Kalup Linzy

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When Kalup Linzy gave a short performance at a Manhattan club in a wig, sequined blouse and black hot pants I thought he was just an R&B singer who dressed in drag.

Even if that’s all Kalup was that wouldn’t have been so bad because I could have watched him perform a dozen more songs that night and been happy to do so. I usually don’t care for R&B music, but Kalup was at once funny, heartfelt, and captivating.

Kalup sang a He-Did-Me-Wrong ballad with a chorus that was mostly the word “asshole” repeated a dozen accusatory times. He sang another about a oral-sex-challenged man going down on a woman who calls out his bad form out by repeating “this ain’t no chewing gum” four or five times until the lazy lover got the point.

As it turned out, I wasn’t watching Kalup Linzy, but rather one of the various characters he’s been using in his videos and performances over the past few years. I couldn’t get the infectious This-Ain’t-No-Chewing-Gum song out of my head for days, so I finally found it on YouTube which linked to his website and a dozen more songs, soap-opera spoofs, and video narratives.

I watched a woman in a bubble bath (Kalup in character) singing a song to her 1-800-Psychic. I watched two women (one played by Kalup) bitch at each other over their cell phones. My favorite was a 1940s-themed scene of Kalup making a surprising confession to being gay.

Kalup does a great job of showing how pop music, slang, and television have had an effect on our perceptions of race, gender, sexuality, and class. He constantly subverts the audience’s expectations while being, above all it seems, pure entertainment. No one is spared Kalup’s burlesque, not even himself.

But one odd thing I found about Kalup was a link to a documentary. Maybe it’s unfair to critique a preview for a forthcoming documentary, but there is something deeply strange about this video.

If this is an accurate representation of what the documentary will be like then you can expect Kalup to say barely word aside from those spoken in character in his work and a fleeting comment about wearing makeup for a specific performance. Worst of all, you can expect good-looking women with degrees in Art History to sit next to Kalup and passionlessly explain how they interpret his art as he stares back with a bored expression.

Does the art world have enough of a sense of humor for Kalup Linzy? Can they possible stand to be entertained by video art or are they dead-set on being bored by pretentious, heavy-handed, reference-heavy art films?


Catherine Lacey is the author of the novels The Answers and Nobody Is Ever Missing. She has won a Whiting Award, was a finalist for the NYPL's Young Lions Fiction Award, and was named one of Granta Magazine's Best Young American Novelists in 2017. Her novels have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and German. With Forsyth Harmon, she co-authored a nonfiction book, The Art of the Affair, published by Bloomsbury. Her first short story collection, Certain American States will be released in August 2018. A third novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. More from this author →