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The celebrated HERO festival in New Zealand once touted Miss Laila Carry as "The Best Drag Queen in the Middle East". The guy behind Carry's character, Noam Huberman, appreciates the title.
Now starring in a one-woman show called "Laila Tov Israel" (Good Night Israel), Carry keeps audiences entertained every Friday night at the Hasimta Theater in Jaffa.
The multimedia show opens with a video of the Eurovision Song Contest being interrupted by an urgent newscast telling of the sale of the State of Israel to one Miss Laila Carry. It turns out that Carry bought anti-claustrophobia cream in the same purchase on the Shopping Channel.
"She isn't sure she wants to own the country, but she definitely wants the cream," says Huberman, over tea at a Tel Aviv cafe.
Throughout the one-and-a-half hour show, the highly egocentric Carry portrays some 50 characters, espousing her views on all aspects of society, and offending everyone with biting wit.
"Politically, she could be extreme right or left depending on how one takes the jokes," says Huberman. "The show is not crude. The humor is not rude as is often the case with drag shows. The word, 'penis,' for example is used only once when talking about homosexuals."
Carry's monologue brims with puns and ironies. Her name, for one, is a play on the Hebrew "Kri Laila" which means "nocturnal emission." "Laila speaks in double entendres; she employs humor with a twist. Not everyone gets it," says Huberman.
One such comic story Carry tells during the performance is her reasoning for moving to Jaffa - if Arabs decide to throw her into the sea, at least she won't have far to walk in her high heels.
As is routine for drag queens, Carry also lip-syncs an assortment of songs by Israeli and international divas. Everything about her is larger than life.
And though Carry's audiences back in 1997 when she first took the spotlight were majority gay, most of the people to pack Hasimta Theater are straight and mainstream.
"Drag is not something sexual for me, it's theatrical. Drag is not a gender or homosexual fad," says Huberman. "Sure, I get the conservative type in the audience who is at first shocked by Carry's appearance. As the show continues they see it's an art form and they understand that I'm not threatening. Then they relax and enjoy the show."
Forget the classic "I Will Survive." Huberman tries to steer clear of drag cliches and stereotypes. His role model is Dame Edna, not RuPaul. For him, the artistic side of drag is far more important than the typecasting.
"I am a performer. My solo performance is a rich program. The closest art form to what I do is pantomime."
Whereas Carry is ostentatious, outspoken, and flamboyant, the man behind her is introverted, straight-laced (no drugs, no alcohol, no tobacco), and quite ordinary.
For eight years, only Huberman's close friends and family knew the true identity behind Carry. "I wanted to keep the curiosity behind the character," he says. "It was a marketing decision not to give away my identity. But one has to tango in order to promote oneself and so I've agreed to meet the press. I don't want any photos showing half my face and half Laila's face or showing me applying the makeup. The character would stop being interesting."
While Huberman has given media access to his background, he still refuses to have a photo published when not in character. He reiterates that his "personal story isn't interesting". He is a heavy set guy who qualified as a lawyer but works as a travel agent by day. In his thirties (he refuses to divulge his age), he is the youngest of three siblings, and from a family that "loves the arts but with no one in the business."
Cross-dressing had never been his "thing". Yet, at a Purim party that his friends organized back in 1997, he decked out in women's clothes for a laugh and went as a drag queen. He volunteered to lip-sync one song. He couldn't have known then that Miss Laila Carry was about to become a crucial part of his life.
Before the launching of "Good Night Israel," Miss Laila Carry was involved in another stage venture that never got off the ground. Carry also appeared at the Habima Basement Theater and with another drag artist known as Etta Pearl on the defunct television program Hamahsof.
"I love doing something that's the exact opposite of who I am. In my day to day life, I don't dance or sing into a microphone or walk around in high heels or don feathers. I'm probably the most square person you'll ever meet," he says. "On stage I'm totally liberated and it feels great."
Huberman dismisses schizophrenia. However, he separates himself from his character. "It's not me as a guy dressing as a woman. Rather the character is a woman. I'm not Laila. She loves to be on stage, on television, in the media, under the spotlights. I'm a private person."
In addition to headlining the HERO festival in Auckland in 2001, Miss Laila Carry has performed in Europe, too.
"From what I know of her, she's a woman connected to the world, she lives in Israel but her standards are international," says Huberman. "She would like to participate in other international festivals, but at the moment the focus is on Israel." Huberman allows that the only place his and Carry's lives really intertwine is their love for the country. "We're both patriotic and both choose to live here."
Miss Laila Carry's next performance of "Good Night Israel" will take place on January 27 at Hasimta Theater in Jaffa. For tickets, call 03-6812126.