Fizz went to Edinburgh in 2005 and transferred to the Soho Theatre for Jonny's first engagement there at the end of that year. He also developed Stark Dallas Naked with David Mills and Tim Redfern for the space, which also transferred to The Soho Theatre. In 2008 he created the show International Woman Of Mr. 'E, his first full-length solo show which also went straight to The Soho Theatre and Edinburgh in the same year. In 2009 he wrote his first single "Faggot" with Jenny Fairfax, which became the title track of another show of the same name again commissioned by The Soho Theatre. Jonny performed a "best of" show in 2012, which was the basis for his show in Edinburgh at The Assembly Rooms of that year.

In addition to writing and performing his own shows Jonny became the focal point for the new alternative drag scene which he has been credited for creating, encouraging artists such as Dickie Beau, Russella and Ryan Styles. With Bistrotheque he organized and hosted The Bistrotheque Annual Drag Ball at Bistrotheque, The Shoredtich Town Hall and finally The Royal Opera House in 2009. These were inspired by the film Paris Is Burning and included judges such as Mary Portas, Beth Ditto, Lulu Kennedy, Giles Deakin and Gareth Pugh.

Block9 - The NYC Downlow[edit]

Jonny was instrumental in taking drag to Glastonbury as part of the first gay tent at the festival "The NYC Downlow". From 2008 to 2011, Jonny led and directed around 30 drag artists as part of this New York inspired installation/club. Following their appearance there he and his troupe have been in demand at festivals across the country including Latitude, The Big Chill, Standon Calling and the Stanley festival. In 2010, 2011 and 2012 Jonny became the first main stage host for LOVEBOX on the Sunday, performing his own tracks and introducing acts such as Grace Jones, Blondie, Marc Almond and Holly Johnson.

Gay Bingo[edit]

Jonny Woo was invited to host a night called Gay Bingo as a PR initiative by Andy Butcher in 2004 for a small bar in Brixton. Jonny created a new approach to bingo calling which involved stream of consciousness and story telling interspersed with extravagant and outrageous costume changes and original and lip-synched songs. It transferred to TEA bar in Shoreditch by the end of the year and was as equally popular as it was notorious. Gay Bingo went on to run at Shoreditch House, ICA and The Soho Theatre.

2009–2014[edit]

Following the closing down of Bistrotheque's cabaret room Jonny began working closely with Hoi Polloi at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch on projects such as The Miss Hoi Polloi pageant[2] whose judges included Christopher Kane, Henry Holland and Erdem.[3]

Various Gay Bingo revivals occurred, including 2012 and 2014 Gay Bingo Boat Parties on the Thames.[4] Woo accepted a two-year Friday night residency at the Hippodrome, London where he hosted the cabaret room.[5]

Woo is back[edit]

Having already quit drugs a few years before following a near death experience[6] he decided to go teetotal in order to focus on "the next phase". Woo wrote a show about the "unconscious explosion of Shoreditch in the 90s" called The East London Lecture which he later performed in the autumn to critical acclaim at the Rose Lipman Building in Haggerston.[7]

Transformer[edit]

Across the summer of 2014 Woo devised a Lou Reed tribute show originally called (TRANS)former which he performed with a live band at Latitude Festival.[8] The show, which is a rammed-up and explosive interpretation of Lou Reed's album Transformer, went down a storm and appeared in 2015 at Glastonbury Festival as well as a ten night run at the Edinburgh Fringe where he received a string of positive reviews.[9] The show then enjoyed a residency at Soho Theatre in September 2015.

A Night At The Musicals[edit]

Woo devised a side project show with his friend the operatic drag queen Le Gateau Chocolat called A Night At The Musicals which has appeared at many festivals and events. The deceptively mainstream show in which Woo and Gateau play around with over-the-top DIY costumes while "massacring" songs from popular musicals has wide appeal despite its knowingly shambolic East London edge. A Night At The Musicals is set to appear at the 2016 Adelaide Fringe Festival

Theatre work[edit]

Woo began working with East London Session Players in 2015 and has appeared as the lead in two theatre productions, adaptations of Suddenly Last Summer and The Tell-Tale Heart, in both cases reimagined to draw parallels between the present day East London underworld within which Woo resides.

The Glory[edit]

In 2010 Jonny began hunting for a site in East London to open his own bar. Together with the TV director Colin Rothbart, bar manager Zoe Argiros (who managed Dalston Superstore between 2009 and 2014) and Gay Bingo drag partner John Sizzle, the four clubbed together and took over the former site of the Paradise Inn on Kingsland Road in Haggerston.[1] Described as a "Queer haunt, nightlife spot and performance mecca", the pub re-opened as The Glory in December 2014 with a star-studded launch and a take-over of TimeOut's nightlife page.[10]

In 2015 The Glory announced a new contest called LIPSYNC 1000, an updated revival of Jonny Woo's "Tranny Lip-Synching" contest from 2004. With Jonny Woo as host, the £1000 final was judged by Grace Dent, Panti Bliss and Jodie Harsh. The Glory also launched Her Majesty's Pleasure as a recurring Saturday night party at the venue which later became Carry On Saturdays.

The Sunday Times style referred to The Glory as "our favourite boozer" accompanying a photograph of fashion designers Christopher Kane and Erdem to whom The Glory is their local gay pub. Attitude (magazine) crowned The Glory "The best gay pub in the country".[11] Boy George, Ana Matronic, Peaches (musician), Simon Amstell and Billie Ray Martin are among other high-profile London figures who have praised The Glory on social media.

Woo launched a comedy night at The Glory with comedian Jayde Adams. This was later replaced by a gay sketch comedy troupe The Sex Shells, who Woo gave a residency to.[12]

Victoria Coren Mitchell visited The Glory and interviewed Woo as part of the BBC Four documentary series 'How To Be Bohemian', in the programme Coren Mitchell states "This is the kind of bohemian I could get behind"[13]

References[edit]

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