Aunt Barbara, the top Tupperware seller in the Northeast, stands in front of a crowd of older women and guesses that this is not the first time any of them have attended a Tupperware party.
Tupperware parties have been commonplace since the 1940s, but that doesn’t always mean women have been eager to attend.
“There is a woman in this room who has gotten that invitation and thought, ‘I have to go to that?’ ” Aunt Barbara said, scanning the crowd. “You called the host and said, ‘Oh, I have to get a colonoscopy that day.’ This is not one of those parties.”
Aunt Barbara’s real name is Robert Suchan, a man in drag who in six years has become one of Tupperware’s best consultants nationwide.
“I sell over a quarter-million dollars a year in Tupperware,” said Suchan, 44, of Massapequa. “That is a lot of bowls.”
In tall wedge sandals and an even taller beehive hairdo, complete with a spit curl, as Aunt Barbara, Suchan stands at a towering 6-foot-7. In drag, he is loud and in your face, direct almost to the point of rudeness. He loves sexual innuendos and is fond of the middle finger, and he is not afraid to guilt you into buying Tupperware, calling on a bit of nostalgia to drive it home.
“Aunt Barbara needs your larger than usual orders ladies,” Suchan tells the crowd, in order to pay off charge cards from Gertz, Gimbels, A&S, Mays, Caldor and other department stores gone by.
The nearly 70 women (and a few men) at the Aunt Barbara party at the Sayville Commons retirement village on Tuesday night crack up.
“She is fabulous,” said Dee Pasquale, 73, of Sayville. “She, him -- whatever.”
Growing up in Freeport -- where he still lived until superstorm Sandy destroyed his rented home by the water -- Suchan was surrounded by women, including five sisters who had him in a dress by the time he was 3, he said. Aunt Barbara is a character he created by melding together the personalities and habits of the women around him in the 70s -- but primarily his own Aunt Barbara.
“She’s a Long Island woman,” he said of his creation. “She’s direct, she’s smart, she’s sassy, but yet she also puts her foot in her mouth quite a bit.”
Suchan, who did some theater in college, started selling Tupperware as Aunt Barbara six years ago as a part-time gig. During the day, he was an administrator at an agency for the developmentally disabled, but struggling financially, he said. He had worked at the agency for 15 years “on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” when moonlighting as Aunt Barbara started to take over.
“I was answering phone calls while putting eyeliner on in people’s bathrooms getting ready to do a show,” Suchan said. “I took the leap with Tupperware because I could make my own schedule, I was making great money, it was a lot of fun and not a lot of stress.”
Aunt Barbara’s parties have become so popular, Suchan only takes bookings two days a year. In May, he’ll book for July through December, and in November, for January through June.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Sometimes I just sit down and think, ‘My goodness, I quit my job and this is what I do full time.’ When I’m taking vacations or getting a new car from Tupperware, I say, ‘Wow I’m doing this.’”
Tupperware spokeswoman Nora Alonso said the company currently has four consultants around the country who work in drag and all of them are successful.
She said Tupperware is “all for it.”
“Our business has had a presence in the U.S. since 1946,” she said. “We rely on our sales-force members, who are independent business owners to continue changing their party, and that’s what attracts different crowds.”
Pasquale, who attended Aunt Barbara’s party in Sayville, said she’s probably been to dozens of Tupperware parties over the last 50 years.
“I’ve been to a lot of these,” she said, as she prepared to place her order. “Nothing compares to what she does.”
Suchan, who sold about $2,000 worth of product that night, said he feels as though he’s helping to bring “Tupperware back to what it used to be,” he said. “It’s a party, it’s fun. It should be.”