Neal Medlyn, AKA Champagne Jerry, has been making people laugh on the New York performance arts scene for years. Named one of New York’s Top Ten cabaret performers by Time Out New York, Medlyn is a rapper, artist, singer, and above all, a lover of Champagne. You can find Neal on tour, or performing at Joe’s Pub with some of his best friends and collaborators, including Kathleen Hanna, Bridgett Everett, Adam Horovitz, and his posse, the Champagne Club.
I caught up with the Champagne connoisseur himself to find out the history of his namesake, what pop star he would most like to get drunk with, and his pre-show drinking rituals.
Champagne Jerry! Did you come up with that name because Champagne is your favorite alcoholic drink, or because it sounds like a classy/bougie rapper name? Or both?
I was actually given the name. Jerry is my first name, but I’ve always gone by my middle name, until this one night. I was at a party and the only thing floating around in the melted ice in the cooler was a bottle of Champagne. I drank it out of the bottle, my preferred wine glass, got into a series of shenanigans, and the next day people were calling me Champagne Jerry.
What do you typically drink before going on stage?
Why, Champagne of course! We usually have a few bottles back stage and we bring them on with us. We can’t let them out of our sight though because there was this one time when someone stole our bottle of Veuve because we left it onstage for a few minutes. I also drink a lot of water because I believe in the importance of proper hydration.
Paint me the picture of a night out with Champagne Jerry and crew.
I spend a lot of time hanging out with the Champagne Club: Max Tannone, Sophia Cleary, Farris Craddock and the Ghost of Champagne Past! They are also my onstage entourage. We often drink at the lovely Library bar at the Public and, at one time, our favorite hotel bar was the Pinnacle Bar at The Hilton Times Square. On tour we just drive down the highway screaming, listening to dirty southern hip hop and watching a DVD of Free Willy we bought at a gas station.
Bridget Everett is your pal. I know she likes her Champagne, too. What do y’all drink when you get together? Don’t tell me, Champagne. 😉
Ha! We do drink Champagne together, but she also loves Chardonnay, which I think of as Champagne without the bubbles.
How is performance art enhanced or dwarfed (or both) by drinking alcohol?
It gave me a name, so that’s a positive! Plus, people give me bottles sometimes so it’s good that I didn’t name myself Brick Jerry or Old Bananas Jerry, because I wouldn’t want gifts of those as much.
What’s your favorite wine?
I like Prosecco and cava, and I like the Sofia Coppola sparkling wine, actually, in addition to Champagne. I try to go a drier route when I can, because that’s more my style. I like Moet, of course. We have a song where I say the name, like, forty times. Veuve Cliquot is delicious when I can afford it. There’s a sparkling wine called Graham Beck that I keep around as my day-to-day. I’ll drop a cube of sugar with bitters on it to make a Champagne cocktail into a glass of Graham Beck and relax.
Finally, which pop star do you want to go out and drink with the most?
Miley Cyrus. I feel like we have a lot in common, performance wise: we both come out way too hard at the top of the show and end up panting and out of breath in the first five minutes; we both have plenty of stage experiences being multiple personae; we’re both obsessed with doing weird things with our crotches onstage.
Jillian Scheinfeld is a writer and interviewer living in Brooklyn. By day she’s a publicist for a nonprofit and by night you can catch her at a concert or practicing yoga. See past work here and follow her tweets @jillianschein