Even as a child, Johnny stood out as the goofy one who took chances, always wanting to entertain, to make people laugh and smile. When this flamboyant young performer discovered the world of drag at the age of 26, it was clear that this was the platform upon which Johnny could entertain on a broader scale. From this revelation was born Ninny Nothin’, a tireless and selfless giver of joy whose scatterbrained yet quick-witted personality has been loved by audiences as diverse as Newport brunches, the Dark Lady and Amazon Prime. I met with Ninny on the set of her latest movie, Strapped for Danger 2 to learn what it means to be the “Lips of Providence” and what’s next for this cherished daughter of Rhode Island.
Amadeus Finlay (Motif): From Newport to the heart of Providence, how does it feel to be one of Rhode Island’s most celebrated drag artists?
Ninny Nothin’: To be recognized at all is an honor! I’ve found that throughout my years performing as Ninny and really making her a fully conceptualized character, the key is to have fun and do what makes you happy. I like to make people happy! For me, I think a lot of my success has stemmed from being kind to people. Knowing that it wasn’t just my talents or a crazy look that got me where I am humbled me. So basically, this fool is humbled to be where I am and recognized for what I do.
AF: Let’s dig a little deeper. There’s a lot going on in the name Ninny Nothin’. What sentiments does her name encapsulate?
NN: When I first wanted to try out drag, I knew I had to have a name, but picking the name was the hardest for me because I wanted it to represent the character I wanted to create. I love a good brand. And every strong brand has a name that’ll reflect what the brand stands for. I remember I was on set for the feature film Accidental Incest and my good friend and director playfully called me a “ninny.” Now I had heard the term before, but upon further pondering about the word and what it meant to be called a “ninny,” I jumped on it. The word brought me to the recurring character type of the clown/fool from Shakespeare’s work, portrayed as less than intelligent but always the ones with the most knowledge and the sharpest tongues and usually the most likable. Also, I wanted to reclaim a word that I know others would use in a derogatory way. By calling myself Ninny, I was making it a powerful thing and it was used in a way to remind myself that being a fool isn’t a bad thing. For a little bit I was just referred to as Ninny without a last name. I wanted to be like Cher haha — in my own world where I was cool enough to not require one. So, people kept asking me my last name and I would always reply with a laugh, “It’s Nothin!” And that’s how the name Ninny Nothin’ came to be.
AF: You’re known as the Lips of Providence. Why did you focus on that particular element of Ninny’s personality?
NN: All my life I’ve been involved in acting. I started off in plays then quickly went to film and then found a happy medium of both. My strongest points are always performing and emotion. When I first started doing drag, I knew those were my strong points as well. Now makeup was a whole different story … I will say that while I don’t consider myself a makeup artist, my makeup game has improved considerably! But starting out I was a makeup mess and lips were always something that scared me. When I started drawing on lips, I kept on trying to play with different shapes. The problem was that every time I tried, I would mess up my lips. So, I just kept on making my lips bigger every time to hide the mistakes. I didn’t see anything wrong with my crazy big lips — if anything I loved them because I felt different than everyone else. I remember some people would poke fun about the size or tell me that the size was unrealistic and I should make them smaller. It was until an established queen, Pulp, current reigning Miss Gay RI, looked at me one day and said, “I love your look. Your lips especially. Never change.” This was such a moment for me. For those of you who don’t know Pulp, she is Providence’s bearded queen. Now, I am so happy they became a signature for Ninny, because I wanted to stand for something with my drag. And a mouth is made up of lips and lips allow words to flow … so why not be known for a big set of lips ready to verbally stand for something?
AF: When we first met, you were working with the star-studded Trailer Park Girls. What are the rest of the gang up to, and when will we see you all together again?
NN: My girls! I can tell you right now I would not be where I am today with those queens! The Trailer Park Girls (consisting of Neoki Feytal, Kelly Square, Ally P. Sha and Naomi Chomsky) have not only gotten me through some tough times, but have pushed me to grow not only as a queen but as a person. As far as shows go, we have them all over! We’re focusing on cabaret-style drag shows at the moment, with brunches, nightclub hosting and all sorts of fun coming over the summer. Keep an eye out!
AF: Let’s talk a little about Pride. How does Providence Pride compare to the rest of the country and/or world, and how do you see it growing?
NN: I’ve always said for such a small state we have such huge heart. To me that’ll make any place stand out no matter how small it is. People expect there to be such power in bigger more populated places, but Rhode Island, Providence especially, is heard. As far as growth goes — each year you we not only get more passionate, but it seems as though there’s more acceptance. Not just in Providence though — Newport started doing their own Pride last year!
AF: We’ve spoken before about the emotional toll your career and life has had at times. Tell us about your journey of realization and acceptance.
NN: How much time do I have? As Johnny I’m a very emotional person. This journey as Ninny has allowed me to embrace my backbone and stand up for myself and what I believe in. It’s interesting that someone can find themselves through exploring not only a different character, but a character they created. When I first started drag, I felt invincible. No one knew Johnny, they just saw Ninny running around in diapers or playing in traffic. It wasn’t until I started to go out more and meet people out of drag that my two worlds collided. For a while, I was scared and didn’t know how to handle it. People knew that Johnny was the crazy person behind the lips. But the beauty in being discovered as Johnny was that people didn’t treat me any different. I then realized that I was accepted for just being me, whether in drag or not. Having been afraid to fully be the crazy that Ninny is for basically my entire life, all that dissipated. I now go day to day with this piece of advice: Be yourself in all areas of life. Let people see the true you. They deserve it and so do you!
AF: Finally, Hollywood! You’re now also a movie star; tell us more about Strapped for Danger and whatever else may be on the silverscreened horizon.
NN: I do like to consider myself an A-list movie star when it comes to Rhodywood! I’ve been fortunate enough to have starred in 10 full-length feature films, the latest one, Strapped for Danger (available on Amazon Prime!), being my first drag role! As of right now I’m finishing up filming a gay horror slasher film called Death Drop Gorgeous, which has been an absolute dream of mine being a lover of both horror films and drag. Once that wraps, I’ll be headed into production for Strapped for Danger 2: The Streakquel!