NYC nightlife legend, comedian, and renowned entertainer MURRAY HILL, “the hardest working middle-aged man in show business,” is a relentless shtick slinger, larger-than-life personality and freewheeling ad-libber. Murray’s razor sharp wit and frenetic showman antics have delighted folks worldwide for over a decade. The New York Times anointed Murray “Downtown’s New ‘It’ Boy.” He’s been included in “Best of New York” lists in the Village Voice, Time Out, Paper, New York Magazine; inducted into PAPER’s Nightlife Hall of Fame; selected as OUT magazine’s Top 100 influential performers twice; included in New York Magazine’s “Fifty Most Iconic Gender Benders of All Time,” PAPER’s “Top Ten ‘It’ Boys in NYC Nightlife History,” and named one of the top 12 gender-bending performers in NYC by Time Out. The City of New York awarded Murray a Citation for his positive impact on the LGBT community in Brooklyn.
Murray recently made his Australian debut at the SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE for three months as the lead and host of CLUB SWIZZLE. The show played Brisbane and Adelaide Festivals and will be touring internationally in 2016.
Murray Hill is the premier host for international burlesque superstar DITA VON TEESE. Murray hosted her live show “Strip Strip Hooray!” to a sold-out, record-breaking 10 shows at the famed ROXY on Sunset in Los Angeles. Since then, he’s joined her touring the U.S. several times to sold-out houses. “Strip Strip Hooray!” will debut in Australia in 2016.
He starred and created his own pop culture show on MTV’s new network entitled “SHOWBIZ.” He was the U.S. Showbiz Correspondent for Channel 4/UK’s show Dirty Digest. He’s had a string of cameos such as: TLC’s LI Medium, LOGO’s NEW NOW NEXT and Cocktails & Classics, HBO’s Bored to Death, STARZ’s Gravity, HBO’s Taxi Cab Confessions, BRAVO’s Real Housewives of New York, and The Murray Hill Show pilot for E4 in UK; a Grammy nominated music video/feature for TV ON THE RADIO’s No Future Shock; and documentary Florent: Queen of the Meat Market.
Murray is New York’s “reigning patriarch of downtown performance” (New York Times). His eponymous The Murray Hill Show was the hottest ticket in town for a decade at such notorious joints as Fez, Mo Pitkin’s and The Zipper. Murray’s annual sold-out A Murray Little Christmas is a “downtown institution” (New York Times). He’s entertained celebrity friends, including Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar at Indochine, and hosted Marc Jacobs infamous holiday parties, Bust magazine’s 15th anniversary party at The Speigeltent, and his annual Oscar’s party at Joe’s Pub. Dubbed “The King of Comedy” by Time Out, he’s performed his comedy at top showrooms like Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Gotham Comedy Club, LA’s Billy Wilder Theater, and headlined his own show at Caroline’s on Broadway.
As “the emcee of choice” (New York Magazine) in the neo-burlesque scene, Murray has hosted shows all over the world from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Canada, UK and more. This is Burlesque, the Off-Off-Broadway show Murray starred in and co-created, ran for over a year to packed houses, garnered critical praise, and attracted A-list celebrities. At London’s Arts Theatre, Murray was a guest host for the Immodesty Blaize Burlesque Show, the first ever show of its kind at this historic West End venue. He’s also hosted sold-out burlesque shows at the Bloomsbury Ballroom (London), MTV Italia’s opening party for the Venice Film Festival, NY International Burlesque Festival, The Birchmere (Virginia) and Just For Laughs (Montreal) directed by Thierry Mugler.
Murray crosses over to many scenes, and has toured with Le Tigre, The Gossip and introduced the Beastie Boys, Antony and The Johnsons, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Joey Arias, to name a few. Murray starred in the internationally released video for The Gossip’s Listen Up and was featured in Peaches, Le Tigre and Scissor Sisters music videos. His film credits include roles in Florent, We are the Hartmans, House of Satisfaction, Maria and BruceWand John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. He has been the subject of books, documentaries and radio programs. Murray has been welcomed in the halls of academia as a lecturer and performer. He’s thrilled to have an essay included in Dan Savage’s new book It Gets Better.
When not sweating under the hotlights, Murray enjoys a round of miniature golf, reruns of The Dean Martin Show, and reading old-school showbiz biographies.
Sixty-two years ago on Thanksgiving Day at 3:59 am (exactly a minute before last call), a plump butterball of a turkey, MURRAY HILL, dropped onto the world stage. He’s been stuffed full of it ever since.
Both conceived and born in the backseat of a New York City cab, Murray spent his toddler days and nights playing under supper club tables while waiting for his mother (a notorious Ziegfeld showgirl) and father (a failed comedian turned maitre d’) to either finish their shifts or sober up, whichever came first. His parents, who were both married to other people at the time, had a scandalous affair, and let’s just say that Murray was the bill to that tab.
Shortly after mastering use of his thumbs, Murray was given his first gig as a busboy at the Copacabana, where he perfected the art of plate clearing and playing the spoons. He earned the moniker “New York’s Funniest Busboy” by cracking hammy jokes while filling water glasses and using a fork as a prop mike. Show people, sports legends, French tourists—you name it—all requested his section and would eagerly finish their dishes just so Murray would stop by and do his shtick.
