How Merrie Cherry went from coat check attendant to Brooklyn drag icon

Behind the Drag” aims to showcase the off-stage lives of some of America’s most talented drag queens. The intimate series gives us the opportunity to meet the people behind our favorite over-the-top drag queens.

The sun has just set over Brooklyn, with only street lights and city fluorescents illuminating the borough’s McCarren Park. On a dirty concrete sidewalk, Merrie Cherry is in full glam, twirling on a stool and lip-syncing in front of a crowd. She’s so into her performance that she snatches her own wig. And while she may not be the singer hitting the high note that accompanies her wig-snatch, honey, she performs it.

Merrie Cherrie is the glamorous, over-the-top drag alter-ego of Jason Ruth. The Brooklyn-based drag queen describes herself as “that kid that gets into their mother’s closet and just goes nuts” — and it’s a beyond-accurate comparison.

“Drag gives me a look into a utopian world,” Ruth says. “If you go to any big drag event, it makes you think about how life could be.”

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Growing up in Berkeley, CA, Ruth was the kind of kid that always got into trouble. Call it a curse of having “too much energy.”

“Being talkative and flamboyant, I basically put a spotlight on myself,” he says.

It wasn’t until college that Ruth found a community of “weirdos” that he felt comfortable around. And it wasn’t until moving to Brooklyn that he could truly flourish into his truest self.

His metamorphosis into Merrie Cherrie was a key part of Ruth becoming authentically himself. And it all started at Metropolitan Bar in Brooklyn — in the coat check closet. Yes, while working the coat check, Ruth became pretty popular among patrons. The coat check was his stage — and Ruth saw an opportunity. Eventually, he asked the bar manager to let him put on a drag show.

“He said, ‘Well, you get one chance and once chance only,'” Ruth says. “That bar was packed. The party was a huge success. It was called DRAGnet.

To this day, the show still goes on — and it’s the reason Merrie Cherrie is known as one of the mothers of Brooklyn drag. Countless queens have found their footing at DRAGnet, the platform Cherrie created from her humble coat check beginnings.

“I feel like I helped open the door for so many people, and I love that,” Ruth says.

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But it hasn’t been easy — especially in the last year. While Merrie Cherrie may look joyful and free performing in McCarren Park, the gathering has somber roots. The McCarren Park Gathering has happened every day since George Floyd’s death became public knowledge in May. There, the community has a place to gather in support of Black lives and Black people have a platform to speak about their experiences with racism.

“After George Floyd’s death, I was so traumatized,” Ruth says. “And the McCarren Park Gathering really helped me get out of it.”

The queen adds, “The last three months have helped me realize that even though I thought I was awake, I definitely have been sleeping. I have more to learn.”

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Yet, Ruth is more awake than most, especially when it comes to pushing against the status quo and having a solid sense of self. That, after all, is part of the freedom drag provides.

Over time, Ruth says he’s realized that so many people are comfortable and content in boxes, staying relatively “asleep.” But he has never been the type to box himself away.

“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death,” Ruth says, quoting the iconic film “Auntie Mame.” “You have to live, live, live.”

If you enjoyed this story, read about a Black, proud and resilient Miami-based queen.

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