Sunday, April 13, 2008

The “Shoes” star joins Margaret Cho for a “Beautiful” show.

You probably know YouTube phenom Kelly from the music video "Shoes," a campy techno ode to the powerful allure of high-end footwear. One blogger after another rallied behind Kelly's unabashed materialism, turning “Shoes” into a bona fide viral sensation. Two years after debuting in 2006, "Shoes" boasts more than 20 million views, a People's Choice Award for Favorite User-Generated Video and legions of fans adding "betch" and "deck" to their arsenal of quips.

What you might not know is that Kelly is actually the alter-ego of comedian Liam Sullivan, whose drag persona as a bespectacled blonde in platform boots and striped leggings comes from more humble beginnings. "The first time I [performed as Kelly] was in Santa Monica in this little bar," Sullivan explains over the phone from LA. "After [singing "Shoes"] this girl came up to me and grabbed my arm and was like, 'how did you know?' She was so into it and I was like, oh, wow, maybe I really have something here. So when I made [the video for] "Shoes," I showed it to a couple friends of mine and they weren't really into it. I was like, oh shoot, I made a clunker, oh well. But it got online and - bam! - people loved it."

After paying his dues in LA comedy clubs and small roles on television for ten years, Sullivan, 34, started making more videos, some as Kelly and her family (he plays most of her relatives) and some with other characters he’s made up (like the wacky baker in “Muffins,” which is now almost as popular as “Shoes”). Among the many fans he’s gained in just a few years is Margaret Cho. "Her husband owns the robot costume that was in the "Shoes" video," explains Sullivan. "I rented it from him and I didn't know (that he was married to Cho). I showed him the video, he showed it to Margaret, she blogged about it and we got in touch. She's been in a couple of my videos now and she booked me in (2007's) 'The Sensuous Woman' tour. It's been a whirlwind."

Cho has now also invited Sullivan to open for her new international one-woman stand-up show, “Beautiful.” "When I first saw the 'Shoes' video, I totally flipped out," explains Cho, also over the phone from LA. "I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. He's a great, great performer." For Sullivan's opening act, expect a new Kelly video plus separate performances as both Kelly and Aunt Susan, Kelly's rather, um, top-heavy lesbian aunt from another video, "Let Me Borrow That Top."

Not only has Kelly introduced him to one of the most popular comediennes working today, she’s also introduced Sullivan to his fiancée. "[My fiancée] met me when I was playing Kelly [for] a gig in Hollywood," Sullivan says with a laugh. "I was like, damn, I'm in a skirt, this is such bad timing. But it was perfect timing because she was so into it." Perhaps it’s only fair, after learning about Kelly’s troubled romantic life in the video for “Text Message Breakup” (Sullivan’s personal fave of the Kelly oeuvre), that Kelly’s luck starts improving, too. "I think the next step for Kelly is that she's got to meet a nice guy," says Sullivan.

Catapulting his comedy career, touring with Margaret Cho, introducing him to thousands of fans and the love of his life – it makes sense that Sullivan has grown as attached to Kelly as his fans are. "You know, it's easy to say, oh, he's making fun of women and their obsession with shoes, but that's not what I was really trying to do,” he explains. “I love her. I love that character and I want her to succeed and win."

As long as she’s wearing shoes that rule, of course. - Don Baiocchi

Sullivan opens for Cho when “Beautiful” comes to the Chicago Theatre (175 N. State, 312-902-1500) April 26;