Murray’s first official stage appearance came unexpectedly when Child Services raided the joint to put him under protective custody. Murray’s mother quickly smudged a cigar ash moustache on his face, combed Vitalis through his hair, and pushed him in his polyester busboy uniform onto the stage. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the master of ceremonies announced, “please welcome Murray the Magnificent Midget!” Without missing a beat, Murray brought the house down with a sensitive spooning of “The Lady is a Tramp” followed by a few filthy jokes, a killer Groucho Marx impersonation and some light crowd work. Quite literally thrown into show business, Murray has kept the stache, slicked-back do and vintage polyester as his showbiz trademark from that evening forward.
Although Child Services didn’t haul him in that fateful night, they did force his mother to enrol the precocious young boy in P.S. 0, located on the end of a stinking pier in Canarsie. But Murray soon found himself expelled from elementary school for drinking high-balls out of his thermos, putting the moves on the gym teacher, and hosting burlesque shows at recess. Luckily, he got his busboy job back at the Copa and cleared the plates for some of the biggest acts in show business—which was his best education. Night after night, he was dazzled by Martin and Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Don Rickles and so many other legends, and studied their acts obsessively. He also happened to develop a fondness for the Copa showgirls, enjoying many hands-on lectures on the birds and bees from them.
At just 10 years old, Murray’s career began to take off in earnest one night, when a well-known Catskills resort booker came in for liver and onions and caught Murray’s unofficial act, otherwise known as “working the room.” The booker asked Murray to open up for the guy who opened up for the guy who opened up for Don Rickles up in “the mountains.” Murray soon enjoyed a meteoric rise in the Catskills as both a busboy and later as a hotel social director-cum-comedian.
In his teen years, Murray played at all the great rooms at Grossingers, Tamarack Lodge, Kutschers and The Concord. He opened for all the greats like Buddy Hackett, Totie Fields, Shecky Greene, Belle Barth and Frances Faye. During the days, he entertained guests poolside with bawdy games of Simon Sez and Bingo. Those were swinging times when Murray honed his seemingly off-the-cuff nightclub act on the hotel guests and learned to entertain at all costs. Murray became one of the biggest stars in the Borscht Belt circuit, outlasting most of his colleagues by keeping a demanding performance schedule and a strict trans-fat diet. Into the late 1960s, he enjoyed a full nightclub career in top showrooms in the Catskills and the many supper clubs that lined 52nd Street in New York City.
Through it all, Murray was always a connoisseur of fine ladies. Women found something oddly enticing beneath his unbelievable tight, bulge enhancing, seam-bursting polyester suits. Murray had a special weakness for burlesque dancers, and chasing them around the dressing rooms was the only aerobic exercise he ever had. They were always a handful, and his hands were never so happy. He was almost engaged 15 times to 12 different women, but, ultimately, things never worked out because Murray was married to showbiz.
With the growing popularity of TV and rock ‘n’ roll killing the supper clubs, Murray soon fell into obscurity and was forced to take a job as a subway token booth clerk for 15 years. He had the late shift on the L train in the East Village and saw first hand the rampant gentrification of the area. He still enjoyed entertaining the customers (now straphangers) and told jokes over the intercom and played big band music from the 40s and 50s on the platforms. People would flock to the station late night to catch his “act.” When he lost his job to a vending machine, he stumbled into a nearby gay bar, got hammered, stormed the stage and slurred a rousing rendition of “New York, New York.” The sound of applause got Murray back on his showbiz feet, even though that was a short trip. The downtown clubs asked him back for a return engagement. Each week the crowds got bigger and bigger, all to see this magnetic polyester-clad funny man in wonder, confusing his retro looks for being hip or camp. Murray was reborn.
He never forgot those downtown kids for supporting him and taking him in. So in 1997, when Mayor Guiliani was shutting down nightclubs (including homosexual establishments) in the East Village with his antiquated cabaret and anti-dancing laws, Murray threw his hat in the ring, representing the nightlife community with the platforms “Let the Kids Dance” and “Gay Rights for All.” At a shade under 5-foot-4 (5-foot-5 in his patent leather loafers), Murray understood what it meant to be a champion of the little guy. Despite his enthusiasm, he got creamed in the election and garnered just 341 write-in votes. Murray has suffered from manopause and an epic midlife crisis ever since.
Now in his fifth career comeback, Murray has returned to working the clubs—but for a whole new generation of audiences. He is finally his own opening act, but he hasn’t changed his look at all. He has made polyester cool again (not literally, of course). He has never gone out of fashion because he never changed. On any given night, you’ll find him onstage at a comedy club or burlesque den, hosting rock shows, crooning heartfelt ballads, hitting the town with the ladies, and appearing in movies and TV, and, of course, playing a randy Santa in his annual holiday show.
Murray’s got an unyielding love for entertaining all kinds of people and continues to work rooms in New York and all over the world, just like he did when he was busboy back in the day. On some nights after a show today, he can be seen in the kitchen offering helpful plate clearing pointers to the busboys, who may one day follow his path to stardom. No matter how big his star shines now, he has never lost his everyman-entertainer touch and love of the little guy.
Murray’s next big break is right around the corner, or at the next table. So make your reservations now!