She’s a plus-sized model with a hairy back, an off-key singer with a hugely pronounced camel toe and an unforgettably bizarre storyteller. She’s Dina Martina, and on Sunday, March 8 at One Eyed Jack’s she will make her New Orleans debut.
She burst onto the scene in 1989 at Seattle’s Center of Contemporary Art, the creation of performance artist Grady West. But West prefers that Martina answer all questions in interviews, and when asked how she got her start, Martina claimed her career started way before Seattle.
“When I was 4, my mother entered me into the Little Miss Las Vegas Pageant, and I won,” she said. “Things really took off from there, and I started doing lots and lots of commercials.”
She said she got hooked on performing from those early pageant days. She acknowledges that she always had self-worth issues and thinks initially it must have been the low pay that drew her to show business.
“But after about 20 years I started making more money. I realized there was so much more to love about a show business life, like the incredibly superficial social scene and developing a huge dependency on approval from strangers,” she said. “It’s pretty neat.”
The “Village Voice” calls Martina one of the most original drag performers working in America today. Her fans include the likes of John Waters and Whoopi Goldberg. She performs to sold-out crowds in New York and has toured extensively from San Francisco to London.
Perhaps the best description of Martina comes from a review in “The Stranger,” her hometown Seattle’s alternative weekly: “Her voice sounds like a cat having an epileptic fit on a chalkboard, her body moves like two pigs fighting their way out of a sleeping bag, and her face looks like the collision of a Maybelline truck with a Shoney’s buffet. But Dina redefines what it means to be a star.”
Martina’s show is smart and full of religious, political and pop culture references. Whether she is recreating television commercials or covering obscure Neil Diamond songs, her performances are multi-faceted and leave audiences laughing at the absurdity of her mammoth persona.
It appears that Martina uses at least half a tube of lipstick to create a lip smear that goes way beyond any human lip line known to man or woman. When asked how she achieves her infamous look she graciously shared some of her secrets.
“Well, I just started using the nighttime serum from Joan Van Ark’s skin care line, which is invite-only, and it’s so rich and concentrated I can’t even believe it,” she said. “It’s like what I imagine newborn baby juice would be like, if you could juice a baby. Plus, I sleep on a bed of rusty iceberg lettuce and orange rinds.”
Most things written about Dina Martina will include the words “drag” or “drag queen.” There is no denying that this is really a man dressed up as a woman — a very, very unattractive woman.
But her talent, intelligence, irreverence and the ways she skewers reality and norms put her in the category of comic genius, fellow comics say.
“Watching a Dina Martina show is like watching a hairy train wreck,” said local actress and singer Varla Jean Merman.
“You can’t look away. And even though you’d have better luck surviving less scarred from the train wreck, she makes you want to get on her train over and over, confused at why you’re even laughing, but still laughing yourself to death.”