GIRL TALK: A Candid Conversation with Courtney Act

Photo of Courtney Act by Magnus Hastings

Photos of by Magnus Hastings

Australian dynamo Courtney Act (aka Shane Jenek) comes to Philly this week to perform with fellow Drag Race contestants in the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 Cast Party at Voyeur. I caught up with the living Barbie doll on the phone this week to see how life’s been treating her post-Drag Race, her thoughts on the “she-male” controversy, and why she’s so damn mean to Joslyn Fox.

Photo by Marcus Hastings

G Philly: How did you come up with the name Courtney Act?
Courtney Act: My friend and I were planning my drag debut back in the year 2000. We were sitting in a restaurant thinking of names, and I said I wanted to be Ginger Le’Bon, because I wanted to be a redheaded, smoky voiced nightclub singer. She suggested I come up with something more cutesy, like Courtney. I just said the name in my Australian accent: “Courtney … Caught in the … Courtney Act!”

GP: Why did you decide to come to America when you were having so much success in Australia?
CA: Australia is a wonderful place, but it’s a small place. I was approaching my 30th birthday, and I had had a wonderful career in Australia for the past 10, 12 years, and I thought, “What am I going to do for the next 10 years? Am I going to stay here and do the same thing?” So I came to America in 2010. It seemed like the perfect place to perform on an even-grander scale.

GP: Did your Australian fans feel betrayed?
CA: They’re pretty proud. Australians love seeing other Australians succeeding overseas. There’s definitely a lot of support.

GP: How has being in the States treated you so far? Is it everything you’d hoped for?
CA: RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 is pretty cool. When I came here I didn’t really know what to expect, but I couldn’t be more grateful of the way things are unfolding. It’s awesome being thrust into the spotlight on Drag Race, and having all this opportunity to travel around the country. Some of the hustle has been taken away, which is always nice.

GP: Have you been happy with the way you’ve been portrayed on Drag Race?
CA: I mean … I try my best to be kind and compassionate, and good-natured. Sometimes, dare I say it, in editing things can get misconstrued. The Joslyn Fox storyline kind of upset me a bit, because I love Joslyn and I think she’s so talented. At no point was I aware that I was being mean to her, and I checked with her and she was equally unaware. I think a lot of people underestimated her, but from the start I could see that she was so fun, and so cute, and so talented. When I see the way they portray me on television — and read the comments online — it hurts a bit. People say, “Oh, I used to like you. I thought you were so nice.” And I’m like, “No! I am nice.”

GP: But you did say those things. How can editing put words in your mouth?
CA: I remember one particular instance, during the beauty advertorial episode, where she said, “Maybe we can do the before and after, and you can be the before.” And I said, “Yea, but nobody would believe you’re the after.” Preceding that, we had been joking around. She was setting me up to say that line, because we both thought it was funny. But then of course, by the time it makes it to the television, it’s a slightly different story. It’s frustrating, but I’m more than happy with how I carry myself on Drag Race. I’ve talked to Joslyn, and we’re both friends.

GP: Did you receive any advice from former Drag Race queens before you started?
CA: I’m friends with former Drag Race queens, so I was always trying to pick up some tidbits of information. Willam [Belli] has been a bit of a drag whisperer for me, especially when it comes to touring.

GP: What would you say your proudest moment’s been on the show so far?
CA: I loved the Ru-sical, which has controversially been deleted from the world due to the she-male saga. I kind of hope they’ll get around to editing out those comments, and re-issuing the episode, especially because it’s about to air in Australia. I feel like that was one of my most glorious moments.

GP: How do you feel about the controversy?
CA: It’s a very sensitive subject. There are very strong arguments on both sides. Some of my trans friends have expressed that they feel uncomfortable with the words “tranny,” or “she-male,” so it was really no big feat for me to delete them from my vocabulary. I think the real issue has got less to do with the words, and more to do with the way certain activists are trying to bring about change. There is this real squeaky wheel mentality that’s making enemies of allies, and I don’t think RuPaul’s Drag Race is the enemy.

GP: You’re more of a live singer. How do you feel about maybe having to lip sync down the road?
CA: I grew up in the Sydney drag scene. From 18 to 21 I was a lip sync-er. I had a lisp when I lip sync, though, so I just started singing live. It seems easier. But I’m definitely prepared to bust out my lip sync should I need to.

GP: When you won the second challenge your prize was new wigs. Were you pissed, since you have your own wig company?
CA: [Laughs] I’m always grateful for more wigs.

GP: Who have you kept in touch with the most since you finished taping?
CA: A lot of the girls. I love Bianca, BenDeLaCreme, Adore, Darienne. It’s really kind of like one big happy family. It’s always fun, because there’s a group of 13 girls who know something about each other and what we went through. We do have a special bond … like a sisterhood.

GP: What’s a normal night at home like for Courtney Act?
CA: At the moment I’m at home very rarely. But my nights at home lately are spent unpacking bags, washing wigs. I’ve got two in the sink that I’m washing at the moment.

GP: What’s Courtney Act’s next act?
CA: I’m working on music; writing and recording. I’m working on my live show — a one-woman show with a band. There will be songs and stories, kind of like a cabaret. I’m doing that in Los Angeles on the 2nd of May, and New York on the 27th and 28th of May. And hopefully I’ll bring it to Philly sometime, too!

GP: For sure. Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing while you’re here?
CA: You guys have something …

GP: Cheesesteaks?
CA: Well I’m vegetarian, so I won’t be eating a cheesesteak. … Willam was telling me there was something in Philly that I had to try … or maybe it was somebody in Philly that I had to try.

GP: Ha!
CA: [Laughs] Kidding.

Courtney Act is performing at Voyeur on Friday, April 25th, in the RuPaul Drag Race Season 6 Cast Party. For tickets, go here.