Kiki and Herb (Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman) were an American drag cabaret duo. Bond portrays Kiki DuRane, an aging, alcoholic, female lounge singer. Mellman portrays her gay, male piano accompanist, known only as "Herb."
Although Bond and Mellman were only in their late thirties and early forties, their characters were, according to their elaborate fictional biographies, more than seventy years old.
First wave: 1989 - 2004:
Bond and Mellman began performing together in 1989, and created the characters of Kiki and Herb in the early 1990s in San Francisco.
Their act alternates between musical numbers and long, seemingly inebriated monologues by Kiki. The musical numbers, often medleys, draw on an enormous range of popular music, from Broadway musicals to Nirvana and from Britney Spears to REO Speedwagon. They have also covered songs by Suicidal Tendencies, The Mountain Goats and Butt Trumpet.
Although both performers live in New York City, the pair have performed in American cities from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., as well as in Europe.
In 1995-1996 Kiki and Herb appeared regularly at "Cowgirl Hall of Fame" in Greenwich Village, where they honed their show and built their fanbase. Among the devotees was John Cameron Mitchell (who later included Justin in his 2006 movie, Shortbus).
In 1998, the duo appeared at the first Gay Shame event, held at DUMBA in Brooklyn, and appear briefly in the short documentary film made by Scott Berry of the event entitled Gay Shame '98.
In 1999, they performed weekly in Have Another at the Fez and received their first New York Times review.
In 2000, they released their first album, a Christmas record called Do You Hear What We Hear? It is currently out of print.
In 2001, they received an Obie Award for their show Kiki and Herb: Jesus Wept.
In 2004, the duo appeared in a cameo role in the feature film Imaginary Heroes, released that year by Sony Pictures and starring, among others, Emile Hirsch, Jeff Daniels, and Sigourney Weaver. Kiki and Herb appear at a Christmas party attended by the main characters and perform an excerpt from Tonight's the Kind of Night, the final track from their Christmas LP, Do You Hear What We Hear?
The same year, Kiki and Herb gave a "farewell" performance at New York City's Carnegie Hall. The one-night-only show was titled Kiki and Herb Will Die for You and featured a number of celebrities, including Sandra Bernhard, Isaac Mizrahi, Jake Shears, Michael Cavadias, and Rufus Wainwright. The show was recorded, and released as a two-disc album, titled Kiki and Herb Will Die for You: Live at Carnegie Hall.
After the performance, the duo took a break and worked on other projects; Bond moved to London to study scenography, while Mellman worked in New York.
Second coming: 2004 - 2008:
Their retirement didn't last long, however. In 2005, the duo reunited for a tour of select U.S. cities titled The Resurrection Tour. A European tour followed, which included a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as two short documentary films about the duo that screened at a few film festivals: Kiki and Herb Reloaded and Kiki and Herb on the Rocks.
In the early summer of 2006, Bond and Mellman announced that Kiki and Herb would make their Broadway debut in August. After a handful of preview performances at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, the show, titled Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway, debuted for a four-week run at the Helen Hayes Theatre on August 11. Reviews were mostly favorable, including a glowing assessment by Ben Brantley of the New York Times. For Brantley, Kiki "suggests some wondrous hybrid of Marianne Faithfull, Elaine Stritch, Patti Smith and Kitty Carlisle Hart," her vocals "radioactive with an angry sorrow, ecstasy, and cosmic fatigue" in which "the point is never the prettiness of the voice but the history behind it and the passion to endure that vibrates within."
The duo began a run of Sunday-night shows at Joe's Pub in New York City in January 2007, and toured the United States in the Spring and Summer of 2007. The tour was entitled The Year of Magical Drinking.
On May 15, 2007, Kiki and Herb: Alive on Broadway was nominated for a Tony Award for "Best Special Theatrical Event" and was predicted to win by the New York Observer. However, the show lost to Jay Johnson: The Two and Only.
In 2007, they toured around the world, returning to New York on December 12, 2007 for their return to Carnegie Hall: A Christmas-themed show entitled "Kiki and Herb: The Second Coming."
In January 2008, they released their first DVD: A recording of a 2007 performance at New York City's The Knitting Factory, entitled Kiki and Herb: Live at the Knitting Factory. In addition to the performance, the DVD also contains clips from performances by Bond and Mellman in 1993, 1999, and 2005.
Their last show together as Kiki and Herb was at Perez Hilton's 30th Birthday party.
For years, Bond and Mellman maintained a meticulous backstory for their characters, one made official on the Kiki and Herb MySpace page and their official website. This involved the characters meeting as children in a mental institution before becoming a jazz act in the fifties, beginning a long and chequered career mixing periods of success and misfortune. The shows were supposedly part of their comeback trail, and they would perform songs supposedly from throughout their career (which were actually anachronistic covers). Between songs Kiki would tell anecdotes from her life, including her friendships with Billie Holiday and Grace Kelly, and the details of her various relationships, whilst drinking heavily and often having on-stage rages and breakdowns.
However, in "Alive on Broadway," they introduced the notion that the fictional backstory may be meta-fictional--Kiki spoke of the duo actually being thousands of years old, implying that some of her previous stories were, at least in part, lies told by the character. After the Broadway show, Bond and Mellman consistently included this twist in their shows' monologues--Kiki will talk about knowing Jesus "in the Biblical sense," hanging around with Marie Antoinette, and even romancing a young Adolf Hitler.
2000, Do You Hear What We Hear?,
2001, Sleater-Kinney's "I'm Not Waiting", Calling All Kings & Queens sampler album track on Mr. Lady Records,
2004, Kiki and Herb Will Die for You: Live at Carnegie Hall,
2008, Kiki and Herb: Live at the Knitting Factory (DVD)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license