It is straight women who stare at them the most, apparently. Avivit Katzil is adamant: “We were in a club the other day, and the people who were looking at us more than anyone were straight women. It’s because we are the men they want to have.”
“We’re much cuter,” Su Rath Knan adds. “We’re the ideal men, and they’re in love. We’re soft but cheeky and sexy. We’re male, but not really. They don’t care what’s underneath.”
“Our appeal is that we’re funny,” Daniela Mory chips in. “We’re looking at different stereotypes. The act helps people not to take them too seriously, to look at the fun side.”
Katzil and Mory — both from Jerusalem — and Malta-born Su Rath Knan are the Schmooze Brothers, a drag act in which they all dress up as male characters. Katzil becomes Sharshabil Forte, a leather-clad dominatrix (think Freddie Mercury in oestrus); Rath Knan is the boyish, leering Sultan SuleMan; and Mory transforms into King Alberto, a “young, camp, gay teenage boy”.
These are all nice Jewish girls with backgrounds in performing art.
Katzil was one of Israel’s first “drag kings”. “When I started doing drag in Jerusalem, I was more butchy, more tomboy,” she says as she prepares for a performance in Camden Town, North London (they perform in South London next week). She is being helped by their faithful roadie, who has carefully snipped off a little of her dark hair to form a moustache using make-up glue and a very steady hand.
“But since I started doing drag, I was expressing all the maleness I wanted onstage, so I didn’t need it in my personal life.
“If we appear as men, it’s as gay, camp men. We come from cabaret and theatre backgrounds. We don’t want to be mistaken for men. And it’s a matter of entertainment as well. That’s what comes first for me.”
The Schmooze Brothers’ act involves dancing and miming to songs by artists such as the Village People and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Katzil also sometimes performs as Poison Avi, a character so exaggeratedly feminine she appears to be a man in drag. F2F, or female-to-female, is how it is known.
Rath Knan, a former model, artist and one-time bodyguard to the Israeli transsexual Eurovision winner Dana International (she is a qualified martial-arts trainer), is wearing the suit and tie that make up her costume. “I’m a bit different to the others because I’m more boyish,” she says. “I wear these clothes in normal life. It’s mainly the moustache — without it, I don’t feel that different. Wearing a man’s clothes, shirt and tie, isn’t being a drag king. People wear unisex these days. In drag, you are acting a character, performing, using your walk, talk and gestures.
“I’m quite a soft, cutie person really, but my favourite character is this one — a bit sleazy, a bit slimy. Why? I don’t know.”
She leaves and returns to the room with her moustache in place, already swaggering a little, digging her hands into her pockets, tilting back her chin, looking appraisingly down her nose before blowing a kiss. It’s oddly disconcerting. Someone takes a quick photo of them.
“Oh my God, I look exactly like my dad,” she says.
Katzil reflects on what their act says about gender roles. “Ideas of what’s male and female are very subjective, very challenging, they’re difficult to define. Society adds stigma to things, which is where stereotypes come in. And that’s when we make fun of stereo-types. How are they different once they have their costumes on? “They take on an air of arrogance,” notes the roadie, who is now applying blusher to their cheeks to give a squarer, more masculine jawline. “They walk differently.”
It is nearly time for them to go onstage. Mory adds: “We’re called the Schmooze Brothers — our name is part of this. We like to be a Jewish act, it’s part of our identity. We’d like the Jewish community to appreciate our act.”
Katzil and Rath Knan are both active in Liberal Judaism, Katzil as the movement’s young-adults worker. Their latest show, Gender Pretenders, covers Judaism in Israel and features a compere who plays a North London Jewish princess.
But, surely attracting a Jewish audience will be a challenge? “Well, we’re not always hardcore,” Mory says. “Our act varies. It can be soft.”
“Oh, tonight, it’s for over-18s!”