Tupperware party means big bucks for 'hostess' in drag
Hometown U.S.A.: Paramus, N.J.
As 'Aunt Barbara,' Robert Suchan draws a cult following among visiting hipsters from New York. Last year he made $275,000 in sales – a Tupperware 'milestone.'
January 27, 2013|By Gigi Anders
Robert Suchan, aka “Aunt Barbara,” inspires laughs as well… (Rick Odell )Growing up in a big, bubbly, close-knit family with six brothers and sisters, Robert Suchan's role models were his beautiful mother Janene ("like Barbara Eden meets Grace Kelly meets Carol Brady and June Cleaver"), whose picture he keeps in his wallet, and his Aunt Barbara ("Eve Arden meets Jo Anne Worley meets Mrs. Roper, with a touch of Bea Arthur").
The awakening came with the Dawn. As in dishwashing liquid. Suchan (SOO-hahn) was pushing 40 and earning peanuts as a social worker.
"My credit cards were maxed out; I was spraying my clothes with Febreze because I'd run out of quarters for the laundromat; I had no soap or shampoo," says Suchan, now 44. "One day I had to shower and shampoo with Dawn."
Around then he remembered his sister Janene (named after their mom), who used to host Tupperware parties. They were tragic.
"Five people would show up," Suchan recalls, "three of whom were us and the Tupperware saleslady. My sister was always in tears. 'Nobody's here!'"
Suchan loved the products and thought the demonstrator could sell more if she jazzed up her sales pitch. He had been a communications major at the State University of New York — graduated with a 3.9 in 1992 — and loved drama, excelling in comedic character roles.
"I could do that, but as a comedy routine, Like Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie."
As "Aunt Barbara," Suchan has in four short years become the highest-selling Tupperware consultant in North America.
Suchan racked up about $275,000 in sales in 2012, a "milestone for Tupperware," said Nora Alonso, a spokeswoman for the Orlando-based company. "Bobby is witty, has a great business mind and is fabulous with people," she said. Alonso also noted that of the 10 top-selling consultants — who are independent contractors — three work in drag.
On a winter night at Abbe Estevez's house, the 6-foot-1 Suchan is holed up in the upstairs bathroom, transforming himself into herself: a massive black beehive wig, a ton of makeup (Aunt Barbara favors MAC products), a faux Pucci dress in a hot pink and black paisley print, two pairs of L'eggs pantyhose to cover leg hair.
(Suchan is a moderately hairy guy who draws the line at shaving anything beyond his face: "I have to maintain some of my manhood; Aunt Barbara has enough of my life.")
When a reporter suggests a photographic before-and-after, Suchan demurs. He's him. Aunt Barbara is her. "You want to believe in Aunt Barbara the way you want to believe in Santa Claus. Some people may think drag queens are mean-spirited and raunchy. But Aunt Barbara is always a lady."
Thanks to her Facebook presence and hilarious YouTube videos — don't miss "Aunt Barbara Italian Style!" — she's amassed a cult following among New York City hipsters who rent Zipcars and drive into deepest Jersey to see her.